A la Cloisonne avec laser

I’ve been experimenting with a simple technique to fill engravings with paint, to enhance the contrast and overall impression of the engraving. This technique works particularly well with artwork that’s often referred to as ‘coloring book’ style. The coloring book style creates engraved wells separated by thin walls. To me, it seems reminiscent of the ancient technique of Cloisonne - just without the metal and enamel. It’s also similar to silkscreening, but I think ‘Cloisonne’ sounds so much cooler :slight_smile:

I start with an engraving like below, on material that has a paper cover. In this particular example I’m using Proofgrade Draftboard, but for other non-Proofgrade materials I cover them with TransferRite 582U:

Then I trowel paint into the engraved areas:

VERY important to work gently and quickly, as the paint will soften the paper covering and start to peel it loose. it’s also important to scrape away any excess paint so the paper can be peeled off easily.

Once it’s all filled in, set aside to dry:

Then just peel off the paper:

The paper will create raised edges to the paint once the paper is removed, so then I gently sand smooth with very fine grit (>300) sandpaper:

And viola!

Here’s the same pattern on Padauk, with iridescent paint inlaid:

By staging the engraved pattern, I can engrave, paint, engrave, and paint again with a different color. In the next example I’m using 1/8" acrylic from Inventables that has a black film laminated on one side:

I pin the material down securely on the bed, back side up, engrave the first group, pause and apply paint while the panel is still in the chamber - it’s important it holds still for the following steps:

Then I close the lid and engrave the next group. I apply paint into the newly engraved sections, remove the paper, and flip over to inspect the multi-color inlays - orange panels ringed by white dots:

In all the above examples I used acrylic paint. I did my best to clear the paint out of the path and let it dry before cutting with the laser.

There you go - super simple, and Proofgrade already comes prepped for this!

***** PART DEUX 3/11/18 *****

Another example of the staging method to incorporate multiple colors:

I found the following design off the web, from geometrip.com. I imported into Adobe Illustrator, and started coloring it using a color palette based on the paints I have on hand. I was feeling ambitious, so I used nine different colors:

I put down a sheet of the Inventables reverse-engrave acrylic in my GF, and pinned it down real-good with lots of magnets, then I added the design:

Set all but one of the engraves to ‘ignore’ and hit the glowy button:

Some compressed air to clear out any dust caught in the engraved areas, then start troweling in the paint:

Then I peel off the paper while the paint is still wet:

So why peel off the paper? Two reasons: First is to clear any excess paint off the work area, as that would mix into the next troweling operation and mess with the paint color. Second reason is the protective paper layer degrades pretty quickly from all the wet paint being slathered over it and wouldn’t survive for eight more layers.

After all the bits of the protective paper are cleared, let it dry for a bit, while praying that GF’s server farm doesn’t crash and reset the print job :slight_smile:

Re-cover with more protective paper, engrave the next layer, and start troweling. Note that you can see the previous layer of paint under the paper:

Repeat the above seven more times, cut out from panel, peel off paper, and viola!

The photo doesn’t really convey the three-dimensional look this has. I used ‘HD Engrave’ settings - next time I’ll the the deeper ‘3D Engrave’ to really jack up the depth.

Now I will troll myself with questions:

“You’re making it look easier than it really is.”
I confess this process is very laborious - I should have thought more about the impact of deciding to use NINE different colors. Start to finish, it took all afternoon to complete - and it was a really nice day outside…
For what it’s worth, hand-painting each of those little pockets would have been a whole other level of insanity.

“I only see eight colors.”
There is an oh-so-subtle difference between the two shades of yellow I used. Lesson learned: preview the paints first.

“I see little defects everywhere.”
Thanks for the shade, sir… look, it’s my first attempt, OK? But seriously, I attribute the bulk of the defects to the viscosity of the paint I used, as it would trap air bubbles and create gaps in coverage. I could try to thin the paint, but that might enable a whole 'nother set of issues - TBD.

“The more you engrave, the harder it is for the protective paper to stick.”
Tru dat. It was right around the second and third layers that the integrity of the masking started to break down, and allow paint to smear around. This next photo is of the backside after the third (orange) layer was added - you can see where the paint breached the thin walls created by the engraving:

Fortunately, by letting the previous layer dry a bit, the over-spill doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue.

So these are my notes so far. Overall I’m encouraged by the results, and there’s a massive library of coloring book art out there, so there’ll be no lack of source material for this technique to render.

Some of the key problems to solve include eliminating the bubbles using less viscous paint, and working out a process for other substrates, like clear acrylic.


This is gorgeous…great experiment…and a successful one. I’m a bit confused near the end…

after you painted the orange…what was the next ‘group’ of engraving? Not pictured, I assume?

@Xabbess, the next group of engraved areas was the little white dots you see around the periphery of the wings in the final photo. Once that group was engraved, the butterfly outline was cut and the entire assembly removed at that point. With the butterfly out of the chamber I then filled in the newly engraved pockets with white paint.

I could keep going with this technique, adding consecutive engraved areas to keep adding new colors. Just need to find the perfect artwork for that…


oh… I like it .

Great…thank you…I get it now.

Very nice! Although infilling with paint is a popular technique, I’ve not seen it done between successive lasering right on the bed like this. Kudos for a new technique!


Thanks for sharing your technique and process. Was wondering about it myself.

Wow! (Here’s hoping for either the camera stuff finally working or some really good jigs)

Oooo, beautiful. Great idea! I really like the iridescent paint on the padauk.

WOW! :astonished:

Discourse insists I have to include a complete sentence in order to post, so here it is.

Great technique! :grinning:

Oh wow… beautiful!

@Xabbess, I’ve updated the posting to better illustrate the multi-layer technique…

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Ha ha! :rofl:

Great re-write. Makes perfect sense…thank you. And you know…you will always see imperfections and mistakes more than anyone else. Aside from that, who the heck cares…mistakes are part of the process.

Thank you for your awesome details – I think these are amazing!

I just got my email, but have been mulling over how to do a laser-paint-repeat project – this is very informative about how the backing behaves with paint.

@redshift, congrats on ‘got my email’!

Yes, there are pros and cons for the paper-based backing material. On one hand the sticky side of the paper seems to effectively block the paint, but on the other hand the paper aggressively wicks up the paint. So now I’m on the hunt for a plastic-based backing film that’s laser-friendly.

Wonderful work and description of process.

You could also try wax or silicone coated papers. I’ve seen people mention trace paper with repositionable adhesive spray works as masking. If you find single-side coated, like sticker release paper, it might do the trick.

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Vinyl transfer tape, comes in paper or plastic varieties…