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How to Laser Cut and Engrave LED-Lit Signage

One of the versatile and inspiring aspects of a laser is that it can be used to engrave the graphics that will be the focal point of your finished item, and it can also be used to cut out the parts and pieces that will be used to produce the rest of your project. Many projects can make use of the laser’s ability to produce crisp, clean, and custom graphics; some can leverage the laser machine as a fabrication tool; and others can make use of both capabilities.

How to Laser Cut and Engrave LED-Lit Signage

By Jeremiah Jekich, Epilog Laser

(Originally published in the September/October 2021 issue of Insights.)

One of the versatile and inspiring aspects of a laser is that it can be used to engrave the graphics that will be the focal point of your finished item, and it can also be used to cut out the parts and pieces that will be used to produce the rest of your project. Many projects can make use of the laser’s ability to produce crisp, clean, and custom graphics; some can leverage the laser machine as a fabrication tool; and others can make use of both capabilities.

In this project, we look at constructing an LED-lit sign. The steps below illustrate how cut and engraved acrylic, and a laser-cut sheet of plywood, can be used to create a simple but effective display piece.

PREPARING OUR ACRYLIC

We’ll start by spray-painting the back side of a 12-in.-by-24-in. (304.8-mm-by- 609.6-mm) acrylic sheet. You could use any color paint for this, but we’re using black to provide a nice, sharp contrast. If your acrylic is pre-masked, be sure to unmask one side prior to painting (Figure 1).

 

Figure 1

MATERIALS NEEDED

  • 1/4" (6.35 mm) plywood—24" x 48" (609.6 mm x 1219.2 mm) sheet
    • 1/4" (6.35 mm) acrylic—12" x 24" (304.8 mm x 609.6 mm) sheet
    • Foil tape
    • Machine screws &amp; nuts
    • Wood glue
    • Spray paint
    • Adhesive, cuttable LED light strip
    • USB extension cord (optional)
    • USB wall adapter (optional)
    • Laser system

We used a Fusion Pro 48 120w:

Plywood
Vector—Speed: 25% // Power: 100% // Frequency: 10%
Acrylic
Vector—Speed: 10% // Power: 100% //Frequency: 100%
Engraving—Speed: 100% // Power: 50% // Resolution: 500 dpi

CUTTING OUR PLYWOOD

While the paint is drying, let’s cut out the wooden components of our sign. First, we’ll load our plywood sheet into the machine. We’re using a 120-watt Fusion Pro 48, which fits a standard 24-in.-by-48-in. (609.6-mm-by- 1219.2-mm) sheet of plywood from the hardware store quite nicely. If you’re using a smaller machine, be sure to use a smaller sheet of wood and possibly cut out the components in multiple batches.

We’re using some light ¼-in. (6.35-mm) plywood, but you could use any wood or other laser-safe material you’d like—it will just affect the weight of your finished sign and the settings you need to use when cutting with the laser. Always refer to your laser manual’s list of recommended materials settings for a good place to start honing in your speed and power (Figure 2).

 

Figure 2

Our ¼-in. (6.35-mm) plywood is close to 0.2 in. (5.08 mm) in thickness, which we’ve accounted for in the finger joints of our design file. If you’re working with a thicker material, you’ll need to adjust the artwork accordingly (Figure 3).

 

Figure 3

All of our pieces fit nicely into about two-thirds of our plywood sheet, so we’ll apply our settings of 25% speed, 100% power, and 10 frequency, and send it to the laser to cut them out (Figures 4 and 5).

 

Figure 4

 

Figure 5

PAINTING OUR PLYWOOD COMPONENTS

Once we have our plywood pieces, we’ll take the pieces that will be exposed to the outside of the sign and spray paint them black. This includes the front frame, the side faces, and the back panel. Painting them black will help the rest of the sign blend together, leaving the focus on our sign’s graphics. Once again, though, you could paint, stain, or otherwise finish the components however you like (Figure 6).

 

Figure 6

ENGRAVING OUR ACRYLIC

Next, while we wait for those pieces to dry, we’ll engrave our painted acrylic with our graphic. We’re using a 12-in.-by-24-in. (304.8-mm-by-609.6-mm) sheet, and we’ll be cutting out a rectangle slightly smaller than that. We’ve also made sure our acrylic has rounded corners. These corners will be covered by the front frame of the sign and will help ensure we don’t encounter any issues resulting from the fit being too snug.

 

We’ll be engraving on the back side of the acrylic, so we’ll mirror the graphic to make sure it reads correctly when viewed from the front. We’ll print the graphic to the laser and let the machine go to work (Figure 7).

 

Figure 7

Adjust your settings appropriately—we’re using 100% speed, 50% power, and a resolution of 500 dpi for the engraving, and 10% speed, 100% power, and 100% frequency for the cutting (Figure 8).

 

Figure 8

ASSEMBLING THE SIGN

Now it’s time for assembly. We’ll start with creating our inner frame by gluing together the corners, using some 1-2- 3 blocks to help make sure we’re achieving right angles. We’ll also glue in our corner faces, which will give us a surface to mount the back panel to (Figures 9 and 10).

 

Figure 9

 

Figure 10

Next, we’ll attach the side faces of our outer frame. Be sure to flip the inner frame over so the flat corner faces are on the ground. This will ensure a lip is created on the inside of the outer frame because the inner frame components are not as wide as the outer components. This lip will be where we insert our acrylic front later on (Figures 11, 12, and 13).

 

Figure 11

 

Figure 12

 

Figure 13

Once that’s done, we need to apply some foil tape to the inner surfaces of the frame. We want to cover the inside of the box with reflective material so the light from our LEDs bounces around behind the acrylic and provides some even illumination.

Figure 14

Figure 15

Figure 16

 

Figure 17

We’ll apply the tape to our frame, and then we’ll apply it to the interior side of our back panel. We can be a little imprecise with our edges, as they will not be visible on the completed piece (Figures 14, 15, 16, and 17). Then we’ll go back with a precision blade and a screwdriver to make sure our various mounting holes are not blocked (Figures 18, 19, and 20).

 

Figure 18

 

Figure 19

 

Figure 20

Now it’s time to add our adhesive LED light strips (Figures 21, 22,23, and 24). Next, we’ll lay the frame on its back and lay theacrylic sheet onto the lip created by the inner frame. Test the LEDs to make sure everything’s working properly, then glue on the front frame(Figure 25, 26, 27,and 28).

 

Figure 21

 

Figure 22

 

Figure 23

 

Figure 24

 

Figure 25

 

Figure 26

 

Figure 27

 

Figure 28

Figure 29

Then we can plug the sign in, and we’re good to go. We now have a completed LED-lit sign cut and engraved with an Epilog Laser (see Figure 29).

Hopefully this project has helped inspire you to think about how a laser machine can be used to not only engrave detailed graphics, but also how it can be used in the production of parts and pieces. Until next time, happy lasering!

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