When I was first looking into buying my Glowforge, I kept seeing all these beautiful mosaic styles signs and pieces of art, with what seemed to be thousands of teeny tiny laser cut pieces, all perfectly painted and placed just so.
Now that I've had my Glowforge for over a year, I've had a few chances to try my hand at this style of sign, and now I have some tips that are sure to help you make your own perfect mosaic-style sign!
Tips for Mosaic Style Signs on Glowforge
The most important thing is to find a good design that will translate well to this style. I discovered this artist, Wild Pilot, a while ago, and the vast majority of her work is going to be perfect for these kinds of signs. (She actually gave me the floral globe file that I used for this tutorial) You can find Wild Pilot on Design Bundles, but you'll find a larger collection at So Fontsy.
Basically, what you're looking for is a bold black outline with not too much detail in the smaller parts, and you want solid closed shapes. This is a lovely design, but isn't a good candidate for this style of design; it's too intricate and the pieces are too small.
Like I said, I'll be using Wild Pilot's Floral Globe for this tutorial, so you can follow along.
Size matters! You want to make your piece as large as possible, so that even the tiniest pieces aren't *too* tiny! I enlarged the globe to fill the width of the cutting bed, and the backer board for this one is 12×15.
Slow down just a hair: When I'm cutting one of these signs, I always run the laser just a tad slower than I usually would for that material; as an example, my Baltic birch plywood is normall cut at 165 speed, but I drop it down to 162 for these, so that I'm sure that all of those tiny pieces will get cut completely without sticking to the backing.
Transfer paper is your friend! I buy the VinylEase transfer paper in bulk so that I always have lots on hand when I need it, and especially for projects like this. Once the design is cut, I lay another layer of transfer paper over top of it, using the straight edge of a scrap of wood to really press it down.
Once my transfer paper is stuck down, I lay another uncut sheet of wood over it, while it's still in the machine. Then, grab the whole stack and FLIP!
(I paint the back of my board so I can easily distinguish the sides that go up and down without having to think too much about it. This blue is the back.) Now you have all of the cut pieces, in the correct order, on an uncut sheet so you can get the whole project out of the machine in one piece. Woo hoo!
Flip it back over yet again, and remove the transfer paper. I find that rolling it from one end to another works the best, and allows me to make sure that all of the tiny pieces stay in place where they belong.
Once you get the transfer paper off, you're ready to paint! I always take a moment to stop and admire my handiwork at this point (because I've had so many cuts go bad at this point lol)
I prefer spray paint for the larger frame piece, so I take it outside and do that. Once the paint is dry, I'm ready to glue it to my backer board.
It's not necessary to add glue to every single spot of the frame, because you'll be adding lots of glue when the pieces go in. I generally choose the larger intersections of lines in the frame to add stability to hold the whole thing down. (BTW, I prefer e6000 for this)
Put some weights on the glued down frame and give it a bit of time to set before you proceed.
Plan ahead: I use Adobe Illustrator, but whatever graphics program you use should be fine. I'll plan out how I'm going to color everything to get a preview and decide what the overall look is going to be. I've tried to skip this part and just go straight to painting, but I always end up unhappy with the finished results, so it's worth the extra few minutes to have that finished reference piece on hand.
As you can see, I used two shades of pink for the flowers, and two colors of green for the leaves. I always look at my available paint colors at this planning stage, so I don't create something that I can't actually execute. For this project, the greens are from the two shades of green paint pens I have, and then I used regular acrylic craft paint for the pinks; it's actually one pink paint, and a shade of purple, which I mixed in to darken the pink just a bit.
Glue as you go: I use my trusty acrylic paint pens to paint the small pieces, and then glue them in as a I go along, so I don't get the pieces mixed up and then it's hard to place them properly.
When I have several tiny pieces that I'm painting the same color, I'll use a piece of masking tape to help them in place while I work, so I don't lose anything.
I prefer to go color by color, but sometimes you may find it better to work on a section at a time. It's really just a matter of preference and there's no right or wrong answer.
Continue placing all of the painted pieces in place, and when you're done, put the whole thing under some weight for a day or so to really let the glue dry and set.