Week 6: Fab Lab!

Last week was our first day at the CUC Fab Lab, Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab. It was an enlightening experience. Mainly because I got to work with lasers. That fact alone made this class the best one yet. The Fab Lab is divided into two weeks, one half being working with lasers, and the other will have digital embroidery.

We started off learning about Inkscape and how to fix document sizes, make vectors off of image formats such as JPEG, Bitmap and PNG. Making vectors avoids the distortion of pixels that happen in images. The lasers themselves can either raster or vector, meaning it can chip away a material to a certain thickness, or it can completely burn a hole (and eventually a shape) through the material. Every material has certain settings for different materials, and I used a Moleskine notebook to decorate the cover with the design in the image.


Its amazing how similar I found this to 3d printing, mainly because of the rastered frosted glasses and acrylic pieces that had shapes and images made with the lasers. This feels like 3d printing, but almost in reverse: cutting away material to make an indentation and a shape top-down instead of creating a shape, figure or structure from nothing.

Next week: Fab Lab, Chapter 2.

Week 6 Fab Lab Reflection

When Professor Sachdev told us to meet at the “Fab Lab” for last week’s class, I was expecting a very high-tech building, somewhere near the heart of campus. After my phone had told me that I was still 7 min away at 1:58 I knew that this would not be the case. As surprising as the appearance of the building was, what was inside was even more spectacular. Our class split into two groups, half of the class spent the workshop learning about arduinos and the other half learned how to use the computers to print out an image that would be sewn into a piece of fabric. I was in the sewing group and was actually very impressed with how my design turned out.

We started off by choosing an image from the internet to import into SewArt. I chose the image from my acapella group’s website and decided to add some music notes below it. We had to edit the image before we could sew it because of the multiple colors the image had (I cut mine down from 7 to 3). After this we saved them to USB drives and began printing! My design was pretty accurate and actually printed very easily, the hardest part was threading the new thread through the machine when changing colors.

Computer Designafter sewing

This was my first time ever using a sewing machine and while I didn’t manually operate it I was still very happy with how it turned out! While this was only an introduction to the Fab Lab I’m very excited to work here in the next few weeks. I believe tomorrow we will switch sides and I will be able to learn more about arduinos and hopefully be able to incorporate them into my designs. Having a software element along with the hardware of something I could print would really make a more interesting project in my opinion. Really looking forward to future workshops here!!

How to…. Laser cutting

In this set of posts:
How to… Laser Cutting (this post)
How to… Arduino
How to… Soldering 

Laser cutting experimentation

Over the next few weeks i’ll be experimenting with laser cutting, arduinos, and programmed embroidery. My aim of these next few posts is to show you the lowdown and the basics, as well as my ideas, inspiration, and experimentation that stem from it.

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Laser cutting opens scope for many designs and creations. This is a resource available to me through the local Fab Lab. It is a simple manufacturing technique to use, and works though “cutting” or “rastering” on a panel of material. Rastering is the process of engraving and not cutting all the way through.

Intricate designs and patterns can be lasered onto a panel. Depending on the design colours, and the settings on the machine, different cuts and shades can be achieved.

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Common materials to be laser cut are acrylic plastic, and wood. Other materials (such as metal) can also be laser cut, depending on the strength of the machine. Materials that give off poisonous gas emissions, or melt too much when under the heat of the laser, should not be laser cut (list of materials you can and can’t cut).


The general workflow process for creating a laser printed piece is:

  • Insert the design/image/shape into a program called Inkscape. (Inkscape is an open source software tool used for image manipulation, download it here).
  • Using Inkscape, convert the image into a vector graphic. Converting the bitmap image into a vector graphic allows things to be scaled up and down without pixilation (more on this).

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  • Use other tools in Inkscape if necessary to make adjustments to the image. For any line to be cut, the line thickness must be 0.001”. For the rastering, a darker shade of greyscale produces a stronger/deeper raster.
  • When this has been saved to a PDF, it can then be printed on the laser cutter.
  • Settings on the printer can be tuned and adjusted to ensure the laser cuts all the way through the material etc.

To practice the range of techniques that are possible from the laser cutter at the fab lab, I made these:


1) Laser rastered image onto paper (a notebook). Adjusting the gradient of the greyscale of the mountain in the bottom of the picture changed how deep the laser cut into it. Rastering any design, image or phrase onto a notebook is a really great way of creating personalised gifts and products, and so simple to do.

2) This acrylic pendant for a necklace utilises rastering and cutting. The outline of the shape is cut straight through, and the fishbowl detail is restored onto the surface. In Inkscape this is laid up from 2 images, with one doing the cut and another for the raster.


Fun products that can be made from laser cut panels, like these:

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1) headphone tidy                                                                       2) rastered image illuminated by LEDs

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3) bookend                                   4) quirky coat hangers            5) spaghetti measurer


Jewellery is also a popular application of laser cutting, with many novel designs that can be created.

