This is an intro-level project that requires minimal skills and basic materials. You do need access to a laser cutter and Illustrator or similar software but the vector-only graphic is pretty simple to process.
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Step 1: Ingredients
A design. Dover is a great source of design of many styles, and many are copyright-free. Some of their books come with disks containing vector files but this particular one, "Floral Ornament" is a hard copy only. I used a scanner but you may prefer to download something, create your own or alter a photo.
Adobe Illustrator. If you prefer Corel or something else and know how to use it with your laser, you know more than I do. These instructions are for Illustrator because I can usually muddle my way through on that and don't know anything else.
2 mat boards of contrasting color. If possible, try to match the front of the base mat (the bits that will show through) with the back of the top. This will minimize the appearance of any tearout or fuzzies from incomplete cuts or hand trimming.
A frame to fit your mats, preferably one with glass.
Rubber cement. You can use something else if you like, but this is quick, non-staining and provides a cheap high for those with a surfeit of brain cells.
A craft knife - I prefer the #16 blades because they have less wiggle and the points are less likely to chip and embed the tip in a thick mat.
A good eraser. I find that the plastic novelty type smears less than pink pearls or the beige gummy cubes, but kneaded erasers probably work great too. Mine is super excellent because it is shaped like a tropical fish.
Step 2: Design
Step 4: Laser Magic
Place the mat board on the bed of the laser. If the front of the mat is light-colored, put it face-down to minimize possible marking with soot. (This may require you to go back into the file and flip the design if it has text or is otherwise asymmetrical; you may prefer to take your chances with the soot if the mat is dark or if you like the smoky effect. It's up to you, but a test run is not a bad thing.) Adjust the focus and set the home coordinates. In the printer driver window, designate the file as vector only with 50% speed, 50% power, and frequency of 500 Hz. Select vector sorting and enter the size of the mat board and confirm the orientation of the material on the bed. Press "OK." Close the lid on the laser and press "go." Monitor it as it cuts to catch any potential fire but don't just stare at the darn thing. It is a laser, after all.
Step 5: Separation Anxiety
Step 6: Assembly Part 1
Step 7: Almost There!
If there are little bits yet to add, press the pieces that surround them into place gently. In this case, the surrounding ring puts the central boss into place. If it is symmetrical like this circle, put the registration pieces in upside-down to minimize marks on the underlayer and identify the pieces to be removed later (the reversed ring in this example shows some of the soot marks from facing the laser). Using very thin dabs of rubber cement placed far away from the edges, glue the interior bits into their spaces. The same rule about little details applies here if using a glassless frame, but be extra careful not to get any on the registration pieces. Cover and press again with books. More tea. More air.
Step 8: The Finale!
If you try this and want to show off your work, please post a pic or two or a link! I would love to see them.
Thanks for reading all the way through. This is my first Instructable, so please don't be too hard on me.