I have been making these notebooks as gifts for family and friends for several years. My technique has evolved a lot over that time, from construction paper inlays that were susceptible to fading and water spotting, to labour-intensive hand-cut colored plastic inlays, to this current method, which is inexpensive, durable and quick to assemble.
The majority of the work is in the design. I have included a couple design files for your convenience, in case you want to skip that part, or for reference. It's unlikely you'll find a notebook that they fit exactly, but you should be able to adapt them to your notebook with minimal effort. Though I use a laser cutter, this design could be cut with basic hand tools and hand painted or stenciled instead of engraved.
- Notebook (wire-, comb- or spiral-bound. About $3 at the dollar store)
- Oak plywood, approx 3/32" thick
- Printed color transparency
- Mylar film or tinfoil
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Step 1: Model Notebook Cover
I use Inkscape, a free vector-based graphics program, to make my laser cutter files. You can use whatever you're comfortable with, as long as you can laser cut from it, or print from it if you're going to freehand cut.
I will italicize the Inkscape menu options and tools. Follow along in the pics. If you get stuck, there are loads of bite-size YouTube tutorials on every conceivable Inkscape tool and feature.
Create layers named cover, lines, engraving and colors. In the cover layer, model your notebook cover. Create a rectangle the height and width of the cover, then another the height and width of one of the binding holes. Create tiled clones of the hole. Unlink the clones and do a union on them. Then do a difference between the holes and cover. Your base cover is done. Now it's time to get fancy!
Step 2: Create Lines
My Starfleet insignia design is essentially a freehand "triangle" with a modified 5 point star over an oval. Everything in this step should be done on the lines layer.
Click and drag an ellipse to the right size. Convert this object to path.
Using the bezier curve tool, freehand it. Less is more with this tool. I made mine with 8 nodes. People have a tendency to want to add a lot of nodes, but this just makes your path lumpy. Get something sort of close to what you want, then spend some time editing paths by nodes.
Make a 5 point polygon with one point going straight up. Convert this object to path. Using edit path by nodes, drag the top point up.
Using draw freehand lines, with smoothing around 60 and create regular bezier path checked, draw a bunch of lines to break up the large sections of your design. Tip: use snap to path snapping option, but disable most others.
Step 3: Add Colors
With the colors layer on top, fill bounded areas with roughly the colors you want. I wanted yellow and blue. Select all the colored shapes. Tweak the shapes with the jitter colors option and hue and lightness sub-options selected. This will vary the hue and lightness a bit, breaking up the monotony. Manually adjust any fill colors you don't like. Turn off the other layers' visibility temporarily and save your file as a PDF to print onto transparency. I print mine at Staples, but you can buy special transparencies for inkjets and laser printers. Just get the right type for your printer.
Step 4: Modify Lines
So far, the lines we've made are the minimum thickness we need to see them. We have to make them wide enough to hold the wood cover together. I find that's about 1/8" for the laser cutter. If you're using a saw you might want to make them a little thicker to account for the extra stress.
Select everything on the lines layer. Give them a fill of none. You might see the oval behind the triangle. If this is the case, duplicate the triangle and difference it against the oval. Select everything again. Make sure you only have paths: no groups or objects. Change the fill style to 0.125". Choose stroke to path and union. Break apart your selection, then give it a thin 2px stroke style with no background fill.
Step 5: Add Engraving
The main engraving is a series of rounded- and square-corner rectangles (black outlines) unioned together, then differenced with the green outlined rectangles. Tip: use align and distribute and snap to corners to position the rectangles exactly.
Add a text name, sizing it to the height of the lower line. There are a number of Star Trek-inspired fonts available for free on free font websites. I used Final Frontier, but can't include it here due to licensing issues. Add a rectangle a little bigger than the name, then difference it from the main engraving.
Now difference the outermost line shape (the one enclosing your whole design) against the main engraving. This will leave a nice border between the engraving and the holes.
Move the colors layer below the cover layer. Union all the paths in the lines layer to make a single path. Difference that path against the cover. Your colors should show through. Your design is done!
Step 6: Cut Covers
Cut covers according to your laser cutter software's instructions. I cut the red lines and engrave anything black. It takes about a half hour per notebook. I tape over the wood first to reduce soot residue, which otherwise requires sanding to remove. For our Full Spectrum Hobby Series 20x12 laser with a 45W tube, I cut 2 passes at 30% speed/100% power and engrave at 60% speed/100% power.
I used the laser cutter at Halifax Makerspace. You probably have a makerspace in your area. If they don't have a laser cutter, they likely have a CNC mill, which operates similarly. But everything laser cut in this tutorial could be done with coping saw or scroll saw. Just print out the pattern, adhere it to your plywood, and go to town.
Cut one cover with the design, and one without (for the back). Give both covers a good sanding and finish them as you like. I give them three coats of Clear Coat spray or polyurethane.
Step 7: Finishing Touches
Cut around your color transparency. Leave a 1/4 inch margin. Using a very thin bead, hot glue transparency in place. Cut a piece of mylar or tinfoil. You may want to crumple it a bit, or leave it smooth. Glue it behind the transparency, again taking care to use very little hot glue.
Put one strip of tape over the binding holes. Spray a coat of 3M Super 77 or similar high-quality spray adhesive over the back of the cover and one side of the cardstock. Pull the tape off the cover. Wait the recommended amount of time, then adhere the cardstock to the back of the cover, leaving the binding holes exposed. Press firmly all over and trim excess card stock with a sharp utility knife.
Gently replace the covers of your notebook with your new covers. This will vary depending on the notebook binding type, but I find wire bound notebooks easiest.
Enjoy your new notebook!
Step 8: Variations
The techniques I've shared can be used to make a variety of notebooks, suncatchers, ornaments, lamp shades, tea lights and a host of other projects. I mostly concentrate on notebooks in various geeky fandoms: Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, Dr. Who, video games, Disney movies.
In the examples above, the lighter colored notebooks are birch. The darker, with the prevalent wood grain, are oak. Some have smooth mylar, some wrinkled. Some have no cutouts, some are intricate.
If this Instructable was useful to you, I hope you'll share a picture of your creation!
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