Introduction: Laser Etched 16mm FIlm

This tutorial shows you how to create an animation and etch that animation onto 16mm film. We will first create an 2-second animation, lay it on a 16mm film template, send to a laser cutter, and project it.

Here's what you'll need:

16mm Black Leader

adobe photoshop (or a different animation program)

Adobe Illustrator

access to a laser cutter

thumb drive


16mm projector- with or without sound

Step 1: Create Animation

1. Open a new Photoshop file with the dimensions: Width: 9.253mm Height: 7.039 mm.

2.Switch to Motion Workspace

3. Create a new video Layer. Layer>Video Layers> Create New Blank Video Layer

4. Create the Animation

5. Export> Render Video. Be sure to change the settings to match the picture- you want to create a Photoshop image sequence. This will render each individual frame as an image sequence.

6. Remember that 24 frames per second, so you will need 24 frames/animation images in order to get one second of film.

Step 2: Step 2: Place Your Image Sequences in Illustrator

This step is tedious. Stay with it!

1. Open up the file here.

2. Delete the artwork. Not that the film strip template is sideways so you should imagine your sequence as going down on the projector ( from left to right in the file)

3. Take your first image and drag it into Illustrator.

4. If you set the dimensions right in photoshop- you will not have to resize it. Instead, you can rotate it and place it in the template. The final size I had was Width: 9.253mm Height: 7.039 mm.

5. Place the images in order from left to right. See the image with the purple background for the exact placement. You want the top left of your original frame to line up with the middle of the sprocket hole and the edge of it too.

7. Make sure that you rasterize your image. This is important so the laser cutter etches the film correctly.

6. At the end, you will have your frames ready to laser print.

Step 3: (Opitional) Add Sound

What I did for sound was take all the images I just laid on the template, shrunk them, inverted the colors, and placed them on the top edge of the film.

1. Select all images, copy, paste them. Group them.

2. Export them. Select jpg 200.

3. Bring into Photoshop. Invert it. This is important because if it is white the laser cutter will etch it. And the soundtrack won't have a great sound. With just the white specs, it will sound better than just scratches.

4. Export picture and bring it back into Illustrator.

5. Sync up with the frames.


Step 4: Step 4 Laser Cut It.

This was a process. You should know upfront that its super tedious to place the laser head, film strip, and image as straight and aligned as you can. You should also know that I left my film on the bed and ran through a cut multiple times rather than just doing it once. It took about 2-3 hours of just finagling with the cutter to get my desired film strip and somehow it worked.

Depending on your access to a laser cutter and the type, your settings will change.

I also printed mine on acrylic first to prototype and troubleshoot. You can use the same steps just different print preferences.

And lastly, remember to follow all safety instructions when using the laser cutter!


1. Save your AI file to a thumb drive, open it on the laser cutter computer, go to print> Print preferences

2. You should get the settings for the laser cutter. Go to Material Database and find mylar under the polyester presets. Load it in. Your settings should be around...

Speed: 60-70
Power: 20-30
PPI: 1000 (this increases resolution)

3. Apply preferences and hit print in AI, then go to the printer software.

4. Go through the necessary safety steps for working with the laser cutter. Turning on exhaust hoods, safety glasses, etc.

5. Tape the film to the bed as straight as you can. Cut your 16mm film so that you have some extra frames than 48.

6. Using the printer software align the laser cutter head with the edges of the film. Know that the projected film is in between the sprocket holes. It is really difficult to be sure that all of the animations will print in just the right spots but be aware and try your best.

7. Align the bed to the appropriate height.

8. Go to the printer preferences to be sure that your speed, ppi, and power are all appropriate.

9. Start printing. If it doesn't look like its etched through enough LEAVE IT ON THE BED. This will save you from readjusting the laser head. Adjust your power up more and speed lower than run the print again. I did this 5-6 times before finally getting a product I liked.

10. Take it off the bed and clean up after yourself! You're ready to project.

Step 5: Step 5: Project It!

Our professor brought his 16mm dirty projector down and spliced all of our two-second animations together in a loop. If yours isn't long enough to add some clear leader to make a loop.

It's important to note that if you had sound, there was a 16 frame difference from what was being heard to what was being projected so some students sound was different from originally anticipated.

Load the film projector and sit back and enjoy your cool new animation!