Introduction: My Keyboard My Hands

Picture of My Keyboard My Hands

I used the brand new Epilog laser cutter that Instructables recently got to laser etch an image of my hands onto my laptop keyboard...permanently. Now that's voiding your warranty in DIY style!

I've laser etched more laptops than most since I help operate the Instructables laser cutter at Maker Faire and the Web 2.0 Expo, however I've never actually etched any of my own computers.

I decided to put my old PowerBook G4 under the laser for a slightly more experimental and complex etch than I've previously done. Luckily, the technique worked, the etching went off without a hitch, and the computer came out of the ordeal completely unharmed.

Typing on top of your own hands is a little freaky, but I'm definitely enjoying it, and so far, it's prevented any writers block because I'm always ready to type!

Step 1: Photograph Hands and Computer Keyboard

Picture of Photograph Hands and Computer Keyboard

The first step was to take a bunch of photos of my hands in position over the home keys on my computer.

I set a camera up on a tripod and took photos with my hands in place over some white paper so that the image would be easier to trace in Photoshop.

I then took the paper background away and took some photos of just my computer keyboard so that I'd have something to register my hands on.

Step 2: Process the Image

Picture of Process the Image

Next comes the image processing. I opened one of the images of my hands on the white paper background in Photoshop. Using the magic wand, the selector tool and the eraser tool I went in and got rid of everything but my hands. This takes some time (what with the detail of my hairy wrists and all) but it was definitely worth it in order to get a nice clean trace.

Then, I placed the image of my computer keyboard on a new layer and positioned my hands in place over the home row of keys. They were already in the correct general location from the dots on the white paper, but they needed just a little tweaking to be be perfectly aligned.

I desaturated the image (lasers only print grayscale images) and turned up the brightness and the contrast a bit so that my hands really popped.

The last part of the image processing was to resize the image. I measured the distance between two points on my laptop in real life and then resized the image in Photoshop to match that same distance on the screen.

Step 3: Will the Laser Destroy My Laptop Keyboard and Touchpad?

Picture of Will the Laser Destroy My Laptop Keyboard and Touchpad?

It was at this point when I really started getting worried that laser etching my keyboard and touchpad might have some kind of ill effects on my computer...ya think?

I knew that the anodized aluminum case would react fine, but since I've never seen anyone etch their keys or touchpad, I needed some reassurance.

Luckily, a co-worker in our space knew an engineer who designed touchpads, and so he gave him a call to get some advice. The engineer predicted that it wouldn't hurt the touchpad, and so having gotten the go-ahead, I took the laptop to the laser etcher.

Step 4: Set Up the Job

Picture of Set Up the Job

Our new laser cutter prints beautifully from Photoshop so it was a breeze to get the laser etching job going.

I first etched the image onto blue painters tape laid down on the bed of the laser cutter so that I could see where exactly my hands would be etched.

Step 5: Register the Laptop

Picture of Register the Laptop

With the image of my hands etched onto the bed, all I had to do was register the laptop somehow. Ideally I would have etched the boundaries of my laptop onto the bed and simply positioned the computer inside of them. But, as they say, hindsight is 20/20, and I ended up using a precarious assembly of wooden skewers to indicate where my fingertips were.

With several registration points in place, I then slid my laptop into position beneath the skewers and aligned them with the home row of keys where I wanted my fingers to land.

Step 6: Defeat the Laser Cutter Safety Mechanism

Picture of Defeat the Laser Cutter Safety Mechanism

The laptop screen obviously had to be open during the laser etching process since I was etching the keyboard. In the open position, the screen is too high to fit inside the laser cutter under the lid. As a safety mechanism, the laser doesn't fire when the lid is open, so that feature had to be disabled.

In order to defeat the safety mechanism, I placed two small magnets on the side of the machine where two magnets embedded in the lid normally rest. This made the laser etch think that the lid was closed when it actually wasn't!

