Introduction: #BASHTRAY

About: I am a multimedia producer, interaction designer, and maker based in New York. I seek to improve the relationship between people and the products, systems, and environments that they engage in, creating syne...
#BASHTRAY is an initiative to encourage the proper disposal of cigarette butts.  As the world’s number one contributor by quantity to trash (4.5 trillion cigarette butts worldwide a year), cigarette butts are commonly discarded without regard for the environment.  Toxin-filled cigarette butts work their way into the world’s waterways primarily through storm drains that dump into our streams, lakes and oceans. 

#BASHTRAY helps to reduce the amount of improper cigarette disposal by engaging the person to voice their opinion by ashing one of the two options presented to them.  With fully customizable options to fit the individual location, #BASHTRAY can adapt to any circumstance (and newsworthy topic) to raise the level of engagement for the users.

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Step 1: Materials

Physical things you need:

12x24 Sheet of 1/8" basswood
12x24 Sheet of 1/8" clear acrylic
Double sided mounting tape (or your preferred method of mounting)
Acrylic adhesive (specifically for  adhering acrylic)
90 degree corner clamps (if you really want to get precise)
Laser Cutter (we used a 12x24 bed)

Digital things you need:

Adobe Photoshop (or other photo editing software)
Adobe Illustrator
Some images! (illustrator files and JPGs are attached at the end of this instructable)

Step 2: Prepping Your Images in Photoshop

We started this project during debate season 2012, so the most compelling topic was the elections. Pick something relevant to the community around the #BASHTRAY. We found that politics, sports and entertainment caught a lot of attention.

Isolating the Image

After selecting your images, bring them into Photoshop and isolate them from their background. The easiest way to do this is with the magic wand tool. While holding down shift, keep clicking the areas that form the part of the image that you want to keep, then right click and select inverse to delete the background. This step might take a little trial and error, especially if you're new at Photoshop. You should also make use of the eraser tool. 

Further Editing

Also note that if you want to remove parts of the image (in this case, Obama's finger) you can use the clone stamping tool but it doesn't have to be perfect since the laser is only registering gradations and that kind of detail won't appear on your final material. 

Step 3: Adjusting Levels in Photoshop

After you've completely isolated the image from its background, you can focus on getting the levels right for your material and the settings of the laser. 


The first step is to convert the image to black and white. You do this by clicking Image > Adjustments > Black & White. From here, open Levels (Image > Adjustments > Levels, or command+L) and start tweaking the image. You want the image is be extremely washed out. Remember that you'll be etching onto wood, so any part of the face that is relatively light should be left white in Photoshop. All other shadows will become very dark on your material and will also burn slightly around the edges.

Dodge & Burn 

You might also end up having to whiten certain areas, like teeth. You can do this easily by using the dodge tool. We also found darkening pupils looked better, and you can do this by using the burn tool. With both of these tools, it's important to keep in mind the radius size, hardness and opacity. Experiment with what you're editing and you'll find the right settings.  

Cleaning Up

In this case, it was necessary to clean up some of the extraneous parts of Obama's neckline and shirt colar so that his head would float nicely on the board. You can do this by simply using the eraser, or you could also dodge and blur some areas to make the look softer.

You also want to make sure that you completely erased everything in the background. It's easiest if you use the background eraser tool and then add a layer with a bright saturated color under your image. This will help you catch any stray colors or lines. 

Although it's not necessary, you might also want to blur the edges of the entire image so that it burns nicely into your material. 


Inevitably, you'll have to run some tests on your material and the laser to get the exact exposure. Which brings us to the next step.

Step 4: Testing Your Material

From Photoshop to Illustrator

Once you're happy with your images, you can copy and paste them directly from Photoshop into Illustrator. To do this, you'll need to select all the layers, right click, and convert into smart object. Then select all and paste in your Illustrator template.

Test on Your Material

We found that if you print the hair to the forehead, it gives you a pretty good idea of what the rest of the face will look like. But if you have enough material, it might be nice to print the entire thing in a scaled down version.

The image above is one of our first tests. Keep in mind the material you're testing on has a lot to do with the final product, and so does the direction of the wood grain. We'll get into this more in a later step. 

