Escher Print





Introduction: Escher Print

About: Eric J. Wilhelm is the founder of Instructables. He has a Ph.D. from MIT in Mechanical Engineering. Eric believes in making technology accessible through understanding, and strives to inspire others to lear...

Make a physical Escher print by cutting different parts of a tessellation in different materials.

Step 1: Get Image

Get a digital copy of your favorite tessellation either by scanning a paper copy of searching the web.

I chose reptiles.

Step 2: Create CAD File

Convert the image to a vector format.

I converted the jpeg to a tiff and then used Adobe Streamline to convert it from a raster image to a dxf. The dxf was really messy, so I cleaned it up by hand using AutoCAD and cut out everything but a single repeating tile.

Both the raw and cleaned dxfs are in the files section.

Step 3: Remove Excess Points

Streamline generated too many points, but could not be trusted make good vector files at lower point densities. Knowing that 8 billion points at every corner of the drawing would only slow down the cutting process (or worse, overload the tool's limited memory), I deleted extra points by hand. When three points form a line, delete the middle point. Use your judgement and remove points that are beyond the resolution of the tool.

Step 4: Customize the CAD for Your Tools and Materials

This is the hard part. Customize your CAD so that it works with your materials and your tools. I wanted the first layer cut out of aluminum by an abrasive jet machining center and the second and third layers cut from acrylic by a laser cutter.

I put each of the three lizards on a different layer in the dxf, and copied this base tesselation into an array. Since the lizards in one layer did not touch one another, I connected them with a thin strip of material that followed the outline of the lizards in the other layers.

The software on the Omax abrasive jet does automatic kerf correction. This mean it generates the tool path to follow a line just outside of our drawing, so you get the proper dimensions. In this type of work, this is both a blessing and a curse. Some of the lines on the lizards are not closed polygons, so I changed their type so the jet followed them directly. There was also a fair amount of tweaking the dxf so that the path generating software didn't get "stuck."

The laser cutter doesn't care about its kerf. So, while the lines down the backs of the lizards were fine, I had to use an outline tool in AutoCAD to draw lines around the lizards. I measured the kerf in the acrylic I was using, outlined the lizards by half this distance, and deleted the interior shape. Notice the differences between the lizards' toes in the picture of the dxf meant for aluminum and the picture of the dxf meant for acrylic.

Step 5: Cut the First Layer Out of Aluminum

I cut the first layer out of 1/8 thick aluminum. The abrasive jet's computer could only handle half of the file at once, so I had to cut it in half.

Step 6: Cut the Second and Third Layers

Cut the second and third layers from acrylic.

I chose 1/8 thick acrylic and cut with the protective paper still on. While this prevents burn marks on the finished piece, it does lead to the second most maddening step of this project: removing the paper. Carefully pull the paper off without breaking the fragile acrylic. Cut at least two copies, so when you break one, you won't be too upset.

Step 7: Assemble the Layers Together

Assemble the layers together with nuts and bolts. Seperate the layers by approximately 0.5 using stand-offs or multiple nuts.

Step 8: Hang and Enjoy

The light and shadows that come through the print are gorgeous.



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    15 Discussions

    Beautiful work. Not exactly a print, not quite a sculpture, not stained glass, but an art form unto itself. I'm glad I found it, though I can never hope to make one remotely like it. Simply wicked!

    You have to manually set the lead-in and lead-out lines. I think I cut all of those first -- having put them on a separate layer and cutting job, -- and set the kerf on the machine to zero so it would cut in the center of the lines.

    That's incredible! I wish I had a laser cutter now........

    Shut UP! That is awesome. OK I have a thought, if you only cut one, and you had three colors of spray paint you could make some ferocious stencil art by spraying once, rotating, changing color, spray, rotate, change.... am i right? Can you imagine how disorienting it would be to walk on a whole sidewalk covered in this?

    Cool design really, funny & gorgeous, must be a great decor at home, but seems a bit fragile.

    1 reply

    I am careful with it, but I'm also careful with all the rest of the art hanging around the house. It's not super fragile or anything.

    This is a great idea. What kind of class are you taking, or where do you work that allows you acess to such equipment? And what kind of equipment is it? I saw you used an "abrasive jet" to cut the aluminum. I am in a wlding class that has a plasma cutter, but nowhere near anything with that kind of precision. Care to lead me to some more info on the tools?

    1 reply

    I used the abrasive jet machining center from Omax while still at the MIT Media lab. The acrylic is all cut with a laser cutter (also at the Media Lab, but we have one at Squid Labs too). These tools are becoming more common and you can probably find a shop nearby to do it.

    dude, That is so awesome!

    it does require CAM does it?

    it does require CAM does it?

    Very nice. I have an original tessellation i've been wanting to do this with - but so far no luck. Mine has the same form in six different colours, and i'd love to use wood, copper, marble, glass, alabaster and ceramic. I will keep at it - and this was helpful material!