Monday , 15 September 2014
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Laser etching photos on wood

Laser etching photos on wood

Continuing my experiments with the Epilog Helix laser cutter, today I decided to try some photographs. I found some old black and white pictures I had scanned, and a couple recent digital snaps. I tweaked the B&W photos in PhotoShop to adjust colors, levels, etc. For reasons I dont quite understand yet, the B&W pictures did not transfer into Corel Draw well. They had very pronounced streaks. Strange. However, the digital pics did transfer well.

The first picture is one of my wife, Laurel. First I used PShop to strip out the background, then convert it to gray scale. I am not a skilled PShop expert, merely adequate. The results arent perfect, but were good enough for this test. I printed the picture on a sample of finished wood flooring (labeled Tiger) using the basic wood-400 settings file from Epilog. The results were pretty decent, You can see the dithering when you look closely.  Next I wanted to try the 3d mode which converts gray scale values to intensity and thus depth of etch. Previous tests and notes in the manual indicated that multiple passes are often needed to get a good 3d effect. I tried it with one pass, and again with three.  The results were quite different from the dithered raster.  I decided to try one more with 3 passes and a final fourth pass using the raster.  The end results are not all that impressive. The simple dithered etch looks best.  The 3d mode may be better on other types of images, perhaps graphics with gradient fills.

Laurel in color

Laurel in gray scale

Laurel etched on wood

Laurel closeup

Laurel as 3d etches

3 passes 3d etch plus raster

Next I tried a picture of Laurel and myself, snapped on a very rare occasion when I’m wearing a suit. yeah a real suit. I clean up pretty decent. Anyway, I used the magic lasso again to cut us out from the background, converted to gray scale and did a quick print on a bit of 5mm plywood. I also added a quick vector box (hairline) around the picture to cut it from the larger stock. The results were ok, but not all that great. The etching gives a rather nice effect on the picture, however the grain of the wood is pretty strongly visible, especially when you look closely. From across the room, the image looks fine.

Original color with background

gray scale, subjects only

Laurel and Jerry etched on wood

I think the simple raster image on pre-finished flooring looks best. This may be due to the grain structure and/or the fancy finished surface of the floor panel.  The 3D effect diid not work well with the sample photo.  The cheap plywood image does not work well.

Next I will try some graphic files, I think… Also I need to get the stair risers etched this week.  Tomorrow is my b-day and Laurel arrives for the rest of the week, so this will probably be the last post for a bit.  Drop a comment!

About Jerry

Founder of MauiMakers. Previously 30+ yrs as software engineer in bleeding edge tech such as UNIX(1978+), Computer Animation, Multimedia, Virtual Reality, Games, Location Based Entertainment, Military C4I, DARPA Research, etc. Thought FabLab was great new thing, so learned machine shop tech and moved to Maui to start one.


  1. This is interesting stuff. Did you get the equipment with the intention of engraving photos? Or were thinking more of vector type designs/motifs? Or something else?

    And Happy Birthday!

    • Hi Marina! good to hear from you. Your craft shops (Heartful Village and 100% Art are wonderful sites promoting artists. And thanks for B-day greeting.
      I had lots of ideas in mind for the laser and more keep coming up. The initial interest came as part of my generic interest in Fab Labs and seeing that laser cutters are a common, highly desirable item for makerspaces. I drooled over them at Maker Faire and took a basic use class at Tech Shop a couple years ago. I like the idea of etching wood – my first real project is the stairs in my house (post w/pics soon). Photos and 3-d effects are very interesting to me as are designs/motifs. Etching on acrylic, glass and more stone tile are experiments yet to be done – supplies are sitting here awaiting my attention. I’ve heard inlay work can be done too – with same artwork doing the excavating and inlay cut.
      However, I am a tech, not an artist. I hope to find artists interested in cooperative work – and to be members of Maui Makers!

  2. I really like the idea of wood etchings. I can definitely see it from the standpoint of artwork, but I also like the idea of folks being able to create photographic renderings (e.g., family activities, the kids through the years, etc.) that can be built into cabinetry, fences, and such on the family homestead, framed, or whatever. The applications are many. And don’t get me going on etched glass and stone.

    I’ll stay tuned to see how your experiments develop.

    And thanks for your feedback on the sites.

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