Artist Residency at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School January 7-18


Designing and Laser Cutting

Limitations of the Glowforge

Designing the layout of panels and pixels for this project required more problem solving and working within limitations than my previous projects. The Glowforge has a cutting area of approximately 19.5” across by 11” deep, with a passthrough slot that allows you to use materials that are infinitely deep. The material has to be manually fed through the slot and aligned if cutting shapes larger than the cutting area.

Alignment was not always accurate, so for this large project I decided that the horizontal sides of the material should be cut with a table saw and just the vertical cuts and holes would be laser cut. Based on the 48”x96” standard acrylic sheet size, the least wasteful option seemed to be creating panels that were 16” wide (ended up being 15-⅞” to account for blade width)

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Designing in Processing

The arrangement started out as a blank 960x480 canvas in Processing, 5 pixels per inch for the 192”x16” composition, drawing vertical lines every 80 pixels to show the 16” panel separations. I used several embedded for loops to procedurally calculate x and y positions and then draw a 3x3 pixel ellipse to mark where each ½” LED would be placed. I created a variable “led” and incremented it by one after each ellipse was drawn to be able to keep track of how many LEDs were used.

Given the short amount of time for the project, I planned the arrangement in clusters of 50 LEDs (the number of LEDs per strip) so we did not have to spend hours cutting custom lengths and soldering on new connections.

Converting to Vectors

I’ve previously been dumb and exported images that are scaled up 10x and Image Traced in Illustrator and then converted the almost perfect paths to circles, but before writing this I just tried the PDF export library and this works 100x better. (Laughing at that one time in 2017 spent 8 hours manually drawing circles in Illustrator) Once the file is in Illustrator, it’s just a matter of resizing to the actual size, making sure the holes are the appropriate size, and adding additional holes for the hardware that connects everything together.

Prepping these files for Glowforge

The files need to be saved as an .SVG and the Glowforge software creates layers based on different color paths. We’ve had issues using Black lines, so it’s best to avoid them. Each layer can be set to Cut, Engrave, or Ignore.

To avoid issues with files not coming in at the same place, I prepped all of our files to be enclosed in a 20”x12” rectangle the same size as the work area, so the file is always placed in the center. This rectangle is then set to be ignored.

We cut a guide (see photo below) with a 15-⅞” window for our material, and engraved a line at the top of the work area and 10” below. To keep our cuts aligned for the panels, we placed the top of the material at the top line and marked it at the bottom line. After the section was cut, we moved the bottom mark up to the top line and repeated the process.

Plywood Guide in Illustrator

Plywood Guide in Illustrator

Plywood Guide in Glowforge App

Plywood Guide in Glowforge App

To prep the files for Glowforge, I had to recolor the cuts in the panels in 10” sections. Because the actual cut area is closer to 11”, any holes that were on the edge spilled over into the next section instead of being broken up. Each colored section was then aligned to the top and numbers were added as a reference. I didn’t know before cutting what order the layers would come in, but doing further research on the Glowforge Forum they are sorted by ascending hexadecimal values. See here: (https://community.glowforge.com/t/custom-inkscape-illustrator-coreldraw-and-affinity-designer-color-palettes-for-ordering-operations-in-gfui/7346)

Adding guides every 10” and recoloring each section of cuts between them

Adding guides every 10” and recoloring each section of cuts between them

Finished file for one panel with every section lined up in the top and labelled

Finished file for one panel with every section lined up in the top and labelled

Preview in Glowforge App with only the first layer set to cut

Preview in Glowforge App with only the first layer set to cut

The process for cutting was to set all layers to Ignore but Cut 1, move the material through the Glowforge, then Ignore 1 and Cut 2, and repeat!

Some of our first cuts!

Some of our first cuts!

Temporary ventilation solution until the air filters are delivered

Temporary ventilation solution until the air filters are delivered

Lining up mirrored acrylic pieces with the plywood

Lining up mirrored acrylic pieces with the plywood


Mapping and Wiring

Similar to how I exported an image to convert to vectors in Illustrator, I exported another version of the layout that instead of drawing ellipses, the index of “led” was drawn in it’s place. I then drew on top of this image to determine the path that the LED strip should follow.

Section of LED index map

Section of LED index map

Wiring Paths for the Installation

Wiring Paths for the Installation