Defeating the safety mechanism was fun. I can see why people break into banks.

Step 7: Test the Alignment

Picture of Test the Alignment

Before making the irreversible etch into my computer, I checked the alignment one final time by covering my whole keyboard in blue painters tape and doing a test run at very low power so that I could see exactly where my hands were going to land on the keyboard.

Surprisingly, the skewer system I used worked perfectly to register my laptop in the correct location. My fingers fell right into position on the painters tape.

Step 8: Fire in the Hole

Picture of Fire in the Hole

With the alignment double checked it was time to lite up the laser! I set the speed to 100% and the power 12% and hit the go button.

The power setting was turned down so low because our new laser is more powerful than the old one (75W) and I wanted to take away nothing more than the finish on the keyboard keys. Etching too deep would have created an annoying texture on the keys that my fingers would have noticed every time they typed a letter. That would have been bad. 12% seemed to be just enough power to etch nothing more than the silver finish.

10 minutes later the job was complete and my hands were permanently etched into their home position on my computer. I fired the computer back up, tested the touchpad and typed up this Instructable - all systems nominal.



flashcactus (author)2011-10-01

It would be really hard to etch the laptop that controls the laser...

mugiwara (author)2011-04-11

You sir are crazy. I like it!

How are you supposed to play video games!?!?!?!

wupme (author)2008-12-02

On my older Notebook, you can definately see that too. And also the Keys i use the most are somewhat "polished" from my fingertips, and are so shiny... But, you know what sucks? One of my old notebooks, looked like that after just 2 Months, with about 2hours using it a day :(

anibioman (author)wupme2010-12-09

that is really easily worn down... some of my keys are polished like that, and part of my space bar is worn but only part so it looks odd.

daltonjcw (author)2009-03-02

I've seen those, i need one!

Cartuner55 (author)daltonjcw2009-03-25

dont get it. they have a rep of being hard to type on.

PSPerson (author)Cartuner552010-11-11

i can vouch for that. touch typing is impossible.

wupme (author)Cartuner552009-03-26

But it looks cool.

updown789 (author)2010-03-17

Damn! Good work :) My school has one of these, so might try and persuade my teacher to let me do that to my laptop!

nikolaou (author)2009-08-11

cool. i like the skewers and the magnet. you are clearly a good problem solver. wish i had a lazer cutter laying around

techshop1 (author)2009-07-15 Rock! love love love it!

fultron89 (author)2009-03-02


daltonjcw (author)2009-03-02

that is totally awesome!

Flumpkins (author)2009-02-28

WOAHHH!!! It looks soo photoshopped. NICE!!!

wupme (author)2008-12-02

Damn i need one of those laser cutters. Seriously i got a sh**load of ideas, even how to make good money with it. But they are so expensive :(

RoyalPayne (author)2008-12-02

Where do you people come up with these ideas? More important, the time.

eygen (author)2008-11-22

That's a really good idea! I don't have any access to laser cutters though, so I think I'll start experimenting with a marker =]
That should make a nice decoration.

winkman (author)2008-11-20

Looks ok, but i couldn't do it on my laptop! Throughout the whole instructable you were talking about putting it on your bed to etch, and i was like.... "A bed isn't a very good place to be etching something... especially your laptop!" And then i saw some of the pics and i realised that you meant the etching bed..... aaaaahhh..... Silly me!

ceramiceye (author)winkman2008-11-21

lol. I thought the same thing for a minute

madmanmoe64 (author)2008-11-17

Could you etch a full size 'you' into a mirror. That would really freak people out.

noahw (author)madmanmoe642008-11-17

This is a good idea, but I wouldn't use the laser to make it happen. The mirror in theory could send the beam directly back into the laser, and that wouldn't be good. Instead, you could generate a giant life size sticker of yourself using a plotter/cutter and some vinyl. It would just be outlines, but I think you could still generate a nice representation of yourself. Take the sticker, apply it to the mirror, and then use a sand blaster to etch the image into the glass.

