Introduction: Chinese Zodiac Luck Sculpture

You don't necessarily have to be a gifted artist to make beautiful sculptures!

Upon learning I had access to a laser cutter, 3D printers, and much more in Ms. Berbawy's Intro to Engineering
Design class, I decided to create a simple, yet elegant sculpture with many symbols from Chinese history and culture. This was created as a gift for my mom, who immigrated to the US from China a bit over 20 years ago.

If you want to create something similar for a friend or relative, more power to you!

Step 1: Create 3D Character Design in Autodesk Inventor

For my project, I selected the Chinese character "福" which stands for good luck and good fortune. I created my 3D design by drawing a 2D sketch of the character using only the "line" function in inventor, essentially connecting a bunch of straight lines into closed shapes. From there, I extruded the drawing out by 0.15 inches -- (note: prior to printing the character, I re-scaled everything so the actual depth of the object was greater that 0.15 inches).

Step 2: 3D Print the Character

Once my 3D design was finished, I saved a copy as a .stl file and got ready to print! I chose gold filament for the design color, as gold is also considered a lucky color in Chinese culture. After scaling my character in the printing software, the entire object fits in a 6x6 square inch area.

These were the specs for my print on a Lulzbot Taz 6:

Laye height (mm): 0.25

Shell thickness (mm): 0.5

Bottom/Top thickness (mm): 1

Fill Density (%): 18

Print speed (mm/s): 50

Printing Temperature (C): 220

Bed Temperature (C): 60

Filament Diameter (mm): 2.85

Filament Flow (%): 100.0

Step 3: Design and Create a Sculpture Background

For my sculpture background, I created a circular design on Adobe Illustrator, using a 255R, 0.1-inch line thickness, and 10-inch diameter red circle as the outline for cutting, with a black floral design on the inside to be rastered.

Once my design was finished, I cut/rastered it out of red acrylic.

Step 4: Attach Printed Character to Background

After my background was cut and rastered, I attached the 3D character using a type of superglue I had at home: "CYANOACRYLATE ADHESIVE."

To center the character before attaching, I used a ruler and expo marker to make markings to help me orient the character.

Step 5: Create Sculpture Base

For my base, I designed and laser cut a set of rectangles to essentially create a 5-layered "pyramid" with a middle notch to insert the sculpture. The bottom base dimensions were set at 8.0 x 1.5 inches, with each following layer scaled to 90%, 80%, 70%, and 60% of the original rectangle size. The four non-bottom layers were also set to have a notch of 0.125 inches cutting them in half, leaving a space for the sculpture.

The dimensions for each set of rectangles for each layer are as follow:

Layer 1 (bottom) -- 8.0 x 1.5 inches

Layer 2 -- 7.20 x 1.35 inches

Layer 3 -- 6.40 x 1.20 inches

Layer 4 -- 5.60 x 1.05 inches

Layer 5 (top) -- 4.80 x 0.90 inches

Once all rectangles were cut, I attached them using white gorilla glue.

Step 6: Attach Base and Sculpture

This step was simple -- use adhesive to attach the sculpture to the base, sliding it into the pre-made notch and centering it!

Step 7: Begin 2nd Background Design

To add to my sculpture and round out the design, I decided to create a second circular background featuring the 12 Chinese Zodiac animals and characters, highlight another strong theme in Chinese culture.

To create the design myself rather than use online images, I sketched everything out on the Adobe Draw app using an iPad pro and Apple Pencil. The image above shows some of my progress in the Draw app, using different brushstrokes for the animal drawings and written characters.

Step 8: Create Laser Cut-Ready Design for 2nd Background

Once I finished drawing all the characters/animals in Adobe Draw, I exported the files as .png images, re-opened them in Photoshop, and re-colored all elements to be pure black rather than the mish-mash of colors they were prior.

Once all images were re-colored, I opened them all on a single Adobe Illustrator file, resized them, and put them in order around the edges of a new 12.3-inch diameter circle to prepare the design for laser cutting. The image above shows the finished design with all 12 zodiac characters and animals in correct order, with the inner circle indicating the current sculpture background size (10-inch diameter) and the second outer circle indicating the new cut to be made.

Step 9: Laser Cut and Raster 2nd Background

Simple step; laser cut and raster the 2nd background out of 1/8-inch thickness birch wood (see image above).

Step 10: Apply Clear Wood Finish and Sand 2nd Background

Using a thick paper towel, I applied the clear wood finish to all wooden parts of the sculpture to prevent dulling/graying of the sculpture over time, following this procedure:

1. Apply coast of finish, spread evenly across surface without leaving any condensed bubbles/splotches of liquid

2. Let coat dry for ~15 minutes

3. Sand surface using an electric sander once coat is dry

4. Repeat process, doing 2-3 layers for each surface

Step 11: Attach 2nd Background to Sculpture to Finish!

I used a contact adhesive to connect the sculpture (plastic) to the 2nd background (wood). Voilà! Sculpture complete :)