Laser Cutting Worbla on a Glowforge

Because we are often asked about laser cutting Worbla, we reached out to SmallRiniLady to run tests with her new Glowforge desktop laser printer, as she had previously run tests on cutting Worbla on the Universal & Epilog Laser Cutters for us (that you can see here). You can read her full report with examples below!

Laser cutting with Worbla

Laser cutting with Worbla is an amazing way to create intricate patterns and consistent copies of small details in Worbla.

Glowforge
Glowforge is a hobbyist laser cutting machine that has come onto the market recently. The software is all cloud based so it can be accessed from any browser.

Glowforge Settings
Worbla isn’t one of the Proofgrade materials that is sold by Glowforge so you will not have pre defined settings for the material. SmallRIniLady has done testing and provided a settings chart for Glowforge usage. Pick your material and settings based on your project needs. A lasercutter is burning through the material so there may be some surprises for first time users.

  • Burn residue, which will stick back to the material
  • Edges have been heated, so often they result in a shiny and/or raised edges.
  • Softening of the Worbla. We’re playing with heat and thermoplastics so softening of the material may occur depending on how close your cuts are. Give your Worbla an extra 30 seconds to cool down and harden before picking up

By going slow you can create cleaner cuts with limited residue that would need to be sanded off or painted over. But if you want to get something done in a hurry, Fast settings that can be used. Each Worbla has it’s own behaviors when burned, please refer to the observations found below.

 

Slow

For projects that will not be painted, minimal residue

MaterialThicknessPowerSpeed
Finest Art0.04″80200
Black Art0.04″80150
Mesh Art0.04″100275
TranspArt0.03″80150
Flame Red Art0.04″80150
Pearly Art0.04″80200
KobraCast Art0.02″80500

 

Fast

For projects that will be painted, increased residue

MaterialThicknessPowerSpeed
Finest Art0.04″100225
Black Art0.04″100200
Mesh Art0.04″100275
TranspArtNot Recommended  
Flame Red Art0.04″100200
Pearly Art0.04″100225
KobraCast ArtNot Recommended  

Pre Steps

To ensure the best results when working with any laser cutter with your Worbla it is best to prep your sheets. Please refer to the Prepping the Worbla section in the Laser Cutting Worbla: Creating a Digital Template tutorial

 

Cutting Observations

Worbla’s Finest Art
Finest Art works great with the Glowforge. Folks usually paint over Finest Art so the darkening of the edges should not be a problem.

Worbla’s Black Art
Black Art is good to use with the Glowforge if you intend of painting the piece. It produces a little bit of white smudging which is notable when looking at an arms length away. Because of the vacuum in the Glowforge the white smudge is primarily on the underside, however there is still a bit on the top, especially for corner locations due to Glowforges corner overburn issues (as described below).

Worbla’s Mesh Art
Mesh Art is great for the Glowforge. Very clean lines considering there’s mesh crossing through it. There is some darkening of edges, but folks usually paint over Mesh Art anyways.

Worbla’s TranspArt
TranspArt is extremely aggravating to work with for the Glowforge.
The laser is directed at a pin point location on the Worbla during cutting but the heat will disperse in the process causing the surrounding Worbla surface to heat up and activate the glue. As the laser is cutting away the material there will be tiny particles flying around and landing nearby. These particles land on the activated TranspArt and cool, creating a foggy effect. The vacuum in the Glowforge system also directs most of the particles in a single direction as you can see from the photo results here.
Therefore I do not recommend laser cutting TranspArt with the Glowforge for most projects. Only use this method if the final project does not require clear nor evenly frosted TranspArt.

Worbla’s FlameRed Art
Similar to how a grey colour car will not show dirt as obviously as a white or black car, the same concept benefits FlameRed Art. There may be a slight darkening to the edges which could be mistaken for shadowing. FlameRed Art is great for cutting in the GlowForge and being displayed as is afterwards.

Worbla’s Pearly Art
PearlyArt came with mixed results on the Glowforge. You can’t prevent the dark discoloration that occurs on the bottom side of the cut pieces, however it seems to not be a problem on the top side. If you are planning on making pieces that only show one side of the Pearly Art then this technique will work wonders for you. However if you plan on having the piece visible from both side, prepare for some sanding work.
The corners overburn issues (as described below) can be quite apparent with Pearly Art and can may not produce a clean 90 degree corner. I would not recommend using the fast settings for your final cuts.

Worbla’s KobraCast Art
KobraCastArt is thinner then Worbla so it needs a gentler touch when working with the Glowforge. It must be cut on a lower power. The edges show signs of melting with shininess and raised edges. If your power is set even a little too high then the edges start to melt away like a candle and dissolve. I recommend testing out your KobraCast Art on a smaller sample before beginning with the larger pieces.

Trial Run before you Commit

* Recommended to test a small sample piece before continuing with your larger projects. Glowforge results may vary based on
1) The condition of the mirror and laser tube
2) Cleanliness of your device
3) Flatness of your material; an uneven piece of Worbla may result in an uneven cutting due to the focus being set to an expected height

Overburn Issues

Glowforge has an overburn issue when it comes to corners; a noticeable bump action can be seen when the laser needs to rotate sharp directions. The bump action seems to cause the laser to stay at that point a little longer which results in uneven cutting results. Worbla is no exception to this which can lead to extra melty corners. Please view the photos provided for some example and do some sample testing prior to your final cuts. Many in the Glowforge community get around this by modifying their designs by rounding the corners which will guide the laser a smooth path and avoid the bump action.

Laser Cut Jester Hat

SmallRiniLady used Worbla Mesh, Finest and Black Art to create this adorable jester hat, with the details laser cut! She shared the process below.

