A sophisticated heat beam called a “laser”

For the past four years, I’ve assisted with OU’s annual Deans’ Retreat with both design and organization. The retreat brings together over all of our academic college deans and the Provost’s Office for a couple day event structure around vision casting for the year, learning from each other, and team building. For the past three years, attendees have been broken up into teams of five or six and had them compete for an overall prize.

This year’s theme was called Captains and Commanders and lent itself wellfor all kinds of punny nautical references. For the grand prize, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to utilize the OU Innovation Hub which opened up last year. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to make it down there, but after reading a blog post from Terri Cullen, one of our education faculty members (who–by the way–is on a blogging tour de force this summer), I was itching for a reason to use it.

One of the tools available in the fabrication lab at the OU Innovation Hub is a laser cutter. I set my sights on taking logo’s Adobe Illustrator file and etching it onto the side of Yeti tumbler. I wanted to do a prize that felt rewarding but wasn’t too pricey and achievable from a design perspective. The pen look of the logo really called out to me about wanting to be etched (etch? cut? burn? I have yet to understand the correct verb here). So etching it was.

2017 Logo

First, I’ll say that it felt cool to just be hanging out with the students who use the I-Hub. What’s nice about the laser cutter is that you can define the type of material, so while I had always imagined laser cutters as a way to turn wood into coasters and ways to personalize Yeti’s, the students were showing me all different types of use cases. One student was cutting pieces of cloth to make backpacks. Another had designed a full Sooneropoly board. The students were thinking WAY more creative than I was with my silly little aluminum cups.

I laid the logo out on an Illustrator canvas the size of the machine and then converted it from CMYK to RGB.

Next we prepped the cups by spraying a metal marking laser spray. In all honesty, I just took their word for it that this would make it look better. I default to the experts here.

Next, we added a rotor to the laser cutter and measured the circumference of the cup so the machine knew exactly when to turn the cup as it cut it. Again, a piece of the puzzle I would have been missing had I not had excellent help. As it started, it looked like this:

You can set laser cutters to either go at a slow or fast pace. We did the first cup on slow mode and unfortunately it took about 26 minutes. On the second cup, we set it to super speed and was just under seven minutes per cup. Here’s a cup once it had completed the print:

Last thing we did was wash the cups off with regular soap and water and the soft side of a sponge as to not scratch the brushed aluminum finish.

Then you just rinse and repeat until you have your fleet o’ cups.

I want to thank Brandt Smith and his student workers in the fabrication lab for helping me with this project. They made it almost too easy for me and I was able to get out of there way. I’m going to go ahead and call my shot that I’ll be back. My eyes are fixed on building a guitar this year. All I need to learn is everything.

  • carpetbomberz
    I think the ceramcoat helps the edges stay sharper, because the laser
    spot is “fuzzy” where the edge meets the the actual metal. It’s like
    so-called “tear-out” on wood on a table-saw or band saw. You put a
    “backer” material there so it doesn’t chip out real bad as the blade
    exits. The ceramcoat is like a “mask” that the laser has to cut before
    it reaches the metal. Also I think the slower the speed, the lower
    energy the laser, and the “sharper” the cut is. So a slow speed +
    ceramcoat would give you sharper edges on all the typography, etc. But
    don’t take my word for it. This all “guess” based on what little I know/seen on YouTube and watching people do machining work on things like a Bridgeport mill. Those have “feed” speeds based on material hardness. Slow speed is for harder materials, high speed for softer. But higher speed means more warping, and less accuracy.
    • Nice! I was told it looks pretty rad without it too but they went ahead and recommended it. Part of what I was hoping to capture in the post, or rather what I didn’t want to convey is that I know anything about what I’m doing. But I enjoyed the process and it’s made me think literally in a third dimension about design in a way in which I haven’t before. And I had a blast despite them being smart and not letting me touch a lot of the instruments. :-)