Introduction: Personalize Your Phone

Picture of Personalize Your Phone

With the help of a laser cutter you can personalize your possessions in really amazing ways. In this example I added a Trilobite image to a friend's phone.

Step 1: Find Yourself a Laser Cutter

Picture of Find Yourself a Laser Cutter

Laser cutters are becoming more and more common. This is due to the amazing things that you can do with them and the fact that their cost keeps dropping. I would expect that in another 5-10 years they will be found in every Kinkos.

For right now, there are a number of services that you can go to who have laser cutters. In the Bay Area we have Tap Plastic or East Bay Laser & Water Jet. Once you've tasted this tool you will never be happy without one.

In our case we have a 45W Epilog Mini 24. Shown here:

Step 2: Find Your Art Work

Picture of Find Your Art Work

The next step is to decide what art work you want to put on your phone. Black & White line art works very well, as does any sort of text.

This image started as a GIF. I then imported the image into Corel Draw and sized it correctly.

Step 3: Choose Your Target

Picture of Choose Your Target

You can etch into a huge range of different materials, including:
+ Wood
+ Plastic
+ Rubber
+ Cork
+ Anodized Aluminum
+ Steel

This corresponds to a huge variety of different items that you can personalize:
+ Phone
+ iPod
+ Keys
+ Fruit
+ Picture Frames
+ Etc. Etc. Etc.

Step 4: Choose Your Laser Settings

Unfortunately this step depends heavily on the material that you are engraving into and the power of your laser cutter. In my case I chose a Raster Mode cut with 100% Power and 100% Speed. These settings work well for any semi hard surface, including anodized aluminum, wood, and acrylic. For softer materials like some plastics you want to use a lower power setting, (otherwise the material melts too much and you lose image definition.) And, if you're engraving into glass you might want to use a lower speed.

Step 5: Do the Engraving

Picture of Do the Engraving

I recommend doing a test engrave first to make sure that the image is sized appropriately and looks good.

Then make sure you position your object correctly and HIT START.

It's not unusual for small sparks to pop off the surface, but in general this should be a reasonably safe thing to do. That being said, my recommendation is to never walk away from a running laser cutter and be prepared to stop it if things go wrong.

When it's done. Take it out, wipe off the surface, and enjoy.


DiamondBack (author)2006-09-22

So, uh, where would one get any such laser cutter? Are these only good for engraving, or can it make thru cuts?

babylonfive (author)DiamondBack2014-02-09

Look up TechShop on the intarwebs

ELF (author)DiamondBack2007-07-08

Most of them can :) Depends on material, and how strong they are... <--- He used a laser cutter for some of his projects :) Also, maybe you know about the fat@home project? It's a rapid prototype printer for the average person, still under developement. That is also cut with a laser cutter, a 65W if I remember right:

MadCobbler (author)2009-10-18

I think maybe this is in the 'nice to know how' category.  These things are way too expensive for the casual hobbyist IMHO.

babylonfive (author)MadCobbler2014-02-09

No, there are now facilities that can rent machine time on a Laser for a very reasonable amount.

beachflight (author)2010-12-08

That's so cool! It looks like there is a trilobite fossil in the phone.
Nice work.

repguy2020 (author)beachflight2012-09-25

I guess that means it's a fossil phone.

painweaver (author)2011-02-23

it doesn't even look like it's centered. lolz

acornstu (author)2008-08-26


superMacaroni (author)acornstu2010-09-23


superMacaroni (author)2010-07-18

why did you steal my phone for your evil experiments

Scupper (author)2007-11-28

Has anyone or does anyone know how to make "skins" or tattoos (using labels) for phones or notebooks. I know they are available for sale in stores on online, but I would prefer to try my own designs. I think templates for each phone is the key. Thanks

juanrunnells (author)Scupper2009-11-08

1. take measurements of what you'd like to make a skin (or scan and make a template for your sizing)
2. Make your design in your preferred graphics program
3. Go to your local sign making or promotional services company
4. Have your design printed and cut out on a printer cutter onto vinyl sticker material (i'd suggest a 7mil cast, higher quality, lasts longer)
-use a mild solution of soap and water to spray item lightly (this allows you to move and reposition decal when your placing it)
-after you have it positioned properly use a plastic squeegee or a credit card starting at the middle of your decal and working out to remove the water from beneath your decal and to flatten out any bubbles.
-If you have beveled edges on the item your wrapping, you can use a heat gun to shrink wrap the vinyl decal around the edges (BE VERY CAREFUL , do not hold the heat gun in one place for too long, especially with electronics)  use the lightest setting on the heat gun..  This works better with higher cast vinyls, than with cheap.

