Laser Cutting Design and Sign Workshop with the Student Hacker Club

On campus here at Plymouth State University (PSU for short) we do not have a laser cutter (yet…) but given that I am a member of two community maker spaces in southern New Hampshire, I thought it would be cool to talk about laser cutting in terms of designing basic signs – that I would then process.

We have a newly founded student-led Hacker Club, student(s) in this context are encouraged to make things – outside of class in a more free-form and explorative environment. Sadly, we don’t have the laser(s) to encourage an iterative understanding of the process, but we could at least to begin understanding the conceptual areas of what a laser understands and why we have to design in a specific way for laser cutting.

Here is a brief presentation I built about the process/just enabling students to understand lasers and laser cutting in general.

Having worked with no less than 3 laser cutters, I encouraged students to think about designing in terms of two colors (laser cutters like two colors/ in terms of cut lines vs. rastering), and to design in RGB since well we aren’t “printing” files in the traditional sense – no need for CMYK in most of my design for laser cutting experiences and some machines only like RGB.

We worked on this project in one of our lower level Open Labs, in which we have access to Adobe Illustrator.

Students were encouraged outside of class to use Inkscape as well since it is free and since the Full Spectrum laser cutter I’m currently working the most with really likes it or as I like to say “cooperates well with the software”.

I’ve been enjoying exploring the Full Spectrum laser cutter itself. It’s software is quite user friendly, although again looks as though it is bringing me back to 1995 on my old windows machine. My only pet-peeve with this particular cutter is it’s inability to separate in the design a cut line from a raster line (it first rasters the cut line and then you cut it). Of course I could send through two versions of the file, but I am a lazy laser cutter and like my software to be smarter than I am motivated.

We had three students present creating work, and I do hope to laser cut their designs laser (later) this week. All in all the workshop took about 30 minutes – only one student presented a finished file and we skipped the presentation instead to send it over email (we have a group over our Outlook email service to reach out to the entire Hacker Club) The rest hope to complete their work over the week since the workshop and by the weekend I’ll hopefully have three project(s) in hand to laser cut by the weekend.

Overall thoughts:
All in all it will take 2 weeks from creation to processing to make the signs – partially due to me making time to laser cut – (students were asked to design to certain specifications – an example of which is in my presentation).
This was a great way to get students working on design without a laser cutter in house – although having a laser cutter would be even better.
Students were very excited to design something that would be their own.
Hacker Club is students from a variety of disciplines and I’m hopeful that student led workshops will be in their near future.