Introduction: Laser Burning Pictures Into Wood

Everyone has seen the pictures on Instagram or Pintrest about how to move pictures on to wood. These cool images are nice decorations around the house and draw people's attention at gatherings. Unfortunately, the simple way to adhere the photo won't work 100% of the time and can appear faded or not fully stick to the block of wood. With laser cutters becoming more accessible you can now laser etch you very own photos for decoration.

Step 1: Gather Your Supplies and Know Your Location.

Items I used for this process.

Piece of wood large enough for the picture your wanting. I used 1/4 inch thick birch.

Grab a photo you'd like to use and a way to get it to the computer like an e-mail or usb.

Laser cutter designed for cutting wood. I'm using Universal Laser System's ILS 12.75 cutter at Louisville's Firstbuild site. There's different make and models out there so be sure you understand the one you're using. Also check to see if the cutter comes with a photo etching program. They're simple to use and they make the image come out properly. The one at first build is the one touch laser photo program. If your laser cutter doesn't have one, check to see if the company makes one and then request it be added to your local laser cutter.

Fine grit sand paper for wood.

Bandsaw or tablesaw

Step 2: Selecting and Editing Your Photo

Selecting a photo is the easiest part but some photos simply have issues when being laser etched. Don't let that deter you from continuing though. Simply open up a photo editing program and upload the photo.

Believe it or not I did all of it on my smartphone. It has the basic settings of black and white, as well as grey scale. You can then play with contrast and brightness.

Some photos do require some heavy duty overhaul. That will need to be done in Photoshop and other editing programs. Most photos won't need that much work unless its a very one note photo. (I.E. Your family wearing bright cloths in a brightly colored and lit room, or your friends wearing dark cloths inside a room with dark painted walls, no windows, and no lights.)

Step 3: Uploading to the Laser Photo Program.

Move your photo to the computer that controls the laser cutter and open your photo editing program. All programs are different and I do not know how different they can be. The One-Touch Laser Photo program is very straight forward and only has three steps.

First crop and assign your height to the photo. Height and width can't be adjusted separately. To maintain resolution the other length will auto adjust. Just adjust your most critical dimension and let the other adjust accordingly.

Second simulate the result with the material you are planning on using. Don't be alarmed if it isn't as good as you hoped. As long as the simulation is decent and you can see enough of the image it will turn out darker and better once completed. Exit the simulation and hit configure. The image will then pixelate.

Lastly, print the image. It will move the picture to the laser cutting software.

Step 4: Time to Etch

The image should load into your laser cutting software. To open the program click the red box with diamond and line through the middle. Measure, load in your material and line up the laser position with the material. Some people like to move the image, others the materials. It is preference.

The controls on the right can help you zoom in (the magnifying glass), move the laser (the pinhead pointed down), and move the image itself (The four arrows).

Next open up your laser settings, the laser cutter were using has a preset laser etching settings. You can use that but i find it has not enough of a contrast. I would lower the speed and up the power accordingly. When i did my birch I used 80% power and 60% speed. It gives nice contrast and good finish.

Step 5: Cutting the Image and Finished

Now its time to cut the image.

DISCLAIMER!!! Check your saw! Some table saws come with an auto break or shutoff when making contact with skin. If your saw has this, you cannot cut the image out on it or else the carbon from the etching will trigger it and make it shut down. This will cause you to break your mechanism or blade. Either switch to another saw or turn it off.

If you can't turn it off I would use a band saw. Most come with a straight edge fixture that you can align for your picture. Check the saw band while its turned on to make sure there isn't any bends or breaks that may cause errors in your straight cut. After that cut it through.

DISCLAIMER Saws are dangerous. Use proper gear like glasses and pushes when using them to avoid damage to yourself.

After the image has been cut, sand down the edges with the sand paper until smooth. Then find a spot and present it to the world.

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