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The Incredibly Over-Engineered Name Tag

Using CAD software, an $18,000 laser-cutter and a vinyl cutter, I made a handful of name tags for organizers of the New England VegFest. Here are photos & notes on how I made them so… uhh… so you could do it too

Quick background: In 2009, I founded New England VegFest, an annual vegetarian food festival in Worcester, Massachusetts. The event started small but over the years it has grown to have 10,000 attendees, 140 exhibitors and 100+ volunteers. The organizing team is made up of six people who recruit exhibitors, solicit donations, sell sponsorships, put up posters, coordinate volunteers, and promote the event. On the day of the festival, each organizer plays a crucial role directing the event, checking-in exhibitors, coordinating volunteers, running the cooking demos, introducing the presenters, selling merch & books, and so on.

During the festival things go wrong–something breaks, someone forgets a permit, something catches on fire. And when something goes wrong, people need to find an organizer to help them solve the problem. But at a packed event with thousands of attendees, finding one of the six organizers can be difficult. So I made name-tags. Giant, colorful name tags. Using a laser cutter. And using a vinyl cutter.

Below are photos and step-by-step notes on the design and production process for these nice little badges.

How to make name tags with a laser cutter & vinyl cutter



Step-by-Step Notes

The Goal: We’re making a big, bright name tag that stands out. The design should match the branding for the New England VegFest. The general idea is to use a laser to cut a fun shape, paste on some vinyl lettering that identify someone as an organizer, and then attach some kind of fastener to the back of the badge so someone can attach it to their shirt.

Step 1: Design It

The logo for the festival has four fruit & vegetable shapes as part of it, so for the shape of the nametag, we’ll use the tomato from the logo. Hopefully the shape will stick out and subtly communicate a connection with the event’s branding and give some kind of legitimacy to the person wearing it. Yeah, I have high hopes for this name tag. It’s a symbol of power.

Why the tomato? Out of the four vegetables in the logo, the tomato has the largest internal area. This provides a little more room to squeeze in text. The font is Open Sans, which is easy to read from far away and it matches the font used in the other design for the event.

Here’s is the design that I drew in Inkscape:

The plan is to laser cut the shape, then cut out the text separately as a vinyl sticker, place the text on the shape, and then have an organizer write their name on the name-tag with a marker.

Step 2: Laser-Cut The Shape

There are two ways that you can use a laser cutter: etching or cutting material. For this design we are only cutting and not doing any etching. Cutting on a laser uses vectors images, etching can be bitmap images. It’s not so important to know the difference for the sake of this project, but the key part is that the design needs to be in the format of a vector image. Here is the SVG vector image for the design

Configuring the laser: The Epilog laser that I’m using is connected to a computer that uses Corel Draw and the Epilog print driver, so I imported my SVG file to Corel Draw. For the Epilog print driver to know which lines are intended to be cuts, you need to set the stroke width on your cut lines to “hairline”. Select the shape in the design and in the stroke toolbar, set the width to “hairline”. To keep it simple, I just deleted the text from the design since we’ll making that separately on the vinyl machine.

The strength of the laser is set by three variables: power, speed and frequency. These are settings that I used to cut the cardboard:

Now it’s time to print and run the laser.

I ran a couple of test cuts to see how big it needed to be for the text to be legible. Around 5.5” wide came out best.

Step 3: Cut the text with the vinyl cutter

Just like the laser, the vinyl cutter needs a vector graphic. I removed the tomato shape from the design, leaving just the text. It’s important that you convert the text to a path and not leave it as text or the vinyl cutter may not recognize the text as a shape to cut. I scaled the text to be a about 4” wide so it would fit on the 5.5” tomato shape. Then run the vinyl cutter. The settings I used for this white vinyl sticker paper was:

Step 4: Weed the vinyl

The machine cuts the vinyl but you still need to remove the negative space in your design. The process of removing the unwanted pieces of vinyl is called “weeding”. You can use a few different kinds of tools for this, like a pair of tweezers or dental tools. I like to use an X-acto knife because you can also use it to add additional cuts while you’re working.

Sometimes your design will have very large pieces of vinyl that need to be removed. If those big pieces touch a lot of detail, it can be very tedious to remove them. To make it easier, you can make cuts from your design to the edge of your vinyl and then remove pieces as you work. This process is called “fencing”. You can see what I mean in the photo below.

Step 5: Transfer the vinyl to the name tag

After weeding the design, I used the masking tape to transfer the vinyl from the backing to the name tag. The trick to making sure the vinyl sticks to the badge is to remove the tape with a sheering motion; Instead of pulling straight up, remove the masking tape by peeling it back. If some of the vinyl does not stick, back-track a little, push it down, and try again.

Step 6: Add a pin to the back

Using a hot glue gun, I used a little dab of glue to add a safety pin to the back of the badge.

Step 7: Write your name on it

Almost done. This name tag needs a name.

Put It On Your Shirt

Ok, now you’re officially an organizer.

Made during FabAcademy: I made this badge as part of FabAcademy, a five-month course on digital fabrication. I’m taking this course because I want to learn how to make everything. You can check out other projects, photos and writing from my time doing FabAcademy

And oh yeah please also come to New England VegFest, it’s on May 1, 2016 at the DCU Center in Worcester, MA. It’s fun. You can find me there. I’ll be wearing this badge