Now that I have a laser cutter, I’m going a bit crazy lasering everything I can think of. One item that has always seemed like a cool use of the laser, was making custom business cards. I decided I’d give it a try and see what I could come up with.
The concept of laser cut business cards isn’t particularly new. I saw it years ago from Hive13, a hackerspace in Cincinnati Ohio, and our Digital fabrication editor Matt Stultz has been bringing laser cut cards to Maker Faire for years.
I thought that I really needed to make mine a bit differently than the others. Most that I had seen were on a thin wood veneer, like Matt’s, and simply had the information engraved. There are some others out there that have multiple layers with embedded gears, but those require assembly.
I decided to shoot for something in-between, a card that cut in a single piece, but could transform in some way to be more interesting. I landed on the idea of a card that simply folded to reveal a cut-out of the Maker Faire robot we call “Makey”.
As you can see in the video above, I did a very quick design in Adobe Illustrator and managed to get the whole thing to work, despite my lack of familiarity with the program. The final results look fantastic, and I learned a lot.
Here are 3 tips I picked up making this project:
Make tiny Tabs
I wanted the part where Makey’s head was, to tear free. I did this by cutting it almost all the way, but leaving 3 tiny tabs. What I learned was that if the tab was longer than about half a millimeter, it was too tough to tear easily and would warp the card. Keep your tabs tiny. It doesn’t have to be exact though. I didn’t measure mine, I just made them tiny by eye.
Design for your Material
Lots of people use wood for their laser cut business card. Matt Stultz, our digital fabrication editor, suggests using wood veneer. I wanted my card to bend in half though. Out of curiosity I tried this design on some 3/32 thick balsa wood. It snapped in half. Thick card stock (heavy weight paper) works perfectly.
If you were going to use wood, you would need to alter your design to use a “living hinge”, which is awesome but takes up a lot of space and would be a completely different design.
Experiment with cut speeds/ engrave speeds
Like any project, you need to do some trial and error on your speeds and power. Paper can be unforgiving at times, simply burning away. I have a 40 watt laser and I engraved at 10% power with 300% speed. I then cut at 60% power, 100% speed. With thinner paper, those cuts ended up very ragged and ugly. However, with this thicker card stock, they turned out great. Experimentation is important.
Remember that your speed and power aren’t only for getting clean cuts. The color of your etch changes depending on speed and power. The longer your laser hits the paper, the darker it gets, so reducing speed and power simultaneously could result in darker engraving, but it could also result in burning right through the paper.