Concluding Our Time at the Fab Lab

This week marked our last class at the Champaign Community Fab Lab, an innovative and dynamic maker space located on the campus of the University of Illinois. While in previous classes we have worked with soldering joints, encoding Arduino Uno circuit boards using Arduino’s open-sourced software, and wiring resistors and LED lights into breadboards, this week was the culmination of all our of efforts. We were able to finally assemble the photo resistor in its entirety. While in the past two weeks we took care of the actual photo resistor and its assembly, we still needed to create a structure that would house the part. In order to do this, Clinton and Julia, our two exponentially patient teachers, instructed us on the basics of Inkscape (a graphics editor similar to Adobe Photoshop), and on using the two laser cutters housed at the Fab Lab. The objective of utilizing these tools was to assemble a wooden, six-piece cube that would house the photo dependent LED light resistor. As mentioned, the software used to create the designs on the sides of the cubes was Inkscape, a completely free, open-source platform that appears to be user-friendly yet still able to make complex designs. Once the template for the wooden cube was downloaded, some manipulation was required in order to guarantee the fitting of the wood. In order for the laser to properly cut the wood, certain formatting and thickness adjustments had to be made. Using Inkscape, we traced black and white images taken from online, and, once finished, the PDF file was loaded onto the laser cutter. The laser etched the designs into the wood which created the downloaded images in a process called raster scanning, while also making the actual cuts to create the box (called vector scanning). The cutting process lasted just a few minutes, as subtractive manufacturing such as laser cutting can be considerably faster than additive manufacturing, like 3D printing.

Above is a picture of what the design of my wooden house looked like on Inkscape. While it cannot be discerned through this picture, there are very thin red lines outlining six intricate boxes. The red lines indicated to the laser cutter what needed to be vector scanned, while the black indicated a raster scan. Below is an illustration of the actual laser cutting process, during which the box outlines were being cut. The whole process, including both the design creations and actual cutting, lasted less than seven minutes, a stark contrast from the relatively lengthy time required for 3D printing.

These past three weeks have exposed to me all that the making world has to offer. While I originally assumed the making revolution focused squarely on 3D printing and additive manufacturing as a whole, this experience has brought about the realization that it is obviously much, much more than that. Going forward, I am excited to see how groups choose to incorporate what we have learned into their final projects.

Final Touches: Laser Engraving

During our final session in the Champaign Urbana Fab Lab, I had the opportunity to create a digital design of a 3D box utilizing the software Inkscape before laser printing said design onto a sheet of wood. As I immensely enjoy graphic design and have spent a great deal of time working in Adobe Photoshop, this process was relatively familiar to me, and therefore was by far the easiest station out of our three sessions. For me, the hardest portion of the process was actually assembling the box itself, once each of the six faces had been designed and cut by the laser. My first mistake was not paying attention to which designs I placed on which faces (assuming they could be assembled in any fashion, which proved otherwise.) Therefore, my favorite face on the box ended up serving as the base, and the side I left blank to serve as the base functioned as a visible side. However, this acted as a valuable lesson for future use of such templates!

I believe that the laser printing capabilities will likely contribute most to our final project from an aesthetic perspective. While our product will likely rely more heavily on 3D printing, mechanics, and (if implemented) the soldering and programming for LED lights, laser engraving could be useful for adding small adjustments, such as a patterned design or engraved logo on the plastic. In the grand scheme of things, I find these skills very useful in a variety of purposes, both functionally and artistically – the ability to create digital designs and transmit them perfectly onto a plethora of materials is one that enables the maker to exact the appearance of their creation, and increases the flexibility and efficiency of the creation process.

I was intrigued as to what limitations exist with regard to laser imaging; I assumed that cloth would present problems due to the high temperature required to impart designs on the material. However, this fascinating article by Joe Sylvester discusses the process that allows a uniform factory to laser designs onto various fabrics at temperatures of up to 400 degrees. Furthermore, I discovered this infographic discussing the possibilities for individuals to run home businesses through use of laser engravers – this ties back to the utility of such a machine for artists or others who create in their own spaces. Finally, I happened upon a new technology known as the “Snapmaker”, a Kickstarter invention that combines the technologies of 3D printing, laser engraving, and CNC carving. This machine, offered for a mere $299, could revolutionize the 3D making process in combining three highly utilized technologies at such a low price. This aids the mission to make 3D making accessible to the public in a way it previously has not been, and to encourage individual creativity in many forms. Overall, I have loved my time in the CU Fab Lab, and look forward to returning as we finalize our project.

