Laser cut resin jewelry

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They looked pretty good even before I added the resin.

After my last laser project, I was out of locations to make into topographical maps, which meant I had no idea what gifts to make people this year for Christmas. I knew I wanted to make something on the Glowforge because it makes my amateur art projects look really professional, but I had no idea what to make.

Then my sister-in-law linked me to Hazel Sebastian Glass, who makes gorgeous cut paper artwork that she posts on Instagram. Most of her stuff is done by hand but she does laser cut reproductions of her art as well. I can’t imagine cutting those designs out by hand. She must have a steady hand and an extremely sharp knife.

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I didn’t expect the Glowforge to cut out something this thin without burning it.

Anyway, that sounded like a great project to attempt with the Glowforge. I’ve also been wanting to try my hand at using epoxy resin. I watched this video on making epoxy resin pendants (side note: TheCrafsMan has a lot of videos on all sorts of different art projects and I love his sense of humor. Highly recommended!). Combining those two ideas sounded like a quick(-ish) project for Christmas.

Materials:

  • EnviroTex Lite epoxy resin It was affordable ($15 for an 8 oz kit) and available at Michaels. I know you can get more for your money if you buy in bulk but I didn’t know if this was going to turn out disastrous so I didn’t want to get gallons of the stuff.
  • Bead Landing Found Objects frame pendants I used the round ones, not these oval ones, but I can’t find the round ones on the website. Again, I only used them because they were available at Michaels. They’re pretty expensive for what they are ($5 for three pendants), so if I do this again I’ll probably try to find them cheaper elsewhere.
  • Assorted paper I used a variety of different weights and colors of paper. I’d recommend against using anything like construction paper, since the resin soaked unevenly into that. Cardstock worked better for me than lighter weight paper, since it was easier to assemble the teeny tiny puzzle pieces afterward (and didn’t blow around as much in the Glowforge)
  • Krylon Triple-Thick Crystal Clear GlazeThis was to protect the paper from the resin both to keep it from changing color (which only partially worked) and to keep the paper from off-gassing little bubbles (which worked pretty well). I did about three coats on the fronts and backs of my assembled paper designs before adding the resin.
  • Glue – I used a glue stick to put the paper layers together, which worked well because it didn’t make the paper wrinkly with moisture, but unfortunately it gets everywhere and dulls the metallic surface of the paper if it gets on it. Under a layer of resin, I think you don’t notice that as much. I tried plain white glue but that warped the paper since it was wet, so I had to weigh the paper down under books while it dried. It was especially bad with thinner paper but worked better with cardstock. Finally, once the paper layers were all glued together, I glued them into the pendant with superglue to keep it from floating when I added the resin. Maybe I could have used superglue for the whole thing. I might try that in the future, although I have a bad habit of gluing my fingers together.

Steps:

I made a few simple designs in Adobe Illustrator. I knew that I wanted a layer or two of a background, then at least two layers of the main design, since I felt that the different layers would look good set in resin. Since the pendants were only a little over an inch in diameter, the main design had to be simple enough to be visible from a distance, with large enough details that the paper didn’t just burn to a crisp in the Glowforge.

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The assembled paper designs.

I assembled a half dozen little rectangular and circular paper designs, then chose the three of each shape that had turned out the best. I gave them a few coats of the Krylon to keep the paper from giving off too many bubbles into the resin. Once that was done, I superglued them into the frame pendants to keep them from floating when I added the resin.

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The two rectangular pendants after spray sealing but before epoxy resin.

Each pendant took only a very thin layer of resin and I ended up with a bunch left over, so I ran and got all of the extra (unsealed) paper discs I’d assembled as backups and set them all out on a paper plate, propped up on pennies. I poured the resin over those too.

After fifteen minutes, most of the bubbles had risen to the top of the cast. They’re easy to pop just by breathing gently across the surface. Then I covered everything with glasses to keep the dust off them and set a timer for myself to check every ten to fifteen minutes for more bubbles. I did this for perhaps two hours, until the resin was so thick that there was no way to pop any of the last bubbles.

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After three failed attempts at putting the background together correctly, I made a numbered template for reference.

Despite the number of bubbles I’d stirred into the resin, most of the casts cured crystal clear. They all had at least one tiny bubble, but it was minor enough that I was okay with it. I think the main issue with the ones set in the pendants was that air got trapped between the paper and the pendant, then released very slowly, so I ended up with a couple larger bubbles in the final casting. Perhaps if I was more diligent in gluing the paper down completely, that wouldn’t be an issue.

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I ended up making another version of the mushroom with more layers later on.

The paper that I had propped up on pennies didn’t have large bubbles because there was nowhere for air to get trapped underneath them, but they had hundreds of very tiny bubbles that came out of the paper, since I hadn’t sprayed those with the Krylon. It’s not noticeable from a distance but up close they look cloudy. Different types of paper gave off different amounts of bubbles. Construction paper was the worst offender. The construction paper also soaked up some of the resin, turning dark and wet looking. That would have been fine if it did that evenly, but it left dry-looking blotches.

The best looking one, with zero bubbles, was one that I had sprayed with Krylon but didn’t set in a frame. So that’s good to know.

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I didn’t even like this design but it was the only one that came out completely bubble-free.

I ended up doing the last bit of this project on the day before Christmas Eve, which was a problem because the resin takes longer to cure the colder it is. It takes 72 hours to cure at 70ºF, and my house is usually around 64ºF at this time of year. I set up a space heater in my bedroom and got the heat up to 90 degrees on and off for the next two days. They were very solid by Christmas morning.

Finally, I added cord to some of the pendants and keychain clasps to others. I’m curious to see how the resin holds up to bumping around with a set of keys. I’ve been using one on my keys for a few weeks now and so far it’s doing just fine.