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Most designs can all be laser cut into custom pieces


3D structures can be made from laser cut panels by designing interlocking patterns that can slot together.

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Aligning slots allows pieces to be joined together


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Fab Lab Inspiration

Six weeks have passed since I’ve started my journey of becoming a maker, and I can honestly say that this one was probably the best so far. Our trip to the CU Fab Lab was our first outside of our classroom setting – and I’d like to say the change of scenery was inspiring. Walking to class last Monday, I must have passed the Fab Lab at least two times; it’s housed in one of the oldest buildings on campus, and to be honest looks quite unimpressive… until you open the door.

For the first part of class, we were introduced to the volunteers and were given a tour of the facility’s three main parts: fabrications, electronics, and design. I was then fortunate enough to be placed in Colten’s group, working on Arduino’s. I have some coding experience, but I’ve never had the chance to interface code with actual equipment. It was really cool to play with the code and see how the Arduino, LED, and motor would react.

The best part of class though was when I figured out exactly what I was going to do for my semester project, and it was all an accident! Vishal and Colten were talking about the uses of conductive PLA (one of the types of plastic used in 3DP) and an idea was ignited in my head. I’m not going to talk too much about it here, for the moment, but I can tell you that this idea takes Arielle’s printed racing glove and makes it “smart”. I’m hoping to use it as a training tool, where we can gather data. Shout out to Toheeb and Pri for taking on this with me!

The Fab Lab has a relaxed atmosphere and a great making vibe, and I would say it’s almost impossible to not come up with something cool to work on when you’re there.

Week 6: CU Fab Lab

This week we all got the amazing experience of exploring the Champaign-Urbana fab lab! The lab itself is awesome, decked out with a whole range of machines and utilities to help just about anyone make just about anything. I am upset that I only found out about this amazing place so late, or else I would have seriously considered working there.

After the tour, I broke off with the group doing the laser cutting, although I really wanted to check out the arduinos. The software we used to create our images to be cut is called Inkscape, and it was actually really intuitive and easy to use. The software that controls the printer just takes a black and white pdf of your cut, which I thought was really interesting. The thickness/darkness of the lines determines the laser strength, and thus determines whether you just raster (scratch the surface) or vector (cut all the way through). I decided to raster an image onto clear acrylic, because I have seen people online do some cool things with etched acrylic and LEDs.


This is what I ended up with after the laser did its thing. I think it turned out really well, and I am going to be 3D printing a base for it, so that it will stand up straight. I’m going leave space for an LED and a battery bay in the base, so that when the LED is on, the light will shine up through the clear acrylic and reflect off of the rastered image (hopefully) and make it look like its glowing.

I am definitely going to be coming back here in my free time and I cant wait for this week when we get to revisit the fab lab and check out some more interesting tools!


This week we went to CU FABLAB to learn how to make with Arduino, laser/vinyl cutters, digital fabrics!

I got the chance to try my hand at Arduino, which turned out to be super fascinating! Sorry for the photo spam that’s going to happen in literally a second, but it was a very trigger-happy day for me.


^ A shot of the inside of the lab from where I was sitting


^ Jeff giving us a presentation

We took a tour of the Fablab after Jeff’s presentation (didn’t take any pictures), and sat down at the Arduino section with Colten. He gave us a broad overview of how it worked and ran us through a tutorial of how to make the LED blink on command as well as how to make the motor move.


^ My first contact with an Arduino board!


^ A closer look at the board


^ The front of an LED Arduino panel. I hope I can work with this one day!


^ The back of the panel….wonder how long it took to solder all those points…


^ The Arduino hooked up to an LED light and a motor!

This session was fascinating to me, and I’m glad to have the chance to try out this! When I was younger I was part of the robotics club, and we did something similar to this, just with Lego blocks that functioned like an Arduino. Being able to wire and reroute and program my own program made it super fun!

I would definitely come back during spring break to putter around the lab and try out more stuff. This has giving me many ideas to work with regarding the final project, and I’m super excited to get cracking on it!

Week 6 Reflection: CU Fab Lab Pt. 1

As I looked up from my phone’s GPS, I confusingly stared at the building ahead. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was it. I made my way around the building to the main entrance and was immediately greeted by a white, hefty door with the words Fab Lab written on it. This was it. I didn’t expect much going in solely because of the building’s unimpressive appearance, but you know what they say? Appearances can be deceiving and this idiom rings especially true for Champaign Urbana’s Fab Lab. Needless to say, they put the “fab” in fabulous.

