Illuminating Designs With Acrylic Signs

This post was written by Kyla Yujiri, a fourth-year majoring in Computer Science & winner of our monthly MakerSpace Mini Grant.

I used clear acrylic, LED light strip, and birch wood along with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to laser cutters and create a edge-lit acrylic signs.


I recently learned how to use the laser cutter at the MakerSpace and wanted to make something that would let me use it. It’s my last semester at NYU and I wanted to finally take advantage of all the resources that NYU provides. I saw edge-lit acrylic signs online and they seemed cool and easy enough to make.

Various online tutorials indicated that I would need a clear acrylic sheet, a base to hold the acrylic sheet, and an LED light strip. I had originally planned to purchase a solid wood block for the base, but due to time and budget constraints, I decided to try making a base out of birch wood sheets.

Assembly & Iterations

The first thing I did when I got my materials was make a prototype to see if my plan would work. I used some cardboard and a spare piece of clear acrylic.

I first tested it during the day and it did not seem like it was lighting up that much. When I ordered the lights, I failed to notice that the LED lights were spaced pretty far apart on the strip. To amend this, I ended up folding the strip on top of itself so that I could get lights spaced more closely together. I retested it with this new light arrangement and when it was darker, and it seemed like it was lighting up better.

I made my initial design for the acrylic using Adobe Photoshop because I find drawing and making designs easier with it. I made sure that the parts I wanted to be etched were black and the parts I did not want etched were white. I then put this drawing into Illustrator on a 24” x 12” canvas and vectorized it.

My design was based on a scene from the Studio Ghibli film, Spirited Away. My sister wanted to make a design for the light as well and sent me the one of Kirby.

At the same time, I made an Illustrator file to laser cut the birch wood sheets so I could make the base. I made 4” x 9” rectangles with 7” x ⅛” slits. I also made some with no slits that would serve as the bottom of the base.

This is how they looked after laser cutting:

Some of the birch wood sheets did not get cut through all the way with the laser, but I did not realize this until I took them out of the laser cutter. I couldn’t cut them again, because I would not be able to realign them in the same way again. A friend later told me I should connect parts with masking tape after the cut is done to check if they were able to cut all the way through. If they did not, the masking tape would ensure that all the parts are in the same place.

With the acrylic sheets, I noticed that the laser cut through the protective paper cover on the sheet, but not the sticky residue between the paper and the acrylic. Because I didn’t know better, I used acetone on one of the pieces to remove the residue. As I was cleaning it, I noticed tiny cracks forming in the acrylic. After some research, I found out that there are certain solvents you’re not supposed to use on acrylic. The damage wasn’t so bad on the first piece, but I switched to isopropyl alcohol for the other two pieces to avoid any other damage. In the future, I would probably remove the protective cover before doing any laser etching.

When I started putting the parts together, I realized that the sheets were a little warped so they did not sit perfectly on top of each other. I also realized I miscalculated the size of the LED lights on the strip, so I had to cut the birch wood to make more space for them.

Below are the images of the final product during the day and at night:

Next Steps with this Project

Overall, I’m happy with how they turned out! I still want to get some solid wood so that I can make a nicer base for the lights and also want to find a power supply that uses batteries so that it can be cordless. I won’t have access to the MakerSpace for much longer, but I hope I can make some more designs for this project before I graduate!

Learn more about the MakerSpace Mini Grant on our Funding page. To begin designing and prototyping your own project, please visit the MakerSpace Training and Reservations page to learn more about how you can utilize the MakerSpace. If you need advice or guidance for your project, visit the Mentoring page to reserve time with an expert!