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I love Mini hats, so I’m making my own mini jester hat for my HarleyQuinn outfit
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I wanted my hat to include her signature diamond pattern and some white bubble lace similar to her 90’s collar. I built up my design using Microsoft Expressions and imported it to a SVG file.
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Because my hat doesn’t need to fit “perfect” I scaled to approx. 10 inches in width. I used an Epilog Helix laser cutter to cut my pieces. The cuts came out smooth, but with a little bit of burnt marks on the edge.

I found it hard to adhere the Worbla TranspArt with the other worbla types so I ended up switching out the 4th panel with another Worbla FinestArt piece.

My pieces are all cut and ready for assembly. Let’s start forming our flat Worbla into a hat.
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To give my jester points a nice rounded shape I looked for a ball shape mold to use, that happened to be a foam head. To get matching pieces symmetrical I would form the adjacent pieces on the left/right hemisphere.

As I attach the edges together I reinforce the seam lines with thin strips of Worbla.
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While working on this I realized my jester points would be too skinny with my current pieces so I cut out an additional third segment for some width.
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Back to the foam head for some forming and giving it a lip to attach to the inside of the side pieces.
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Time to add some color; acrylic paints, sparkle glitter, bead glitter, and glass glitter.
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I want it to be obvious that the checkboard pattern is indeed cut through instead of just a fancy paint job, so I used a bright white on the inside. For the outside I painted a base coat of red and black and covered them using the different glitter types.
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Time to build my lace.

After some experimentation I learned. Avoid heating thin pieces as it will sag, lose its shape, and break (you can see on the left two floral elements). Larger elements will be more stable so heat activing it and laying the fragile pieces on top with added pressure to ensure that the position is secured together. Once you know the two pieces are connected add additional heat to guarantee the bond is throughout both surfaces.
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I painted lace trim base with white acrylic and used a dry paint method to add the black for dimension.

To attach the lace I heated up both the back of the lace and the bottom edge of the hat PLUS big strips of worbla reinforcements in the inside to secure the lace through the all those layers of *sparkles*
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Last to add some soft elements, I’m using fluffy pompons to decorate the tips of my jester points.
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My wig is actually three pieces. The main wig plus two pony tail clips. The hat sits securely over one of the pony tails.

For more of my projects check me out on Facebook!

Lasercut Harley Quinn Hammer

SmallRiniLady used Worbla Mesh and Black Art to create this amazing Harley Quinn hammer, with the details laser cut! She shared the process below.

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Laser Cut Worbla – Harley Quinn Hammer

I wanted to build a Harley Quinn hammer with a lace like structure. Laser cutting Worbla has been a very interesting medium to work with for this challenge. It did cause me some structural challenges as its flexibility increases as you remove away material. Yet the level of intricate designs you can cut using the laser cutter and still hold true in the Worbla was breathtaking.

Argyle Panel

Harlequin clowns often use Diamond patterns in their outfits, but instead of having a bunch of individual shapes, how can I mimic that pattern into a single flat sheet. I designed a two layer argyle pattern in Microsoft Expression for the surface of my hammer panel and saved it to a PDF to cut using an Epilog Laser Cutter
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It’s a lot of cutting. To do both layers took approx an hour of cutting.
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Lots of little pieces to clean up, at the time I didn’t know the maker space had a shop vacuum for jobs like this. ~My poor fingers~

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Since my Worbla wasn’t entirely flat, this area didn’t cut all the way through
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Although the fibers in the Worbla MeshArt can make your piece sturdier, it also requires more power from a laser cutter to cut through. In the areas that it didn’t cut through, my manual popping out with my fingers did not result with smooth edges but pokey fibers sticking out
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Some areas barely cut through so I had to use a knife on it. Luckily the score lines allowed me to keep the consistent pattern through my manual cutting process.
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Layer two, using Worbla BlackArt
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Time to paint. Painted my Worbla MeshArt to black and my Worbla BlackArt to red. Had I planned better I would have switched the two layers’ material to paint less.
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Getting the Worbla to stick together wasn’t an easy job. The extra layers of paint on each surface required the Worbla to be even hotter before the surfaces were tacky enough stick to one another. That caused the Worbla to be super soft and causing the patterns to create impressions into one another; the black diamond started drooping into the open space below causing an uneven surface ~sad face~.
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To get the argyle panel to match the exact circumference of my circle faces I used the laser cutter again to cut down my argyle panel down to size.
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I did not change my laser cutting settings; not risking the higher heat to melt my project or start any fires. My top layer of Worbla cut through cleanly, but only etched into the second layer.
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The etched lines became very useful for guiding my knife, so this step was simple and fast.
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Lace

I designed a lace pattern to trim my hammer. I wanted the droplet shape to mimic Harley’s collar from her 90’s cartoon outfit. This same lace trim will also show up on my HarleyQuinn Hat
When heating thin cuts of Worbla you’ll end up with a lot of sag which can deform your pieces very quickly. I found that by having a solid base to heat up you can easily stick the cold fragile pieces to the activated Worbla. It won’t stick fully but have enough random adhesion points to be locked in place. Then you can re-go over with heat to create a complete bond.
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I bonded the lace to the edge of my argyle panel and painted them white
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Faces

For the side faces I decided to use Acrylic sheets as it is a ridged material that will provide the stability for the hammer to keep its circular shape. Single sheet of Worbla is too flexible for this but may work if using the sandwich method.
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Acrylic sheets come covered either with paper or plastic. This way it won’t scratch during transport, can be drawn on during design, and avoid soot and scorch marks during the laser cutting process. I laser cut out circles with fun patterns inspired by the “POW” phrases from the 60s show.
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After removing the plastic covering I used a stamp pad to color the inside of my acrylic sheet to give it a translucent color to help the design become more readable.
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The acrylic side faces and the Worbla argyle panel includes holes around the edge. The edges will be laced together with ribbons. This gives the design a bit of flexibility with spacing and creates a seductive look.
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Handle

The handle of the hammer starts with a PVC pipe which I decorate with satin black and white ribbons creating a stripped pattern.
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I measured the pvc pipe with a caliper to create Worbla reinforcement rings (also laser cut) for my argyle panel.
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My argyle pattern creates gaps around the hole for the pvc pass through to not be tight. The reinforcement rings removes that issue. One in the inside and one on the outside creates a strong seal.