These were the two finished pendants that I managed to get pictures of:

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Just don’t look too closely at the bubbles.
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This one is actually the rejected version of the mushroom pendant.

I’m really happy with how these turned out and I have plans to make some more. I certainly have plenty of resin left over. Any suggestions for designs?

Laser art part 2: Mars

[Part 1 here]

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Let me tell you, friends, this project was a big one, and I made it bigger by making more dumb mistakes. First, I found a topographical map of Mars that was made in 1993. It was only after tracing the entire thing that I learned the first of two important facts: we didn’t know much at all about Mars until 1997 when the Mars Global Surveyor arrived; every map made before that point was based on data gathered in the Mariner missions in the 1960s.

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The newer maps of Mars measured elevation in a color gradient rather than in convenient lines at each kilometer mark. Rather than start from scratch, I layered this map over the one I had made and started nudging my lines around. Eventually I got it looking pretty accurate, except there was one weird thing about the two maps. The elevations didn’t line up.

Here I learned the second important fact about Mars: since Mars doesn’t have a sea, scientists had to choose an elevation to use as “sea level,” which is where you would define 0 on a topographical map. Up until 2001, they measured sea level by atmospheric pressure.

But then in 2001 the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter arrived and gave them more specific data, and they decided instead to base sea level on the equipotential surface. So in other words, not only was the map I made only vaguely accurate in terms of landmarks, it also started counting up from 0 at a different height.

Mars vector

I don’t know how many hours I put into just making the file. Dozens, anyway. Then I had to split the whole map into three sections so it would fit in the laser cutter. I used twelve sheets of 12″ square birch plywood. You can buy this in bulk from Michael’s, so the whole thing ended up costing me only about $22.

I paid attention to the grain of the wood this time and I masked everything first so I wouldn’t get smoke stains on everything. I even lightly scored lines on each layer to show where the next layer was supposed to go, so I could align things exactly and so I wouldn’t end up with a bunch of random bits and no idea where they were supposed to go. I still ended up with a bunch of random bits, but fewer than I would have.

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It was in assembling the thing that I learned a final important fact, not about Mars but about topography in general: when you’re making a topographic map on birch plywood that is 1/8″ thick, and each level of elevation on the map is 1 kilometer of height, that means 1/8″ up and down = 1 kilometer. But if the map is 27″ wide and the planet has a circumference of 21,343 km, then 1/8″ left and right = 98.8 kilometers. Because of this discrepancy, everything gets stretched out to look much taller than it is.

If I were making the map completely accurate, then each layer of this 27″ wide map should have been .001″ tall (or about the width of a human hair). The entire 25 kilometer height of Olympus Mons would end up being 1/32″ tall (or about the thickness of the lead in a mechanical pencil). But that makes for a very boring topographical map, so I didn’t do it that way.

The end result is that Olympus Mons ended up looking VERY TALL.

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I took out every other layer of all of the mountains to get them down to a more reasonable looking height, since I didn’t want any of them sticking up three inches over the rest of the map. I think the end result looks quite nice.

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All I have left to do is mount the three parts on a single sheet of plywood and then maybe frame it or something. Maybe I’ll hang it on my wall, if it’s not too heavy. I’m already thinking of what to make next. What’s bigger than a planet?

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Laser art part 1: Cape Cod Bay

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Last year I got my hands on a Glowforge Pro laser cutter. It’s not mine (it may be cheap for a laser cutter but it’s not actually CHEAP) but I needed to learn how to use it, and what better way to do that than try my hand at making some art.

Glowforge has a whole catalog of projects you can make, as well as forums full of people showing off their own projects, but I actually got my inspiration from seeing this gorgeous thing and deciding I could make one just like it. Because, you know, I wanted to start simple.

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You can find topographical maps of just about anywhere online. The US Geological Survey has a ton of maps, both current and historical, and you can download all of them for free. You can also find bathymetric maps (that’s underwater topography) of just about any significant body of water. Yes, all of those links are US-centric, but I’m sure you can find similar repositories for elsewhere in the world. I haven’t done anything outside of the US yet. …Well, actually I have, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

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Actually cutting out the image and assembling it is the easy part. It’s making the file to cut out that takes a billion hours of tedious work. If you’re extremely lucky, you’ll find a PDF of a map that’s already mostly in vector format, although even those take many hours of cleanup before they’re usable. Mostly you just find a flat image and you have to trace it. For hours. And hours.

Eventually you start to fudge things because seriously, no one is going to look that closely and no one really knows where Dead Neck is or how many shipwrecks there really are off Provincetown. But it’s really cool to know that every single sandbar and pile of rocks off the coast has a name.

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I made SO MANY MISTAKES on this project. For one thing, the size of my project was too large to do in one go on the laser, so I had to split each layer into two halves, and I didn’t figure out a good way of doing that until after I’d finished the whole project, so there are a lot of uneven gaps and things not lining up correctly.

I didn’t notice that the grain of the wood was going in different directions until it was far too late, although in my defense there wasn’t much I could have done about that even if I had noticed ahead of time, since the wood was pre-cut into 16×20″ rectangles so I couldn’t rotate them.

Also, I hadn’t done any tests ahead of time to see what settings I would need to cut through the wood, so some places got scorched and other places didn’t cut all the way through and I had to hack at them with a knife.

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When the whole thing comes together, though, it looks amazing. You can make anything look good when lasers are involved. I like the effect of the smoke marks, although you can avoid that with masking tape.

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I did this entire project last May. Around December I decided to try my hand at it again using the stuff I’d learned, so I made two small town maps for family members. And then I thought… well, what next? What can I make for myself that will look just as cool as Cape Cod Bay?

The answer, it turns out, was Mars.

[Part 2 coming soon!]