Topographic Shadow Box

This week’s Fabrication Assignment was based on using the laser cutter and measurements. This meant making precise measurements with and without the laser cutter using a variety of the tols we learned about in class.

Ideation:

I have used the laser cutter for a few projects at ITP so I initially wanted to try to make a kern cut pattern and then use living hinges to create a lampshade like the one below:

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After some research and talking to some people I decided that the whole process would be a bit too labor intensive for the time allotted and my skills.

Once I had decided against the lampshade I decided to do a type of shadow box instead.

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The shadow box above was a sort of inspiration in my decision to try and make one. I really like topographic maps though so I wanted to make a shadow box with a topographic map design in it. I decided that using a combination of etching and cutting on acrylic in combination with mylar paper would create the effect that I wanted.

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In illustrator I designed this map to be etched and added a border of 5.44’’ x 5.49’’ to be cut so it would fit in a small box that I bought at the container store.

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I used the 50 watt laser cutter for this piece and set the laser to the recommended power and speed for the etching. The photo above is after the first go through with the laser. I ended up etching over the clear acrylic four times to get the depth and consistency in the pattern I wanted. Once over with the laser to cut and the piece was good. overall to cut this piece it took around an hour of time from start to finish.

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The box above is the one where I would be adding in the leds and the acryllic

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I added in a few strips of neopixel LEDs along the bottom of the box and then, using a utility knife and wood shaving tools, cut out a small divot in the side of the box to add one more led strip so I could shine lights through the side of the cut acrylic. I also added four standoffs to the corners to hold the map up.

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I measured and drilled small holes into each corner of the piece for the standoffs using a 1/8th drill bit. When drilling I put a bit too much pressure on the first hole and it cracked the corner of the piece but it was small enough where I didn’t mind the blemish too much.

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Using mylar paper I created a diffusing screen for the light that would fit beneath the glass.

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Above is an image of what the map would look like if a light was shown through the bottom of the acrylic map.

Unfortunately when I went to test the led strip none of the leds would work. After wiring up and testing an external strip and seeing that it worked fine I knew that me bending the strips in the box and messing around with the connections probably shorted them out in a few spots. As of right now I did not have the time to fix that so the box does not light up properly.

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In terms of using the laser cutter and achieving the look that I was going for with the topographic map I was happy with how that turned out. On the other hand, I am not really happy with how the whole box and system looks. I am continuing to work on the lights and will hopefully be able to fix them soon. I would like to have more of a depth to the whole piece as well. Whether that means using wood to create that I’m not sure. I also would like to come up with another solution for the led strip that is running along the edge of the acrylic piece. Finally I realized later on that I didn’t need to drill the holes in the acrylic for the standoffs as the acrylic sits in the box at a depth which I like.