Hammer Time!

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Laser Cutting Worbla: Creating a Digital Template

If you want to get into laser cutting Worbla, you are going to need a digital template! SmallRiniLady shares the process she used for creating her Harley Quinn mask below.
vectorfile

Creating a digital template

To “print” something to a laser cutter you’ll want to get your design into a Vector Graphics format. Laser cutters are treated as printers from computers so you can simply print a PDF from your computer and the software will convert the vector lines in your graphic into cutting paths for the laser cutter.
There are some laser cutters that use software to convert hand drawn images to cutting lines, but due to accuracy issues I would not recommend it. Adobe Illustrator does include a LiveTrace option that will try to convert your pixel image into a vector graphic, I’ve found it to be hit and miss.
A list of various software that can be used to draw vector graphics.
o InkScape (Open source and Free https://inkscape.org)
o Adobe Illustrator (www.adobe.com/Illustrator)
o Microsoft Visio (https://products.office.com/en-us/visio/)
o Microsoft Expression Design (https://www.microsoft.com/expression)

You can also find SVG templates online for scrapbooking cutting machines such as Cricut and Silhouette that often will work with laser cutters.

I drafted up designed my HarleyQuinn mask using Microsoft expressions with some added touches. I wanted to incorporated her collar into my mask design. I updated all of my lines to 0.001” weight (to work with the Epliog Helix laser cutter) and exported my file to a PDF.

Prototype with Paper

Instead of jumping straight into Worbla it’s good to test out your design in case you realize you want to adjust the look or size. Paper is a cost effective and flexible medium to work with. Laser cutters are burning through material so soot often lands on the underside of the object that is being cut. Stacking an extra piece of paper will give you a clean piece to play with. I used a manila folder as the cardstock gives a little extra sturdiness.
I ended up cutting 5 samples before picking the correct size for my face.
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Prepping the Worbla

You’ll want the Worbla as flat as possible to ensure that the focus of the laser cuts properly. We know that simply unrolling the Worbla straight from the package isn’t going to work out for this, so let’s rely on our trusty irons! I love using my iron (marked for “crafting” purposes) as the direct contact distributes heat quickly and evenly.
You’ll Need:
a. Worbla
b. Baking Parchment Paper
c. Iron
d. Metal Baking Sheets
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Directions
i. Place the Worbla under a sheet of Parchment paper on top of a turned over baking sheet. You’ll want to be ironing on a hard surface avoid creating waves, so avoid using any cushioned ironing boards.
ii. Set the iron to medium with no steam. Steam can cause the parchment paper to wrinkle and create imprints into the Worbla
iii. Gentle strokes in in a single direction. Do not leave the iron to sit or it will create an impression. Don’t apply additional pressure, the activated Worbla may spread and thin out if pressure is applied. Best analogy is to think of this as like rolling out pizza dough, don’t do it as the inconsistent thickness may create inconsistent cutting results in the laser cutter.
iv. Allow the Worbla to cool on the baking sheet. Adding a second baking sheet on top with some weights can produce even better results.
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Cutting Worbla

Digital Setup

I used an Epilog Helix laser cutter paired with a Bofa fume extractor to cut my material. I opened PDF file in Adobe Reader and opened my Printer Properties on the Epilog Helix printer.
Settings
Speed: 25%
Power: 50%
Frequency: 5000 Hz
Piece Size: Setting to the correct size of your PDF file is critical or else it does some skewing of the size
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Physical Setup

Laser Cutter Manual Focus
I manually set the focus of my machine to account for the 0.0445″ thickness of my material
Securing the Worbla
I’ve noticed that while cutting the Worbla the surrounding plastic can still warp due to the heat of the laser. To limit the height of the Worbla from shifting try to weigh down the Worbla with some tape or shoving under any rulers if your machine allows.
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Hit “Print”
It’s so magical to watch the laser go ~zoom zoom zoom~. Little sparkes and fire are no big deal, though turning down the power will reduce the amount of ash you may need to wash up afterwards.
Laser cutting will product fumes and soot. Before opening the cover after cutting give it a few seconds for the air to be vacumned out.
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Here is my final cuts. Two matching pieces that will be layered together.
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Sandwich method
If you want to do the sandwich method for more thickness and structure you can also cut craft foam using the same laser cutter, but you’ll need to two separate files. The craft foam shape should be the original size while the Worbla should have all edges thickened adding at least the half thickness of the EVA foam. For example if you are working with 4mm EVA you will want to move your lines 2mm outwards to account for the folded Worbla.

Forming Worbla

Forming the Worbla will result in cleaner lines if you attach the two pieces while they are still flat, once they are curved you will notice the outer piece may need to be stretched or the inside will be pinched.
Back to the iron, heat the two pieces and quickly lay them on top of each other. Once the Worbla is no longer a single layer or flat you will want to be using a head gun instead. While the Worbla is still soft lay it on a foam head to mold the shape especially around the eyes and nose.
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Painting

The final thing to do is to paint my piece. I wanted to fill in my diamonds with Red to match the HarleyQuinn’s pants. And the White decor around the eyes was to mimic Harley’s collar. My cuts are very small so instead of using a paintbrush I used a bbq skewer dipped in paint.
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Cosplay time!

