Intro: Laser-cut Acrylic License Plate Frame
For years, my mother refused to go rafting, despite the fact that my dad, my brother, and I took at least a trip a year as we grew up. Finally, when both my brother and I became guides, she caved and, though apprehensive right up until we finally pushed off from the put-in beach and on edge for a good part of the trip, ended up LOVING IT. Ever since, it's all she can talk about. She proudly tells everyone she's a river rafter, even people she passes on the street, telemarketers, or Verizon support representatives.
So as Mother's Day 2013 approached during my Artist-in-Residency, I figured I had to make her something, and why not have it be rafting-themed? After considering a number of other options, I settled on designing a simple license plate frame with appropriate, slightly ironic text. Why this? My mom loves her car and even though she doesn't drive a huge amount, it's enough to make a auto accessory a reasonable idea. She didn't have a license plate frame before, so there was an opportunity too.
Overall, a super simple but fun project with a great result!
Step 1: Supplies
1. ~ 7 x 13" acrylic (bigger if you want more of a buffer so your laser doesn't go off your piece). Nice to leave the protective paper on the acrylic during cutting - helps keep the surfaces nice and as randofo pointed out, it would allow you to paint the background (etched part) a different color if you please, and THEN remove the paper. I chose red because it's one of my mom's favorite colors and it would go well with her black car.
2. Laser cutter
3. Computer with Illustrator or similar
Step 2: Design and Textify
I stayed pretty simple because the text was the main attraction. Lots of options for making cool designs though! Before you design, know the following dimensions. (I've also uploaded a couple of files I found during a quick google image search).
- US license plate dimensions: 6 x 12"
- example frame outside dimensions: 6.25 x 12.5"
- bolt hole size: 0.25"
- horizontal distance between bolts (center-center): 7"
- vertical distance between bolts (center-center): 4.75"
- height of license plate letters (CA): 2 5/8" for painted blue part, ~3" for entire extruded size
Other things to keep in mind:
- where are the registration stickers? do you want to design around them?
- what are the dimensions of the license plate indentation on the back of the car/trunk/bumper? how big and crazy can you get with the design without it interfering with the body panels?
- is there curvature of the body panel inside the license plate indentation?
The Illustrator file I made is here as well - feel free to start with that and edit from there.
Step 3: Etch/cut
Before you cut the acrylic, definitely throw a piece of cardboard in the laser cutter and make sure everything gets etched and cut as expected. The last thing you want to do is mess up a piece of acrylic because of lack of prep.
When you've made sure the laser's path is correct, toss the acrylic in and let 'er rip!
I did two passes for the etching parts to get a little more depth than one pass would do; as long as the material doesn't move at all you can do as many passes as you want to achieve whatever depth is desired.
- lines (specifically hairline lines) get cut by the laser
- anything filled in gets etched
- I had some issues with the laser starting to cut around the letters after it etched...realized I had selected it all and turned it all to hairline, so be careful with that
Step 4: Remove Protective Layer
Now you've got a cut-and-etched license plate frame, and it's still covered. Remove the paper carefully - I used my fingernails instead of any sort of tool to minimize the chance of accidentally scratching or denting the acrylic.
Step 5: Prepare License Plate Holder and Attach
- Cut the bottom two bolts off at the interface with a hack saw
- Cut a couple pairs of velcro squares (you only need the softer, female side of the velcro for this step
- Apply the female (soft) side of the velcro to where you just removed the bolt extension (this is just padding, to eliminate any chance of rattling
- Slide the license plate onto the top bolts
- Cut a couple more pairs of velcro squares
- Affix the female squares to the license plate as shown
- Affix the male squares to the license plate frame you've made
- Slide the frame onto the top bolts and press where the velcro was attached