Introduction: Laser Etching Glass Mirrors

About: Car Fanatic, DIY Hacker But I'm Super Lazy so dont expect much out of me
Are you looking for a unique gift for a friend or loved one ? 
Or a unique item for your own house ? 

Well this is the instructable for you ! 

Step 1: Required Materials

The only items required for this build are;

Tape - Find this at your local hardware store, I use either packing tape or duct tape
Paper - This can be scrap paper, we are just going to cut a hole into it for lining up mirrors
Pen / Pencil - You can get writing utensils just about anywhere, grocery stores, gas stations, your work (don't steal that's bad umkay) 
Glass Mirror - I found an amazingly cheap simple source for these, the dollar store. Mine are about around 246mm by 246mm.
Laser Engraver / Cutter - This is the expensive part, unless you have a local hacker space or tech shop that will let you use theirs. Shout out to FSLaser, I happen to own a 5th Generation FSLaser hobby unit. 
Rag or Towel - This is used to clean up some dust off of the mirror when the job is finished

Software Required; 

Vector Image editing software 
Laser Engraver / Cutter Control Software 

You could do this in Inkscape, but I personally use Corel Draw X4.

Step 2: Graphic Design

  1. Open your vector image editor, this can be Adobe In-design, Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, Inkscape etc. 
  2. Either make your own image or use someone else's. In this instructable I'm going to use other peoples artwork. 
  3. Measure the dimensions of your mirror, I make it about 1mm larger then the mirror in the template to make it very easy to line up. 
  4. As my Mirror is Square my template to show how big I can make something was very easy to make, Measure your Mirror and make the same shape about 1mm larger then your measured size. 
  5. The software that my laser uses lets me set a black threshold, to make my template I change the color of the Hairline outside perimeter to cyan. This why my raster image doesn't have the template square in it. 
  6. Now Import your image, I'm using a Ghost In a Shell stand alone complex DVD Cover.
  7. Quick Trace your image to convert it into vector pieces, I change everything into black and white or grey-scale. It makes the quick trace go much easier and cleaner 
  8. Line your Traced vectors onto your mirror template, the template allows you to lineup the items as well as size and center them
  9. Because we are etching the back of the mirror to remove the reflective surface you need to mirror the image. 
  10. Now we are ready to save the file and import / print into your laser control software 

Step 3: Powa Up Your Lasers!

  1. I use Retina Engrave, as it was included with My laser. Its super easy to use. Startup your laser control software.
  2. If you use retina engrave print your vector image to the software otherwise save your image in a format your laser control software supports. 
  3. Retina Engrave trims excess white space, if your program doesnt do this you may not be able to follow the next step. 
  4. Go into vector cut mode, turn off all other lines then your cyan perimeter line, setup your laser to cut through standard paper.
  5. Home your laser then move your laser head somewhere where you can vector cut and raster engrave your image onto the mirror. 
  6. No tape your paper in place so you can use your laser to cut out a alignment template.
  7. My Laser settings for paper are like 3% power at 100% speed, set your required settings and cut out the blue vector outline. Remember to note your starting position of the head, once I cut out the template if i plan to do more then one mirror I write the position of the head on the paper taped to the base of my engraver that way if i lose power or move the head to do something i can re-home the laser and return it to the exact same start point.
  8. Since you alignment template is now ready put your mirror into the laser engraver and set your focal length as the mirror will be taller then the paper you just cut. 
  9. double check your mirror is aligned properly remember you only get one chance at this! 
  10. Switch to Raster mode, adjust your settings and start the job. My settings are 70% power and 85% speed, I'm still experimenting with grey-scale photos so those settings will likely change. 
  11. When the Laser finishes the job, let the mirror sit and cool down for about 5 minutes, it can be very hot.
  12. Not that the Mirror has cooled down grab some kind of rag or towel, you'll need to wipe some excess dust off of the back of the mirror. 
  13. Done
Here is an Embedded video of the laser in action! 

Step 4: BONUS Steps - Lets Paint This Sucker!

The etched mirror looks pretty good on its own, but I really wanted a couple of them to pop! I decided to take a leap of faith with one of my already etched gifts, and spray paint it. The results were amazing, and here is what you need to do! 

Materials required;

Cleaned rear surface on the mirror - so that the paint doesn't bubble or chip off easily 
Rattle Can (spray paint can) of your preferred color for the job - I use automotive spray paint
A place to spray paint that is well ventilated - Paint fumes are bad umkay
Oversized Recycled Cardboard - So you don't get paint on stuff that it shouldn't be on
masking tape - if you are doing many different colors

Optional items; 

A frosty beverage - You have to do a couple of layers of paint for it to look good and this takes time
A good movie - Again it takes a couple of layers, and you have to wait for the paint to dry between layers

Will post remaining steps when I pick up blue spray paint as my local hardware store is closed

Step 5: Bonus Steps - Prep and Paint

  1. Clean the back of the mirror after it has been etched, I used a 99% isopropyl alcohol. It cleans very well didn't damage the etch job, and evaporates very quickly. I waited about 20 minutes after cleaning the area with the alcohol.
  2. If you are doing multiple colors tape off the areas that you don't want to be painted with the first color.
  3. Place on a scrap of card board much larger then your existing mirror on the floor in a well ventilated area. (Think Garage).
  4. Follow the directions on your spray paint can, my says shake until you hear the rattler.
  5. Hold the can 12 to 18 inches or a foot to a foot and a half away from the mirror, spray a light coat of the paint. If you spray to much it will leave you with runs. (in between layers rotate the mirror 180 degrees, the laser etches a series of very small lines into the glass. So to get a good amount of coverage you need to do the 180 degree rotations)
  6. Bust out your frosty beverage and a movie and wait 30 to 40 minutes and do a second coat (again follow directions from your spray paint can)
  7. I recommend at least 3 coats of paint, so that it is thick and durable.
  8. After your final coat leave it in a cool dry place on your cardboard so that the paint can cure. (your spray paint can will tell you how long you need to let it cure before any sanding etc can happen)
  9. Once cured, you can use a flat razor to remove any over spray.

I will post some more photos of the Ghost in a shell unit tomorrow. I'm painting it Blue and Black.

Full Spectrum Laser Contest

Participated in the
Full Spectrum Laser Contest