Sunlight Engraver! a Simple Way to Engrave!




Ok, you want to do some engraving on wood, plastic, or on your hand? (no, not really) don't feel like buying one of those expensive wood engraver irons? Want a foolproof way to make nice engravings without worrying about your hand slipping and botching the whole job?

THIS IS FOR YOU! If you like simple, useful, and easy processes, give this a try. this just takes a few simple steps, and is very easy to do. You need NO experience with tools. If you can stick something with tape, and use a knife, you're set. If you can't... well, there's not much I can say about it, but that now is a good time to learn!

Below is a picture of a stickman and a camp fire. That's they type thing you should get when you're finished! The best thing is, it takes very little to master this technique! Once you get the hang of cutting curves on the tape, the rest is simple!

One KEY advantage to this method VS say a spray paint stencil, is that I can make REUSABLE stencils with ISLANDS. That means that I can do letters WITHOUT having to worry about those annoying "legs" that are needed to create blank spaces in the middle of a figure.

*please note* steps 8-12 are on making a stencil for repeated use of a particular design

Step 1: Step One: Get Those Materials!

Ok, onto the good stuff. First off, the list of things you need are CHEAP and easily accessible, heck, you've probably got all this in your garage!

-DARK sunglasses- very important! We prefer to keep our eyes intact. if you've got welding goggles, those'll work too.
-Aluminum foil tape- the shiny stuff, you COULD use aluminum foil, but, it's going to be one heck ova lot harder that way.
-Razor blade- Exacto knives are preferred.
-Magnifying glass- one larger then 3" (~10cm) diameter circle, or rectangular equivalent.
-Material to be engraved- dark objects or wood are best
-A sunny day

*a side note, please try to steer clear of carcinogenic materials, However, if you must burn them, wait for a breeze, and stay upwind of the object, and downwind of other people (or a good ways away from them!) I'd prefer if you just take simple precautions to keep others safe. While probably not a problem, it's a good idea nevertheless. HOWEVER, plain 'ol wood is no problem, and you don't need to worry about that!

Step 2: Step Two: Apply Tape

Very simple, clean off your piece of wood (it should be dry), unroll and cut the tape to the necessary size, adding more strips side by side if necessary. Peel back the white paper that covers the sticky and apply to the part of the object to be engraved. Smooth out by pressing your thumb down and sliding it along the tape.

*it has been asked why I use this reflective tape, for all that are viewing this, I'd just like to clear any confusion. Because we're using light to do the burning, we need a way to keep it from burning portions of wood that we want to remain normal. Because it's light, it has no "radiant" heat (excepting that coming off the burning material) therefore we can get nice precise figures if we just reflect the unwanted light on the portions that we don't want to burn. Nice easy, carefree engraving, no worries about "coloring out of the lines"

Step 3: Step Three: Cut Figures

Now that the tape has been applied, using your exacto knife (or razor blade) like a pencil, and cut out the characters or figures as you feel like. Make SURE you cut through the tape, and not just dent it, otherwise you'll have one heck of a time trying to finish further steps. Also, I find it's easiest to cut towards the center of the figure, you'll have to experiment for yourself though.

As seen below, a stick figure and a camp fire. You can cut out letters... ECT, it's all up to your imagination. Just remember, everything must be a "bubble figure" unless you cut it so there is some of the material beneath exposed, you can't engrave it.

Step 4: Step Four: Remove Cut Tape

Remove the portions that you want to engrave. Now it's ready for the next step. Just make sure that the tape over portions you don't want engraved has been pressed down. If the tape is sticking up there, it just won't do.

Also, if you need help lifting the tape off the object, use the point of your knife.

Step 5: Step Five: BURN!

Start engraving the exposed material! Remember, you're not here to burn too much, you just want to burn enough to engrave the material! If you do too much, it'll turn out poorly. Try to do it evenly as well. For wood, as soon as it's black, you keep moving.

Also, try to do the edges first, then work your way to the middle!

Step 6: Step Six: Inspect

Inspect your piece, make sure it's fully and evenly engraved.

Step 7: Step Seven: You're Done!

Simply peel off the tape, and you're done! voilÃ! You have created a simple engraving!

You're done! Pat yourself on the back and do another!

Step 8: Making a Stencil for Repeated Use

Ok, it's been mentioned that it'd be great to have a stencil that could be used over and over and over again. While if the shapes aren't very complex on the piece of tape, you CAN lift the tape off, and re-stick, and re-use, this will won't work too well more then one or two times.

So how do we solve this? We'll build a stencil!

items needed

-sheet of glass or plastic (glass is VERY MUCH preferred)
-foil tape

Panes of glass in small sizes are readily available from scanner tops (on the 4-in-1 printers) and old window panes. If you've got a junkyard local, you might be able to lift some off of them for pretty cheap.

Step 9: Apply Tape

Just like with the wood, apply to the sheet of glass and get as smooth as possible, cover as much needed to make your figure.Try to get the pieces side by side to be as close as possible, if you have to, overlap them, whatever you do, keep away from having cracks for the best quality engraving.