I’m going to wear this with eye lash glue so the mask simply sits on the face, spirit gum is also popular but harder to off any eye brow hairs. Elastic ribbons also do the trick if you prefer.

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Thanks again to SmallRiniLady for sharing her process with us!

Laser Cut Worbla: Universal & Epilog Laser Cutters

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We’ve been asked the differences on laser cutting Worbla products and suggested settings to do so. As we don’t have a laser cutter ourselves, we recently reached out to SmallRiniLady and asked her if she would be interested in running some tests for us. This is what she found!

Now updated to include Flame Red Art!
Part of a series of posts on laser cutting Worbla. You can see more information on getting started with laser cutting here.

Why Worbla
I’m really excited to try using the laser cutter to cut intricate repeated patterns in Worbla for my cosplays. But why Worbla? Acrylics cut great, but are only flat solid pieces. PVC and Vinyl are toxic, let me repeat that TOXIC, it produces gas that does bad things in your lungs. So please be safe and careful.

Worbla Results

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Worbla’s Finest Art
Finest Art worked amazingly well with the laser cutter resulting in smooth cuts that fall right out of the base sheet when picked up. If your power settings are on too high you may end up with a little soot, but let’s just paint over those XD.
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Worbla’s Black Art

Black Art also worked amazingly well with the laser cutter producing smooth cuts. I noticed BlackArt was softer to the touch after cutting which can cause sagging on small pieces when picked up. 30 seconds of patience to let the BlackArt cool down will give it plenty of time to harden back up for handling.
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Worbla’s Flame Red Art
Just like BlackArt and FinestArt, the FlameRed came out with cleanly cut smooth lines. A little soot was also noticeable on the edges, but we’ll just paint over those anyways :)
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Worbla’s Mesh Art
MeshArt needs a little extra effort to work with and doesn’t come out as smooth due to the mesh fibers. Higher power might be needed to cut through the fibers, but it will also cause burn marks. For the pieces that didn’t fall out I either applied extra pressure to pop them out or used a knife which I traced the grooved lines to cut through the extra fibers. Regardless I’m happy that I could create such an intricate pattern with the laser cutter with the added strength of the mesh for my props.
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Worbla’s TranspArt (Transpa Art)
TranspArt was more fickle to use than the other worbla products. If laser power isn’t high enough the cut edges melt and stick back together; when you pull on it, it becomes stringy resulting in spiderweb like fibers on your edges. If the laser is too high, it produces burn marks that cannot be removed without sanding. If the laser power is just right it still creates a fogging action that spreads outwards from the cutline. Recommendation is to use the laser cutter for TranspArt only if you are using it for the translucent properties but not crystal clear.
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Laser Cutter Settings

Universal Laser Cutter
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Epilog Laser Cutter
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Universal vs Eplilog
I found that the Universal cut faster and smoother, but often resulted in more soot. Below is a sample of Acrylic cut, left is the Epilog and right is Universal. The cleanup was extremely cumbersome so decide which to use based on the post process steps I will take. If the piece is going to be painted over than I would go with the Universal. TranspaArt is very sensitive so I would go with the lower power in the Eplilog for it.
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Tips

Flatten your Worbla
Because my Worbla was not entirely flat on the laser cutter the lasers didn’t have an accurate focus to cut through the material at the desired depth. You can see that my argyle pattern below resulted in some uneven cutting. Some of them I could pop out by force, but because of the fiber in MeshArt I would recommend using a knife for smoother edges.


We know that simply unrolling the Worbla straight from the package isn’t going to work out for this, so we’ll need to apply heat methods. I love using my iron (marked for “crafting” purposes) as the direct contact distributes heat quickly and evenly.
Tools:
• Worbla
• Baking Parchment Paper
• Iron
• Metal Baking Sheets
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Directions
1: Place the Worbla under a sheet of parchment paper** on top of a turned over metal baking sheet. You’ll want to be ironing on a hard surface avoid creating waves, so avoid the cushioned ironing boards.
(**Worbla.com Note: It’s tempting to use wax paper instead of parchment paper, but parchment paper is absolutely the better choice: it is less likely to stick to your Worbla as you heat it.)
2: Set the iron to medium with no steam. Steam can cause the parchment paper to wrinkle and create imprints into the Worbla
3: Gentle strokes in a single direction. Do not leave the iron to sit or it will create an impression. Don’t apply additional pressure, the activated Worbla may spread and thin out if pressure is applied.
4: Allow the Worbla to cool on the baking sheet. Adding a second baking sheet on top with some weights can produce even better results.
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I noticed that ironing the TranspArt wasn’t a good idea, I think the heat may have been too high and caused parts of it to frost.
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Cutting Spacing

What is the thinnest width that the Worbla products could be cut without issue? You will want to consider this when creating thin objects or when placing objects next to each other.
Warnings:
As the laser is cutting the Worbla the heat will spread. If the line cuts are close together too much heat may cause
1) the Worbla edges to melt causing them to stick together.
2) the Worbla to soften; when the piece it picked up the piece can begin to sag. This issue can be avoiding by giving the Worbla a good 30 seconds to cool after cutting.
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I tested each of these Worbla products to determine what is the smallest gap I can leave between two cutting lines before issues occur. The numbers cut into the Worbla represent the gap between the two lines in mm(millimeters). You can see in the photo that the FinestArt, BlackArt, and MeshArt have sagging lines for the 1mm test, but for TranspArt the two edges stuck back together.
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Worbla Thickness

Laser cutters need to know the thickness of your material to set the focus correctly. Worbla is made to be 1mm (0.039 inches) thick, but because I’ve flattened my Worbla with a heat treatment and pressure I can not be sure that my thickness hasn’t changed. I used a caliper to measure each sheet of Worbla before cutting. Here’s an example of my Worbla measurements. I find it interesting that some of them are actually thicker than 1mm.
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For more information

SmallRiniLady will also be writing up articles about Vector Graphics for Laser Cutting settings and other projects for Worbla.com Please check them out. You can also see more of SmallRiniLady’s projects at her facebook and links to her SVG shop and others at her website here.

