Introduction: How to Make Awesome Laser Cut Art!

This instructable will show you the process that I went through to create just about all of my Christmas presents that I gave out this year. I'm entering this insructable into the holiday gift contest so if you enjoy it be sure to vote for it in the contest!

The process in a nut shell is to draw up your design in a graphics program, cut it out by using a laser cutter, glue the pieces together and attach a saw tooth hanger on the back. Then you have a custom made awesome gift to give out. I'm going to walk through the process that I followed for the Mario collage that I made as a late Christmas gift for a friend. In addition you can also paint the individual pieces, stain them, frame the whole piece or hang it as is. 

If you like any of these designs I have the finished projects for sale on my Etsy right now. If there is enough interest in a design I'll post the files that I used to cut them up there too or send it out. Message me if you have any questions about it!

Now on to the step by step guide to create the Mario Collage:

Step 1: Draw Up Design in Inkscape/AutoCad/Illustrator/etc.

So the very first step is to think up a design. Is the person your giving the gift to a huge video game fan? Do they have a room in their house filled with their favorite sports teams merchandise? After you figure out what the main theme of your design is going to be the next step is to draw up your design in a program that is able to export a file type that a laser cutter can cut from. 

Ponoko has some great getting started guides found here for a variety of programs. You will usually need a .svg, a .eps, or a .dxf file for most laser cutters. If your planning on submitting your design to get cut at ponoko just follow their design rules. If your planning on getting your design cut at a local tech shop or hacker space just ask them what file type they need and which line colors correspond to etching/cutting.

The process that I follow is pretty simple in that you first find an image that you want to use in your collage. Import that image into your chosen graphics program. Trace out that outline of what you want to cut out and then trace out what features you want to etch. Do this for each image you want to add to your design and then scale the design to however big you want it and move on to step two! 

Step 2: Cut Out Your Design

For this step you either need to upload your design to ponoko or some other website or bring your file to someone that owns a laser cutter and actually get your design cut out. For some of my presents I went to my local hacker space (Metrix: Create Space) to get them cut and for others I uploaded and ordered them from ponoko. 

However you decide to get your designs cut out make sure that your etching what you want to etch and cutting what you want to cut! Also it never hurts to check your scaling and make sure you have the right materials selected. I'm a huge fan of how laser cut wood looks so I chose to cut all of my designs out of 6mm or 3mm birch plywood but some of them would also look pretty awesome cut out of acrylic or bamboo. Its up to you! 

After you get your pieces cut its on to assembling the final work or art!

Step 3: Glue Your Design Together

The easiest way I have found to make sure that my designs are lined up and my pieces end up where I want them to is to design a frame around them. When the laser cutter cuts out the individual pieces that you are eventually going to mount on your finished piece keep the negative space that you are not mounting.

Glue the frame to the backer board first. Then fill in the frame with this negative space to align your designs in the right spot then glue only the designs down. Once you have your glue on the piece carefully pull out the negative space. The piece is now glued into the exact spot that you drew it! I have found that spray adhesive is really quick and easy but doesn't always bond the best. Ideally you should apply a thin coating of wood glue to each piece, apply a weight to make sure they are pressed against back piece and let them sit until dry.

After the glue has dried your now ready to move on to installing the sawtooth hanger!

Step 4: Install Sawtooth Hanger

For the designs I ordered from Ponoko the wood ended up being 3mm thick. This meant that the nails that came with my sawtooth hangers would end up sticking out of the front a bit. To solve this I just cut a piece of scrap 3mm to roughly the size of the sawtooth hangers and then nailed it into place. Any wire cutters should be able to make decently clean cut in the 3mm thick plywood. 

If you go with thicker material simply nail your sawtooth hanger in place. If your piece ends up being too heavy for the hangers just hang it as you would any heavy picture or mirror. 

Now onto the finishing touches to really spruce up your final design!

Step 5: Add Some Finishing Touches

Sometimes as wood is cut by a laser cutter it ends up with some pretty nasty scorch marks. To fix this all you need to do is sand down the piece with some fine sandpaper. It should clean up the scorch marks nicely. 

Now you can really let your creativity shine through by staining, painting or framing your finished pieces however you want to! The etch lines that you draw could easily be used to color in your designs. By leaving the negative space in you can easily spray paint the designs and frame while keeping the backing clean. Its really up to you!

Now its time to give the gift away...  

Step 6: Give Away or Hang on Your Wall!

After you finish sanding, painting or staining your gift it is finished! 

Its up to you whether or not you want to give it away or hang it on your own wall.... 

If you really liked any of these designs check out my etsy where they are all available for sale. If you want just the files to cut them yourself let me know in a message and we will figure something out. The link to my etsy is: if you place an order on etsy and mention this instrutable you will get a special discounted price! 

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