A Cheap Laser Engraver

By Gant Laborde

I hate surgery 😷 — Stick with me here: when I found out I had to have a small surgery, I searched for interesting things I could do while recovering and found a laser etcher. Not a “start your own business in the shed” etcher, but a small, affordable crafty laser etcher that hooks up to a computer. At some point in my drugged up recovery, I hit the purchase button, and I’m glad I did.

This little Laser Box showed up, and I knew it was one of those things. It would either “forever live in its original container” or I’d be that guy who starts engraving everything. I made sure it was the latter.

I hooked it up and though I had no clue what I was doing, it wasn’t hard to figure out the basics. It’s basically a 2D printer with a powerful laser attached. And I had the World Wide Web to play with!

I promised myself I’d do at least one etch every day. Half the fun was finding something interesting to work with, the other was finding what I wanted to etch on. Here’s a sample of creations, each item taking 3 to 10 minutes.

So if you see me at a conference repping Infinite Red, hopefully, I’ll have my new business cards on me. I can really only fit one in my wallet 🤣

After some practice and quite a few mistakes, I felt confident enough to start etching on more expensive items for holiday presents.

It’s quite addictive, and dare I say, much easier than any 3D printer. It also costs nothing but electricity and putting up with a burning smell.

As a person who enjoys creating, I really got a kick out of adding to my mad scientist lab in a physical way. My big takeaways:

  • Always focus your laser
  • You can’t print on a curved surface —stop trying
  • Knowing a little photoshop goes a long way in image prep
  • Ventilate well ☁
  • Anything Wood/Plastic/Leather/Paper is game
  • The hardest part is framing/positioning your target
  • Get a curved flashlight to check on your progress behind the laser screen

You can also use painters tape to create a safe surface for staining or in this case, applying a little gold leaf!

BONUS: The peeled off part was like a free blue sticker. I immediately put it in my notebook and it looked cool! But I should have put it on anothe piece of wood for staining. I’ll try that soon 👍

If you’re familiar with gold-leaf you know that even if the adhesive is carefully placed, wood has a bad habit of getting pieces stuck in grain, but not this time!

I even sealed the design with the tape still on. It worked like a charm. Now I just need to think of what I’m going to fancy up!

Finally, the best part of this whole thing is the impracticality of it. Or what the kids might call “fun”.

I’ve shipped gifts, crazy doubloons, and customized jokes to friends around the country. Remember that surgery thing at the top of the article? I don’t. I’m thinking of what to etch next.

Gant Laborde is Chief Technology Strategist at Infinite Red, published author, adjunct professor, worldwide public speaker, and mad scientist in training. Clap/follow/tweet or visit him at a conference.