Step 5: Prepping Your Files in Illustrator

Spacing Things Out

Once you're in illustrator, it makes a huge difference to align all the elements on the board symmetrically. 

For the Laser

If your material is the size of your board (in this case, 12x24) then you don't have to worry about cutting it. But if you have to cut down, outline your boundary box of your material with a rectangle that is pure red in the RGB color mode (255, 0, 0) with a stroke weight of 0.1. This is called a vector cut. These settings are very important, as the laser cutter will ignore every other line. 

Alternatively, you could always cut down your material on a band saw and not worry about the vector cut.

To add text, use the text tool. Any font will do. The images and text don't need to be treated in any specific way. The laser will read them as shapes and images that will be raster etched. 

(As a side note, if you were ever to cut out text from your material (with a vector cut), you would first need to select the text, and then click Type > Create Outlines. You would then take away the fill, and treat the stroke of the text outline as you would any other vector cut - a 0.1 stroke weight of 255,0,0). 

Your design should always be aligned to match the 0,0 point of the laser. This is the top left corner of your artboard (laser cutter template).

Save the File

Save the file as an illustrator file (.ai).

Step 6: Moving to the Laser

Once you have your illustrator file ready (and tested on your material), it's time to etch the real thing!


If your acrylic pieces have a paper backing, it's helpful to keep it adhered to the material on the back side (the side touching the laser bed). This will help you keep a hold on small parts. 

Lay your material flat on the laser bed, paying close attention to the 0,0 point (top left of the bed). Before printing, make sure the air filter is on as we're burning wood and toxic fumes might emerge from it.  


Take a look at your illustrator file one last time before printing. If you're making any vector cuts, make sure you're accounting for both of these stroke types. That means you will have red strokes and black images/text.

When you're good to go, press print! BUT DON'T PRESS OK.
Click on setup and then preferences.

Printer Settings

These settings can be tricky, and depend on the materials you use and their thickness. Take a look at your laser's manual or the materials list that ITP students have tested on our laser. Sometimes these settings still just don't cut it (that's why it's really important to test before committing to designs and settings). 

The material we are using is 1/8" basswood. There are two important numbers to define for a raster etch: speed and power.
For our material, those numbers are 40 and 85.  

Safety Hazards

The laser is powerful and it can hurt you. You can also hurt the machine. First and foremost, pay attention to what material you're using, as some are prohibited due to their toxic qualities. It's also very important to adhere to the proper settings. While it's OK in some cases to experiment, especially when the laser isn't performing properly, it's never OK to leave the laser unattended. Perform small, reasonable tests first and don't hesitate to press STOP if you see fire or lots of smoke. 

It's also important to use protective laser goggles, especially if you intend on watching your entire cut. You definitely don't want to cause damage to your eyes. 

Step 7: Before You Open the Laser Door!

One More Time?

Make sure you don't want to run the etch through one more time for more darkness/definition. 
And if you made a cut, make sure it went all the way through (you can usually see the laser bed peeking through your material).

If you move your material around the bed, you won't ever get it at the same place. So make sure it looks right before you touch it.

Toxic Fumes

Also make sure you wait two minutes before opening the door to filter out the toxic fumes. 

Step 8: Making the Tray on Illustrator

This step is pretty similar to the previous step, minus the shapes you're making. 

Spacing Things Out

The big trick here is designing your elements to save as much material as you can. Since we're basically cutting out rectangles, you can draw the shapes right up against each other.

For the Laser

We're cutting all these shapes out as vector cuts, so each rectangle should be pure red in the RGB color mode (255, 0, 0) with a stroke weight of 0.1. 

Save the File

Save the file as an illustrator file (.ai).

Step 9: Cutting the Tray on the Laser


Keep the backing on the acrylic sheet to keep your cut outs in place. 

Align your material to the laser and make sure the air filter is on. 


Since the printer settings will only pay attention to the vector cut strokes, the laser will ignore the text. You can keep it on the file if you want a guide, or simply remove them. 

Press print, but don't press OK! Go into setup and then preferences.

Printer Settings

The material we are using is 1/8" clear acrylic. There are three important numbers to define: speed, power, and frequency.
For our material, those settings are 15, 100, 5000. But do a small test first to make sure. 

