Intro: Laser Engraved Custom String Lights
In this instructable, I will show you how I turned a cheap generic string light into an edge lit custom Star Wars themed decoration. It is really simple and everyone should be able to follow along. You don't even have to end up with a Star Wars themed decoration. It could be a Marvel comics theme, Harry Potter or even your own team or names.
While the title suggests you need a laser engraver, you could also customize your acrylic in a few other ways like a soldering iron or a dremel tool. Look for those tutorials on this site. But for this tutorial, here are the tools and materials we will need:
- Laser Engraver (If you don't own one, a makerspace is an easy way to access it. I used the one at UMakers)
- Drill Press
- Super Glue
- Computer and a vector editing software (like Inkscape)
- 1/8" or 1/4" clear acrylic sheet
- LED string light (with bare bulb or where previous decoration can be removed)
Step 1: Design
Depending on how artistic and proficient you are with a vector design tool, you can start from scratch to create a custom design or message. The design doesn't have to fit in a circle like mine, but shapes with a wide enough portion to connect the LED to, are best.
However, if you would like to download a design, there are places to purchase or get free stock vector. I discovered the BB8 vector at thenounproject.com and would like to give credit to Antonella Belloti for the design.
Also check out vecteezy.com as an alternative.
Once you have the design downloaded, open the design in your vector design tool.
Step 2: Prepare for Laser Engraving
Now we will color the design/edit the file so we can seamlessly import it into the laser engrave software for 'Full Spectrum' laser that we are using. You will want to do what is appropriate for your laser.
- Remove any artifacts that will not be etched on the acrylic.
- Draw a frame around the design that will act as the cut line.
- Give the cut line a different color from the etch portion.
Step 3: Engrave!
Lots can go wrong at the laser. If this is your first time, make sure you pay close attention to these
- Laser is at the appropriate distance from the acrylic sheet
- Bed is parallel to the lens of the laser
- acrylic sheet is taped to the bed so it doesn't move
Step 4: Drill Holes for LED
After you have successfully cut out your acrylic, it's time to drill a hole for the LED. The drill bit you will use depends on the size of the LED.
If your string light has bare bulb, measure the diameter of the bulb. If there are decorations on the bulb like in this case, remove those and measure the diameter of the bulb. Also note down the height so you know how deep you need to drill it. Find the drill bit closest in size to the diameter of the bulb and mount it onto a drill press.
To securely hold the acrylic piece, we will use a vice and line it up with the drill. Once everything looks okay, turn on the drill press and drill down as deep as the LED bulb needs to go.
(In hindsight, designing a notch in the laser cut design would work as well)
Step 5: Glue to LED
Once you have a successful test fit on the acrylic sheet, time to use the super glue to glue the acrylic pieces to the string light.
Step 6: Voila
Once you glue the acrylic pieces to all the bulbs on the string, you are ready to decorate with your custom string light!
Get creative with the customization. You could etch letters to spell something out like names or a message. Or go with your own designs instead of something from Star Wars. Your imagination is the only limit!