How to Make a Lasercut Puzzle
- Difficulty Easy
- Time required 1 - 2 hours
Jigsaw puzzles are a classic style of puzzle created by mounting an image on a sheet of material (wood, cardstock) and using a jigsaw to cut out interlocking pieces. The earliest jigsaw puzzles used a thick sheet of wood and the pieces were either cut by hand or with an electric jigsaw, a labor intensive process. Modern mass-produced puzzles use a cardstock type material instead of wood and an expensive metal die to cut out all the pieces at once which greatly speeds up production.
In this guide you are going to create a puzzle a different way using a lasercutter. The lasercutter will raster an image of your choosing and then cut out the pieces. This method is a nice compromise between the traditional and mass-produced methods, making it perfect for custom gifts and puzzle prototypes.
Step 1: Download puzzle template
Download the attached 5” x 5” puzzle template and open it in Inkscape.
Step 2: Find an image for the puzzle
Open up a web browser and navigate to images.google.com. Find an image to use for your puzzle and download to the desktop. Keep in mind we want each puzzle piece to have a portion of the image in it (no blank pieces). Square-ish, high contrast black and white images work best. You can also add custom text or shapes later to fill out your design.
Step 3: Import image to Inkscape
In Inkscape: File > Import to import the image. Resize the image to fit inside the puzzle template. It can help to convert image to greyscale (Filters > Color > Greyscale) and increase contrast (Filters > Color > Lightness-Contrast).
Step 4: Add custom text or shapes
Add any text or shapes to fill out your design. Make sure there is something overlapping each puzzle piece.
Step 5: Save your SVG file to a thumbdrive
When your design is ready, save your file to a USB thumbdrive. We will then open the file on the lasercutter computer. In Inkscape: File > Print and select Retina Engrave. The file will open up in the Retina Engrave program, where the file is prepared for the lasercutter. To learn more about preparing a file for the lasercutter, see the design file prep details for the lasercutter. Be aware that rastering large fill areas will take quite some time. You can lower the DPI to 250 to speed up the process and select half-tone dithering to increase contrast.
Step 6: Lasercut the puzzle
The lasercutter needs to first raster the image, then vector cut the pieces. For wood, make sure to raster with enough power so the image is darker than the cut lines. With acrylic, the cut lines will be less visible. Cut the red lines before the blue lines so the pieces don’t fall through or move while cutting. You will need to adjust the laser power settings based on the material type and thickness – see the suggested lasercutter settings table.
Step 7: Congratulations!
Carefully remove the puzzle pieces out of the lasercutter. Try to put your puzzle back together and take a picture of it. Now have a friend or family try and see how fast they can put it together!