Introduction: Metal Flipbook: Story & Assembly

About: Illustrator, observer, layman scientist, collector based out of Oakland, CA. Enjoys long walks through the woods and eating whole watermelons in one sitting.

Metal flipbook? Yes! Metal flipbook. It's loud, heavy, and big. Using aluminum panels and a hand crank, this is a human-powered flip book that weighs over 50 pounds.

This instructable will show how to make a giant mechanical metal flipbook. The second half (about mechanics and assembly) can be found here (part 2 link soon to come).

Step 1: Prepping Drawings for Etching

Plate Materials

- Anodized aluminum. I used .04" in matte black. You can choose from a wide range of colors and thicknesses.

- Laser cutter. I experimented using both Metabeam & Epilogue. Ultimately Epilogue was much much faster and allowed for more variation with less adjustments.


I made all the original drawings by hand, scanning them in and formatting/cleaning them up. Whales, whales, whales. If more comfortable, files can be prepared entirely on the computer in programs such as coreldraw, illustrator, or photoshop.

What you draw and how you draw is totally depends on the end result you're going for.

- Delicate thin lines: use vector line work. These images are pretty hard to see sometimes, so keep in mind when drawing airy drawings that the lines are light on black, and not black on light. The clarity from a distance isn't as good, and therefore visibility decreases.

In Coreldraw: Import drawing and do a centerline trace. If you do an outline trace, your etch will take twice as long and might look busy and messy.

In Photoshop/Illustrator: use the trace function. You can adjust the line thickness.

- Shading: raster image. You can try hatching, cross hatching, stippling, or shading within the program. Each of these will look different both in style and etching results.

I used shades of gray to test out raster effects. The darker the gray, the lighter the etched area.

Step 2: Etching in Order

IMPORTANT. The order in which the plates are etched is key to how the story will animate.

The easiest way:

Put a piece of tape on the same corner of each plate.

When you lay down two pieces on the laser bed,

the top will have "1T" (for Plate #1, Top)

the bottom will have "1B" (for Plate #1, Bottom)

When you finish that scene, remove only the bottom plate and set it aside. Flip the top plate over so the top is now the bottom and it's faced down. The piece of tape that was at the top right will now be on the bottom right and will say "2B." Add a new plate on the top half and write "2T" on it. This will be scene two in your animation. Continue this process until you get to panel 21. The back of "1B" will be "21T."

Step 3: Etching

Using raster settings on the Epilogue results in really nice, clean etches.

The whale bones is using the following settings:

- Raster only

- Power 100%

- Speed 25%

- 400 dpi

- Standard dithering.

You can tell that the shading is a bunch of dots that can look very computerized from up close. Depending on what you're going for, this might not be the most ideal setting. I wanted to play around using different shading to see how it would effect the metal. The lights areas of bones corresponds to the darkest gray in the illustrator drawing. Think backwards. The whale tail is done with all the same basic settings, but using dithering in the Floyd Steinberg dithering setting. (Strange name for a raster setting, I know). This resulted in a pretty organic, underwater-y pattern, but had some irregularity because of the gas assist. This can be turned off to reduce your chances of interference. Each etching took about 5 minutes. Go forth and etch!

Step 4: Drilling Your Plates

Save yourself time and improve accuracy and uniformity by drilling all your plates at once. Make sure that they are aligned correctly (all the T sides should be facing up and the tape should be in the same spot on all plates when stacked). Clamp all the plates together very tightly and be careful that they remain lined up when you tighten clamps.

Clamp all the plates to a wooden block as a backer for when you drill through.

Measure and mark with a crosshair on the top plate 9mm in from the top and side. This allows enough room the hardware (a Chicago screw and D-ring minus the D).

Drill with drill press. Be sure that you use the appropriate speed and bit for aluminum.

Step 5: Assembling the Spindle

This part is a bit finicky. Attaching the rods to the spindle requires patience, jamming, and some brute force.

Clamp spindle by one side, so rods can stand up on their own while you assemble. Each of the 21 rods fits into a bearing. Many times it will slip right in, and sometimes it will require filing or spinning in place to slip into its spot.

Attach all of the bottom rods before putting the top on. Once the top is in place, wiggle, jam, scoot, twist, and shove the rods into their corresponding top spots. Be sure they are aligned and not one spot off (this will cause major issues).

Step 6: Attaching the Panels


Stainless D rings

Stainless chicago screws (1/8" to 3/16")

1. Remove the D from the d-ring. You'll only need the other half. This requires a screw driver and some awkward maneuvering, but pry it open only wide enough to remove ring. Try not to bend it out of shape too much, as screwing the plate together will be difficult with lopsided hardware.

2. Fit the hardware over the panel with enough space to let the rod slip through where the D once lived.

3. Screw the chicago screw together, it doesn't matter which side goes on the front of the panels, as long as they remain consistent throughout all panels. Keep in mine T v B panels.

Careful not to get hands stuck in box underneath panels. They are sharp. Trust me.

Step 7: Finish Up Attaching the Panels

Attach the rest in the same manner. Sometimes it's easiest to tape the handle in place to keep it from spinning while you're trying to attach the panels. The heavier it becomes, the more it wants to pull downward.

Details on adjusting and assembling crank, box, gear, and spindle mechanics in part 2 (soon to be published).

Step 8: SPIN

SPIN (carefully and possibly with headphones on)