Glowing Dragonfly Nightlight

Day 1

I wasn’t entirely sure how the concept of laser engraving dragonfly wings was going to look in practice. If it looked bad I wanted to be able to back out quickly, so starting with the wings felt like it made the most sense.

I looked at some photos of dragonfly wings and was able to import some into Adobe Illustrator and get them traced nicely as a vector file. I added a cut outline and a tab on the end that will help me secure this into place during assembly.

I cut just one on the laser to start and it looked overall pretty good. The only problem spot was that with so much engraving happening on one side of the acrylic when the wing shape was cut out immediately after the wing flexed upwards quite a bit.

To alleviate this on the next two wings I cut I let the acrylic sit and calm down for a few minutes before going in with the cut. There was still a little bit of flex, but this helped a lot.

I pulled off the masking to see the final effect. To speed this up I tried using a scraper. However, it wasn’t ending up any faster than just using my fingers. Next I tried using an awl which was a lot faster but left scratches on the acrylic. Lastly I tried using duct tape because it’s been recommended to me a few times but it wasn’t adhering well enough to pull off the masking.

So I individually peeled all the little stickers. I did this over the course of a few days but shh. That’ll be our little secret.

And tedious as it was, it was worth it.

Big note here: if you’re making this WAIT to peel the masking. Acrylic shows every scratch and I’d highly recommend keeping it protected until after it is glued into place and the lights are installed.


Day 2

I knew I liked the wings so I was ready to go ahead and model a dragonfly body with four notches for them to slide into. Inside these notches I want to position LEDs that will hit the edge of the acrylic and make the engraved veins light up.

I always sketch out my 3D Models by hand first so I have any specific dimensions I’ll need ready to go. The most important dimension to get right is the size that each notch will need to be to fit the wings.

I’m using Shapr 3D to do my model and it was a pretty straightforward shape I could build with three ellipses. Lastly I added in my notches for the wings and one large cavity at the back that will eventually hold my electrical components.

And then I printed up this first version.

There were two mistakes here. Firstly there was support material printing within the wing notches. Because it was such a perfect fit these were making it nearly impossible to slip the acrylic wings into place.

Secondly I forgot to add a hole for the switch to slip into. Oopsies.

I made the wing notches just slightly larger and then added in that switch hole and got version 2 printing.

I was pretty confident in this version but the supports printed very rigidly on the 3D print and as I was trying to remove them I accidentally snapped the whole body in half. Oh no.

It worked out though because my switch hole was just a smidge too small so this was going to need a redesign anyway.

And then I printed version 3. Which was finally perfect.

Day 3

With the shape perfected it was time to get a finish on this.

First I sanded off the spots where the supports had behind some remnants. Then I went in with filler primer. I do up to 3 coats of this stuff to eliminate the layer lines on the 3D prints. In this case I wanted a little bit of the layers showing because I thought it would look a bit like brushed metallic  with the spray paint I am planning on using.

But before spray paint goes down I did a little dragonfly research to figure out where to get some legs on here. I looked at a few photos and then penciled out where I wanted legs. I’m heating up copper wire and pressing it gently into the 3D print. It’s important to remember to use pliers when holding the hot copper wire when doing this.

Alright, now it was paint job time.

I’m starting with a solid base coat of a dark metallic paint, and then going over it with a light coat of a lighter silver metallic spray paint. This double layer adds dimension to the paint job and looked pretty darn great if you ask me.

I let this dry overnight before moving onto the electrical components to get this thing glowing.


Day 4

Here’s a diagram of how this circuit is going to be laid out. I need 4 lights that turn off and on from 1 switch. I’m wiring all the positive sides of the LEDs lights, and then wiring those to a switch. The negative sides will all get wired together as well. Both of these sides will be connected in a big loop with a battery sitting in the center.

With a plan ready to go and my parts laid out I could get this soldered together. When soldering things are a lot easier if you focus first on getting a good mechanical connection between the wires. From there it’s easy to get solder on the joints without worrying about wires popping appart on you.

I used shrink tubs to insulate my solder joints on my battery pack, and then used moldable glue to do the same thing for my switch because I forgot to add shrink tubes before snapping it into place. But it’s okay because I actually prefer moldable glue for this. It has a nice finished feel.

And then it was time to position the lights.

The LEDs need to be squarely on the edge of the acrylic or the glowing effect won’t work.

To make this happen I first glued the wings into place with 5 minute epoxy and let that harden. Then I wrapped each LED in the Sugru moldable glue. I then pressed firmly into the edge of the acrylic wings and then let the whole thing sit overnight. The glue behaves very similarly to polymer clay, except without requiring heat. It worked out perfectly for this.


Day 6

I screwed some hardware onto the interior of the dragonfly to make this possible to hang, and then it was done!

This looks really nice when the lights are on or off and would make a great night light because it gives a nice gentle glow.


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