Laser Cutting/Etching

Design Thinking

This is the fourth project of TDE 110. In this project, we need to use a laser machine to cut and etch on a piece of wood. The idea of design is offered by the instructor, however, it is not necessary to follow the provided documents to design the final output. In my case, I have two outputs, and both of them are based on the provided initial design.

My first design is a plate showing a welcome message. Since the provided design is a sketch of the geographical shape of North Carolina, it makes me want to design a welcome message. The design is shown below:

However, I’m not very satisfied with the design after I saw a similar design from the instructor that showed a message of “Wolfpack State” because of the similarity.

The brainstorming process for this design is extremely long, and I cannot think of many designs even after I looked up the history of North Carolina. Some sketches from designing:

My second design is a friendly reminder message that reminds me to be happy every day. The design is inspired by one piece of plate with a subtracted text box and the text in the text box is not subtracted. I’m very interested in it and I asked the instructor about the approach of making it my own. To have a subtracted box, in the illustrator file, the text box needs to be black, and the text in it does not need to have a stroke. The picture below is the first version of the reminder design plate:

In the picture, there are five Chinese characters, which are “开心每一天”. The first two characters are the meaning of “happiness, delighted, joyful”. The third word is the meaning of “every”. The fourth word is the meaning of “one”, and the last one is the meaning of “day”. So the last three words represent the meaning of “every day”. In Chinese, usually, five or seven words together can naturally have a rhyme and that’s why I use five characters(Chinese Grammar Wiki. (2021, April 21).

The reason why I use these five words is that I want them to provide a psychological implication to remind me to be happy.

In the final output, there’s my name at the right corner. I was thinking about having a real signature in Chinese, however, considering the potential possibility of leaking the

signature, I withdrew the idea and used an English font to print out the name instead. I intentionally put the last name first because I like doing so.

The material is maple. I think Medium Density Fiberboard(MDF) can alternatively be used. However, since in the project the main purpose is letting us be familiar with the laser cut/etch machine, it seems that there are very limited materials to choose from and apparently MDF is not one of them.


As I mentioned before, there are not many options to choose from for this project, and the material is provided by the instructor.  According to the website of American Hardwood, there are many advantages of maple, for example, the toughness, hardness are appropriate for daily use. It is heavy with good strength properties. It has high resistance to abrasion and wears as well as good steam bending properties.

For the design process, the documentation is provided by the instructor, and it doesn’t mention too much about the operations in Illustrator. One thing that needs to be noticed is that the thickness of lines needs to be 0.0001 points, and red lines will convert to cutting in Universal Laser Systems(ULS), and blue lines will convert to the etching process for ULS.

During the operation, most of the process is finished by the machine. What I did was make a design, send it to the printer’s software, set the details of cutting/etching, and the product will come out from the machine.

First, we need to find the center of the provided piece of wood, drawing two diagonal lines and the point of intersection is the center. To make my work easier, I did not draw the full lines, instead, I only drew two short lines around the approximated center of the wood. It will be easier for me to erase them.

After drawing the center, putting it into the machine, and moving the laser to the intersection. In the software, click on the center point of the sketch and click on “to printer”, the sketch will automatically move to the corresponding location. In the settings, set the wood to maple, the thickness to 0.1875 inches, and adjust the intensity.

After I’m done with the settings, I asked the instructor for approval of the next step, then we can start the cutting/etching process. Due to the limitation of intensity, it needs about three to four times of sketching and cutting processes to cut it down. Between the gap of operations, the cleaning is necessary, otherwise, the process marks might be permanently kept/left there.

The following image shows the marks after one cutting process:

The final process is sanding. I use a combination of 120 and 220 sandpaper, which are good for the cleaning of the edges and carbonization traces.

The final output:


I like this project and even more than the third one. In my third project, I was thinking about making something useful to me, but because I’m running out of time and I’m procrastinating on installing the lamp kit, the lamp only has the frame but is not useful in daily life. In this project, the product is meaningful to me and I really need it. The process of making a subtracted text box is very satisfying, and I can stand there watching the process all day long if consumption and cleaning of the nozzle is not a problem.

There’s no obvious difficulty for this project, and most of the process is done by the machine. Moreover, the instructor is very helpful during the process. What I learned from the project is how to use the laser cutting/etching machine and one class I learned from the project is when you are designing something to cut, and if it is likely to have soot or other kinds of carbonization traces, do not make the shape irregular. I spent a lot of time cleaning them and it is very difficult to clean. If I can do it one more time, I would choose to cut a circle or a rectangle instead of the shape of North Carolina.

If possible, I’d like to do the project one more time and I want to make more meaningful plates or designs for me.


Chinese Grammar Wiki. (2021, April 21). Expressing “every” with “mei”. Chinese Grammar Wiki. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from

American hard maple. American Hardwood. (n.d.). Retrieved October 29, 2021, from