Engraving Acrylic Slipcases

At a time of "us and them", how do we as artists build connections to "the other"?


In her latest artist book, AlieNation / SepaRation, Maureen Cummins interweaves first-person accounts of resettlers from Syria and Iraqi to bear witness to their vulnerability and unspeakable loss while struggling to adjust to new countries and cultures.

In this post I share with you Maureen's stunning project and the process of making the laser engraved slip cases.

Step 1: Engraving Slipcases

First a little about acrylic...
There are two types of acrylics commonly used in laser cutting, cast and extruded acrylic. Extruded is the most accessible as it is easily and cheaply found at home improvement stores, but I prefer cast as it cuts beautifully—and doesn't stink up my studio!

I'm particular about where I buy my acrylic because acrylic can vary in thickness and density, depending on the supplier. Sticking with one supplier helps me save money for my clients.


Another advantage of cast acrylic is that it turns white when engraved. This sand-blasted look was exactly what Maureen was looking for.

While I have a standard setting for creating this effect, I double-checked it before creating the prototype and found that I wasn't getting great results. Instead of the smooth edge I was going for, I was getting a jagged edge.

It's not unusual for one setting or approach to work for certain types of imagery but not all of them. So I did what I do best: I tried alternative techniques to get a look that would enhance, not distract from, the piece.

Safety is also an issue. The laser cutting of unidentified plastics is dangerous. PVC and any material containing chlorine can cause damage to the machine and the operator.


Engraving the slipcases...
Since Maureen provided me with acrylic that was cut to size, I needed a jig for perfect registration. Cardboard makes a surprisingly accurate and affordable jig for thicker materials. I don't know why but there is very little kerf loss with cardboard, eliminating the need for file adjustments—a big time saver.

Assembling the slipcases…
I can't take credit for this part. Welding together acrylic is nerve wracking, especially with clear acrylic that shows every imperfection. You want someone who is experienced and our friends at SmallCorp are just those people.

Want to learn more about the ideas behind AlieNation / SepaRation?

Read Maureen’s artist statement here.

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AlieNation / SepaRation was produced in an edition of 50 copies. The four-volume set measures 17" x 7" x 2.5" and contains 192 pages. $2,600.

Friends, Peace, and Sanctuary was funded by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage. Additional support for Friends, Peace, and Sanctuary was provided by Swarthmore College Libraries, the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, the William J. Cooper Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.