Etched Acrylic Postcard #2: the Spiral Connection




About: I like to make things for the internets. I also sell a pretty cool calendar at You'll like it.

This is my second attempt at sending out an acrylic postcard. I learned a few things the last time with the split-etched which surprised me by successfully reaching its destination. Instead of making a card that is cruel and tough to read I wanted to make one that could reveal itself all at once by closing one eye and getting the right angle and distance from the card.

So what did I learn?

Expand the bottom layer
In the original card, I cut up the image and put half on top and half on the bottom. I didn't take into account of how the thickness of the acrylic would make it impossible to see the images line up. It still looked cool so I mailed it, but I wanted a more complete look to it.

Use a visual cue
With 24 square inches of space to use, I was only using a small fraction of them. With an expanded bottom layer it would help to have a visual cue to let the user know where to hold the card to see the images line up. I started with circles, but spirals look cooler.

Use complementary images
With the visual cues of the spiral, I needed to make sure that I had two complementary images. This means that two shapes had to come together to form a solid mass.

So with all that in mind and the results right below this, this Instructable is meant to show how the layers were created in Illustrator. Several other imaging programs can be used as well. I am just using what I'm used to.

Materials and Tools
Scrap 3/8" acrylic fromTap Plastics.
Laser cutting and etching withSquid Labs'Epilog Mini 24.
Vector illustration withAdobe Illustrator CS.

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Step 1: Make a Spiral

Easy enough. Just click on the spiral icon, the one hiding behind the line icon, and click on the screen to bring up this window.

I punched in:
Radius = 4 in.
Decay = 90%
Segments = 100

Step 2: Copy It

Alt-click-drag and wha-hey! A new spiral appears.

Step 3: Give It a Half Rotation

Transform the new spiral with a 180-degree rotation to flip it.

Step 4: Line Up the Spirals and Connect

Now zoom in and arrange the spirals so they are concentric. The results should look like below.

Now take the pen tool to connect the two spirals.

Step 5: Connect Outside

Zooming back out will let you see the entire shape. Take the pen tool again and connect the outside ends of the spirals by creating a box shape on the bottom. This completes the shape and with a black fill you will see the results of the second image.

Step 6: Copy the Shape

Alt-click-drag again for glory!

Step 7: Flip It

Like before, transforming the copied shape with a 180-degree rotation.

Step 8: Bring Them Together

Now you should be able to move the shapes together so that they form a black mass. Go into the outline mode and zoom in to really refine this if you want.

Step 9: Make the Postcard Shape

Leaving the spirals for a minute, create the shape of the postcard. I like a 6" x 4" card with 1/4" rounded corners.

Don't you?

Step 10: Mark the Center With Guides

Now create two guides that bisect the postcard shape for both the horizontal and vertical.

Huzzah! There's the center, ready and waiting.

Step 11: Center Spirals

Grab both of the spirals and bring them onto the postcard shape so that their center is on top of the postcard's center.

Step 12: Create Addresses on New Layer

OK, now we're ready for the addresses. Good old Flibberty and Howard are used again to show how this works.

Pretty simple, really.

Step 13: Arrange the Layers

Just to make sure everything's tidy, I like to put the layers all together nice and neat. Here I have three layers. One for the die cut and one for each spiral shape and the addresses. I copied the addresses layer so that there are two now.

Step 14: Flip and Resize Bottom Layer

Now select all of the elements in the bottom layer and get ready to tweak them.

Since the bottom layer is being printed on the backside of the card it needs to be flipped across the vertical.

As for the size adjustment, I found that a 2% enlargement makes so that the shapes can line up at a comfortable distance.

Step 15: Check Files and Get Ready to Burn

Oh wow, this looks horrendous!

If you hide the top or the bottom you can see each layer and how it will be etched onto the acrylic. Keep in mind that only the black areas get etched.

Step 16: Laser Cut and Mail It!

Now all that's left is to laser cut and etch the acrylic and then mail it off.

Now after one friend gets it and loves it and then tells your other friends you will likely have to make more. I started off with two, but I've made seven so far.

Step 17: Success!

The first two cards have made it and five more are going out today. One of the fist two is handy with a camera so expect some success shots soon. I hope.

