Introduction: Laser-cut Algorithmic Snowflakes

Picture of Laser-cut Algorithmic Snowflakes

Follow these instructions to create vector diagrams of snowflakes and use a laser cutter to cut them from acrylic, wood, or paper.  The snowflakes are generated using a randomized algorithm, so no two will be alike.

Before you begin, make sure you have Processing and Inkscape installed on your computer.  Processing is available at www.processing.org, and Inkscape is available at www.inkscape.org.

Step 1: Create the Program

Copy-and-paste or download the code from the following link as "algorithmic_snowflakes.pde".

https://github.com/infiniteperplexity/laserflakes/blob/master/algorithmic_snowflakes/algorithmic_snowflakes.pde

Step 2: Generate Snowflakes

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Run the sketch using Processing. A window will pop up displaying a randomized snowflake. Clicking on the image will save that image to the sketch folder and generate a new snowflake. Click as many times as you want to continue generating more snowflakes.

Note the parameters SIZE, DEPTH, and THICKNESS, in case you want to change these. SIZE affects how big the snowflake is. DEPTH determines how many times the fractal-like algorithm iterates, which affects how intricate the snowflakes are. THICKNESS affects the thickness of the branches.

Step 3: Embed the Images in Inkscape

Picture of Embed the Images in Inkscape

Open a new document in Inkscape.  Drag the snowflake *.png files from the sketch folder onto the Inkscape document.  Inkscape will give you the choice of either embedding or linking to the images.  Choose "embed."

Step 4: Convert the Images to Vectors

Picture of Convert the Images to Vectors

Currently the snowflakes are bitmapped images, but in order to laser cut them, we need to convert them to vectors.  Select one of the snowflakes you wish to laser cut.  Choose "Trace Bitmap" from the "Path" menu.  Click "Okay" in the window that pops up, and then close the pop-up window.  This creates a vectorized copy of the snowflake you had selected.  Drag the vectorized snowflake away from the bitmapped original, and then delete the original.

Repeat this process for all the snowflakes you wish to laser cut.

Step 5: Save Your Work and Laser Cut the Snowflakes

Picture of Save Your Work and Laser Cut the Snowflakes

Save your work in a file format recognized by the laser cutting software you plan to use.  Many laser cutters recognize *.dxf files.  If you reopen the *.dxf file using Inkscape, it is clear that the snowflakes are now vector graphics.

The specifics of how to use a particular laser cutter will vary, so make sure you either know what you're doing or ask someone for help.  Make sure you choose the laser cutter settings carefully, because acrylic snowflakes are tend to be fragile - note the cracked branch in the photo!

Happy holidays!

Comments

d_f made it! (author)2014-03-06

I made these! They came out perfectly.

It took me 90 minutes of burn time at 90% power on a 40w laser to make 60 roughly 2-inch-wide snowflakes, using 3 sheets of 18x24x0.11 inch acrylic (very cheap stuff from a hardware store). They look much better in person than they do in pictures.

perplexity (author)d_f2014-03-06

Excellent! I'm glad they turned out so well; I tried to do it with a thicker acrylic sheet and it warped a bit in the cutter - some of the snowflakes cracked while I was punching them out.

rachel (author)2013-12-26

What a great idea! May try this for small gifts next year :)

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