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Here is a sign I created for fun and to practice using the laser cutter/etcher.
I made it at the Tech Shop in Menlo Park.

Supplies:
1 solid piece of wood no larger than 24in x 18in
1 sign design idea - Adobe Illustrator (or Corel Draw)
1 thumb drive
1 Jointer Planer
1 Epilog Laser
Misc. wood shop sanders and cutters for cleaning up your final design.

Step 1: Prepare Your Wood

Take your piece of wood and run it through the jointer planer to make sure that it is flat and square. Depending on your sign design, you may not need the edges to be square, but the wood does need to be flat when sitting on the laser bed or you could get uneven results in your etching.

Each type of wood reacts differently to the laser burning process. I used poplar wood in this example, but, in a different version where I used oak, the grain turned out much darker, creating an almost horizontal, zebra like effect.

Step 2: Convert Your Design Into Gray Scale

In this example, I'm using the logo from the second season of our public broadcast television show. Since the design was already created, all I needed to do was convert the original colors into the appropriate grey scale colors to create depth.

Open your design in Adobe Illustrator (or Corel Draw) and turn your layers into gray scale versions of your original design. As you convert, think of your color pallet as a 3D picture, where lighter colors are closer and darker colors are farther away. Use fill colors for etching and vector strokes for cuts.

Laser Machine Note: The laser machine will only recognize your vectors as cuts if the stroke size is set to .001.

In this example, the white lettering and boarder will not be touched while the black background will be the deepest etch in the process. That leaves the grey palm trees at a depth half way between the letters and the background. The more passes you make with the laser, the deeper the etching will be in the final product.

Example Note: The black outside the border is actually white in my final file. I changed it to black to make it easier to see the shape of the design in this example. I actually have a vector stroke outlining the boarder to create a cut as a guide for sanding down the edges in the wood shop.

Tech Shop Note: Before you show up for your laser appointment at the Tech Shop, you should call and make sure that you saved your graphics in a version that will work on the computer connected to the laser machine.

Step 3: Prepare/Convert Your Design

I suggest that you create your design before you go to your laser reservation. Wasting precious time during your reservation may prevent your from completing your project in one session, and aligning the laser machine is very hard after you've moved the wood from its original position.

Load your graphics and make sure they still look right. I used the default laser settings found in the laser room reference book.

Step 4: Run the Laser

Here is an example of the laser at work.

http://youtu.be/Olpmr259rVM

If you finish your first pass and feel that you need/want more depth in your wood you can make multiple passes. Each pass will burn deeper into the wood creating more contrast and depth.

Note: if you plan to make multiple passes, do not move your wood until you are completely finished or you will ruin the alignment of the etch.

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