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This is part of our Laser Cutting Worbla Resources list! You can see more here.

Laser Cutting Worbla – Part 2!

The Dangerous Ladies shared with us their fantastic introduction to lasercutting worbla – so we contacted them to do more and share their findings with us! You can find part one here and part two continues below!
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Hello, friends! Last time you saw us laser cutting, we did a bunch of stuff with black worbla and the original stuff. The fine people at Worbla and @heatgunning saw this and thought it was super cool, so they invited us to visit their HQ and offered us more worbla to test on, and we said sure, we’d love more excuses to cut things with lasers. Edgar at Toronto Laser Services also thought it was a good time and invited us back to cut more worbla, too, so now we’re a trifecta of lasercut thermoplastics.

So last week, we went back to TLS give the other three kinds of worbla a run under the laser cutter. We did some basic tests and cuts just to put the materials through their paces, and we’ll be doing more soon! So on the docket for today we have:

Transparent Worbla aka TranspArt.
Mesh Worbla aka MeshArt.
Red Worbla, aka FlameRed.

(Red, right? RED? I had never heard of it when Amanda put it in our hands, and it is live now, but I haven’t seen anyone do anything with it, so it’s kind of exciting to like… be the first people to laser-cut it… maybe… :) )

Anyway, here we go!
Remind me again, Jenn, what is laser cutting?

Getting a robot to do all the grunt work for you because cutting is tedious and is hard on your hands! Hey-oh. Laser cutting is using a computer-controlled powerful laser to cut or etch materials –– anything from paper to acrylic to wood to metal. It uses vector files to cut perfect lines. It is a godsend.

And where does one do laser cutting?
We use Toronto Laser Services, but there are likely laser cutting services in just about any major city –– you just have to do some digging. Many of them are set up to serve industrial manufacturing, but many are also artist-friendly, or can be cajoled into experimenting. Either way, I guarantee you virtually none of them have worked with worbla, so these posts we’re making are sort of meant to show hey, this stuff is stable and safe to cut, and these are the best practices to save time.

Let’s get to that!

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Preparing Worbla

Lasers do best when they’re cutting flat things. You know what often isn’t flat? Worbla. Like 95% of you, we tend to store it in big rolls, and that usually isn’t a problem when you’re just going to heat it up and shape it anyway. It is, however, a growing problem when you need to lay it on the cutting bed flat. Arcing bits of worbla are likely to be cut ever-so-slightly crooked.

Like this:
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The difference here negligible, to my experience, but the more arced it is, the worse the potential for problems. The best preventative measure is to flatten it out completely before you put it in the laser cutter. Roll it the opposite way a few times to get the worst of it out, and then heat it up to get it the rest of the way down.
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TranspArt

I’ll be honest: trying to find projects to do with transparent worbla is kind of interesting. There’s visors and water effects and fire effects, and there’s making domed pieces to go over lights, but it’s mostly limited by what you wouldn’t paint solid. I have a bunch of ideas going forward, but cutting it with the laser actually gave me a bunch of new plans.

So how is it to cut it with the laser?

Interesting.

TranspArt has the roughest cuts. Cutting shapes – especially complex shapes – results in really amorphous, ugly edges with obvious bubbling from melt. While other Worbla cuts very cleanly with minimal to no melted plastic ending up on the cut piece, TranspArt ends up looking melted. Have you ever accidentally hit plastic wrap with your heat gun? Kind of like that. You don’t get clean points, and the tighter your curves, the more likely you’re going to end up with amorphous shapes.

Compare the edge of Flame Red with the TranspArt chickens –– and get ready, you’re going to see a lot of chickens in this post.
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This melt can also mean removing the cut pieces is a little trickier. While a cut piece of Mesh or Flame will pop right out of the “frame” (assuming the cut isn’t too tight – more on that later) the Transparent pieces will sort of fuse back together in spots just from the heat of the melting plastic. We had to force the chickens out of their frames once they cooled because they weren’t going to come out otherwise.

And very small details? Completely out of the question. Bye, chicken legs!
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The other thing about TranspArt is that it is a lot more susceptible to heat, so it is more likely to start arcing. Laser cutting worbla can be a little funny if you store worbla in rolls because then the worbla is probably bent into arcs instead of laying flat, but even if you spend time flattening it out again, the heat of the laser can result in the worbla starting to bend again. Then you end up with things like this on engraved pieces:
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See how there are fewer bubbles on one side than the other? This is because the piece of TranspArt was starting to arc up under the heat, so the laser was touching one side much closer than the other, meaning one side was under more concentrated heat than the other. Be warned!

But what’s with those bubbles anyway?

From the site:
If overheated, TranspArt will start to form small bubbles or blisters in the plastic. These can’t be removed, though they are useful if you are trying to make something appear to be water.

So technically, “engraved” TranspArt isn’t actually engraved; it’s just been nuked, filling it with bubbles. There’s not much texture variation, but visually, it does look pretty neat. I like this effect! When we go back and do some more practical cuts, I’m hoping that we can create pieces that have bubbles strategically “lasered in” to form patterns instead of textures. I’m sure there’s some costume out there that has a practical use for a tiny bubble effect!