DISCLAIMER:  I'm not responsible for damages to whatever your wrapping, BE VERY CAREFUL!

serealis (author)Scupper2008-11-28

you should be able to scan whatever device you want to make a skin for (using a regular ol' scanner) and set up a template from that; as far as getting it printed up -- find a sign shop and have them print it up for you.

chances are they'd only have standard sign shop materials available for skins (read: strong adhesives on these materials) -- but if you're willing to clean off adhesive when you're sick of the skin, go for it -- just request that they print it on a vinyl with repositionable (not permanent) adhesive

as far as i know, that'd be the easiest and likely cheapest way you can go about that

M4industries (author)2009-08-08

I engraved my ipod with indy mogul and make logo. It was an epilog helix 45 at techshop durham settings, 95 speed, raster etch, 60 power, 600 dpi.

Shifrin (author)2008-01-27

Awesome! it would probably be easier for me though, my father is a jewelry : P and he can engrave lots -Alex

douro20 (author)2008-01-03

45W is nice, but you really don't need quite that much power for this job. 20W should do it nicely.

G33k (author)2007-11-06

daaaam...that's one old nokia lol

nikkirosety (author)G33k2007-11-26


Punkguyta (author)2007-11-03

Oh forgot to mention, you didn't actually laser cut that while the cover was attached to the phone did you? If so I really need to kick you.

_soapy_ (author)2006-05-06

This is surreal. Surely anyone with a laser engraver would know to engrave stuff with stuff, and it's totally useless to anyone without a laser engraver!

xxxafterglow (author)_soapy_2007-07-15

How does that make it surreal???? Nice instructable.. makes us cutter-less ones fantasize about what we could do if we had one... and do some dream shopping on ebay of course.

_soapy_ (author)xxxafterglow2007-07-27

What is surreal is that anyone with a laser cutter would know that they can engrave things, and for anyone without one can't do it, so what's the point? It doesn't instruct, really.

xxxafterglow (author)_soapy_2007-07-28

Surreal means to have a dream-like quality. Perhaps you meant "unreal" as a synonym for unbelievable as in, "Yo, this pudding tastes whack, Ma's cooking is UNREEEEEAAAAAL!!!" It seems the point of the instructable is to demonstrate what can be done with a laser engraver for those of us who don't own one or have limited experience. No need to dish out the haterade.

.... Not to mention the instructable takes you step by step through the process - (image rec's, materials, objects to engrave, settings, software, safety). It's pretty thorough and I was able to visualize the process without an engraver in front of me. I think that's instructive.

colin (author)xxxafterglow2007-07-28

Heh. Thanks xxx for the words of support. The other aspect was that I posted this instructable close to 2 years ago when instructables was getting started (it may have even still been iFabricate at that point,) and we were trying to get a bunch of different content up on the site.

visdes (author)colin2007-08-28

colin, which HEPA dust collector are you using? i have a little JET 650 CFM dust collector with a 2 micron filter and a charcoal filter, but i'm still getting a bit of smoke in the air through the filter media that i need a large fan to blast out the window. if your HEPA unit does a reasonably good job of providing suction and scrubbing the exhaust air, I'd love to look into getting one. any advice is appreciated. thanks!

_soapy_ (author)colin2007-08-03

Indeed, I made my original comment about this back in May 2006. Even that was a year after it was posted, and my comment was just before the time this site really began to get known as a place to be. Either way, it is content, and it is really good, but I stand by my original comment about this being rather like getting the instruction manual for an X-wing - interesting, but totally useless to anyone but the few people who have an X-wing, and they probably knew how to fly it and got a manual with it when they got it.

_soapy_ (author)xxxafterglow2007-08-03

That's right, it does have the sort of quality of a weird daydream, one where I own a £2000 laser engraver, but have no idea at all what to do with it.

ARVash (author)2007-06-20

I'm curious if there's a DIY laser engraver out there.. (searches instructables and the web)

markryder1988 (author)2006-06-03

yeah is pretty stupid considering if i had a laser engraver id probably do something far smarter than engraving some crappy old phone! you could be more inventive! like engrave a gun or something with your own design that would be good.

tankboyben (author)markryder19882007-04-10

yeah lets engrave somthing "far smarter" like a gun!?!?! let me guess American by any chance? the phones got a rat look and its custom, i think the general concensus is that its pretty cool.

ARVash (author)tankboyben2007-06-20

Calm down guys.. I agree the cellphone customization is pretty darn cool :P. A spanish style revolver with engravings would also be cool. Mark.. try not to troll.

emitefil (author)2007-02-26

I think she has nice fingernails.

12233314 (author)2006-10-18

what kind of prices are cheap laser cutters???

paper warrior (author)2006-09-23


FROOZ (author)2006-09-22

i wanna get a laser cutter

kawouter (author)2006-09-06

then let me be a n00b- engraver, this looks great!!

boocat (author)2006-08-24

I agree with Neodude! I think this is super cool and looks terrific.

Neodudeman (author)2006-08-23

what about n00b-engravers? I think they'll find this useful. Besides, it looks cool. Ya'll are just jealous

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