Introduction: Laser Cutter, Start Slicing Stuff for Under 50 Dollars

About: Bilal Ghalib is interested in doing things that surprise him and inspire others. Let's create a future we want to live in together.
There are many out there that are making things to win a laser cutter. Here is a project for those 500 that don't win, but still want a laser cutter for simple stencil cutting needs.

This project was conceived during a chat with Alex where we wished we had a laser cutter and thought we could make one out of an etchasketch. Alex, this instructable is for you. Keep on inspiring me.

--Update: Samuel just built one of these things! He did a much better job t han I did ; P I can't wait for video!--

Here's a video showing the basic setup:

This project demonstrates a simple hack to create a large format laser cutter utilizing all the scrap electronics you may have lying around. If you have a broken scanner or two, the cost can be just about 30 dollars for the entire project.

Step 1: Get Your Supplies

I say that this costs < 50 dollars. And it does, you can even get it cheaper if you have a broken scanner.

Here's the list:
1x Laser diodes Ebay Store $36 dollars for 2
2x Old Scanners Salvation Army $10 Dollars each
2x ULN2003 Electronic Connection $5
1x Prototyping board RadioSchack $2
2x 3/8" Aluminum Rod Home Depot $3 each
1x 3/8" Aluminum Tube Home Depot $3
10x Brass Brackets Home Depot $1
1x 2" cube of wood Home Depot $1
A bushel of Patience

Here is a video showing all the supplies you'll need including the tools:

Step 2: Putting the Laser Cutter Together Electronics Edition!

Now that you have all your supplies, how do you put it together to create this beast?

FIrst cut your parallel port wire near the end that comes away from your computer. Second check for continuity. While holding one end of the multimeter on the wire you're looking for, check the entire row of pins one at a time till you find the continuity. Write down the color and matching pin number.

Here is my list in case it will help you:

Pin # / Color

1 - brown
these pins 2-9 are the pins that go to the ULN2003 driver
2 - brown white stripe
3 - red
4 - red black stripe
5 - orange
6 - orange black stripe
7 - yellow
8 - yellow black stripe
9 - dark green
10 - dark green black stripe
11 - light green
12 - light green black stripe
13 - dark blue
14 - dark blue white stripe
15 - light blue
16 - light blue black stripe
17 - purple
18 - purple white stripe
19 - grey
20 - gray black stripe
21 - white
22 - white black stripe
23 - pink
24 - pink white stripe
25 - black

On prototyping board solder the ULN2003 on it with the current channels down between it's pins. Then take wire 2 3 4 5 from the parallel port to the 3 4 5 6 pins on one of the ULN2003. And then take wire 6 7 8 9 from the parallel port to 3 4 5 6 on the other ULN2003.

For good stepper motor information. I changed his design a bit, but yes, i did use it.

Take apart the scanner and remove everything from inside of it except the pulleys the metal rod, the plastic carriage and the stepper motor. Take the stepper motor out and find the ground wire. This will be the one wire that has two of the same color. Cut them both from the white pin holder and solder them together to another wire. Take that wire to pin 9 on ULN2003.

The rest of the stepper motors pins should go directly //without rearranging// into pin 14 13 12 11 and 10 on ULN, just solder them into the neighboring pad on the prototyping board.

Do the same with the other scanners stepper motor wires.

Now bring in a 12 volt adapter with a 500 mA current and > and solder it to the current track in the middle of your ULN2003 pad. take the + and connect it with a wire to pin 9 on both IC drivers. Also connect both pin 8's on the ULN2003 to the - track on your prototyping board which is connected to the adapters - wire.

This completes the electronics section.

Step 3: Mechanics.

Now how do you make the parts that move?
(Update, if you want you can find a way to attach the laser to the print head of an etch a sketch and not worry about this part. Here's a demo on how to take apart an etch a sketch)

First you need to use a 3/8" drill bit to drill a perpendicular hold in your scanners carriage. Fit your 3/8" rod in it and hold it down firmly with a pipe bracket. Do the same for the other scanner

Cut your Aluminum tube into two pieces of 3".

Take the block of wood you cut to 2" by 2" and use another bracket to affix the 2.5" tube to the top side. This is your X directed slider.
Then use another bracket to affix the other 3" tube to the lower side perpendicular to the first. You can see the pictures or the movie to see what I mean. This is your Y directed slider. A breif plotter demo is at the end of this video:

Fit your Rods through these sliders and ensure they are all perpendicular to each other. Raise one scanner off the floor 1" so that the slider is not sitting at any angles and can slide easily in both directions. USE LUBE.

