Personalize Candy Hearts With a Laser Cutter

I was never a big fan of those candy hearts with the messages simply because I always thought they tasted like chalk. Still, I was a little upset when I heard NECCO, the maker of so much old school candy, was going out of business. If you read the article, you'll learn that they were cited for "significant evidence of rodent activity and unsanitary conditions." Yet another reason to not be so upset that tradition is gone.

Eventually, I started to feel bad because my daughter would not be able to feel the thrill of receiving a little piece of candy with a Valentine message on it. She didn't seem to upset when I tried to describe the appeal. I had to explain to her it was like a text message on candy, but with more words than she usually sends. I figured the only way to truly make her interested was to make my own personalized version of the candy hearts. I found that SweetTarts makes their own candy hearts. I got a little box with about 30 candies in it for $0.59. They have messages already on the front, but I knew I could do better. I assumed someone had already figured out how to do it so I jumped on Instructables and was disappointed that no one had already laser etched on candy hearts before. Luckily, I found this great Instructable on how to engrave an M&M and will gratefully give credit to JoeGadget for the idea.

Since Valentine's Day is right around the corner, I hope to fill the gap the NECCO bankruptcy has left.

Step 1: Gather Your Supplies

You only need a few things to professionally personalize your candy hearts. Unfortunately, one of those things is a laser cutter. I belong to the Burlington Generator makerspace and it is the most popular piece of equipment there. They recently secured a second laser cutter and it also is booked often.

  1. Laser Cutter (I used an Epilog Fusion 13000; 60 Watt Laser Etcher/Cutter)
  2. SweetTarts Hearts - (while I cannot pronounce most of the ingredients, rat poop is not one of them)
  3. 8 inch X 6 inch piece of scrap plywood (I used 1/8 Baltic Birch)
  4. Design tool that can open SVG files (I use Inkscape because it is free, but our makerspace has Adobe Illustrator, which is better to use)

Step 2: Create Your Template

Laser cutting/etching images on a piece of wood is pretty easy since you just need to line up your start point and let the laser do the rest. Trying to line up the start point on a piece of candy only 18 mm X 18 mm is a lot more complicated, especially if you want to do more than one at a time. Etching a template with the outline of the candy hearts will make it a lot easier to line up your message. Download and print the template on a piece of scrap wood. This template has 60 hearts, so you can make up to two boxes worth at a time.

For my laser cutter, I used these setting to cut the rectangle outline out of 1/8 inch piece of Baltic Birch. Our laser requires you to change the stroke to 0.001 mm in order for it to cut. Adjust the template accordingly.

Vector (cut)

  • Speed: 7
  • Power: 100
  • Frequency: 12

To etch the hearts on the board, I used these settings:

Raster (etch)

  • Speed: 75
  • Power: 100

Step 3: Personalize Your Hearts

Now, open the second SVG file and you'll see some sample text and images that I etched on the candy hearts. Before you start creating your messages, it would be best to plan on how you will "remove" the rectangle and heart template from the image so they do not get etched again. That will just waste a lot of time. One way you could do it is change the stroke for the rectangle and hearts to 0.001 mm or whatever your laser will interpret as a cut. When you do your printing, set the laser to only etch. If you use Adobe Illustrator, you could create one layer for the template elements and a second layer for your messages. When you do your printing, set the laser to only print the layer with your messages.

Once you've created as many messages as you have hearts, save the file.

Step 4: Preparing to Laser Etch Your Hearts

First, lay the wood template on the laser bed.

Next, place as many candy hearts as you have messages on the outline of the hearts.

Then, use the laser's Focus to align on the top of the candy. Since these SweetTart Hearts are not completely flat, I aligned the Focus a little off center.

Once your candy is in place and the laser focused, Jog your laser to the very tip of your board to designate that as the home location.

Finally, print the candy with these settings:

  • Power: 70
  • Speed: 70
  • DPI: 1200 (or the highest DPI your laser can etch at)

Step 5: Share With Your Valentine

Amazingly, the laser etches the candy without any obvious burn marks. I checked the ingredients and there is no actual sugar in the candy, just Dextrose, which is a form of glucose. Maybe that is the reason, I don't know, I'm not a chemist. (I tried this with a Peep and it turned the pink Peep heart yellow.) You can experiment with different settings if you want a deeper etch on the SweetTart.

My daughter promised me she could not taste the difference between the regular ones and the ones we etched so don't expect a caramelized flavor. She is excited now to have some personalized treats for her friends.

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