Laser Cutting-Patience is a Virtue

This week wraps up the third and final session at Fab Lab. It gave us a sense of achievement as we were able to put together everything we’ve learned in the past 3 weeks into our final product–a personalized LED lightbox.

In this session, my group experimented with laser cutting. It’s a manufacturing technique that utilizes a laser which creates a beam of light to cut or raster on a panel of material. Common material used includes wood, acrylic plastic, and paper. For this project, we used Russian birch plywood.

To create our design for laser cutting, we used a program called Inkscape. It’s a free and open source vector graphics editor that’s similar to Adobe Illustrator. It was pretty simple and straightforward to use and we learned how to convert a bitmap image downloaded from the Internet into a vector image, so that no matter how you scale it, the edges will be just as sharp and not pixilated. In order for the lines to be cut later on with the laser, it has to have a thickness of 0.001”. As for raster engraving, the darker the shade of the image, the deeper the raster. After designing our images, we saved the file as PDF and brought it to the laser machine to start the cutting process.

Staring at the laser machine while it did its work was actually entertaining, as shown in the video. We had to keep an eye on it the whole time to ensure it doesn’t catch on fire (which they said usually doesn’t happen, but who knows).


It took about 10 minutes for the machine to cut the 6 pieces as well as rastering 3 sides of the box. Fortunately, mine came out quite well though I had to use sandpaper to smooth out some of the edges. The next step was the exciting part–putting everything together. It took a lot of time and patience to assemble all the parts of the Arduino, LED lights, and wooden box with a hot glue gun, but in the end it was well worth it.


Oh so magical.


Punny play on words 🙂 You go to U of I, you know it’s about the corn life.


My personal logo!

The major takeaways I’ve gotten after these 3 wonderful sessions at the Fab Lab:

  1. Technology is great and so much more than what we normally see. It’s not just about endless coding like what we usually imagine CS majors and software engineers do all day. The Fab Lab has taught me that it’s about combining different skills (coding, designing, soldering, fabricating, etc.) and sparking your inner creativity to make a variety of things, both for personal use and for the benefit of the society.
  2. Patience is a virtue. Yes, it’s triple cheesy but it’s true. I’m not kidding about the number of times I had to tell myself not to get too frustrated, whether it was soldering wires, assembling the LED, or gluing the final product together. This also applies to anything you want to achieve in life.
  3. Collaboration is key. You won’t go far trying to do something by yourself. Every person you meet knows something you don’t, so by sharing ideas with others you are able to accumulate a lot more knowledge which will help guide you in your creations.

Just to finish it up, I’m going to share a cool project that was done through Fab Lab: a 3D printed boombox. The board is written with Arduino language and can play music using an SD card and a 9V battery. I’m sure this bad boy will serve you well at a house party. 🙂


The Hands-on Intro to Digital Making. Part 2: Laser/Vinyl Cutting 7 Inkscape


CU FabLab. Located at 1301 South Goodwin Avenue, Urbana IL.

This week we got to return to my favorite part of the class for the second part of our three-part FabLab series. I got to immerse myself more in the hands on part of making. This time around I was more familiar and comfortable in the CUC FabLab space but I wasnt working with arduinos or electronics this time around. We were at first just shown the sample lasercut box and given back our kits below.

At first, I was a little hesitant because I had thought that we would have to do the measurements by hand or use some form of Computer-aided drawing (CAD) but after listening to their explanation on the process of Laser/Vinyl cutting and engraving, I became more relaxed and interested in learning the tool they mentioned. Instead of using 3D CAD for prototyping like the usual, we used a graphics package called Inkscape to design the outline of each face as well as the graphics that we would engrave on the faces. Here we learned that the laser cutter performed two functions: Vector cutting which is when the laser cuts entirely through the wood or material and creates a blackened outline from the burn of the laser and the Engraving which is when the laser does not cut through the wood but etches a silhouette we created on Inkscape onto the wood in a darker unburnt shade. So essentially, laser cutting is a form of subtractive manufacturing where they take a flat piece of material and cut out shapes to be assembled into a hollow structure or skeleton of a solid object.