The Fab Lab, which is short for Fabrications Laboratory, is divided into three unique sections:  fabrications, electronic resources, and design. Before we toured the entire building, we were given a brief presentation as to what the Fab Lab does. Its mission is to provide an open and collaborative environment for makers to imagine, design, and create using open source software and DIY equipment. As soon as the presentation concluded, our class was divided into two groups to tour each workspace in its entirety. There were so many vastly different, cool items found in each respective section! However, there was one item that specifically caught my eye, which can be found below:


Once the tour finished, groups were assigned to different workstations. Fortunately, I was placed into the fabrications section, which meant that I got to walk out of class with a custom-made, embroidered item! After perusing online, I chose to design a film camera. However, there were various modifications that had to be made on it. I condensed the image into five colors and thickened the lines to create distinguished segments of the piece. Now, it was ready to go! Check out the video below of my design getting embroidered onto the fabric:


By learning the embroidering process, I can create and modify objects to my liking. This can be especially useful in creating logos that can be sewn onto various types of clothing. Overall, the experience has proven to be quite challenging and fun! I’ve gained technical skills from playing around with the modifying software, which may come in handy in the near future. Now, I want to expand my knowledge of embroidery and fabrications. I want to continue dabbling into this newfound interest of mine! Hopefully, I can do so in next week’s class.

Week 6 Reflection Arduino Workshop

What is the second oldest building on campus? The answer is Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab! It was a special, interesting and exciting learning process to have the first-hand experience in utilizing various tools, materials and software to complete from complex prototyping to a simple art design. I wish I could know this amazing lab earlier because I would explore project ideas, prototype different models or collaborate with talented specialists on projects. Fab Lab provides very comprehensive open resources as well as cool DIY equipment for designers, engineers and anyone who is interested in making something. Because of the variety and flexibility, the lab encourages the public to engage the entire design process and inspires interest and innovation in many fields. However, Fab Lab for me is not only an advanced workshop space for rapid prototyping and computer-based design, but also is a tutorial resource to help me solve issues and refine project ideas. 

We were firstly separated into two groups to take a quick tour of the building during the workshop. I followed Jeff, operations lead and adjunct faculty in Informatics, to visit different working stations, including electronic cutters, textiles and fabrics, electronics resources, and graphic design and art. Then, there were seven people, including myself, assigned to electronics resources with instructor Colton. Several microprocessors and mircocontrollers are available in the small working area, allowing us to manipulate. Through the session, we used Arduino to control LED light bulb frequency, switch the frequency and degree of a motor, and a touch sensor that is able to convert physical pressure to measured numbers on a small piece of electronics kit. Someone even took further steps to write codes that were able to control those add-in materials to work together.


Writing codes and assembling pieces of electronic material are not my strengths, but I would like to engage in the learning process and try new things. Thanks for the help from classmates and Colten, I did make those small board work. Furthermore, this is a good time to confirm some conceptual ideas with experts in the lab. I got some feedbacks about my “multi-functional cup holder” project, which they are helpful for me to modify designs. Colten came up with a concern about the efficiency of energy output in my design, as well as cooling down the product when converting heat to electricity. In the future, I really would like to share Fab Lab to my friend and related classes. It is a great workshop for any independent academic purpose learnings or research. Fab Lab is operating as a small company who is looking for innovations and inspiring people to make community become better.

Arduinos Fun

This past class we visited the FabLab down in the South Quad. After wandering my way over there and 3 failed attempts to get into the building, I was able to visit the FabLab for the first time ever. I have to say, it’s quite an eclectic place. There are so many projects you can work on, no matter what your interests. And I loved how it was open to the community and doesn’t focus on making profits.

After touring the space and seeing all of the different stations – everything from screen printing, to fabric printing, to electronics – I got a better understanding of the purpose of the FabLab. I was very impressed by the space, and even more so by what people have come up with. I found the fabric station (and robotic-sewing machines) quite interesting. But I ended up spending most of my time in the Arduinos area with Colten Jackson as our instructor.

2016-02-29 14.50.20Arduinos basically uses coding to get electronics to do what you want. We practiced by figuring out how to set up the wiring of the board and experimented with the coding. At first, we made a light switch on and off at whatever frequency we set it to. Then, we worked with a motor and were able to experiment with the frequency and degrees to which it would turn. Finally, we were able to play with touch sensors – so that depending on how hard we were touching a certain wire, the motor would respond based on the touch sensor.

As someone who has never worked with electronics and has only gone as far in coding as HTML5, SQL, and SAS – I find Arduinos fascinating. I understand what we had worked on was elementary compared to what can really be done with the technology, but it’s meant to be that way to get younger kids interested in the technology at an early age. And I’m okay being at the same level as a 10 year old.

I wanted to experiment on my own with the technology. I had tried to set it so that every time I had touched the sensor, not only would the motor go off but the light would as well. After multiple trial & errors, I sought help from my more experienced classmates. Turns out it’s not as simple as copying and pasting a single line of text and calling it a day. Both Toheeb and Elaine were able to help me out with this, and after a little experimentation my sensor was also able to produce light when I touched it as well as make the motor turn.


Going forward, I’d like to work with Arduinos a little more to see what else the technology is capable of. Still not too certain about my semester project, but I am open to the idea of working with Arduinos again in the near future.