Fabric Etching With a Laser Cutter




This project started with some photos I took on a trip to Hamilton, Ontario. On a walk through the center of town, I passed a huge bed of black eyed susan's, one of my mom's favourite flowers, in full bloom. I took a few photos at the time, and when I returned home, I wanted to find a way to transfer one of the photos onto some fabric, to eventually be able to make something for my mom with it.

I decided to try using the laser cutter to etch the flowers onto the surface of the fabric.

Step 1: Materials and Equipment:

  • Colour image
  • Photo editing software
  • Different kinds of fabric for etching (I used linen, and fleece)
  • Iron
  • Access to a laser cutter (60 Watt Epliog Fusion)

Step 2: Preparing the Image

Open your image in your photo editing software and covert it to a grey scale. Then, adjust the contrast of your image, increasing it to simply it a bit, and clean up the background.

When you are happy with your image, save it in a format that you are able to import into the software your laser cutter uses. I saved mine as a pdf file and imported it into CorelDRAW.

Step 3: Etching the Fabric

Iron your fabric (not the fleece!), so that it will lay nice and flat on the laser bed.

Measure the thickness of your fabric and set the preferences for etching, based on the type of fabric you will be etching. I experimented with a few different fabrics, and it took a number of tries before I got the settings right.

To test your settings, do a quick etch of a part of your image on a scrap of the same fabric you are etching before you commit to etching your 'good piece'.

If you etch too lightly, it will be hard to see the image, and if it is etched too deeply, it will destroy your fabric or worst case scenario, start on fire...

Although I don't have any photos of this, I also etched this image onto a very thin, finely woven cotton napkin. It looked awesome laying on the bed of the laser cutter when it was etched, but when I picked it up and gave it a shake, it pretty much fell apart. It turned out that I had left the DPI at the default setting of 600. When you etch fabric, it is best to keep your DPI under 300. (I sent my mom the second black eyed susan napkin, which I successfully etched at 200 DPI :)

To etch the fleece, I used high speed, low power and low resolution: speed 100%, power 15% at 200 DPI and the dithering set for Stucki.

The settings I used to etch the linen were: 200 DPI with speed 100%, power 20% and dithering - Stucki.

Step 4: What's Next?

Using the laser cutter to etch, turned out to be a great solution for transferring an image to fabric.

I have since etched a few other fabrics, including cotton jersey t-shirts, and even leather, and one of the things that I noticed, was that using a darker fabric, like the navy blue linen, provided better contrast, and showed off the lighter, etched image better.

Etch on!



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    9 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Great instructable! I can't wait to try this!


    3 years ago

    Oh, man! I need to buy a laser cutter / engraver!!! Thanks for sharing this inspiration!

    John T MacF Mood

    3 years ago

    I like Dr. Joe's idea... The heat bonding tape available at most fabric shops might facilitate this idea of his. I love your idea and project, and Dr. Joe's idea too!

    Dr. Joe

    3 years ago on Introduction

    Very nice idea. This has great potential. Could you fuse two fabrics together with the laser? It might work to add strength to the fabric instead of weakening it. If the fabrics were held in an embroidery hoop you could keep them at a precise level and in contact. I envision this being like an instant applique.

    2 replies
    lichenessDr. Joe

    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    thanks, this may work for synthetics that melt when they cut like fleece, but i suspect the need for near perfect focus, as you allude to, might be a bit tricky! I might have to try this, if just to see if i can achieve a balance between cutting through both pieces, fusing them and just cutting the top piece...

    Dr. Joelicheness

    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    Another experiment may be to use a fusible sheet between the two fabrics. This is heat sensitive and could attach the cut edge to the underlying fabric even if it was not synthetic. If the fusible sheet such as "Applikay Wonder" or "Wonder Under" is white it may reflect enough light to not burn through the backing fabric. It may be possible to use a metal fabric that heats up and activates the fusible interfacing. I am thinking "Mylar" I could see an application for putting big metal letters on a garment.

    Wish I was there to invent with you..


    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    Yes, etching delicate fabric or using too high power or DPI settings for your specific fabric will weaken or destroy its integrity! This is were you need to experiment with the settings for your fabric - always keep the DPI under 300. Even if you determine the best settings for your fabric, the very process of making the etch visible on the fabric means that it has affected the fabric or at least the dye in the fabric, and likely both. Be conservative with your settings, over time the areas where the fabric has been etched will likely show increased wear, which may be very interesting, if it doesn't fall apart!


    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    I've done this, and as the author points out, it definitely weakens the fabric.

    Don't machine wash anything you do this on, it'll turn the design into fraying threads with a quickness.