Lasercutter vector cutting the outline through the wood

Before any of this we had to create the outline/shape on inkscape. There we learnt some of the basics of Inkscape and how to navigate the environment to use the tools available. We used a website to create the box press fit outline as it was much ore convenient and efficient than manually sketching it out. By putting the dimensions of the box in the website, we were able to adjust the settings to create our press fit box in a matter of minutes.  We imported pictures from the internet, and used tools to create our own shapes combining them into cool graphics to be engraved. Some of us even went further to create complex graphics such as the mythical creature I made which is a black panther with dragon wings as well as the “Illini light bulb” that I made which is a pun for the purpose of the lightbox we are making. But to convert these images and outlines, we had to create the Bitmap paths to turn them into silhouettes that the laser cutter could understand. By doing all these, I learnt how powerful graphics are in making designs and products more attractive and personal.The thing about the lasercutter environment below, is that it only recognizes specific colours: black as engrave space, red for vector cut path and white as material.


The Lasercutter Final Print Environment


My Final assembled press fit box. View 1


My Final assembled press fit box. View 2

The cool thing about laser cutting is that not only is it fast and material efficient, it can be used on many other materials. the most common is wood and glass/vinyl but you can also laser cut metals, paper, foam, cork, silicone and so on. You can learn so much more here at this link. The Stanford Product Realization Lab is making great products there and exploring much more materials. But the most impressive thing to me is the innovative use of lasercut patterns to make flat materials curved or bendable. They way they do this is by laser cutting thin lines and holes in the area that is desired to be flexible in such a way that there would be more freedom for that section to be less rigid and be able to stretch and hence be flexible.

Now with all this the final outcome for our lightbox should look like the sample below. I am looking forward to being able to incorporate this into our project this semester.


Sample final product for the lightbox.


Week 7: 2nd Week at the Fab Lab (Laser Cutting)


For our second visit to the Fab Lab, each group switched stations to work on a different portion of our final project. This week, I attended the Laser Cutting session. Though the workshop is somewhat secluded towards the back of the Fab Lab, it certainly shines through as one of the more unique creative processes the Fab Lab has to offer (no pun intended).

In my last workshop, we focused on designing the physical circuit for our light-sensitive boxes. This week, we continued with moe hands-on work dedicated to making the appearance of the project aesthetic and to our liking. By using specifically designed software, we were able to create layouts for our boxes that we could customize. We first gained the template after entering our desired dimensions into an online resource, and then imported that file onto the lab computer software Inkscape to customize them. We were able to select images online to use as stencils for the panels. The images had to be completely black & white, as well as properly pixelated. The laser cutters are incredibly precise, and are able to stencil out wood portions with cuts of down to .001 m in width, resulting in flawlessly fitting pieces and stellar quality of silhouettes. One of the most amazing bits of all this, is that each person’s cuts only took approximately 20 minutes maximum, way faster than a conventional 3D printer. While it is certainly a sight to see something create out of nothing, some don’t realize that you can also achieve great designs by taking away from what you already have.

Smaller scale sample box pieces

For my custom designs, I chose each side to represent a field of engineering/design as I am an engineering major. Four sides included images reminiscent of electrical, mechanical, and computer engineering, as well as architecture. The underside of the box features a 3D printer silhouette as well as that of a laser cutter, the two main methods of design that my group will probably use in our final project. The remaining side just has my name with a special measurement system composed of a ruler image and different sized stars to represent the brightness of the LEDs.

My pieces

Sneak peek of the completed project

Now that I’ve completed both the physical portions of the workshop, I’m excited to take part in the coding session next week, where we will program the Arduino with the desired code to allow it to respond as we want it to. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these Fab Lab sessions not only because we get to create a custom project for ourselves to keep in the end, but we also get to see multiple types of engineering and designing intertwined (specifically electronics, mechanics, and programming) into a single project. It’s been a fantastic experience to work with all these different processes, and I’m hoping that we can incorporate every one of them into our final project.

Inkscape and Laser Cutting

The second session at the FabLab this week meant that we were at a new stage for our light receptor boxes. Last week we had the pleasure of soldering the circuits together and testing it on the Arduino units. This week our group went to the laser cutter to create the box in which our project will be encapsulated in. We utilized a free software called Inkscape which is similar to Adobe Illustrator but I found it a little easier to use. We started off by learning the basics of taking an image from the internet and then vectoring it to be able to get the black lines out through the Image Trace option and that allowed us to make basic images into vectors that we can work natively on the software.


