Laser-Cut Laptop Tattoo

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About: I'm the former Frontend Engineer for Instructables. Problems with the site? It may have been my fault... Like what you see? Sing my praises!

Intro: Laser-Cut Laptop Tattoo

Make a sharp adhesive label to cover a logo on your laptop! There are lots of examples of awesome designs laser-etched directly into the tops of laptops. Here's one of the first instructables on the topic. Instructables even did this for free at the last few Maker Faires and a few conferences.

Here's my problem, though: I could never decide on a design for my laptop. I'd come up with one, but a few days later I would think it was lame. That cycle happened a dozen times before I thought of a better way: Why not use the laser cutter to create a precision-cut sticker, instead? This "tattoo" would be removable, so I didn't have to be gun-shy any more.

This instructable shows what I did, including the source files for the design, a description of the special retroreflective tape I used, and a nifty trick for getting a perfectly-placed sticker.

Step 1: Make a Design

I threw this design together using Illustrator. The file that I ended up with is attached. I also took a picture of my laptop lid to get the proportions just right; you can see that the design has a glowing area that is totally inside the existing Apple logo but also completely covers the rest of the logo.

I used a funky perspective to bring the lit "power" logo off-center. That way the whole sticker can be centered while the power logo can be as big as possible while avoiding that bite in the right side of the apple.

Step 2: Choose a Sticker Material

I chose something called retroreflective tape, which is a material with some interesting properties. I also covered my messenger bag with it, and explained how it works in this instructable. What it comes down to is that the sticker surface is black in most light, but in certain conditions it will glow pure white. Very cool.

In addition, unlike other stickers, the retroreflective tape I used for the new sticker has a thin metal film it it, so the Apple logo is masked completely. Other materials might allow the light to show through.

Step 3: Clear the Area

My last laptop decal had a similar "power" logo. I'm still fond of it (especially the barcode design) but it was cut by hand using an xacto knife and had ragged edges. Also, the sticker it was cut from still let the Apple logo shine through, even though it was a fairly thick vinyl. As I mentioned in the last step, the retroreflective tape I used for the new sticker has a thin metal film it it, so the Apple logo is masked completely.

This step was easy. I peeled off the old sticker, leaving a clean surface.

Step 4: Laser-Cut Your Sticker

First, I did a test cut using normal paper to make sure the right parts of the design would be illuminated and the rest of the Apple logo would be completely covered. The first two pictures below show the paper version being pulled out and test-fit. The latter two pictures show the retroreflective tape, laser cut.

Step 5: Apply Using Water

Here's a trick that I learned from my fellow Instructables people: When applying stickers or decals to a non-porous surface, a film of water give you tons of time to get the placement perfect.

In the pictures below, you'll see what I did: a spritz of water on the sticky side of the peeled-off sticker and spritz of water on the laptop lid. Then, I carefully laid down the sticker close to its final position. With the water in there, though, I had time to carefully adjust its placement and push out air bubbles.

With a piece of plastic, I carefully squeegeed the area and then patted it with a paper towel. The sticker was fairly fixed, at this point, but as the liquid fully wicked out from underneath, the adhesive bound to the laptop lid itself, making it even more permanent. Best of all, it looks perfect.

Step 6: Finished!

The "tattoo" looks great on the laptop, hiding the Apple logo completely. In certain light, the black sticker will actually glow pure white, just like reflector on a freeway sign or on a bicycle. It's a neat effect!

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    65 Discussions

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    Zil33184

    4 years ago

    Can this sticker be easily removed if I don't like it anymore?

    Just a small thing is the vinyl "retroreflective tape" you used PVC based? as PVC is one of those materials you are not supposed to laser cut and definitely not engrave. Its to do with the chloride part of the PVC, turns to hydrochloric acid in contact with moisture like your lungs.

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    jongscxLordinquisitor

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    It's probably the same as how I'm not supposed to be welding galvanized steel b/c the zinc vaporizes and can cause metal fume fever... but that's what respirators are for...

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    That's a very good point. I don't think it was, but I'm actually not sure. But I'll most definitely check before I cut the same stuff again.

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    helifino

    9 years ago on Introduction

    If you 'weed' the design while it's still on the backer, you can apply a piece of masking tape to keep all the 'wings' aligned, making it easier to apply.

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    Mindmapper1helifino

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    The supplier of the tape will also be able to supply a transfer tape which makes alignment issues non existent

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    nagutronhelifino

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    This is a great idea for intricate designs. Note that the water application method I describe in step 5 is pretty good, however. I had no trouble with moving all the bits around before it set. Something more intricate could use this advice for sure, though, or a thinner sticker material. Thanks!

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    cowe

    9 years ago on Step 2

    by any chance, do you know what the tape is composed of? asking because i know vinyl & pvc are the only things considered toxic to a c02 laser head. if it's made out of anything else it's all good, and i'd love to seek some out. :)

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    SYNTAG

    9 years ago on Step 6

    Very cool, about a month after I burned my laptop I regretted the design I made and have wished I could change it. My only question is where do you buy that tape at?

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    nagutronSYNTAG

    Reply 9 years ago on Step 6

    The search terms you want are "retroreflective tape." I found mine on eBay, but google brings up many more search results. It's sold as tapes, non-adhesive sheets, and even cloth!

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    agguilarnagutron

    Reply 7 years ago on Step 6

    you can use vinyl decal paper if you need some or need the decal just send me the design and i make it for you for free

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    Mindmapper1agguilar

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Just a note to say should not put vinyl in a laser cutter for two reasons: its made of PVC and when heated it gives off chlorine fumes which are toxic and secondly it will damage the laser.

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    PSPerson

    6 years ago on Introduction

    I did mine with a vinyl cutter. The apple glows through a bit when it is on full brightness, but I like it nonetheless.

    IMG_20111110_164658.jpg
    3 replies

    I took a pic from online, outlined it in Illustrator, took out some of the details and tweaked the sizing. then I sent it out to the vinyl cutter. It took me around 2 hours to get sizing and stuff right (printing out on paper to test it), but It was totally worth the effort.

    I see. you wouldn't happen to have the origi- wait, never mind. I think I've found the same image. time to expend some effort into this, whether or not I can use it.