Making an Acrylic Project with a Laser
Acrylic, also known as Plexiglas, is safe, easy to use, comes in a wide variety of colors, produces quality results and for these reasons is extremely popular with laser users. Items like keychains, jewelry, signage, awards, cake toppers, ornaments and much more can be made from acrylic. Here are three final versions of a simple unicorn shaped keychain, all three of them were made with acrylic in a Glowforge laser. Keep scrolling to find out easy it is to make, especially when you can use almost any item from Creative Fabrica and make something special for you or someone else!
Acrylic 101 – Cast vs. Extruded Acrylic
Acrylic is often used in place of glass because it is stronger, safer and often easier to work with but gives the same transparency and smoothness.
There are two types of acrylic that are used in lasers, cast and extruded. They are manufactured differently and produce very different results, so it is best to try them both to see what works for the project, (we won’t get into all the sciency stuff here, just the fun stuff).
Cast acrylic: Most commonly used for awards. The engraved section turns a frosty white color and really pops on the acrylic. It does not cut with clean edges but if it is masked (taped) it can limit burn marks. When engraving, whatever is being engraved is flipped or reversed and engraved on the back of the item. That way the front is the polished, clean side and the image is shown through. This usually costs more than extruded acrylic due to its unique processing.
Extruded acrylic: This type of acrylic cuts very clean and reveals smooth, flame-polished edges. It can be engraved, but it reveals clear engraving and not a frosty white which may make it hard to see. This is the less expensive of the two acrylics.
To achieve the aforementioned flame-polished edges using extruded acrylic, the machine needs to run at high power for strength of the laser and slow speed so that the laser will melt the edges.
When choosing acrylic, look for the correct type that will work for the project. Then decide on the color. Clear acrylic is cheap and can be bought at your local home improvement store. Online retailers will give you many options – transparent colors, opaque, mirror and even wonderful prints like linen and wood-grain acrylics.
BONUS TIP– Acrylic can be painted in after engraving! The acrylic is masked (taped) first. Engrave in reverse and the tape is cut out of the engrave. Now paint that engrave section in. The tape will help keep the paint from spreading. Spray paint works great as well! See purple unicorn for this easy application.
Let’s make an acrylic unicorn
Materials needed for this project:
- Glowforge laser
- 3 pieces of cast acrylic- clear, purple and mirror from Houston Acrylic
- Transfer tape
- Acrylic paint pens (and kind will do)
- Keychain items (if you want to make a keychain)
I placed transfer tape on both sides of the acrylic to help keep the edges nice and clean from burn marks from the laser. This will also help out when we use paint pens on the purple unicorn
My laser has its own interface, so I literally drag my prepared project into it for reading. Each laser and each laser user, have their own settings and what works for them and that project. The cut and engrave time for each of these 2 ½’ unicorns was about 3 minutes.
After the laser had finished cutting and engraving, I peeled the tape off to reveal three beautiful unicorns! AND THAT’S IT!
Adding the details
I engraved the words on the front side but CUT OUT the sparkles. If you look closely, you can see the holes. P.S. Photographing mirror anything is difficult. It really is more beautiful in person.
I FLIPPED the words, or reversed them, so they would engrave on the BACK side of the unicorn. This makes the FRONT side of the unicorn nice and smooth to the touch. Just like the awards I talked about earlier.
I engraved the words on the front side. BUT, before I took the tape off, I colored in the words with yellow acrylic paint pens. After the paint was dry, I peeled off the tape to reveal the purple majesty. Notice that it looks a little “grainy”. This is the way most lasers behave as they engrave. Plus, this is the actual ENGRAVE side. Notice this is not visible on the clear unicorn. My 10-year-old neighbor Piper already claimed this one.
And of course, keychain elements were added to make them fun and of course, useable.
Look closely at the edges of all three unicorns. Even though CAST acrylic was used, the laser did a great job on making the edges smooth. This type of acrylic is great for a project of any size or design but again, the material must fit the projects needs to be successful, which in this case, it was.
Acrylic can also be combined with other materials such as wood, metal and glass, when using the correct type of glue. It actually changes the composition of the acrylic to help it bond with other items easier. Acrylic does produce fumes but are not to be considered toxic unless high concentrations are present. Lasers come with fans and exhaust ports but a mask and goggles should be used for any work with acrylic, including the bonding (gluing) part. Knowing which type to use, what color or style works best for your project and knowing the proper settings for your laser is essential for a safe, fabulous finished project.
What creativity did I spark?
An endless number of customized acrylic creations can be made with a laser. I bet you have a few ideas in your head right now and with the help of Creative Fabrica, a laser and some acrylic, those visions can become someone’s unicorn keychain!
Thank you for sharing this acrylic journey with me and never stop making!