Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Laser Etched Coasters

I just wanted to share with you guys what my sister Charisse did when she went to Boston. Today she's giving us an in depth explanation on how she made these laser etched coasters. She is an industrial design graduate and you can check out more of her work on her Behance page.


Hi guys! Today I’m gonna show you how I made these fancy coasters!

A little background

I signed up for an introductory workshop at Danger!awesome, a laser cutting and engraving shop that also customizes stuff. The workshop included free 30 mins of using the laser machine for myself, so what better way of spending it than by making fancy coasters!

The strength of laser cutting and engraving is that it works like a printer and CNC machine, so you can do a pretty complex design and it’ll show clearly. Also, you can make a gazillion copies and not get tired, because there’s little manual work.

Designing the engraving

First, I thought of a design to make. I wanted to do something complex to make most of the laser’s capabilities, so I wanted lots of patterns. It is kind of a trend now to use owls in design, and I think it’s really cool to incorporate patterns into the owl form.

I looked for a photo of an owl, opened it in Illustrator, and traced the owl off. I changed the owl along the way, I’ll just show you the before and after:

Now with those shapes laid out, I chose what patterns to fill and what shape the coaster will be. The computer will only read black and white, so whatever that’s going to be black is going to be engraved/burned off by the laser. I made a few studies as shown:

After finally selecting the design, it’s time to save it and go to the shop!

Laser cutting

The guys over at the laser shop would explain to you the technical stuff regarding file output. For this project, I had a .PNG file of the engraving and a vector cutting path. Anyway, here’s what the laser machine looks like with a plank of wood inside:

Another good thing about lasers is that you can work on a very wide range of materials, such as wood, metal, glass, plastic, leather, even paper! But for this one, I used thin plywood.

I started off with engraving and cutting only one coaster, so I could get the settings right for the next ones (left photo). And then I did the others in a batch to save time (center, right photo).

When the laser has cut through the plank, the pieces just usually fall off. When you take them out, the edges are black with soot and they’ll smell kinda burnt but that’s okay.

Now they’re off the machine and they look awesome! Since they are coasters, I have to put some coating on them to prevent water from seeping in.

First I wiped off the soot from the edges. That kinda takes a while. And then I had to sand the coaster off a bit until it was smooth to the touch. Note: be careful with the engraved side! Sanding it off vigorously might cause splinters in the engraving and we don’t want that.

Then I wiped it off with a damp cloth, not too damp, just enough to absorb the sawdust. When it’s dry and dust-free, we can now apply a finish! Yay!


There are many finishes that can be applied to plywood, but I chose clear paint sealer (the one on spray paint cans) instead of plain varnish because I don’t want to see irregularities on the coat from brushstrokes and I don’t want a glossy finish. It’s totally fine if you want it glossy, or brush-on, or whatever, just be sure to apply them right.

I did the job outside the house (you don’t want fumes lingering inside). I didn’t use newspaper underneath because it might stick to the coat, and that’s a myth I don’t want to test.

I did what the can told me to do: spray on from a distance, and wait until 3-5 mins before applying the next coat. I did three coats. I tried it first at the back of one coaster before trying it on all the others. I did the back first, then the front.

After the coat dries up, you’re done!


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