And because Edgar had Rub n Buff out, he slapped some black on the bubbles to see what happens. It creates a neat little gritty effect; I imagine it could have some neat visual detail.
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One thing we found, however, is that you need to be prepared for is fogging. Most materials will produce some sort of smoke when cut as the material is lasered away; in TranspArt’s case, this smoke will tarnish the surface of TranspArt and leave a dusty residue that shows every fingerprint, smudge and imperfection. It wipes away, even with just a brush of your fingers, but be prepared to clean TranspArt pieces in order to restore their clarity.
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And I doubt I need to say this, but here it goes: don’t lick it. It’s probably gross and Not Good For You.

MeshArt

Let’s get this bit out of the way first: Mesh doesn’t etch. Not really, anyway.
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It just browns immediately, almost regardless of power setting, and it realllllly doesn’t like being stretched after being etched, so I’d skip etching entirely on this one. In the end, the poor etching doesn’t matter, because this stuff is the absolute best to cut.
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IT JUST CUTS SO CLEAN, PEOPLE! THE EDGES ARE SO NICE! Look at how damn clean that is. Nobody on the planet could cut that clean with scissors. Laser cutters are incredible.

But like any material, it still has some little finicky things I thought I’d run over. Mesh is the strongest of the worblas for fine little details, but it still needs some care and caution in the set-up of its files, specifically for really tiny details.

The problem with cutting any tiny tiny tiny little layers is that they are likely to fall through the grate and be largely impossible to find. The other problem is that they are going to be slightly thinner than your outline; while you can fiddle with laser settings to reduce burn off, the laser still takes up a certain amount of space, so a letter with a 2mm wide appendage is likely to become 1.5 or 1mm. This might not seem like much, but with the laser doing the whole contour, you’re not going to have much in the way of surviving material.

It’s the same as the chickens above; dude’s gonna lose his lil legs because they’re so fine, and the worbla melt off is a lot more intense than the burn off on birch. Check out these worbla chickens with the birch chicken. The red survives better than the transparent, but it still gets amorphous fast. (Also, check out the lil dude that fell into the ash below, haha.)
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So when cutting letters (or any fine narrow piece), everything needs breathing room, not just for the laser but for the heat. Heat radiates through worbla more than something like wood, so if you have two letters side by side, the clearance might be enough for the laser but still so close that the heat warps the next letter.

To show you what I mean, here’s the lettering on Mercy’s “primum no nocere” shoulder piece. (I vectored it myself and it took a thousand hours to do those letters because not even the official ripped meshes have clean copies. Blizzard!!)
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See how this gap between the letters looks wide enough, and is wide enough that the laser doesn’t overlap, but the fallout for the laser’s heat has warped them slightly? That little bar between the letters is toast, and it did a number on the letters, too. While we CAN cut those fine little letters, they’ll survive better if we space them out more and wait for them to cool completely before handling them –– after all, there’s nothing saying we HAVE to cut everything arranged how it will be assembled.

Doing fine little details with worbla is stellar, though. It’s a rigid material so it survives sanding and whatnot without losing shape, while other thin materials like craft foam could just tear and need to be sealed. So I did the filigrees on Lucina’s tiara with laser cut black worbla — tiny fine little points are maintained, and adding it to the piece is just a matter of gently heating and applying. Finishing is just a few layers of primer and sanding. Incredibly clean little details!!
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Yay.

It’s also fun for projects with tons of weird angles:
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This took about 3 minutes to cut –– probably not even. All I’d have to do is back it on something more rigid for durability and voila. I have a shield!

???FlameRed???

It’s fire-retardant and red. Otherwise, it seems a great deal like black worbla. It cuts like black worbla, too –– very clean! –– but it puts off far less smoke when it cuts. That’s always nice.

It is neat to etch, too. It gets a little melty if you turn up the power too high, but at low levels it does some neat stuff. (Funny enough but unpictured, you can sort of see it through the back – the heat discolours it slightly.) I’m not sure what kind of use this could have, as the finishing techniques that people use on worbla would decimate this kind of etching, but it’s Fun To Know.
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Fun story: it also takes to tiny letters a fair bit better than others, in my opinion, because it tolerates heat quite a bit better than some other worblas. On the right settings, it cuts pretty finely without warping. This might be the worbla of choice for teeny tiny details.
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Still a tiny bit mangled, though. Did I mention you should wait until it cools completely before handling it?

Fun stuff.

Conclusion… For Now

I have so many more posts to write, guys. I have so much information and this is so long already.

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This is part of our Laser Cutting Worbla Resources list! You can see more here.

Laser Cutting Worbla – Part 1!

The Dangerous Ladies gave us this fantastic writeup on the process of Laser Cutting Worbla and what they learned. With pictures!

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So! Last week I was invited to visit Toronto Laser Services and try out laser-cutting worbla. Fun stuff, right? We had discussed it in the past and wanted to put worbla through its paces and see what it could do, and the answer is, obviously, some cool stuff.

Time for some preamble.

What is laser cutting and how does it work?

You’re basically using a laser to cut and engrave things. Imagine it sort of like a big metal box with a platform inside that can be raised/lowered as needed. This platform has a metal grate that the material sits on. Above the platform is an arm that can move across the entire surface (in this case, 28″x17″) and then a top plexiglass lid that opens and closes to access the bed. There’s a ventilation system underneath as well to draw smoke, fumes, etc, down and away.

Laser cutting is done with vector and raster files. Vector is for lines (say, the outline of a piece) and raster is for engraving (say, etching “Gary was here, Ash is a loser!” onto a piece of wood, plastic, metal, etc.) Vector is fun to watch because the arm just follows the path however it likes, and very quickly at that, while raster is very much like a printer –– it works side to side and is much slower. The intensity of the engraving laser can be changed, too, to make really shallow cuts or really deep ones.

Why would I do this?

Have you ever had a project that involved cutting out a lot of things really, really tediously? I’m sure most of us have, and there’s almost always a point in that project where one is tired of hand cramps and is looking down at a piece with a jagged line and thinking, “Fuck. Well, at least it’s useable!” and hoping no one notices. When you’re cutting stuff out by hand, the first one almost always looks immensely better than the last one: you get tired!

Laser cutting does away with that, and at lightning speeds and unparalleled precision. If you need 900 silk organza leaves cut, laser cutting can do it in an hour while you sip margaritas and occasionally reposition. If you need a bunch of intricate stuff cut out of wood, lasers can cut it out immaculately without ever having to get your fingers near a blade.

What can I cut with it?

Theoretically, almost anything that can be burned through – realistically, anything that your particular laser can achieve. Paper, acrylic, leather, fabric, wool, foam, craft foam, and now… worbla. However, certain things give off certain fumes when you cut them –– you can’t cut sintra because it contains chlorine, and chlorine will kill you. So that’s out, unfortunately.

Can I get one at home?

Not yet. At-home models are rare, still expensive, and backordered for literal years.

So where do I get things laser-cut if I don’t have access to one in my living room, Jenn? How is this helpful to me, Jenn? You’ve got me all excited but now I’m being teased, Jenn.

You go out and find laser-cutting services like I did. Obviously some cost is involved, but I’d sooner spend $15 to get a bunch of tedious stuff cut rather than spend 6+ hours doing it myself. Plus: cosplay with lasers.

Also, for low-end cutting things like paper, fabric and other super lightweight stuff, you CAN get a Silhouette Cameo, which uses blades. We are getting one soon! Isn’t that exciting?! It’s not nearly as cool as lasers, but I guess blades are still cool in a medieval sort of way. But it can’t cut worbla, so… :’)

Get to the worbla!

I’m there! Yeesh.

Theory

Last night I got to play with lasers with Edgar from TLS for four hours. Four. We spent half of that cutting things out of wood (that’s another post) and leather (that’s another post too) but there was lots of worbla too.

I initially got the idea to laser cut worbla after having seen Tiki’s bracers (and Kat laboring over them) and then seen that Volpin had already done it on his Skyrim armor. Of course Volpin had already done it! Why wouldn’t he? But that gave me incentive to be like “Hey, Edgar from Toronto Laser Services, have you cut worbla before? I hear it works and is safe, unlike sintra.”

Volpin’s notes on it were pretty limited, though. They were as follows:

  • It gets really hot so don’t try moving it until it’s cooled down again, lest it turn into a tangled gob of soft worbla as you pick it up.
  • It puts off a lot of smoke, so clean your mirrors.
  • It saves so much time.

He also did it before Black Arts even existed, so his cutting was limited to the original Brown stuff. Time to experiment, so we tested both Worbla’s Finest (I can’t write that with a straight face) and Worbla’s Black Arts (I can’t write that with a straight face either.)

So I trekked to TLS with a length of both. I had set up a testing file that morning with a bunch of different textures and shapes and engravings, and that looked like this:
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The red lines are cut lines (vector) and the black lines are engraving lines (raster.) Edgar fixed it up so it wasn’t, you know, CYMK and all crammed on one thing, but I didn’t take a picture of the rearranged file, so that’s what you get.

Our aims was to test a couple things:

  • Adding texture to worbla; could you engrave a dragon scale pattern into it? How about a quilted pattern? We were intrigued by the idea of being able to make worbla that comes in “patterns”.
  • Engraving worbla; could you engrave details into it without compromising the structure? Could they be deep enough to last the finishing process?
  • Cutting worbla; we knew it could be done but are there rules? A learning curve?

    So let’s jump into it!

    Texturing

    Texturing is neat. It lets you turn blocks of wood into stuff like the first image here, all with illustrator files and a laser cutter:
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    So why not try it with worbla?

    We decided to test black first with texturing, which is just an all-over engraving. Worbla isn’t terribly thick to start with so we wanted to see how far we could push it. It ended up being a bit of a balancing act –– worbla will take shallow engraving quite well, and quite beautifully, but worbla also requires a fair bit of finishing, so the worry was that any shallowly engraved detail would vanish when filled, primed and sanded. So we turned the laser intensity up to the other end of the scale… and ended up cutting right through it. Whoops. Dialed it back down a bit and found a sort of happy medium. Here’s some photos of what we ended up with:
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    The second one looks a little funky there; that’s because Edgar was dialing up the laser strength as we went to see what happened. Check out the melt over the top edge of the raised parts.

    Here’s the thing, though. When you engrave worbla (and my god, is there a lot of smoke off the black stuff) you’re just burning away the surface rather than compacting it. The result is a durable but almost paper-thin worbla; not so bad if you’re just putting in some details, but if you’re trying to texturize worbla to have, say, dragon scales on it, you’re really just making the worbla untenably thin, and there’s no knowing what will happen to that pattern when it’s heat formed and shaped. You have to texturize it first, so it could get dicey.
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    As such, we decided that texturing worbla is maybe not a super realistic goal. Edgar and I had the thought that it would work very very well for small detail pieces, but wouldn’t really be tenable (yet) for all-over texture. We did think, however, that laser-cutting a textured stamp with which to stamp the worbla could be a tenable alternative.

    Engraving

    Right out of the gates, I’m gonna say this is super viable. I was pretty thrilled by the results; a 1pt line looks wonderful engraved in worbla, particularly if you do it deep enough that it will survive the finishing process. (Assuming you’re one of those people that finishes the worbla surface, anyway.)

