This is my first attempt at etching denim and I'm officially hooked! My goal for this project was to jazz up an old denim jacket I never wear using the Trotec Laser Cutter at TechShop Pittsburgh.
As a textile artist, I'm experimenting with ways to incorporate lasers and fabric. Here is an example of a 100" square quilt that includes laser cut thrift store clothes: http://mitchcollective.wordpress.com/2014/05/01/cr...
The image for this laser etch came from a reductive screen print I made. I simplified the skull and created a vector file that can now be implemented in many different CNC machines. You can see more of my work at www.sienabaldi.com
Step 1: Testing
After talking to a laser cutter guru about the prospect of etching denim, it was suggested to start out with the settings for paper and go from there. I had a scrap piece of denim to test out different settings. I found that the paper setting of power 42 speed 100 made hardly any image whatsoever so I upped the power.
Test A is two passes at power 60 speed 100 and Test B is two passes at power 80 speed 100. The test piece of denim was lighter than the actual jacket, but I was pleased with the visibility from Test B and opted to give those settings a whirl.
Step 2: Taping
The vector file I created was 8"x10.25" so I masked off that size rectangle in the center back of the jacket so that I knew where to position the laser. This wasn't super precise, but it seemed to work pretty well. In the future I would leave the bottom edge untaped so that there's no chance of the print getting cut off.
Step 3: Loading
To load the jacket into the laser bed I stacked several pieces of wood and a masonite board that was bigger than the image to be etched. The reason for elevating the jacket is so the sleeves and extra material can hang down and out of the way of the laser arm, which needs to move freely all the way across. In the future I would use Super 77 or some kind of spray adhesive to keep the jacket completely flat on the masonite board. The denim was heavy and kept its shape fairly well, but being tacked down couldn't hurt.
Step 4: Etching
Before starting the etch I set the laser just barely inside the upper left taped corner. The settings used were power 80 speed 100 on the TechShop Pittsburgh Trotec Laser Cutter.
I had set the laser cutter to do two passes, but was so pleased with the result of the first pass that I decided to quit while I was ahead. After stopping the laser cutter, all that was left to do was peel off the tape and strut around with my new super cool jacket.