Introduction: How to Make a 3D Wood Veneer Comic Cover

I've always wanted to have my very own issue of Amazing Fantasy #15 displayed on the wall. However, even the copies in the roughest of shape fetch a far prettier penny than I could ever justify spending on a comic. I work with wood often, so naturally I decided to make my own hardier version that I'd be proud to display in my home.

Originally I was going to laser etch the Amazing Fantasy cover into a solid piece of wood and then stain it different colors. Not only would that have been even more tedious and time consuming, once stain touches wood it is difficult to remove, thus allowing little room for error. I wanted something that would really pop and catch your eye on the wall so I altered the design to be three-dimensional. This was achieved by laying various species of wood veneer on top of balsa wood to give the illustrations depth, and then finally attaching all of the pieces to a solid wood board that can be mounted and displayed on a wall or bookshelf.

This Instructable requires basic knowledge of graphic editing software and laser cutting.

Step 1: Materials

First things first, you're going to need access to a laser cutter. I recently joined a co-op work space that has one and I've been lasering nonstop. Many large cities have co-op work spaces or hackerspaces with minimal monthly membership fees. Having access to a laser cutter alone makes the membership fees worth it in my opinion. You're also going to need a few other things, including:

Wood Plank
I used a board that I had laying around. It was a 1x8" Poplar board that I cut 12 inches off to use as the base.

Assorted Veneers
A good assortment of different wood species is key to making the cover pop. I purchased a pack of assorted veneers from Woodcraft that came with about 30 different sheets to choose from. I wanted to make sure the woods were relatively close to the colors of the comic cover. Originally I was going to use a bluish grey Oak for part of Spiderman but changed it after realizing that that particular veneer was dyed. Dyed veneers do not laser engrave well, so I changed it to Walnut instead. I ended up choosing Mahogany, Walnut, Cherry, Bamboo, Maple, Lyptus and Purpleheart for this cover.

Balsa Wood
Balsa wood is used to give the cover more depth. For the Amazing Fantasy cover, I wanted Spidey to be the most prominent and farthest out piece, so the veneer is mounted on a 1/8" piece of balsa. The word bubbles, title, and bad guy are mounted on 1/16" balsa.

Since it's mostly small pieces, I chose a fast setting super glue. You have to be quick when placing things, but you won't have to clamp them like a traditional veneer glue.

Wood Finish
I used a clear semi-gloss polyurethane to finish and protect the wood. I bought the spray kind so I wouldn't have to brush or hand rub all of the tiny pieces.

Step 2: Preparing Your Image to Engrave the Board

The first thing you're going to need is a comic cover image that you'd like to use. I found my cover on Google image search. The larger and more detailed the image is, the easier it's going to be to work with.

A laser cutter works by taking a raster or vector file and engraving or cutting your material based on different power settings. The laser works with CorelDRAW, but I prefer using Adobe products first because I'm more comfortable using them. Open source programs like GIMP and Inkscape can also be used. It works best when it's a clearly defined black and white image. To accomplish this, use an image editor such as Photoshop/Gimp/Paintshop Pro to remove all of the color from the image. The magic wand tool works well for this. 

After removing all of the color, copy and paste the image into a vector program. You can keep the image as a raster image but I prefer lasering things that are all vectors. It gives a clearer image. Using Illustrator's Image Trace function, you can make the black and white outlines into vectors.

The green and the blue inside the buildings are added because each color can be set to different power settings to achieve varying depths in the Poplar board. Keep the entire image for the board so that it will be easier to know where to place the veneers and balsa when you assemble everything later. When engraving the board, use a high power and low speed for the black, a medium power and medium speed for the blue, and a low power and high speed for the green.

Step 3: Preparing Your Image to Cut and Engrave the Veneer

Next, separate every piece of the image that is going to be cut out of veneer and balsa into different files. You will need to outline each piece you want to cut in red. I used the Line Segment and Arc tool to outline it in Illustrator.

When engraving the veneer, make sure to use a power setting that will not remove too much material since the veneer is very thin. A medium-low power setting at a relatively high speed works well for this. The etched parts burn slightly, giving it a nice contrast.

The balsa also needs to be cut out but it doesn't need to be etched. The veneers will be mounted on the balsa to give the image even more depth. Spidey was cut on 1/8 inch balsa, while the word bubbles, title and bad guy were cut on 1/16th inch balsa.

Step 4: Cutting the Board Down to Size

I tried to keep the image as close to the size of an actual comic cover, which is 6.625 by 10.25 inches. The poplar board was 7.5 by 12 inches. After etching, the board needed to be cut down a bit. A table saw is the best tool for doing this.

Step 5: Tips and Tricks

Test, test, and test!
Be sure to test your power settings on small pieces of veneer before you commit to making larger cuts. Some of the veneers do not etch very well, especially the dyed ones. Also, I did a number of power setting tests on the plank to make sure there was nice contrast and depth in the plank.

Use a sturdy box to keep things safe
Unfortunately I didn't get to cut out everything at once because I was using a shared laser cutter. The cut out pieces are very thin and fragile, so I made sure to have a box handy to transport everything.

Sand down the balsa if need be
Since Spidey is sticking out farther than the guy he's holding onto (Spidey is mounted on 1/8" balsa and the criminal on 1/16" balsa), it would have looked kind of strange if the arm that's suppose to be wrapped behind the criminal guy was also sticking out farther. The best thing to do is just to sand down the arm part of Spidey until it's about 1/16th of an inch also.

Step 6: Assembling the Pieces

This was the most simple and straightforward part of the process. It was also the most enjoyable since you get to see everything come together.

I decided to use super glue because it is quick setting. Also, using super glue only requires a small amount of glue on each piece of veneer. Be sure not to use too much because you don't want the glue and veneer getting stuck to your fingers. Hold the pieces together for 30 to 60 seconds to let them set.

I glued all of the veneers to their corresponding balsa pieces first. Gluing the purpleheart top banner to the plank came next, followed by all of the title letters, word bubbles, etc to the plank. I saved gluing Spidey and the criminal for last.

Step 7: Finishing

I decided to finish the cover with a semi-gloss polyurethane spray. Polyurethane is a clear, hard finish that dries fast and provides a long-lasting protective coating on the wood. I did the recommended 3 coats and let it dry for 24 hours before handling.

Step 8: The Finished Product

I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

I would like to make many, many more first edition and first appearance comic covers, including larger versions. I already have the plans and vector files prepared. All I need now is my very own laser cutter!
Epilog Challenge V

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Epilog Challenge V