Intro: Laser Etching Terracotta Pots
I always worry when I have to go out of town and have to leave my plants in the care of someone who might not know as much about their care as I do, especially when I have such an eclectic garden.
I came up with the idea of laser etching each plant's name on the pots and then putting simple care instructions on the back so each plants' needs are clear, and the instructions are never separated from the plants.
For this project you will need:
One terracotta pot for each plant
A laser engraver
A laser engraver rotary attachment
a paper clip
I made this at TechShop!
First, make your template. Terracotta pots are somewhat of an unusual shape and size, so my template is a little complicated. If you are using a pot with a simple design, this step will be a little easier.
I got a fabric tape measure and first measured the circumference of the pot's top (A), as well as the thickness of the top rim (B).
Next, I measured the circumference of the pot just below the top lip (C), and around the bottom (D).
Finally I measured the height of the pot from just below the top lip to the bottom (E).
To make my template, I first made a rectangle where the width of the rectangle was the thickness of the pot's top rim (B), and the height was the circumference of the pot's top (A).
Next I made 2 parallelograms whose width was the height of the pot from just below the lip to the bottom (E). The height of the left side was the pot's circumference just below the lip (C) divided in half, and the right side of the shape was the circumference around the bottom (D) also divided in half.
Once I made the parallelogram shape, I copied and pasted it so I had 2 sitting on top of one another, lined up with the right hand side of your first rectangle.
It seems like a rather complicated template, but it will help ensure that your etchings will come out exactly where you want them on your pot, and it makes centering your designs faster and more accurate
Next, research your plants and design your pot!
I am working on pots for an herb garden, and found an excellent site that explains their care here.
I wanted to keep my pots rather plain and simple, but feel free to design yours however you want!
Be sure, however, to flip everything 90 degrees so it shows up the right way on your pot.
Now, set up your laser with your rotary tool and put your pot in place, making sure to level and focus the laser to the surface you are etching so your design comes out nice and clean.
Depending on the item you are engraving with the rotary tool, it is sometimes better to remove the material clip on the left hand side. After many trials, I found the pot spins better with the clip.
I also discovered that since my pots are not perfect circles, they would sometimes climb up the wheels and move during the job, so make sure to test it before you run your job for real.
My pots were climbing and moving a lot during my engraving job, especially the bottom of the pots, which is where the paper clip comes in.
First, be sure the drainage hole of the pot is as smooth as possible or else it could get caught and damage your rotary tool or mess up your etching (I ended up having to sand mine a little with sandpaper)
I un-bent a paperclip and hooked it around the right hand side of the rotary tool on the bar that connects the wheels to the rest of the tool. I then hooked the rest of the paperclip through the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot to help hold it down and prevent it from moving too much. Be careful not to make the hook too tight. You need to allow room for the pot to move when rotating. The paper clip is just there to help prevent it from climbing around the rotary wheels completely.
Now for the laser settings.
I found that running it at a speed of 20 and a power of 90 gave me the effect I wanted. If you run it a little faster or with a little less power, you get a lighter etching effect, where as a slower speed or higher power gives you a deeper etching that is also darker.
Make sure to change the horizontal and vertical measurements to match the size of your art board or document so it etches exactly where you want.
Now run your file!
And remember to never leave a machine that is running. Bad things can happen, even when you step away just for a minute.
And there you have a laser etched terracotta pot for your garden.
An optional step is to take a dry pigment or even a stain or paint and rub it into the etching. This opens your design up to tons of color and design choices for your garden.
I liked the natural way the terracotta etched, myself, so I chose to leave it how it was.