In the Tinkering Studio we dream up new activities and test them out with the museum visitors. The process of trying out new ideas and sharing with others early and often is core to how we create new tinkering activities. One of our current projects is to find compelling ways to bridge the physical and digital worlds through computational tinkering. Some of our recent explorations include Projection Play and Coding Patterns. This month we invited workshop participants to light up acrylic pieces with LEDs that were etched on the Glowforge from drawings that participants made.
Our twist on edge lit acrylic pieces was to make them wearable in some way. Glowing pieces could be warn like necklaces, mounted on a keychain, pinned to a shirt or any other imagined way. This proved to be one of the most challenging components of this activity. It's difficult to hide away or integrate a 3V coin cell battery into a design. One of the most popular designs of the night used copper wire and a sewable coincell battery holder to illuminate an acrylic piece on a necklace.
Edge Lit Acrylic
This acrylic sign hangs above one of our doors in the Learning Studio. It's a single sheet of acrylic with a strip of green LEDs along its top length. When illuminated, the word 'exit' shines bright green though the piece of acrylic is not green at all but clear. The process to make a sign like this is a little different than what we asked workshop participants to do (the text appears to be sand blasted), but the idea is the same: to make a drawing or design that would be illuminated with LEDs.
To create an edge-lit acrylic wearable, we asked participants to do three things: draw their design, cut it out with the Glowforge, and create their light-up wearable. We encouraged them to think about where they would place their LED and incorporate it into their design. This could mean adding a notch into the outline of a design big enough for an LED to slide into. This placement of the LED maximized the amount of glow on the etchings.
The design is very straightforward with many possibilities for variation. During our most recent workshop for adults at After Dark, we provided the following supplies:
- LEDs (3-5 mm in size)
- Acrylic sheet
- A way to etch, either by hand or with a laser cutter
- Battery (3V coin cell)
- Optional materials: 18 gauge copper wire, wire bending tools, masking tape, dark paper for backing, decorations
The Glowforge is a unique laser cutter because it has a camera in the lid that allows users to scan drawings directly into their CAD software. Sebastian highlights some of these advantages in his blogpost about the digital fabrication tool. We wanted to utilize the Glowforge’s ability to transform drawings into etch and cut lines without using traditional design software. This ability makes a tool like a laser cutter much more accessible to museum visitors. I also love designs retain their hand-drawn aesthetic.
Behind the scenes, we learned a lot about the best way to use the Glowforge. While we are familiar with laser cutters with our Universal, the Glowforge has unique quirks that we needed to learn. For instance, the Glowforge cuts designs from the outside-in. This is unusual (and frustrating) when you have a design that has inside cuts that are then out of place because the whole piece moved when after it dropped to the bed and shifted position. This situation does require using design software like Illustrator to modify the colors of lines so that the SVG file imports with different layers that then can be ordered for cut priority.
The Glowforge also loves to use its own materials and requires a little extra legwork for using anything else. We started collecting and saving our favorite materials, such as our regular ¼” plywood and ⅛” acrylic to our Tinkering Studio Glowforge account. Steph and I also took the opportunity to start creating a library of computational tinkering tiles (riffing off of the tinkering tiles) to document cut and etch settings on both laser cutters.