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    20 Discussions


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    depends on the type of acrylic - extruded acrylic (which is mostly used for its ability to get a smoother, more flame-finished laser cut) smells like DEATH, imho. do not want. ...while cast acrylic (which, though more expensive, is always my preference, as you can get a more refined/even looking raster engraving, and still a decent looking cut) has a sweet smell when lasered, similar to the candy-like bouquet wafting through a nail salon. always good to have a nice filtration setup though, so you're not stuck in an acrylic fume-cloud all day.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Awesome Instructable, now all I need is to convince my dad I need a Laser Cutter well Good Luck to me!!


    10 years ago on Step 16

    I understand etching is much slower then the cutting setting. And how long does it take to etch per block?


    12 years ago on Introduction

    you could also combine it with the IKEA Window Postcard


    12 years ago on Introduction

    I'm just curious as to how the piece handled the shipping rigors. Did it get chipped up, scratched, cracked? It looks great in the photos but I'd be curious to see how it looked when it arrived at the destination. Finally, you should start a cottage biz making desk placards like this. I would sooooooo pay for one of these.

    1 reply
    fungus amungusTofu

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    They all came out in near pristine condition. It was really odd. If I had my own laser cutter, I'd likely make more stuff to sell, but as it is I just use the one at Squid Labs when I can.


    12 years ago

    Very nice! I really like that clean look!


    12 years ago

    That's great. It also makes me wonder how it would look if it were colored. Maybe make the top spiral red and the bottom white, or whatever colors you like. I'm not really sure how this could be done, because etching wouldn't work. Does anyone know of a translucent dye that might do the job?


    12 years ago

    Hey, it's very cool. But I'm reminded of the old Steve Martin joke: "How you can make a million dollars and never pay taxes! First, get a million dollars...."
    What do you have to do to laser cut acyrlic? And how do you etch it? If you want to be really helpful, you gotta turn loose of more information. Otherwise, you're just showing off. (A cool thing to show off, mind you, but still just showing off.)

    3 replies

    Reply 12 years ago

    Etching acrylic, can you not just buy some etching spray? In the UK it's sold in DIY stores, make a template out of card, after all most modern printers are accurate to 5760x1440dpi or more. Then use that as a mask? Just because you don't have all of the fancy kit, doesn't mean you can't do it a slightly more labour intensive manner. Not to say that I wouldn't mind a free Laser cutter.

    fungus amunguspinski1

    Reply 12 years ago

    Isn't etching spray for glass? I've read that if you dilute acetone in methanol you can frost it, but neither one will work for a design with so many tiny curves as this one. I'd suggest finding a way to transfer the images onto the acrylic. That way you can even use color.

    fungus amungusL.L.Moorloch

    Reply 12 years ago

    I disagree about just showing off. The goal is to explore how to create two layers that can come together when looking at it in the right way. Would I take the time to post 15 steps to show you how to create the layers from scratch if I was just showing off? No, I'd just post a photo and be done with it. Am I showing off that I have a copy of Illustrator as well? Not to point out the obvious or anything, but to laser cut acrylic you'll need a laser cutter. They run about $15,000 and I'm fortunate enough to get time on one and I know that's rare. If you have access to one of those, then the rest is obvious. I've touched upon the subject many times before and didn't feel like repeating it again. I should copy and paste some previous text and put that in here. If you don't have a laser cutter you can take the same ideas and print the results onto transparencies and then glue them to a piece of acrylic you can cut with some cheap and accessible tools.

    Brian Henderson

    12 years ago

    That is incredible. I simply don't have to words to express what an awesome project this is. You have some lucky friends.

    1 reply
    fungus amungusBrian Henderson

    Reply 12 years ago

    Thanks. They have all my best stuff. The only pieces I still have are the mess-ups and prototypes.


    12 years ago

    i'm new here, so i have a basic question...the illustrator stuff i get, but buying the acrylic piece(where?) and laser cutting(how, with what?) is the stuff I don't get. plus, was there limitations or issues with posting it as a "postcard?" thanks, newb ps. i'll try to look at your previous job and maybe that'll answer me questionns.

    1 reply
    fungus amungussteffrock

    Reply 12 years ago

    Added info on materials and tools to Intro. Technically, it's not a postcard since it's not printed on card stock. The definition I've been given at post offices is a letter or even a large letter or maybe a flat package. It varies, but I always pay whatever's necessary to get it through.