Laser Cutting, 3D Printing, and Computer Numerical Control (CNC): Which Method is Boss?

We embarked on a journey to learn how to use three different machines (a Dremel laser cutter, a Dremel 3D printer and a ShopBot CNC machine) by using them to create embossing templates. Keep reading to find out which one stood out against the rest!


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Laser Cutting


The first method we tested was laser cutting on acrylic. We designed two plates on Adobe Illustrator with the Beauty and the Bolt Logo, which is shown in the first video. One plate was a negative and one was a positive for the paper to be pressed in between. The logo on the positive disk was reflected about the x-axis in order for the paper in between to be pressed on both sides by what was engraved from the laser cutter. We designed two holes on the edge of the template to hold screws so that the positive and negative sides could stay aligned while the paper was being embossed.

In Illustrator, the parts of the logo that were to be engraved was filled in black and the parts that were to be left alone were made white. For the positive, the words were left white, the background was made black, and the area surrounding the logo was also left white. This way, the positive side of the template (which went on the bottom), would emboss the words “Beauty and the Bolt” and deboss the background circle. The opposite was done to the negative. The stroke color of the template design was colored red where we wanted the template to be cut out. After the templates were finished, they were imported to Dremel DigiLab and laser cut. The second video shows a hyper lapse of the template being cut out by our laser cutter.


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3D Printing


Next up was the 3D printer! We used the same source file as the one used for our laser cut template. The program we used to 3D model our template was Fusion. After importing the templates, we first created a base for the 3D print to print upon with circles cut out for the screws again. For the positive side of the template, the words “Beauty and the Bolt” and the area surrounding the circle was selected to be printed so that the words would be embossed and the circle background would be debossed, just like in the laser cutting template. The opposite was done to the negative. For the 3D printing, we chose to print to a height of 0.015 inches. After the file was saved as an STL file, it was uploaded to Dremel 3D Idea Builder. After prepping the 3D printer and setting the layout as shown in the video, the templates were printed using Dremel ECO ABS filament. The final product is shown in the heading of this section.


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CNC


Last but not least we used our ShopBot, a CNC machine, to cut out our design! As before, we used the same source file. The following videos show how we designed the template for the CNC machine and then some footage of the template being cut out.

The program that we used to design our template for the CNC machine was VCarve Pro. After importing the source file, we prepped the positive and negative sides. For the positive side, we cut out the circles form the inside 0.15 inches and cut the outer edge of the template from the outside at a depth of 0.15 inches using the profile toolpath. Tabs were added to stabilize the template while it was being cut out. The VCarve tool was used at 0.02 inches on the circle background so that the words “Beauty and the Bolt” would be embossed and the circle background would be debossed. The same thing was done to the negative side where the template was to be cut, and the opposite was VCarved out from the template. After calibrating the origin of the machine, the template was cut out. The videos below show some live footage of the CNC machine in action.

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When using the CNC machine we bumped into a couple of problems the first try. First, the origin got offset when we moved the spindle past the maximum distance. Second, we uploaded the wrong file. Third, we used the wrong attachment for cutting the material. You can see our first attempt above. Thankfully we worked out all the kinks on the second try, having all three templates done we could try embossing with them to see which works the best!


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Using a hand press (shown to the left) from a wood shop, we pressed our embossing templates. Below are the three different templates pressed on paper. The left most picture is the laser cut result. This yielded the most precise embossing of the logo, but it was rather faint. Using a pressure of 5 kg/cm2, we achieved the best result. Using a higher pressure than that caused the acrylic to bend and the logo did not press well. The middle picture depicts the CNC template, which created a more defined logo, but a little less precise. We used a pressure of 2 kg/cm2 for the best result. After using more pressure than that, the template began to crack, and the logo did not press onto the paper as well anymore. Lastly, the third picture depicts our 3D printed template. This created the most defined embossing, but you can see some of the lines from the circular background of the logo, which comes from the texture of the template. Also, the words are not as crisp as from the other two templates. We used a pressure of 6 kg/cm2, which worked out well. We think since this template was made of filament instead of acrylic, it could withstand the pressure much better, creating a more defined embossing. All of these templates had their own strengths and weaknesses, so using a combination of these tools could create an even better result! You can adapt what you’ve learned about these 3 machines from our attempt at making embossing templates to choose which machine would work best for you.

Stephanie Yen