I visited Synthetos this weekend to check out his workspace and laser cutter.
We had this idea to embed a classic 5mm LED into clear acrylic in a way that would showcase the shape of the LED and also let the LED illuminate an etched design in the acrylic. We started by taking a spec sheet from Lumex.com and importing it into Inkscape. Inkscape did a great with the import; all we had to do was select the LED and copy it to a new document. We cleaned up the paths so that we had just an outline. We then added the letter A to the diagram, which we converted to a path. This was what we wanted the LED to illuminate.
At the workshop, we imported this Inkscape SVG document into Corel, the environment for using the laser cutter. We cleaned it up the diagram a little and did a test cut. The first thing we found was that the LED cutout was just slightly too short for the LED we tried to put in the space. We made a quick adjustment and tried again. The LED, with the leads, fit snugly into the acrylic. When we peeled back the paper we realized that we were using frosted acrylic. This turned out to be rather fortuitous, since with the frosting we were able to see how the LED's light was spreading across the surface. It was different effect then we were looking for, but a perfect one to use.
The original idea for the etching was to convert the letter glyph to a path and to use a path effect to replace the path with a series of tiny circles. This way we could get holes all the way through the acrylic but not have to use a stencil font. The holes were too close together, and this caused the interior of the letter to fall out (exactly the reason for using a stencil font). In turns out that this was not really necessary, because we could simply adjust the power used for the letter path to get a nice deep etch without cutting through.
The end results, both with the cut-out letter on frosted acrylic and the etched letter on clear acrylic, we just what we were looking for. Our next steps are to incorporate this into a larger project. We will keep you posted.
More pictures available at TheVaporTrail on Flickr.