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2Addicts | BMW 2-Series forum Technical Topics Cosmetic and Lighting Modifications Anyone Done Laser Engraving?

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      02-14-2020, 08:43 AM   #1
msej449
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Anyone Done Laser Engraving?

I've just ordered myself a portable laser engraver for my woodworking projects, but it occurred to me I could use it to engrave interior trim, or headrest leather etc. Has anyone done this?

The laser can be held on a standard tripod mount, so I'm not constrained by target size. But I am limited to a pretty much flat surface, a max drawing area of 4"x4" (100x100mm), and vector images (it does raster, but that's not its forté). So I'm thinking initially I'd just have some simple curves/shapes: something like the M Performance 3-trapezoids should be simple enough, ///M, or a simple abstract pattern. Not something to rival Rolls-Royce-type marquetry.

I've noticed when people retro-fit CF trim, they often sell their OEM trim on eBay UK relatively cheaply. So I might buy some and do some testing on that. As for leather, I though that I might have a go on a headrest, as it's easier to remove. Although I'd prefer to try it out on a test piece first ...
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      02-14-2020, 03:17 PM   #2
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Lots of possibilities ! Interested to see how you get on with this. Sub'd.
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      02-18-2020, 06:35 AM   #3
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Laser engraving may be a process where the beam physically removes the surface of the material to show a cavity that reveals a picture at eye level. The laser creates high heat during the laser engraving process, which essentially causes the material to vaporize.
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      02-19-2020, 05:07 PM   #4
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The laser is a Cubiio - small 3" cube unit that moves the beam internally before projecting - hence the relatively small 4"x4" projection area. In stand-alone mode it attaches to a standard tripod mount, so you can easily take the unit to the piece (as opposed to the more usual type, where the laser is fixed on a n X-Y motion rig).

You need to be fairly IT literate to get it all configured, and to do the necessary transformations needed to start with a raster image like the ///M badge, and end up with a vector G-code file you download to the laser unit (about 4 transforms, plus installing special plug-ins).

So far, I've got an acceptable vector laser file version of the ///M logo:



which I've burned OK onto paper. However, the vectorisation process has made the far right vertical line thinner than the rest when burned, so I may have to re-work the original so it ends up the right thickness.

Next step is to try it on some leather. Only trouble I can see is that my upholstery is oyster. The darker the substrate, the better the engraving seems to be. The plan is to engrave the ///M on the back of the rear headrest (mines a convertible, so it'd be visible from behind with the top down). It's currently about 3" wide - I want it to be discreet, not too big or over-engraved, so testing would be sensible: perhaps there's enough fabric on the underside for me to test out various settings of power/speed. The laser has a vertical focus tolerance of ±5mm (3/16"), so it can handle a bit of curvature in the fabric.

Although the laser is portable, one virtue of doing the headrest is that it's removable (well, mine is) - I won't be doing the work with it in place (a Class 1 laser near the fuel flap doesn't sound a safe combination!) but the portability means I can work on the headrest in my workshop without having to try and fit it inside an X-Y rig.

I will keep you posted.
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      02-20-2020, 08:13 AM   #5
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Well, here's the trial on the underside of the front headrest.



So, the light colour wasn't a big issue: it took about 60% power at 60% speed to burn this. When I looked in detail



it was clear that the leather could actually take a lot more detail i.e. I've probably over-simplified the logo graphics. The shiny edges don't show up in normal light: they're a side-effect of the bright LED light I'm using for the photo'.

The conclusions? Well, it would probably look much better on black upholstery - I'm not sure that black on oyster works that well. If I was going to do it on the visible headrest, I'd add a lot more of the original detail that's on the graphic (a lot of the edges are chamfered), as this is what the laser does well. And I'd perhaps make it smaller. I'd probably dial-down the power, but make more passes, so that the edges were even clearer.

I suspect that as well as black leather, matt black trim would be a good substrate for laser engraving: the results would be fairly subtle. The challenge would be any curvature beyond the 5mm (3/8") focus range of the laser.

Re the black lines - my understanding is there are techniques that let you apply colour using a laser (e.g. using a coloured tape which then melts into the substrate - in this case perhaps light brown to blend better with the oyster) but I can't be bothered to do the experimentation and anyway, I'd run out of hidden surfaces to test!

And finally, I'm not sure that a pattern wouldn't look better, on the front of the headrest, perhaps the BMW logo, or something with a local theme (we have a local flower that historically was used to represent the county that might look more attractive), etc. You can also argue that there are already too many ///M logos splattered randomly across the car as it is ....

Overall, though, laser engraving looks like a viable option for decorating your upholstery and has potential for trim too. Now I know the process, I reckon I could get a graphic from PC onto leather in about an hour.
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      02-23-2020, 01:12 PM   #6
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Great update! Hopefully you get your hands on some other test pieces because I'd love to see how your technique translates to other colors / surfaces.
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      02-25-2020, 08:35 AM   #7
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Turns out BMW charge €1800 ($1952) to laser-scribe a logo/graphics onto a single piece of 3 Series passenger trim. You have to provide the vector file and any logo has to respect copyright.

I really think there's a market to undercut that. I reckon this is around a 300%-400% profit margin!

My materials testing continues ...
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      02-26-2020, 06:51 PM   #8
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If anything I would strongly caution about adding too much detail to the laser engraving. I've done a lot of laser engraving on various materials (wood, plastics, metals, and leather), and most of the mistakes I've made are related to adding too much detail. The issue with fine details next to one another is that they start to affect the appearance of the lines next to them. Two lines right next to each other will each appear thicker than one line separated from the rest of them.

It also runs the risk of blending lines together, which is further increased when you're engraving a "non-flat" surface like leather. The little bumps and ridges in the material mean that lines which would look separate and distinct on a flat surface start to run together. The lines become/appear wider if burned onto a contoured, textured, or sloped surface because the same vertical beam covers more physical material. As the material bunches or is stretched it then distorts the lines and causes details to run together. Stretching the material inside the engraver the same way it will be stretched when installed will help with this a lot though, and the effect will be more prominent if you engrave the leather that covers a curved surface.

If you are going to do detail, however, I would recommend doing it in multiple passes at different power levels. Outlines and main shapes can/should be done at a higher power, while the fine details, shading, and perspective should be done in a second pass with a lower power level. Some laser engraver software allows different line thicknesses to correspond to different power settings, but if not just run it in two separate jobs and change your power settings in between. Just make sure you don't disturb or move the work piece at all if you do it in two separate jobs like that.
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      02-27-2020, 09:22 AM   #9
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Many thanks for the advice Isoleucine - I've been trying out various things on wood and what you say seems to be borne out. I hadn't thought of creating multiple files in order to build up a more complex graphic - I've certainly hit the problem of over-heating points where lines converged. So your advice has given me an alternative approach which I'm sure will be useful.

My attempts to 'strip' a dark top layer off to reveal a coloured base layer have so far been a failure. But I may be using too high an intensity setting. Anyway, having fun trying out the various combinations.
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