Introduction: Laser Etching Macintosh Powerbooks.

Picture of Laser Etching Macintosh Powerbooks.

The appropriate files, laser settings, and methodology for putting your tattoo on your powerbook.

as this was boing boing ed a few weeks back i thought i'd show how it is done...

Step 1: Select Your Artwork.

Picture of Select Your Artwork.

any bmp, jpg, tif, dxf will do. basically any vector or pixel (bitmap) based artwork. the higher res you can do the better. i like vector because it is scale independent.

Step 2: Lay Out Artwork in Template File.

Picture of Lay Out Artwork in Template File.

You can find here the template files (illustrator CS and illustrator 8 versions) where you can lay out your own artwork. stay out of the apple and the red zones and you will be safe. the apple is plastic (don't laser here) and the red border is the radius at edge of laptop.
You can see here the example of my kite file (dxf original) overlayed to fill fully the page and look a little like an engineer's drawing spec...

Step 3: Determine Raster / Vector Style of Work.

Picture of Determine Raster / Vector Style of Work.

the wave is a cool tif or rasterable image. this means the laser treats pixels as pixels and goes side to side as it builds the image.
the kite is vector meaning the laser follows the path of each individual line and therefore much finer detail can be produced.

Step 4: Set Laser Speeds and Feeds Appropriately.

I use an epilog mini:

the nice result setting is 50%speed, 100%power for a bitmap image, 20%speed, 100% power for a vector image.

Step 5: Run and Enjoy.

Picture of Run and Enjoy.

the end.


jarrod.pretorius.16 (author)2015-01-02

Can you put a picture on the back of an IPad mini2? I heard it's called Laser etching but I'm not sure if it's actually doable?!!! This is the image I want on the back of my IPad!

It's theoretically possible. The way I do it I convert images in Illustrator using the Image Trace function under the Object Menu. It creates a vector out of an image and converts it to black and white. There are other options for Image Trace but they wouldn't work with the lasers I've used since they only recognize a few different colors and each one has to be mapped to a certain function of the laser. Once you have finished your Image Trace to your liking you can resize it without any loss in detail (Yay, vectors!). Resize it to fit on the back of your iPad Mini 2 and position / rotate it as necessary. Once you've done that then you're pretty much good to go. Just enter in the settings for the laser, get everything in focus, and engrave away. I know this is 2 years old now, but I figured it might be helpful for others who come across it.

lahren1 (author)2014-07-15

Does anyone how much power and speed I should use for a Epilog or Trotec laser etcher?

lahren1 (author)lahren12014-07-15

I think it's a Helix model

Fog (author)2006-09-10

is there a way that i can do this on a laptop, with a plastic case? thx:)

tewmten (author)Fog2006-09-15

Wouldn't the laser melt the plastic..?

Tableleg (author)tewmten2006-09-27

No. The types of lasers used for this work are pulsed (aka there are a bunch of high powered pulses instead of a low powered constant beam coming out of the XY scan head). At those power densities, you're ablating (the common word I think would be vaporizing) whatever the beam is focused on making for very precise details.

thepelton (author)Tableleg2009-08-06

You can only laser engrave approved varieties of plastic. Engraving PVC, for example, would void the warranty on your Epilog.

Mindmapper1 (author)thepelton2013-05-14

Engraving or cutting PVC is very dangerous due to the chlorine gas which can be produced. Not only might it damage the laser cutter but it will damage YOU if you inhale.

Thundertydus (author)Tableleg2009-04-06

Where would i find a laser capable of etching onto about 20/30 gauge steel? Im making a replica of Arbiter's armpeice from Halo 2-3

jeshaw3242 (author)Tableleg2009-03-18

hey lasers are fun we have a high powered pulse laser :D in my wood shop class it's very detailed indeed.

jongscx (author)Tableleg2006-12-11

yeah... I think that technically, you could even laser-etch into skin... it would hurt like all hell, but it's possible.

Derin (author)jongscx2009-02-14

Tetranitrate did that.

tailortrik (author)2010-02-08

 I would really like to do this.
My school requires a MSDS (material Safety data sheet)  for using any new material with the Laser cutter.

I am trying to figure out what kind of aluminum they use and just find manufacture and a sheet for that.. Any hints?

Mindmapper1 (author)tailortrik2013-05-14

why not just etch a polycarbonate shell and then you dont deface the 'puter?

ste3ve (author)2006-06-30

Any idea where in the SF Bay Area a mere mortal could have this done for a reasonable price?

sbaumgarten1 (author)ste3ve2011-08-15

Check out Tech Shop ( You could buy a daily membership and engrave it yourself for cheap.

mpandersen (author)2011-02-24

I am interested in making a laser etching attachment for my (work in progress) 3-Axis CNC machine. My Brother-in-Law dropped his XBox and donated the remains for this project. I have several questions pertaining to this project :
1) Will the Class 3B laser enclosed within the XBox DVD-ROM drive have sufficient power to etch commonly available materials ?
2) What is the Milli-Wattage of this laser ?
3) What is the Wave-Length of this laser ?
4) Since I like looking at my surroundings, what class of Safety Glasses should I purchase. Are there any other pertainent issues I've overlooked ?
Thanks, Mark
P.S. : I'm conducting this experiment under strictly controlled conditions :
Door Locked (I have the only key !!!), and with No Visitors, No Phone, and ZERO Distractions. As I'm in my forties, I have learned a few things in my life, like I only have ONE, and I LIKE it !!!

smcorson (author)2008-01-29

For those in the Los Angeles area, check out DeviceNineSix has been up and running for about nine months now. We've etched a ton of ipods, laptops and phones in that time (not to mention some truly unique requests like shoes). We are filling both individual and corporate orders. Check out our website or email us at Cheers!

