Engraving a Photo Onto Acrylic With Led Lights

Engraving a Photo Onto Acrylic With Led Lights main article image
Posted on June 10, 2022 by Desiree McClung
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I have had a Cricut Explore Air 2 for a few years now but recently upgraded to a Maker since I wanted to try things that I simply wasn’t able to do with my Explore. While there were hundreds of craft projects that I could do with the Explore, I was itching to try new things. Once I got an engraving tool for the Maker, it was game on! I wanted to try it on everything. I quickly found out that it was a lot to learn and I had some stumbles along the way, but I love the way my engraving projects are turning out. I hope you can learn some tips from me to help you engrave like a pro too!

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Contents

Engraving Basics

Engraving with Cricut Explore Air

What Materials Can be Engraved?

Engraving Techniques

Traditional Engraving

Duplicate Technique

Hatch Filling

Materials

Tutorial: How to Engrave an LED Acrylic Photo Block

Engraving Basics

Cricut offers an incredible number of tools that you can use with the Maker and Maker 3 machines, including blades that are easily changeable, and Quick Swap tools that allow for the use of six unique tools with one housing. You can interchange the score and double score wheels, the engraving tip, the perforation blade, a debossing tip and a wavy blade. The engraving tip is marked with a #41 on the tool and is a hard metal, pointed tip that is used to inscribe designs or words onto a variety of materials. It is loaded into the Maker or Maker 3 machine in the slot marked B. Since the Maker machines are much more powerful, they can engrave a project up to 11” wide effortlessly.

Engraving with a Cricut Explore Air 2 or 3

As mentioned above, the Maker has the Adaptive Tool System and the power and pressure needed to etch projects properly. But what if you want to etch with your Explore Air machine? Technically, you can. There are third-party tools made for the Cricut Explore that can etch, but it requires some finesse and ingenuity to get it to work right. The tool has to be inserted in the B slot at the right depth, and you have to play around with the right settings to get the machine to engrave at the right pressure. I read a great blog article by Corrine with Slay at Home Mother about engraving with an Explore Air that you may want to check out. I will mention that if your machine is new and still under the manufacturer’s 1-year limited warranty, using tools that are not Cricut approved will void the warranty.

What Materials Can be Engraved?

The engraving tool can engrave dozens of materials. The hard part is finding ones thin enough to fit under the machine. Some of the materials that can be engraved are:

  • Acetate
  • Aluminum Sheets (0.5 mm)
  • Faux Leather (Paper Thin)
  • Foil Acetate
  • Foil Holographic Kraft Board – Neon
  • Foil Poster Board
  • Garment Leather 2-3 oz. (0.8 mm)
  • Genuine Leather
  • Glitter Cardstock
  • Heavy Watercolor Paper – 140 lb (300 gsm)
  • Kraft Board
  • Metal – 40 gauge thin copper
  • Metallic Leather
  • Metallic Poster Board
  • Shimmer Paper
  • Sparkle Paper
  • Tooling Leather 2-3 oz. (0.8 mm)
  • Tooling Leather 4-5 oz. (1.6 mm)
  • Tooling Leather 6-7 oz. (2.4 mm)
  • Transparency
  • Vinyl Record

In addition to there, you can engrave successfully on acrylic keychains and sheets under 2mm thick, thin copper, and metal pet tags. Glass is unable to be etched with the Maker machine at this time.

Engraving Techniques

I didn’t know that there were different methods of engraving when I decided to attempt engraving for the first time but I learned about a few that I have tried and can say that they definitely work.

acrylic led base light hatch fill filling in etching engraving embossing darker embossing tips tricks DIY cricut maker

Traditional Engraving

This is a method of creating an outline of the words or the image that you are engraving. It will create a thin outline in your engraving. It is simple and quick and easy to do. I pulled an image off of Cricut Access and cut it onto an acrylic keychain front (the back was painted black). This technique is good for detailed, intricate cuts that you don’t want “filled in”.

acrylic led base light hatch fill filling in etching engraving embossing darker embossing tips tricks DIY cricut maker

Duplicate Technique 

This technique takes an image that has thin lines and makes the cuts thicker and deeper so that it transfers bolder on the etched project. When you are designing your image in CDS (Cricut Design Space), you highlight your final image and duplicate it several times, and then you select all and center the images. Once you do this, you weld them together to create a thicker image. Do you see the difference?

