Introduction: Living Hinge Folder With Custom Pictures

About: I'm a young danish adult studying at the DTU in Denmark. I work as a student helper at Fablab Nordvest an awesome makerlab in Copenhagen. I enjoy snowboarding and Bouldering as well as drawing and cooking.

Hello everyone and welcome to this tutorial.

I designed this project as a part of my part-time job at a makerlab in Copenhagen. Apart from being a space for awesome and creative people, the makerlab I work for do a lot to teach socially marginalized young people technical skills in order to improve their chances on the labor market.

The project I am currently assigned to is about building and designing skateboards (maybe more about this later in another guide), giving the young people an opportunity to learn about gluing veneer, hand sketching, graphic design software and how to engrave and cut using a laser cutter.

The drying time on skateboards is long, so I needed a small project to improve the learning experience and giving the students a place to keep their sketches. The living hinge folder was the perfect mini project. I actually learned how to do this project by taking the laser cutting class here on Instructables and by reading other similar guides. However, I still faced a lot of frustrating challenges and that’s why I wanted to create a small guide, introducing the needed knowledge to engrave pictures on a personal folder using a laser-cutter that runs on a software like RDworks.


To do this project you need:

  • Access to a laser cutter
  • A picture editing program (I use adobe illustrator)
  • 3 mm mdf or plywood
  • A clear coating (waterbased is preferable, due to health hasards)
  • Following files in different formats

Step 1: Getting the Pictures Ready: Illustrator

So the first thing you have to do is getting your pictures ready. To do this i've created a simple clipping mask, that you can use to fit the pictures to my template. To show you how it works, I've added 5 pictures showing the simple proces.

1. You open the clipping mask template

2. You find a picture and add it. Be aware that it needs to be a picture file format. PDF doesn't work.

3. The clipping mask needs to be on top. Ensure this by right-clicking on the picture and using the arrange -> send to back function

4. Select both the picture and the frame and right click. Select Make Clipping Mask and there you go.

5. Export the picture to a PNG - file making sure the background is either transparent or white. This will ensure that it works correctly when we transfer into a different software.

Step 2: Getting the Pictures Ready: RDworks

This is where i faced a lot of challenges. RDworks or similar software is used in many makerlabs in Denmark, and it was challenging to get the pictures right. The more experienced people in the makerlabs told me that RDworks have many names as it is a free software used mainly on Chinese developed laser cutters. This type of laser cutter is quite popular in the maker environment around Copenhagen, and I hope my guide will assist some of you guys too.

1. We add the picture. As you will see it already changed the colours to black and white. The laser cutter understands black and white as a scale going from white at 0 percent power to black at 100 percent power (not 100 percent of the lasercutters power, but 100 percent of the power selected for the engraving). But as is, the laser cutter can't read the file. We fix this by selecting the picture and pressing the BMP button on the top bar.

2. Here we see the menu In the BMP function. We want to press the dither and select either Net graphic or Dot graphic. For this project Dot graphic was better, but you can do cool things with Net graphic too. I put my resolution to 300 for good measure. This ensures a high quality engraving.

3. After pressing aply to view and feeling good about the result i press okay and exit the BMP function.

4. Now i want to make sure it did it the way i wanted. So i press the Preview function to check and now i can see the Pikachu. If you don't feel good, press Ctrl + Z and do the BMP again changing the contrast or brightness to make the picture the way you want.

5. The picture can now be added to the template. Make sure the edge aligns with the green box.

Step 3: My Project Before Cutting

Back to my project.

I opened the RLD file in RDworks

1. First i made sure all the lines were correct. As you can see on the right side of the 1. picture, the green part is set NOT to cut. This is because it's only used as a way to fit the pictures.

2. I added the pictures and alligned them with the template and used BMP to make sure the pictures will be engraved. On the right side you can see that the pictures are set to scan. This is RDworks' way of displaying an area that is to be engraved.

3. I then checked the preview, verifying that it doesn't see the white background.

4. If you want to change the power-level on a certain layer you double-click on the layer with your left mouse button and a menu will pop up. Here you can also change the interval which will change the interval between engraving points. This can save a lot of time, if you are doing a simple picture, but make a detailed one blurry.

Powersettings are also displayed right beneath the layers.

Put the values recommended by your lab and get ready to CUT!

Step 4: Cutting and Engraving

Using a laser cutter is a little challenging and i recommend you take the class here on instructables (I'll link it at the bottom) and talk to the experienced makers at your local makerlab. In my experience different labs have different setups making it hard to give you precise advice on how to use a laser cutter in satisfying way, but i do have some general tips.

  • Humidity makes wood change shape, so use weights to ensure that your MDF is level. However, making sure the laser won't hit the weights. A trick can also be to use a correctly sized piece of MDF as bigger ones have a bigger sway.
  • Make sure the laser cutter is in focus and if in doubt do a small test. You don't wanna wait 2 hours to see a blurry picture and a half cut binder.
  • Be patient and don't leave the cutter alone. Things can catch fire, and it's easier to put out, if you get to it right away.
  • Check your settings before starting. You don't wanna realise half-way that you are cutting where it's supposed to engrave.

Using Plywood:

This project can be done with 3 mm plywood too. Be aware that plywood (especially lighter sorts like birch) are more prone to soot stains. This can be avoided by adding a layer of masking tape across your plywood.

Step 5: Final Touches

The final touches are simple.

Brush away the sediments from the engraving using a small brush and give your folder 2-3 layers of clear coating around the engraved area. This will make it stand out more and protect it against water. You have now finnished you folder!

I hope you liked this project. I hope to see some of you guys making a folder for yourself. I find living hinges really cool, and the folder will (hopefully) make it easier for my students to organize and keep all their drawings.

Guides that will help you:

I learned a lot from this guide, and they deserve a lot of credit! Especially if you have a laser cutter that works with Ai-files.

The laser cutting class.

A very good learning experience and i 100 percent recommend this class if you are new to laser cutting.

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