laser cutting

laser cutting

making pixels matter

This module introduces subtractive digital fabrication, with a focus on laser cutting. Using lasers to cut and engrave wood, plastic, metal, fabric, and other materials allows us to bring digital ideas into the physical world in ways that would be impossible or prohibitively time intensive using manual techniques.

Laser cutting is a subtractive process that removes material and usually results in 2-dimensional output (although there are a number of ways to use laser cutters to make 3D objects and enclosures. You design for laser cutting using a vector design program like Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape. There are a few different ways of using a laser — engraving vectors, cutting vectors, and engraving raster images. The vector results are highly accurate and finely detailed and, while these technologies have been around for a couple of decades, only recently have they become accessible/affordable for individual artists and designers. Most shop lasers can cut wood, plastic, paper, leather and rubber up to a 1/4″ thick and are great if you have access to a one. But recent CO2 lasers modules have become very capable, and are more affordable, providing a more experimental platform for exploring hybrid digital/material aesthetics. This module will use Adobe Illustrator to interface with the laser cutter, but Inkscape would work just as well.


project 1 | 3d

Fabricate something! Using the laser cutter, create a 3 dimensional object that you designed on a computer and realized through a digital fabrication processes. Think about ways to work with a laser cutter, which only cuts in 2 dimensions, to build 3 dimensional forms. You might use a generative or iterative process, or a more traditional building technique. Think about the materials you would like to use — wood, paper, cardboard, and acrylic are all laser friendly. Draw ideas from sculpture, industrial design, video games, miniatures, or film props. Think about combining laser processes with other processes, painting, drawing, print making, and animation.

project 2 | light

Create a small light or light sculpture using either laser cutting and engraving techniques. Think about different light sources you have at home: your phone, a flashlight, a simple LED circuit, a light bulb. You could easily combine this project with electronics, and the electronics side of things does not need to be overly complicated — focus on the affordances and constraints of digital fabrication. You could create an iterative design using the laser cutter and paper, laser cut a back-lit design into wood or acrylic, or create an illuminated enclosure for an electronics project.

project 3 | tool

Use the laser cutter to create a tool or part for some other type of making. The goal with this project is to think about how digital fabrication processes might open new possibilities within more traditional media. graffiti stencils, printable etchings, casting molds, stop motion sequences, but also spoon handles, jewelry bases, and wooden books?



Artists working with digital fabrication

additional resources