JakeTobak (author)noahw2008-11-17

Would you worry about using the laser on just glass or would there still be too much risk of reflection? I probably wouldn't suggest this to just anybody, but since you're part of the Instructables Team and you've obviously got some chutzpah, you could maybe etch a piece of glass and silver it yourself.

noahw (author)JakeTobak2008-11-17

Using the laser on glass alone is perfectly fine. Randofo has been etching a bunch of drinking glasses using a rotary tool for the laser cutter and has been getting great results. I think he'll be posting about them soon. As far as etching a sheet of glass and then silvering it myself - that sounds intriguing and would certainly solve the reflection problem. I just looked up a bit about the process of making a mirror online, and it seems pretty doable. I think I might put this on my list of projects and give it a go! Thanks.

Llewner (author)noahw2008-11-21

We laser mirrors all day long here in my shop. It's not a problem. Most lasers can handle thin metal without a worry, and yes, we laser from the back side and then usually send it to the paint booth for a coat of black to fill in the lasered out areas.

srhadaham (author)noahw2008-11-19

you could faintly laser the back of the mirror and it would look pretty cool, but in order to laser a mirror the size of your body you would have to have a big laser

mdj817 (author)noahw2008-11-17

When fabricating mirrors (thanks, How It's Made!) they put a matte finnish onto the back to protect the thin layer of metal. Maybe you could flip over the mirror, and then burn it. If you told it to cut fairly deeply, maybe it could completely remove the entire metal part of "you." Of course, you would have to refine the computer design further, so that you didn't just end up with silhouette. Or, it could fail miserably, which is much more likely. :-P

gentry (author)2008-11-21

Why are you holding a vienna finger to your jaw in step 3?

Skor459 (author)gentry2008-11-21

Orange phone dude But nice observation. It's actually more of a Mini Aidelli's Mango Chicken Sausage I'd say, if you want to get technical.

Newblit (author)2008-11-20

I Love the idea although I could never do it to my computer because as much as I love it I could only think that's awesome when not in use but when in use I am not so sure if I would like it or not.

Llewner (author)2008-11-20

For those not interested in breathing in super toxic fumes from lasering improper plastics, check out this guide from Hobart Laser Extraction Systems:

Goodhart (author)2008-11-17

So, the laser did not penetrate into the spaces between the keys? That is a good thing. Many keyboards I have dismantled have a thin rubber-like membrane with all the contacts on it, and cutting it would allow it to slip to the side and you would then lose use of that key.

thermoelectric (author)Goodhart2008-11-18

Some of the newer keyboards just have a metal backing plate and the membrane only under the keys.

Goodhart (author)thermoelectric2008-11-19

Yes, that thin rubber-like membrane under the keys was what I meant. If it got cut because the laser got between the keys, it could fold under and hinder the neighboring key's use. But that is only a hypothesis, not a theory ;-)

thermoelectric (author)Goodhart2008-11-19

Ahh, Now I get where you're coming from, And that might affect them but like you said But that is only a hypothesis, not a theory ;-)

phant0m_sp00f3ra (author)2008-11-17

wow mate congrats u r in giz!

Weissensteinburg (author)2008-11-17

Great idea! When I saw your skewer rig, I thought it was some fancy caliper measuring system...and then I noticed the binder clips :D

keng (author)2008-11-17

sir, you are......insane.

artmule (author)2008-11-17

That is SO amazing. If I had the chance I would probably do nautical starts though.

gmjhowe (author)2008-11-17

haha, nice work. it came out really well! Now to add a laser etch of your eyes onto the screen :P

KentsOkay (author)2008-11-17

It looks downright ghostly... I doubt anyone will steal a laptop a specter is using.

>I can see why people break into banks FOCF!!

About This Instructable




Bio: I've worked for Instructables off and on since 2006 building and documenting just about everything I enjoy doing. I am now the Creative Programs ... More »
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