I've been working with digital manufacturing start up Ponoko and we've been working on a few ideas of showcase products that can be easily made through our service (such as a wine rack and a spinning top).
I thought of creating a simple but stylish lamp that could be personalized with your own patterns and images. Lamps are great objects because they allow you to play with light and potentially project shapes across an entire room. Laser cutting is perfect for creating this type of object because it allows you to get a really high quality finish and fairly precise detail while keeping costs as low as possible.
Step 1: The Stuff You'll Need
an assortment of pens or pencils for the sketching/imagining
a computer with a vector software package
a light bulb
a power cord
a light socket
laser cut parts
Step 2: Sketching the Concept
I had a few ideas in my head on what the lamp could look like so I sketched up a few of them and chose the one I liked best. Remember your sketches can be as detailed or as messy as you see fit. Personally, I like working ideas out on paper first. For added inspiration head to your local homeware design store or search for images online.
While imaging the lamp I tried to keep in mind ways to keep costs down. The less work the laser cutter has to do, the less it will cost me to cut my lamp out. So I tried to minimize how many individual parts were needed for the lamp as well has many individual cuts the laser would need to make and this helps a lot to keep those cost down.
Step 3: CAD Modeling
It is definitely possible to create this lamp without using 3D modeling software. I wanted to be sure everything was going to fit together first time which is why I modeled it in a CAD program first. It allowed me to make sure the proportions were right and and my jointing techniques were going to work.
I also designed a method for connecting all the parts that didn't involve glue and would still work if the material thickness varied, a common problem with acrylic.
Once I had the 3D computer model looking good I created 2D drawing of the individual parts and saved it as a DXF. A DXF file is a really common file format when working with 3D modeling software that can be opened by loads of applications.
Step 4: Transfering Into Vector Software
I open the DXF file in a vector software package (Freehand and Illustrator are two of the more popular packages out there but there are many others) and check that all the dimensions are correct. I then figure out how many of each part I need and then copy and paste until I have the right amount.
Because the profiles for each of the acrylic panels is the same I aligned them next to each other to reduce the amount of cutting needed and make it easier to overlay the pattern.
Step 5: Finding and Tracing a Pattern
I Googled for an image of a flower pattern on the web and, once I found the one I liked, opened it in the vector software. I used the pen tool to trace the individual flowers and then patterned them over the template for the acrylic panels.
You'll notice I changed the lines to blue. A laser cutter reads different color lines for different types of cuts and engraving. Raster engraving needs to be black and a line I want to be cut needs to be blue.
You can download these files from my showroom on Ponoko.
Step 6: Arrange on Ponoko Template and Exporting
Using Ponoko for laser cutting ideas like this is great because it just makes it easy having a cutting service and materials in one place. They take care of everything and the parts are delivered to my door.
I downloaded the templates from the site and arranged my parts for the lamp on them. I need 2 files as I intend to use 2 different materials. I made sure the line weights and colors are as it specifies in the making guide and then export my files as an EPS.
Step 7: Uploading Into Ponoko and Ordering Parts
Going through the upload process on Ponoko, I choose arctic ice acrylic as the material for the light panels. Being frosted on one side means it will diffuse the light nicely.
To contrast this I choose the much darker hardboard as the material for the top, bottom and wedges.
Once I upload my .eps files and choose the materials I want, I just need to click 'Make', enter in my delivery details and wait for the package to turn up from Ponoko.
Step 8: Receive Parts and Put Together
Yay! The parts arrive and now I can assemble the lamp.
The first part is to attach the wires to the light fitting - then attach all the light fittings to the top panel.
1 by 1 I insert the acrylic light panels into the bottom panel (the one without the hole) and fix it there with a wedge. Once the bottom is assembled, I turn the lamp over and slide the top over the 4 tabs and fix with wedges.
All that is left now is to turn on and enjoy. Brilliant!
Step 9: Enjoy
This lamp can be placed on its end or its side. You could even hang it from the cord.
If you want to try this out, grab the .eps files from my showroom on Ponoko. You can grab the lamp with the flower design as you see below or you can grab the lamp without anything engraved on it. Do let me know what you think.