Introduction: Laser Etch Rubber Stamps for a Drone Stamp Revolution!

"In Drones We Trust" is participatory art project inviting volunteers from across the United States, and around the world, to rubber stamp a tiny image of an MQ1 Predator Drone onto the surface of their money. You can learn more about the project here and see hundreds of examples of drone stamped currency, stamped by project participants, now put back into circulation. I've created over 400 laser etched drone stamps which have now been shared with volunteers from throughout the United States (and internationally). The project is ongoing, if you want a stamp of your own, you can either make one (or a hundred!) from the information here, including the image file used, or, for the cost of postage I will send you one for free! Just go here!

This instructable will take you through the process of making the stamp, distribution, publicity and creating the website/tumblr archive. This project was made while an Artist in Residence at in San Francisco at the Pier 9 Workshop/Autodesk Inc.

Here are a couple of articles written about this project:

Step 1: Your Supplies...

1) First, you need a laser cutter - I am using an Epilog Legend EXT36 120Watt Laser Cutter. You can use others of course but be sure you look up the settings for your particular model for etching the rubber

2) A rubber sheet made for laser cutting rubber stamps. I used RPO 035 - No-Odor Laser Rubber from A single sheet allowed for over over 150 rubber stamps as mine are rather small - of course depends on the scale of your stamp how much material you will need.

3) Wood for the stamp handles. I made all of mine from scrap 3/4" thick pine boards of various size from scrap at the Pier 9 Workshop. You will need a table saw, mitre saw and a vertical bandsaw (if you don't have access to these I'd recommend buying 3/4" molding at you local hardware store and a handsaw).

4) Tacky Glue for attaching the laser etched rubber stamp material to your handles.

5) Rubber Stamp pad(s). I tried many, the best I have found, particularly for stamping on currency, seems to be Ranger brand pads. These are pretty darned amazing - archival, permanent and a wide range of colors. I used the "Library Green" as it matches well with American currency.

6) If you make a bunch of these and you want to send them to your friends, get some smallest size padded envelopes.

Step 2: Create a High Contrast Graphic...

This image began as a 3D model, we posed the drone in the 3D software, took a screen capture, which we then exported to Photoshop. You can of course use just about any image to make a rubber stamp but you will want to convert such to straight up black and white. There are many tutorials online about how to turn a photo into a rubber stamp, such as this one. Pretty straight forward image processing. Be sure to remember, whatever image you are printing (or text) will print in reverse!

What is most important to keep in mind is that you want a reverse image, the area to be etched (removed) by the laser cutter should be BLACK. The actual image you want to have stamped as your image should be WHITE.

Above is the actual image used to create my rubber stamp. I share this here so you can make your own and participate in the larger project.

Resize this image in Photoshop to 3/4" X 1/4" at 300 DPI.

Open the photoshop image in Illustrator. What you will then do is to create a vector rectangle where the stamp will be cut - basically align with the edges of the graphic. I then duplicated the graphic and created a larger grid of stamp images to cut. Really depends how many of these you want to make. Make as many as you like and share widely! Once you have your layout, you are ready to etch! Well almost...

Step 3: Laser Etch Your Rubber Stamps...

Be sure you are familiar with the operation of your laser cutter - if you are not using an Epilog 120W be sure and check what settings to use that are specific to your system. Also, regardless, the settings below should be tested on a single stamp before doing a mass of them to be sure the settings work well with your machine. I am working in a rare space at Pier 9 that has 3 of these Epilogues, each one seems to work a bit differently than the other, so adjusting these settings may be crucial to making a successful stamp!

1) Settings - these are what I used:

Use "Combined" print job, for vector (cuts) and raster (engraving) using the following settings:

Raster: 30% speed, 90% power, top-down engraving

Vector: 20% speed, 90% power, 2500 hz

2) Again, test your settings before you stamp a large number - the material is not cheap - you want to be sure you have your settings correct so as to not waste material! Be very careful of fires!

Step 4: Make Your Rubber Stamp Handels

1) First I measured my wood planks to 3/4" marks with 1/8" spaces between each measurement to compensate for the saw depth of cut. I ripped the pieces very carefully on the table saw.

2) I squared up four pieces at a time, kind of like putting the board back together, and taped it with blue tape wrapped around both ends to hold it all together. This allows me to cut all four at the same time safely on the mitre saw.

3) I measured 2" marks and drew a line with my square on the face of the taped together pieces. These were then carefully cut in groups of four, moving each of the four cut pieces to a growing row of handle pieces.

4) Next we go to the vertical belt sander to sand each piece down to an angle at one end, roughly just larger than the size of your stamps. Takes a bit to get the hang of this - be careful as you don't want to sand off your fingers!

5) When these are done, stack them up and on to the next step!

Step 5: The Assembly Phase - Put Them Together!

1) I put a small dab of Tacky Glue on the left side of the area where the rubber stamp material meets the wood. I then pushed each piece of rubber stamp across this glue, positioned and pushed gently into place. You want these to go on straight!

2) Set them aside to dry, Tacky Glue dries pretty fast, I'd say 1/2 and hour to an hour tops to where you can use your stamps!

3) Finally, I use my green stamp pad to stamp a drone image on the handle of each stamp.

4) Your stamps are done and ready to be used or shard with others!

Step 6: Share Your Stamps and Get to Stamping Money!

•My work area at the residency at became a bit of a temporary mailroom! I've mailed approximately 250 of these to folks all over the United States, with individual stamps sent to Germany, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Scotland, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Pakistan!

•You can certainly just give these away to your friends if you like!

•To give away the first 100 stamps, I announced the project on Facebook, see the picture above - this got the ball rolling!

•I as well wrote and emailed a brief press release to around 50 media sources online. The stories you see on the first page of this instructable are the result.

•I created a tumblr blog/website a permanent archive for this project. So far there are many hundreds of images of stamped currency from around the globe.

•Finally, start stamping! It is not a "participatory project" unless you participate! Stamp away! Have a drone stamping party! Seriously, I've taken my drone stamp with me to various gatherings, dinner parties, classes - just about everyone carries some cash, have them stamp it or stamp it for them, take a picture and send it to me!

Oh, and to the question, "Is It Legal?" to stamp money - read this from the wonderful "stampstampede" project: