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Case Smithing: Personalized Acrylic Etching and Engraving

By: John Williamson | Guides | Posted: Apr 15, 2013 2:05 pm



One key thing to note before hacking into your acrylic like some sort of twisted modding Picasso is that all of the etching will be applied to the inside of the panel. This means that whatever design you choose will have to be printed or sketched in reverse, so don't forget to "flip" the design before printing. I have decided on the Tweak Town "TT" logo and my screen name for my panel and as you can see the print out has been flipped ready for application to the front of the acrylic sheet.




Use this chance to also check that the overlap of the acrylic and your case is not going to obscure or chop off any of your design. I usually mark exactly where the edge of my case is on the acrylic and work from there.




Once the logo is printed, I use a piece of tape to attach the design to the acrylic. The reason I only tape the one edge down is so I can easily flip the design away from the sheet to check on the progress without having to remove the whole design, hence potentially risking alignment when reapplying.




With the design secured, place your acrylic face down on your soft material, making sure that everything is in the right position and is adequately lit up enough to easily see the "stencil" clearly beneath the sheet.


We finally reach the time to actually put engraver to acrylic - don't panic, it is a very straight forward procedure, which is kind of similar to tracing a picture on paper. Like always, if you are unsure, try experimenting with some acrylic offcuts first before jumping into the main event. Set the rotary tool to a low speed - I like to set the tool to speed two for lining out and slow it back down to speed one for shading in.


Starting with the smaller #105 bit, concentrate on doing short, shallow and precise lines. These lines will create a guideline to work from so try to stick to the original as closely as possible. As they say, the devil is in the details.




Slowly work your way around the design, stopping to clean the shavings and checking line work or alignment whenever necessary. Working on a slow speed is very important - if the tool is on a higher setting, it will melt the acrylic or leave an uneven finish, which is difficult to redeem. Try to work looking directly down on the piece, looking at the stencil on an angle tends to blow out the lines through the spectrum of the acrylic.


The depth of the engraving doesn't really matter as long as it is even. Although shallow shading and lines will leave the option of deeper highlighting lines later, this is especially helpful when doing more complicated designs.




It is also really important to try to be gentle when wiping away the debris, as even these shavings can damage the surrounding work areas.

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