It’s that time of year! Christmas! I have put together a tutorial on how to make some quick snowflake decorations. This is a great activity for kids and adults, and can be used as decorations for the tree, gifts to be given, even little tiny add-ons for your presents. It is quick and simple, cheap, and awesome for last-minute ideas.
You will need:
- Sheet of acrylic
- available at most hardware and surplus stores. I used stuff 3mm thick.
- Access to a laser cutter
- often found at Makerspaces, some Libraries, Universities, and the occasional local service provider. I am a member at Kwartzlab (a Makerspace in Kitchener).
- Inkscape installed on your computer
- or any other vector editing software (Inkscape is free and Open Source)
- Access to the Snowflake Generator site
- Colourful permanent markers (I’ve used Sharpies without issue)
- Glue gun and glue stick
First off, go to http://paulkaplan.me/SnowflakeGenerator/. Warning: this site is addictive, you may spend waaay too much time here.
Every line and corner between Noon and 2 o’clock has a tiny circle that allows to you bend and stretch the snowflake. Changing any of these dots and it is repeated six times overall. Play with them a while until you’ve made a snowflake you are happy with. For this activity, the only caveat you need to consider is cutting a slot to make it a 3D snowflake, and that requires a little extra material down the snowflake’s centre.
Click on “Save as SVG” to download the snowflake’s file to your computer.
Open up the downloaded snowflake file in Inkscape. It is all black. We need to change that to be just an outline to make it laser (and CNC or Silhouette) friendly.
Click on the snowflake and set the “Fill” to white. You are now left with just the snowflake’s outline.
Go to File>Document Properties. Set the default units to millimetres and add some grids and make them snappable. Millimetre units play better with laser cutters and snapping to grid makes it easy to move stuff around accurately.
See the bottom toolbar? With the Snowflake’s width and height? Click the lock to preserve the scaling, and type in the height you want it to be in mm. Height is important to the next step, use a value divisible by two to make things easier.
Next, draw a rectangle. It should have a black stroke and white infill (if it isn’t already the default). Click on the rectangle, and go back to the bottom toolbar. You don’t want the lock locked this time, now make the snowflake as wide as the acrylic you are cutting by typing in the thickness value into the width, in my case it was 3mm wide, and set the height to half of the snowflake’s height. This rectangle becomes the interlocking part to make the snowflake 3D.
Click and drag the rectangle up to the top of the snowflake and centre the top of the rectangle on the top point of the snowflake. I just eyeballed mine, since due to the size I was working with minor variations are going to be unnoticeable. If you want, you can play with the grids and snap settings (under File>Document Properties) to centre it exactly.
Now, select both the rectangle and the snowflake. Then, click Path>Difference.
And voila! You have the interlocking cut-out built right into the snowflake file!
Hit File>Save As and save your file. Make sure to save it as a .dxf file for use in many laser cutters. DXF files are also easily used in Silhouette machines and can be converted easily as Gcode for use on CNC mills.
Take the DXF file over to your laser cutter and cut them out! Here’s a little video of the snowflakes being cut on the laser cutter at Kwartzlab.
Now, colour the snowflakes (if you want) with the permanent markers. Or you can leave them plain if you wish.
Finally, assemble the snowflakes. Match up the two interlocking rectangles, add a dab of hot glue to the middle of one to hold them together, and slide one onto the other. You’re done! Here’s one of the snowflakes made by my kids:
Here’s another one in it’s natural habitat on the Christmas tree:
You can add some ribbon, and if you really want to plan ahead you could even laser cut a hole for the ribbon earlier on by adding it in Inkscape, before saving the DXF file.
As I’ve mentioned, the DXF files work well with Silhouette cutters as well, a far cheaper and more accessible option to many. You can use the Silhouette to cut out the snowflake to make cards, add paper decorations to your tree, or just for fun.