Laser Cut Stamps

One of the deep and subtle magics of fabrication is how many ways you can get approximately the same result with different procedures. It’s a bit like cooking, where the choice of whether to bake or broil, pan fry or deep fry, can have a profound effect or make little difference at all depending on what goes in and the desired result. Having a laser on hand means I can fiddle with my methods and iterate a bunch of different solutions each with minor tweaks until I get the result I was searching for. Also, with the coming laser singularity (when lasers become more common than printers), more materials and toys are available for added lazing satisfaction.

Mega Man after he’s defeated Wily’s prep cook robot master: Ra Man. His new upgrade features a noodle arm which he uses to snare enemies and cross chasms hookshot style.

I started off with a late night doodle. My favorite Chinese Take-Out place has this excellent illustration. The gun was my own addition, on top of a wonky and not quite convincing “thumbs up”. I though making a stamp following that design, obtaining a stack of menus, improving them, and shuffling them back into the main cache over at Randy’s would be amusing, so I set about making a stamp.

One unadulterated menu and one vastly improved menu.

The first step was to get a copy of the unaltered menu, photograph it flat, and get the proper dimensions for the stamp into Illustrator. Often times I’ll put things in a scanner to make sure everything’s flat and orthographic, but laying a ruler against what you’re duplicating and photographing it from straight above also works well.

From there, I imported the image into photoshop, scaled it using the ruler to make sure things were 1:1, and adjusted the image balance until everything was incredibly clear and crisp. After that, I illustrated a more fanciful and Blade Runner-esque gun and transferred the resulting drawing over to Adobe Illustrator.

Sketching out the stamp design.

In Illustrator, I vectorized the image and started hacking together the stamp design. Initially I tried to cut and etch a mold to make the stamp and cast it in silicone. I’ll get to the problems inherent in that design in a bit. The concept behind the casting was to create a small stamp with a nice big handle for high volume stampings. Since constructing everything like a master lock (lots of layers aligned with common holes with a bolt or pin running through them) is pretty simple and something I’ve done a bunch of times, I laid out the design pretty quickly and got cutting.

A neat result, but not terribly effective.

After everything was cut and assembled, I mixed up some Smooth-On OOMOO silicone and poured it into the mold cavity. Here’s where I encountered some of the fundamental problems with this method. For starters, the silicone I was using was much too soft and squishy to make a decent stamp. The smallest pressure would cause the edges of the stamp to meet the page I was stamping and ruin the illusion with a big square halo of ink. Secondly, silicone isn’t very sticky at the best of times. It doesn’t hang on to the ink terribly well, which means a rather faint and blotchy stamp, definitely not convincing enough to pass as part of the original menu. Also, I’ve figured out it’s easier to have a stamp with a minimal overhang, which means cutting the rubber with a thin border around the design, and backing it with a stamp block that’s as small as possible. Aligning this particular stamp is nothing short of impossible. The large square base that was an inevitable result of having a big easy-to-pound handle meant that spotting exactly where the stamp was headed was cumbersome and unpredictable.

The most current iteration of the gun stamps. I’m very enamored with this design.

Enter the new design. I got myself some odor-free stamping rubber and etched the design into it. I backed it with some .25″ pressboard with the design embossed on to help the alignment. It works fabulously, which means it’s time to sneak off with some menus and have my nefarious way with them. Stay tuned.