This made it very intuitive to be able to take any image with defined black and white borders and make it into a vector so we are easily able to manipulate the points and add or subtract portions of the image. We obtained the box layout from a website that the FabLab provided us and then added our own designs. This was the outcome of me scouring the internet for my favorite graphic designer from the Philippines, Kerby Rosanes.


Upon finishing the files and layout, you transferred the document as a PDF file to the printer and I was using the EpiLogue printer which is a very strong one that can cut a variety of materials as well as thicknesses. You had to make sure that the colors and sizes of the cuts were 0.001 in and that the color was in RGB mode with 255 for Red and 0 for everything else. The raster aka engraving could be black and any size. The laser cutter was very precarious and we had to make sure that the settings were 100% accurate.


Here you can see a time lapse I had made through the rastering process.


It was very rewarding to be able to see something you design on a computer come to life in a matter of minutes. There was something satisfying from watching it go back and for until your vision comes true. After the printer is able to raster everything, it begins the cutting process which I also speed up the cutting time.


Here you can see the final cuts and it is all done for me to assemble.


The picture below shows me assembling the box without the electronic components in it yet and so I thought it looked very cool and can not wait to combine everything together next week after we learn to code the Arduino.


A helpful article I found while using the laser printer was found on Instructables with 10 helpful tips and tricks. Going forward I am excited to be able to use the laser cutter for our final project as it is less intimating as I thought it was. I will also probably use this tool for other projects too since it is fairly easy being able to use this tool.

Introduction to Intricate Designing

For this week and the upcoming two weeks our class has the privilege of going to the University of Illinois FabLab to learn new tools for our upcoming final project. The first time I had heard about the FabLab was during Jeff Ginger’s presentation during class. I was very intrigued by the different things I could create at the FabLab and was incredibly excited to be able to go and learn from experienced users. When entering the FabLab we were given a tour of the whole facility then split into three groups to begin learning the different tools available. I was assigned to the group led by Holly Brown (Lab Manager and Instructor) and Clinton Gandy (Lab Assistant) to work on creation, design and the process of building boxes through a graphics software called Inkscape.

We had been told that Inkscape would be similar to Adobe Illustrator and I had played around with the application here and there. Throughout class we were given a tutorial box to create, a tutorial of Inkscape and a chance to design our own box that would be laser printed on the wood that was provided by the FabLab. We started by learning the various tools that could be used on Inkscape especially ones that would be useful in designing our boxes, such as grouping and creating holes. Here is a link that gives users an idea of the different features that Inkscape provides: We then imported the box design onto Inkscape and began adding holes onto one side of the piece that will be used for the lights to shine through in the next two sessions. On another side of the box was a rectangular hole for the battery to come out that would be used for the lights to shine. On the other sides we were able to add our own designs but specifically we were told to use silhouettes of images that could be found through Google. I had chosen silhouettes that I related to personally because I figured it would be more special. Inkscape is a nice introduction graphics software to understand and it was easy to maneuver things around at ease. I really liked how the interface was so simple yet provided an opportunity to draw seamlessly. It was great that imported and exported files could be done through various file formats and overall was comprehensible. I believe that any user is able to use Inkscape to design practically anything. Furthermore, the software allows users to start from the beginning stages to the final stages of a professional design format, which we had created towards the end of class.

After finishing up the box design we had sent them to the laser printer, however, the laser printer took awhile to complete each design and I was not able to watch my design be printed by the end of class. However, when I was watching other student’s designs I was really intrigued with how the lasers had hit the wood to print. The designs were incredibly intricate and we were all amazed with how it was able to print so easily, though it was interesting to see how the laser printer had to be watched carefully at all times in the chance of a fire occurring.

Here is a panoramic of the entrance of the FabLab.

This is the a smaller version of the box we would be creating for practice and putting the box together.

This is the completed tutorial box.

This was an example of what the creation will look like once all the FabLab classes are complete.

Here is the design I had put on one side of the box.

As I stated earlier I was unable to have my design go through the laser printer, but here is how another student, Ian’s design had turned out.