Laser Engraving an iPhone 5

What is the first thing you do when your local hacker space gets a laser cutter? Engrave your iPhone 5 of course. With no laser cutting or engraving experience I set about personalizing my phone in a way that money could not buy. Mishayla Potts and I spent a couple days carefully designing the artwork to be printed. I came up with the original concept which is mainly inspired by Musix Pro (I spend a large amount of my life dedicated to hexagons) and Mishayla took it from concept to art. The next step was trying to decide the laser intensity to use. If the laser power was too low it wouldn’t burn well enough through the anodized aluminium and we wouldn’t get good whites or contrast. If the laser power was to high we would end up with too much white and low contrast with the risk of also damaging the phone. Luckily I had an older anodized aluminium iPod kicking around (I mean who doesn’t). For our particular laser we ended up deciding on a 70% power at 100% speed with a maximum current of 80%. The laser is technically a 40mw laser, but I’m told it is really closer to a 30. So if I had to estimate a power setting I would guess around 16mw peak at 100%. But don’t take my advice on that I only play a doctor on tv.

We place the phone on a soft cloth to prevent scratches and carefully aligned the path of the laser. Everything was looking grand. We fired it and up and watched the etching begin. At first it looked amazing (and it still really is) however we noticed one small defect, the pattern was misaligned. but once we started etching I didn’t want to have to stop. The alignment issue has something to do with a software error I believe as everything was setup correctly and in future etch it started at the right location.

So overall I am 95% delighted with the finished result. If it wasn’t for the alignment issue (which was out of our hands) it would have been 110% awesome.

Check out a video of the etching process and some images of the final product.

I would like to again thank Brett Coulthard and Frivolous Engineering for donating the laser to the space and hope to see many other laser project at CBL (I know I’ll be actively cutting and etching).

Artwork: Brett Park & Mishayla Potts
Music: Brett Park (although I’m not sure I want credit for it).


Aligning the laser

First few passes

Halfway Done

Almost There

Finally Complete

The patter is vertically misaligned due to a software error.

The patter is vertically misaligned due to a software error.