Monday, September 5, 2011

Name Cards Part I

So I have finally - FINALLY - finished a project that has been languishing on my To-Do list for way too long. I have a lot of side projects, and I've talked about how some projects you have to let die, and some you set aside, but this one was important.

It is a tradition in World's Best School dorms (fairly common in most college dorms, actually) that the residents all have name tags on their doors. This is both nostalgic and pratical. Practical, because you know who lives there. Nostalgic, because the name tags symbolize the different communities the residents are a part of - many residents have multiple name tags. For girls in sororities, I think it is the big sister's job to make their little sister a nametag. Sometimes sports teams will have matching name tags. And, as an RA, often we make name tags for the freshmen to welcome them to the dorm community.

Last year as an RA, I fully intended to make ALL of my residents name tags - not just the freshmen. If name tags symbolize the community, all of my girls are part of the community, right?

The RA before me could paint - and so she custom painted each new resident's door sign.

I'm not so good with the watercolors.

But I DO have a lasercutter. :)

My idea was to buy 4" strips of balsa wood (it's cheap stuff, and I know it comes in standard 4" widths - I used a lot of it when I was building remote control planes), and cut it down to 8"x4" stock pieces. Then I would design name cards in Adobe Illustrator, port it over to the laser cutter, and raster away.

The cool thing using about wood instead of plastic, which I also considered, is that you can get gradations in the final product while using the laser's engraving setting. In plastic, laser engraving looks about the same no matter how fast the laser goes. The plastic just turns white, or opaque. But in wood, applying a laser actually burns the wood. So you can have a range, from "slightly golden" to "toasted" to "completely burnt," depending on how long the laser lingers over each section of the wood.

So if you DESIGN something with gradations in the pattern, you can get some really pretty results.

So last year, I bought the balsa wood, cut up a handful of stock pieces, and started designing. I designed 17 designs, which wasn't as many girls as I had, but I figured a good start. I had 10 pieces of balsa cut up, which wasn't as much as I needed, but I figured a good start. It took me forever to figure out all the appropriate file formatting and adapting needed to get the patterns from Adobe Illustrator, to Corel, to the laser cutter - and to do testing to figure out the appropriate settings for the "golden-toasted-black" range to work correctly. And so you know where this is heading... after all that work, I ended up making three name cards. Three.

"I'll come back and finish this on a weekend," I thought, "and now that I figured out the file formatting, it'll be a breeze."

Did I ever get around to it? Shamefully, no. Those three name cards were the only ones I did. And all year long, they taunted me when I would walk by those girl's doors. None of my girls complained, but I felt like I had failed. So this year, I was determined.

I decided that since I was having enough trouble finishing this project, I would leave it at 17 unique designs and not worry about coming up with all original designs. Besides, I have girls on two floors, so it doesn't matter so much to repeat on different floors. Right? Right. In the spirit of picking your battles wisely, I just ended up with some doubles.

Coming tomorrow, pictures of the process and final products.

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