Safety Hazards

Never leave the laser unattended while you're cutting! And use goggles for protection. 

Step 10: Making the Tray


After taking your pieces out of the laser, organize them on your workspace so you have a clear idea of how you're going to glue together each piece. 


It's up to you to use corner clamps, but precision isn't hugely important here. 

Fill the applicator with a small amount of glue. Hold the two pieces together tightly and swipe the needle across the joining edge. The glue will melt the acrylic slightly for a molecular bond. It's OK if it gets on your fingers. 

Apply pressure while it sets.

Step 11: Keep Gluing the Remaining Pieces

Complete the ashtray

Repeat the process until you have the ashtray glued together.


After you have the ashtray portion completed, glue it to the large piece of acrylic where the board will sit. 

Step 12: Gluing the Lips and Finishing

You have five pieces left to glue together!

Gluing the lips

These last pieces allows the board to rest in place on the tray, allowing you to slide boards in and out. There are two slimmer pieces and three wider pieces.

One of the wide pieces will be glued right above the ashtray. Before you set down any glue, place your board where you want it to sit.
Then glue down your piece. 

The other two pieces are glued together at a 90 degree angle. Place the slim piece on top of the wider piece and join them together with glue. Repeat this step with the other lip. 

Place the two lips on the board without glue so you can make sure that your board can slip through the lips. Then glue them where you want them to sit. 

You're done!

Take a picture because you're all done!

Step 13: Getting Your First Bash!


You can use whatever method you want for mounting the board on an outdoor surface. You probably don't want to do permanent damage to the facade of your building, so we recommend using double sided mounting tape or duct tape. 

When you're setting down the strips of tape, make sure they're hidden by the board. 

Step 14: Download Files

We just went through a ton of steps so you can make your own files - but if you don't feel like it, just download these JPGs and Illustrator files! 

Follow up!

Here are some links about the project:


Contact us!

Atif Ateeq
Trent Rohner
Alessandra Villaamil

email us at thebashtray@gmail.com

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    20 Discussions


    4 years ago

    looks like mostly democrat smokers... can i assume mostly democrat litterers also?


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Very nice ible!

    Well documented and illustrated and I like the stats about cigarette butt pollution.

    Unfortunately, I don't own a Laser Cutter, however, I am lucky enough to have an open access work space (hacker space) near me in Denver Colorado (USA) called Club Workshop.

    Club Workshop has an Epilog Laser Cutter & Engraver available for use by visitors.

    These types of spaces are becoming more and more common, especially in larger metropolitan areas in the United States and elsewhere making a project like this much more feasible to many people (like me)!

    Thanks again for doing such a great job!


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for checking it out! Club Workshop sounds great, there are similar places in NYC as well.

    We're also implementing a "do it at home" version of the #BASHTRAY using iron-on transfer paper and tiles you can buy at any hardware store.

    We'll be updating the instructable and the blog soon :)


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Oh its an ash tray? I thought it was for tips or business cards or something.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    It's an ashtray that is placed on the facade of buildings, to prevent the littering of cigarette butts on the street and sidewalks.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    It's a vote against! The act of putting out your cigarette on a candidate's face is the "bashing" part of the bashtray.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Oh, that's very clever! These should go up everywhere with a variety of today's issues; world, national & local! Wow, this could become a movement!! Reduce toxic litter & create awareness. "World Bashtray Day - Let Your Voice Be Heard With Your Butt!!" LOL 5 Stars here!!


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    That's definitely what we're trying to do! We want to make it easy enough for people to make their own #BASHTRAYs with any topic that they find engaging or important in their own communities.

    That's why we're also implementing a "do it at home" version with iron-on transfer paper and tiles you can find at any home improvement store. We're going to update the blog and this instructable soon with all the details.

    We really think that by making this fun, we can decrease the number of cigarette butts that are littered in all kinds of public places.



    7 years ago on Introduction

    congratulations, I vote with 5 stars this Instructable. you've got a really good idea, and then it works very well! :D


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Love it! I used to clean up sports parks as a teenager. I HATE cigarette butts.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This is awesome, I love it. Cigarette butts are really overlooked, american spirits encourage throwing the butts at least.