Introduction: Entomology Photography Tray

About: I like to make useful things with my laser and 3D printer. I share the best of them here and/or on my Etsy page.

These files are for photography trays to assist with insect collection digitization. The files include two sizes of tray. The 162 mm tray has dimensions of 162 x 162 x 38 mm and will fit insects up to 116 mm wide and 139 mm long. The 200 mm tray has dimensions of 200 x 200 x 38 mm and will fit insects up to 154 mm wide and 177 mm long. The files come in .ai, .svg, .dxf, and .pdf formats and will work with wood that is 2.8-3.2 mm thick. I recommend plywood for its strength and low cost. The Essig Museum logo in the photos for this Instructable is not in the files. Instructions are nearly identical for both sizes, and only photos for the 162 mm tray are shown.

Steps for using the tray:

  1. Place the specimen on the elevated section of foam and use forceps to slide the labels off of the pin.
  2. Move the specimen to the lower, larger foam.
  3. Arrange the labels neatly on the upper foam.
  4. Take a photo.
  5. Use the pinhole in the lower left corner to add the labels back to the specimen in the correct order.


  • Laser Cutter
  • Calipers
  • 3mm/1/8in Plywood (Most plywood has voids filled with glue that the laser can't cut. This plywood is laser-friendly)
  • Foam
  • 220 grit sandpaper (higher grits optional)
  • Thin Super Glue
  • Boiled Linseed Oil (substitute with other oils or stains according to your preference)
  • Rags or paper towels to apply the oil with
  • Wide Blue Painters' Tape
  • Old gift card or other card you don't care about (to flatten the tape and ensure that it sticks)
  • Orbital Sander (Not strictly necessary, but will save you time and effort especially if you're making more than one tray.)
  • Hot Glue Hun and Hot Glue
  • X-Acto Knife

Step 1: File Selection

The files come in .ai, .svg, .dxf, and .pdf file types. There are also files for each size of tray, and for wood thicknesses 2.8-3.2 mm.

  1. Download the .rar file that corresponds with the size of tray you want to make. If you want to make both sizes, start with the smaller one since it will waste less plywood if you make a mistake. Unzip the file with Winrar or similar.
  2. Measure the thickness of the plywood. As long as it is between 2.8 mm and 3.2 mm, it should work.
  3. Select the next largest file size. For example, if you measure the plywood as 2.84 mm, you should select the 2.9 mm files. It's better that the pieces fit together loosely than not at all, so always round up, not down.
  4. Figure out what file type is easiest to send to your laser.
  5. Now that you know the actual thickness of the plywood, the size of tray you want, and the file type for your laser, select the corresponding files. If you use the dxf files, make sure to import them with mm as the units.

Step 2: Cutting

  1. Ensure that the kerf on your laser is properly accounted for in your laser control software. If it isn't, then your pieces will not fit properly. Helpful info on kerf
  2. Tape the top of your plywood and then use the gift card to flatten any wrinkles and ensure that the tape is well adhered to the surface. Flip it over and do the same for the bottom. This will keep char and smoke marks from disfiguring your pieces.
  3. In your laser software, set the black lines to cut and the red lines to vector engrave.
  4. Cut your pieces and remove them from the laser.

Step 3: Initial Assembly

  1. Remove the tape from each piece and lightly sand each side with 220 grit parallel to the grain to remove splinters. I forgot to sand until later, so you'll see splinters in some of the photos. I highly recommend using an orbital sander for this, especially if you want to make more than one tray.
  2. Assemble the pieces as shown in photos 2-10. There are a few slight differences between the photos and the final version of the files that you can ignore. Don't use any glue yet. If the pieces are too tight to fit together, you either measured the thickness of the plywood incorrectly, or more likely, overcompensated for the kerf. If they are too loose, you might have measured the thickness incorrectly or undercompensated for the kerf. Make adjustments and try again.
  3. Once the tray looks like photo 10, apply glue to all of the internal seams. See photo 11, and be sure to glue all of the seams, even ones not visible in that photo.
  4. Attach the last two pieces according to photos 12-14 and glue them in place.

Step 4: Sand, Foam, and Oil

  1. Sand the tray with 220 grit (and higher if desired). Be careful not to remove the scale bar by sanding excessively.
  2. Cut out two pieces of foam. For the 162 mm file, the pieces should be 139 mm x 116 mm and 109 mm x 40 mm. For the 200 mm file, the pieces should be 177 mm x 154 mm and 147 mm x 40 mm.
  3. Use a minimal amount of hot glue to attach the foam pieces. They will get dirty and need to be replaced eventually, so it's important that you are able to remove them.
  4. Apply boiled linseed oil (or stain or other oil according to your preference), to the exterior of the tray.

  5. You're done!
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