*if you can't get the wrinkles out, use your thumbnail to smooth them out.

Step 10: Cut and Remove the Figures

Once again, as before, cut and remove the figures from the sheet of glass, just like you did with the wood. I just made a random figure to show as an example.

If you'd like to re-use the piece for another shape, just make sure to tape on the side that has already been scratched by the knife during the cutting of the figures. This will keep burning power to a maximum, even if the old scribed lines fall where you want your figures. If you use plastic, you will have to move to another part of the sheet.

  • as a side note, a good suggestion I've received (thanks for your comments all) is; just leave all your cut figures on the sheet of glass. As you can just move the stencil to use different figures, it'll save you a lot of time to just leave them all on the sheet of glass. Besides that, you can build your own "library" of stencils and have all the figures you've made!

Step 11: BURN!

Flip the stencil over (tape side down) wherever you want to burn, and get to it! If done correctly, the finished product should be nice and crisp.

*as a note, if you used plastic, I found that you burn until the engraving turns a black, then a slightly golden color, you'll see why in the next step.

Step 12: Warnings About Plastic

I personally used plastic, HOWEVER, the plastic does melt a bit... and as a result becomes a golden color... I don't think this seriously affects, or limits you producing more engravings, but, it does show that the plastic suffers a bit... and will be no where as permanent as glass. It'll last a good while I suspect (I'm preforming tests on it yet) but, the glass will be the preferred medium, as, this should not pose a problem. It may cloud though, and in that case will have to be wiped with a cloth occasionally to clear it for the next engraving.



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70 Discussions


7 years ago on Introduction

As a note of safety "ALWAYS WEAR EYE PROTECTION".The suns rays can damage your eyes easily when they are focused into such a sharp beam.
With that being said,Happy Solar burning.☺☻


8 years ago on Step 12

The thrift stores here often have frames w/ glass in larger sizes for reasonable prices.

I have an idea to make stencils that might be a little more work and a little more expense but I think the end result would be better. There is a product called Looking Glass. This is a spay "paint" that creates a mirror like finish on glass. By masking off your glass with a paper or vinyl piece in the pattern you wish to burn then spraying the glass with the Looking Glass paint you should end up with a mirror with voids that are in the pattern of the design you wish to engrave. Only experimentation will tell how well it would hold up.


11 years ago on Step 12

can't you just cut through the plastic while cutting the tape then u wont have to worry about it fogging up or melting.plz correct me if im wrong

1 reply

9 years ago on Introduction

 Never thought of this! Nice unique method. 


11 years ago on Step 12

May I add that if instead of this template you do one with cooking foil, or thicker. You can put your picture over the foil and only by passing a pencil over the line the surrounds your image it should leave the foil marked for latter cutting. With a thick foil you should not need any other support to have it last long. There are other techniques to engrave metals: with tar and acid but it deserves it's own proper instructable to show it well...

2 replies

Reply 10 years ago on Step 12

The tape allows you to make islands... the areas that would fall out if not for the sticky backing applied to the glass. This way you don't have to follow the "rules" of stencil making!


Reply 10 years ago on Step 12

You're right. I'm sorry for not reading and understanding all what was explained.

I was just trying to add another idea to this good project.

Now, :) let me add something...

It could be possible to add 3D to the shadows (some less dark shadows) by cutting away some parts of the stencil after half burning the complete silouette...

So, the new cut parts would be half burned while the rest would look as mentioned in this interesting article.

For example, the front log of the first picture, would look less burned, so more close to the observer...

Hurray, I have added something! :)


11 years ago on Step 5

v_v It's not working for me. Then again I'm using a 60 watt light bulb.... Better go get the 120. :D

1 reply

Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

of course it isn't working! your using a 60W light bulb. The sun's just the slightest bit bigger.


Reply 11 years ago on Step 1

I've tried... it just didn't cut it for me. Then again mine is a small 15-20W one...


Reply 10 years ago on Step 1

The whole idea is to make your own! I think this is a great way to engrave for people who like to create but are short on cash!


10 years ago on Introduction

prety cool, my bros and i started burning the plastic on an old toy car with a magnifying glass, and in 2nd grade,me and these 5th grade boys were trying to make a fire with a magnifying glass. It worked but i got scared and kicked sand all over it.(my bro was stupid wen he was little and asked for marshmellows from one of the adults there!)


11 years ago on Introduction

Hi: Pressure-treated wood is really 'cyanide-treated,' but they wouldn't sell much of it if they labeled it as such. THAT is the stuff you don't want to burn.

I'm surprised that no one suggested that you cut the stencil on the glass *in reverse* so that you can then lay the glass onto the wood with the cut pattern on the bottom of the glass, nearest to the wood. That way, you retain the sharp edge that you get when your stencil is in direct contact with the wood. I would think that the sticky side of the tape is still reflective enough to do its job in that mode.