Once everything is arranged and slides just so. Open up your old school windows PC and it's time to get postscripty!

Step 4: Programming the Laser Cutter

First you need to create a postscript file. I suggest you do your drawing in Inkscape. It's an open sourced program for vector drawing. But not just that, it is the only app I have that lets me save drawings as //CLEAN// postscript files that we can work with later. So even if you do your original drawing in Illustrator, save it as a .SVG and reopen it in Inkscape, and from that application save your drawing as a .ps file. Postscript.

Don Lancaster wrote some postscript code that can take a post script file and then turn it into a simple text file that contains the numbers 0-7. The meaning:
0 - E
1 - NE
2 - N
3 - NW
4 - W
5 - SW
6 - S
7 - SE
U means move the pen up
D means move the pen down
and that's all we're going to be using

For those who like to hear the instructions here's a video:


Update, easy way to make a Flutterfly

Some people were having trouble figuring out how to create a flut file, so Bryn helped everyone out by creating this program that does it for you, make sure to send it a file that is "fair", that is without any showpage's, or quit commands in the .ps. The program automatically spits them out, but check the ps if you hit the error page.
flutterflier, this is where you turn your postscript into a flutterfly

--The old way to create a Flutterfy--
Once you saved your drawing as a postscript file. Open it up in a text editor like notepad. Also open up the file in notepad. Cope the entire body of your postscript drawing and paste it in right after the line that says:

% ============= YOUR POSTSCRIPT SOURCE FILE STARTS HERE ===============
% ============= MUST NOT INCLUDE SHOWPAGE, QUIT, ETC... ===============

then you paste your stuff in here

% ============== YOUR POSTSCRIPT SOURCE FILE ENDS HERE ================

then change the paths in these two lines:
/destfilename (c://pope.txt) def
(./pope.txt) readflutfile % read selected flutfile
change these to the values you want to find your finished flut file at.
and install Ghostscript]: Once you have ghostscript installed you can either drag to the icon, or open it up inside ghostscript, it'll create a flutfile for you in the place you told it to c://whateveryousaid (remember to use doube /'s like c://sommat// ..)

So now you'll have a flut file. here's a demo for ya:
(this is the stencil that i cut out, it says "hello lasers!")

next you need to open a C compiler. the old version of bloodshed DEV CPP works great! Get v 4.0, not the new one.
This is the flutafy.cpp file that you can edit to run your own flut file. Right now if you compile it it will create an executable that will accept any filename as a parameter. So you just drag your .txt or .flut file over to the .exe and it'll start chomping. chompchompchomp. I'm providing this code so if you want to make any improvements you can. Please share with me though.


If you don't know much about programming. Here is the executable:
Executable for a .exe that lets you drag any flut file to it and will run the stepper motors properly

And if you have XP you'll need this one:
Updated exe for XP
XP users will need this DLL to run this code:

(For instructions on how to install a DLL, Lifehacker has a nice one.)

Now you can drag any file that has 0-9 for step directions (a flut file. I have some in: and it will start communicating with the laser cutter you just made.

If your parallel port is plugged in and everything is working okay you should be cutting in no time!

Bilal Ghalib

Step 5: Demonstration of a Small Detailed Cut

This is a machine gun that I cut out recently. It's a really small object so you can see the steps my cutter takes.
I'll scan the stencil of this when I have some paint on hand.

You will need to see the larger versions of these to fully see how the stencil was cut.
Large files here:
Machine gun and various laser cut parts from a livetraced image
Just the machine gun up close

Nice clean lines, no?

--Whatdya know, it can be used to burn wood as well:--

Step 6: Follow Me As I Discover a Laser Cutter

This isn't so much of a step, but a story. This shows me discovering the stepping, the power of the laser and the first time I cut anything out. If you want a better view of how this actually works, or for more a different perspective on some difficult parts this might be a good place to get it:

Here we start with an overview of my lab, and also all the parts, a basic diagram of how things are set up. A close up view of the "print head" is here if you're curious:
I also get the stepper motors going here!

This is part two where I find out what it means that I have two stepping scanners connected:

This is the part where I take you to show you the power of the laser. You can see the beam outside, and also you can watch as I hold it to burn paper by hand:

Now you can watch as the entire setup is connected and hooked up. Hear my surprise when I actually get it to cut a diagonal line:

lastly hear me as i try out postscript sending for the first time, watch the scanner as it cuts, you get a nice close of up how it's all hooked up.

And that's it, I hope this extra story line helps. This is a fun project, and if anyone wants to improve it I'm sure it can be done. Show me your best!
All the best.
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