    We used a variation on my Marth mask pattern for this, one where the raised yellow details are actually engraved lines differentiating the segments. We engraved first – you always want to engrave first or work from the outside inward, because cutting a piece free from the rest of the material potentially shifts it, and you don’t want to engrave on something that’s shifted. It took maybe 5-7 minutes to do the engraving, as the laser works like a printer does, side to side, but it was neat to watch.

    We did two different depths on this one; the upper part of the mask has a shallow engrave, and the bottom part has a more dramatic engrave. I think both look nice but the top one is definitely more subtle and the bottom is far more likely to survive the process of surface finishing.
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    And you know, I think this is wonderful for worbla. Think of all the projects where you’ve stacked craft foam, cut out these finicky little lines and then pressed worbla into those seams. That’s basically gone with this! You can just engrave, cut, adhere to your craft foam, and bam. Lots of little detail but much, much, MUCH cleaner and thinner – no need to stack craft foam, adding unnecessary bulk.

    Cutting

    Holy shit is this ever great.

    I remember working on Olivia’s neck piece and being super frustrated. No matter how tiny my embroidery scissors were, I just couldn’t cut clean, tiny curves for the details of her neck piece. They ended up somewhat choppy and I hated the way the edges looked.

    Laser cutting blows that out of the water. I intentionally set up our test file with some obscenely small, elegant little curls, and the laser cutter went through them like nothing. The result was a zillion tiny little filigrees that just need to be heated up a bit and adhered to the surface of the armor. This easily was the most impressive thing of the night –– it honestly makes me want to make a thousand little things and make delicate, intricate armor textured with laser-cut filigree. They’re so perfect, 100% identical and even, and the laser cutter doesn’t damage the adhesive nor warp them terribly. It’s incredible.
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    Do you remember that Daenerys dress from Game of Thrones? The blue one with gold details, the one with the gold filigree belt and shoulder pieces? Qarth or something? I remember reading cosplayers’ how-tos years ago, wherein they manually cut every little hole out with manicure scissors, all out of worbla. Kat used a similar technique with craft foam on Tiki’s bracers, but that was craft foam. Worbla is tough and frustrating to cut cleanly –– the fact that I could vector it and run the pattern through a laser cutter and end up with immaculate, symmetrical entirely-filigree belt and shoulder pieces in under an hour is mind-boggling to me.

    Standing over the laser cutter, holding these tiny little things in my hand, I thought damn, I’d seriously offer commissions on these. They’re so cool, and so very, very, very time saving.

    Also, small shapes you need a million of? Laser cutting can do that. If Kat ever wants to make another set of hand plates for a gauntlet, we can just vector and cut –– it takes 30 pieces of worbla to do a set of finger plates like our Pegasus Knight ones, and instead of taking hours to manually cut it all out, we could cut it all in literally minutes. Amazing.

    Some other discoveries

    Heat radiates in worbla quite a bit. When cutting wood, pretty much only the spot that the laser hits will burn, but with worbla, the heat sort of spreads just enough to soften the worbla. It’s not the end of the world, but it does mean that you need to wait for it to cool almost completely before handling it, lest you warp everything.

    It’s also not a super clean cut like wood or other materials. When worbla is heated it softens, so tiny residue on the edges of the cut will spread out to each other and touch just a tiny bit, meaning when it cools, it bonds again. Comparably, wood just slides away from itself and doesn’t have any adhering properties. So when you laser cut worbla and let it cool, you then need to remove the pieces from the “frame” with a tiny bit of force; pop pop pop. It doesn’t damage them, as they’re plastic and can handle a bit of pressure, but it does mean popping them all from the frame instead of just poking/dropping them out.
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    You have to space worbla apart a little bit more. While wood and other materials can go edge to edge –– some of my Camilla pieces were nestled so close that the lines almost touched –– worbla needs space so it doesn’t melt/overlap other pieces as the heat spreads. It’s not much space, but even a little bit of buffer helps.

    Safety.

    We did some burn tests on both kinds of Worbla to make sure they were safe to use –– lots of plastic products use chemicals like chlorine, and that’s dangerous to inhale. We found that black worbla is actually very different from regular worbla, as far as make-up goes; if you burn it with a lighter, it will eventually melt into a liquid form and just drip, and the flame is very unstable, suggesting the presence of some not-so-fun chemicals. It passed for chlorine, though, which was a positive. Regular worbla was a hell of a lot more stable; it just burned, no dripping.

    But that said, there are some other issues fume-wise. Both have a very strong smell, black worbla in particular. Volpin had warned about smoke on brown worbla but we found the smoke wasn’t too bad on it… but the black was atrocious. That stuff smoked up so much it actually obscured what we could see through the plexiglass.
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    Compare that with cutting wood:
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    Wait one second, Jenn, how much does this cost?

    Toronto Laser Services charges a $15 set-up fee and $1/min for laser time. For engraving this can take a fair bit of time, but for cutting, it’s lightning fast. I mean, those 14 filigrees in the images/gifs above took about a minute. That’s pretty damn affordable. That’s very much worth my time if I don’t have to cut that stuff myself with my own two crappy hands.
    Conclusion

    Lasers are fun. That’s all. I hope you enjoyed how much fun lasers are.

    Many thanks to Edgar and the rest of Toronto Laser Services for making this lunacy possible. Many thanks to Shazz, too, for helping me vector a bunch of shit last-minute for the wood, as well as vectoring the filigrees!

    – Jenn

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    Part two is now up and can be found here!
    This is part of our Laser Cutting Worbla Resources list! You can see more here.