acrylic led base light hatch fill filling in etching engraving embossing darker embossing tips tricks DIY cricut maker acrylic led base light hatch fill filling in etching engraving embossing darker embossing tips tricks DIY cricut maker

Hatch Filling

I saw a video from Mr. Crafty Pants called “How to Engrave Acrylic with Your Maker” and I learned about hatch filling for the first time. This is a process of filling in the white spaces on your image or design (or text!) in CDS for etching or drawing with pens. It is ingenious. I downloaded the hatch fill SVG from Mr. Crafty Pants and used it for my acrylic etching example below. You can download it here. Once you download it to your device, upload it to CDS as a cut image (not a print and cut). When you design the image that want to engrave, you will make that image blown up as big as you can over the hatch fill SVG and you will slice the images together.

acrylic led base light hatch fill filling in etching engraving embossing darker embossing tips tricks DIY cricut maker

Get rid of the three excess images and keep the best-looking (darkest) one. Resize it back down to the size needed for your project.

acrylic led base light hatch fill filling in etching engraving embossing darker embossing tips tricks DIY cricut maker

Materials for Engraved LED Acrylic Photo

  • Acrylic Blank, no thicker than 1/8”
  • LED Lighted Base
  • Cricut Maker
  • Engraving Tip with Quick Swap housing
  • Hatch fill SVG from Mr. Crafty Pants
  • A photo that you want to etch

How to Engrave an LED Acrylic Photo

1. Find a photo or image that you want to engrave. I chose a photo of my husband and me for this example.

acrylic led base light hatch fill filling in etching engraving embossing darker embossing tips tricks DIY cricut maker

2. You must make your image a photo outline that can be etched. There are several apps or websites that can help with this process. I suggest you check out the ones below. Traditional image converters like picsvg.com didn’t work as well. I am sure there are more that are available but the ones listed above are the ones that I used

3. Insert your photo into CDS and add it to your canvas. Add any wording if you so choose to. Weld together your final image.

4. Change the image from a Basic Cut to Engrave in the Operations Menu

5. Upload the hatch fill SVG to your canvas

6. Make your photo large enough to fit just inside the hatch fill pattern, around 20” wide

7. Slice the images together

8. Eliminate 3 of the 4 sliced images, keeping the darkest one

9. Since I will be etching onto the back surface of the acrylic, so the front remains smooth, I flipped my image vertically (you can also mirror the image before you etch)

10. Size the image down to the size that you would need for your project. My acrylic is a 5” square so I made my image 4.6”x4.8”.

11. Center your image on the mat vertically and horizontally.

acrylic led base light hatch fill filling in etching engraving embossing darker embossing tips tricks DIY cricut maker

12. Remove the acrylic surface protector from the side that you are etching on only, and place that face up centered on your purple mat.

acrylic led base light hatch fill filling in etching engraving embossing darker embossing tips tricks DIY cricut maker

Tape down the sides with washi or painter tape for added security. This helps to make sure that your acrylic doesn’t shift during the process.

acrylic led base light hatch fill filling in etching engraving embossing darker embossing tips tricks DIY cricut maker

13. Select your material in Cricut Maker. For my acrylic, I selected a 2mm thickness

acrylic led base light hatch fill filling in etching engraving embossing darker embossing tips tricks DIY cricut maker
14. Make sure that the engraving tool is selected and the tip is in the B housing on your Maker

acrylic led base light hatch fill filling in etching engraving embossing darker embossing tips tricks DIY cricut maker

15. Load the mat, press go, and go make yourself a hot tea and curl up with a good book because it might be a while. (Ignore my gross mat, I did a leather bookmark project that shed everywhere!)

acrylic led base light hatch fill filling in etching engraving embossing darker embossing tips tricks DIY cricut maker

My etching took just under 2 hours to complete. Be patient. It’s worth it!

acrylic led base light hatch fill filling in etching engraving embossing darker embossing tips tricks DIY cricut maker

And there you have it! A completed light-up LED etched photo display. Isn’t it gorgeous? I would love to hear your comments or feedback if you have tried some of these techniques and what you have learned on your crafting journey.


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