CamWaite (author)smcorson2009-11-16

 ummm.... your link goes to an adult dating site?

shadleyhax (author)CamWaite2010-11-10

doesn't anymore. it goes to a craft type site. safe link now.

CamWaite (author)shadleyhax2010-11-10

Ah good good, just so we got that cleared up...

patwr2g (author)2006-02-23

does this process effect apples warranty in any way?

Tenkoi (author)patwr2g2010-05-09

Yes, it totally voids the warranty, as you are "defacing" the laptop

gugnheim (author)2009-10-14

I too have access to an Epilog Laser.  Looking to start doingwork.  Very fun item, done lots of iPod work so far.

aneel (author)2008-11-09

Have you tried etching one of the new Aluminum unibody MacBook Pros? Any thoughts about how much of a margin to leave for the curvature of the edge? It looks like they're more smoothly curved than the old models. What happens if you overlap the curved part of the surface? Does the laser not focus properly?

LeftSquareBracket (author)aneel2009-08-06

I would imagine the laser might not focus properly. Especially with the previous generations of MacBook Pros with the 90 degree fillet. The oblique angle could wreak havoc with the etching. The new ones, however, might not be too bad... most etchers do have to deal with objects of different thicknesses, and the edges on the new ones don't drop that much until you hit the vertical face. So I guess my bet would be that it does, but not egregiously.

thepelton (author)aneel2009-04-08

Aluminum would only work if laser etched through paint, or the beam would be reflected back and cause damage.

Um... I highly doubt that would happen. The Powerbook in the 'ible is aluminum with no paint. perhaps there is a risk with aluminum that is polished to a mirror finish (like the second-gen iPod touch), but even those have been laser-etched (maybe covered with painter's tape first...?).

incidentist (author)2006-02-21

Thanks to SquidLabs for letting me borrow their laser to surrealize my laptop. I used the open-source Inkscape program to make the duo-tone rendering of the Magritte painting. I spent a long time trying to trace it manually before I discovered the "trace bitmap" command, which did an amazing job. I was worried about having the laser etch so close to the apple logo, but that turned out to be a non-problem. Just create the image using a template the same size as your powerbook, and make sure to do a test run on some cardboard to avoid a singed logo.

thepelton (author)incidentist2009-04-08

That's a neat picture. Reminds me of a painting by Rene Magritte.

wes_711 (author)incidentist2007-02-21

That looks soooooo soooo awsome .....excellent idea to i would have never thought to do that (know its a painting)

cyenobite (author)2005-12-19

good how to, but is there any advice for those of us who don't have access to a laser? Are there places that would do this if you called or just walked in? What would be the cost of doing something like this? Thanks Cyen

thepelton (author)cyenobite2009-04-08

I would do it for a fee myself.

thepelton (author)thepelton2009-04-08

I am in Colorado Springs, Colorado. 719-634-0817

istyle (author)cyenobite2007-04-12

For those in the Los Angeles area, a new store is opening on Melrose Ave, that'll etch an image (from a library or customized) to any equipment. Check them out at for pricing info and location.

Mail order service will be available soon.

Hey, I don't know where you're located, but if you're in the minneapolis/st paul area, there is a new company that specializes in mac etching, called technology tattoo. . I don't know if they have a web site up yet, but you can call at 612.435.2113 peace!

paulplaysguitar (author)2008-05-03

I have a black macbook (13.3 inches). Any chance you have a template for that?

Macbook is plastic, can't do it on that.

Well... I did it at the Make fair months ago and it turned out pretty well...

My mistake, a few hours after I posted that comment I discovered you could do it on plastic.

Don't worry about it. I was worried myself when I did it. I didn't actually know if it would work until the machine got done. Phew...

paulm (author)2008-05-16

You are a tech designer aren't you I recgonize your "kite" vector drawing from tech design class

joejoerowley (author)2008-05-01

Very Cool! Do you mind if I use one of your images? Thanks

Clayton H. (author)2008-04-09

I think the wave looks cooler.

neshra (author)2008-01-25

I have full service laser business in Orange County CA. We serve Orange, Los Angeles, San Diego and Riverside counties. Please contact us for more info.

Dirish (author)2007-04-26

Hello all, Does anyone know of a location I can get this done for a macbook pro in or around Portland,OR?

eomlin (author)Dirish2007-11-07

I just started custom laser engraving macbook pro's, iPhones, iPods, iPod nano's etc. I'm up in Seattle WA. e-mail for more info

engrave (author)Dirish2007-04-28

Yes, I'm starting an engraving business as we speak, I should be operational in 2 weeks. My email is if you would like more information.

limpach (author)2007-10-30

Here is an idea to those of us who personally can't afford a laser cutter. Look for a local Fab Lab. You can find them in local colleges and universities. Look around in the advanced tech building.

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