Laser Etching a Custom Star Wars PC Case
When you have access to a laser cutter/engraver, everything looks like something that could be engraved or cut, well, within reason. To celebrate Star Wars Day, May the 4th 2022, we decided to see if we could laser etch Darth Vader onto a PC case, creating something that’s a little bit different than your standard Star Wars themed PC mod.
The idea is simple, laser etch the powder coat off a PC case to expose the metal beneath, creating a contrast between the black coating of a PC case with the silvery steel beneath it. To do this, we need a PC case and a laser etching machine, and thankfully, we currently have access to both.
Today, we will be showing you how we used a Glowforge to laser etch a custom Darth Vader NZXT H510 Flow PC case. We reviewed the H510 Flow back in October 2022 (Link Here), and the Glowforge back in December (Review Here). Since we still have access to both, we though it would be a little rude not to try something a little, different.
Moving forward, we hope to have a little more PC modding content at OC3D, so we hope you enjoy this taster.
– Laser Etching a Custom Star Wars PC Case (This Page)
– The Mistakes we Made (and lessons learned)
– Finalised settings, laser cutting, and results
– Conclusion and Rig Gallery
The Glowforge Pro
Last year we reviewed the Glowforge Pro 3D Laser Printer, a machine that can be used to etch or cut a variety of materials. Today, we will be pushing the Glowforge’s printing area to the limit with our custom PC case ambitions, and those ambitions include the Glowforge Pro’s pass-through slot.
The Glowforge’s laser is plenty powerful for what we are asking of it today. Today we will be laser etching the powered coat off our NZXT H510 Flow to expose the metal beneath. Hopefully, that exposed metal will look like Darth Vader when we are finished.
If you want more information about the Glowforge, please read our review for the 3D Laser Cutter.
Since I am not an artist, I will be purchasing the artwork for our Star Wars project. Thankfully, creator on Etsy have already created a lot of designs that we can use for today’s laser etching project. While we could take some jpegs from the internet using Google, Etsy creators often sell their files as SVG vector files, which are ideal for use with our Glowforge Laser cutter.
Since we plan to etch Darth Vader across an entire PC side panel, we need scalable artwork that will look great at that scale. With this in mind, spending a few quid on some SVG files is a great idea.
To ensure that our finished etches have well defined edges, we used Scotch Blue multi-surface masking tape across our H510 side panel to help protect unetched parts of our side panel from the material that is etched off it. This tape is designed to leave no residue when removed, making it easy to take off when our etch is complete. While some will say that this step is unnecessary, we only had one shot at this etch, and we did not want to mess it up.
After etching, we cleaned the side panel using some alcohol to clean the exposed metal and remove any remaining powder coat residue from the panel after we were finished etching.
Things did not go to plan – That’s why we did some test etches first
Since we have never etched a PC case before, we were worried that we would do something wrong and end up ruining our poor H510 Flow. Vader would not be pleased.
To minimise our change of having this happen, we started our PC etching journey with a few tests on the inside of the H510’s right side panel. For simplicity’s sake, we used the OC3D company logo, and the Glowforge logo for testing purposes.
Early on, we made a mistake when engraving the OC3D logo with the Glowforge. We used a jpeg to etch this image, and within the Glowforge’s IU we told the unit to convert the JPEG into etchable dots. That was a mistake.
Had we used an SVG file for this logo, the Glowforge would have been able to better convert the image into an etch. Another way we could have prevented this is by using the Glowforge’s “Vary Power” mode under Greyscale, and not the “Convert to Dots” mode that we used before.
The good thing here is that this problematic etch is on the inside of our H510. Next time, we will do better.
We did better
Using the settings tweaks above, we moved onto a different test design. Since we are using a Glowforge laser cutter, it made sense for us to use their company logo. Below you can see the results. Clean edged, a clear contrast between the powder coat and metal. This is what we want to see! Now we need to move onto our final etches.
Since we are not using the a Proofgrade material with our Glowforge laser cutter, we needed to input our own custom settings to laser etch our Vader-themed PC case. With some advice from helpful users of the Glowforge Forums, I found settings that some users have used to etch other metals, and made adjustments as needed.
In the end, I set the Glowforge’s speed to 400, set the laser to full power, told the cutter to etch 90 lines per centimetre, and etch the case over two passes. Those settings gave us the best results with our H510. Since we had only one attempt at laser etching this case, we didn’t risk running the machine any faster or attempt the etch with a lower line count. As such, this etch took six hours across its two etching passes. That’s a long time, but this etch covers an area of 38cm x 28cm, which is a lot of area to cover when running at 90 lines per cm.
This etch took a while, but the final results were worth it.
Pushing the Glowforge to its limit
I’ll be honest, we got lucky. To center the side panel of our PC case within the Glowforge, we needed to use the laser cutter’s pass-through slot. The NZXT H510’s side panel barely fitted through this slot. That said, we made it work. Had this not worked, we would either need to etch Lord Vader off-center, or find a way to pass-through larger materials inside the Glowforge. Thankfully, we did not need to do that with this side panel.
If you are looking at the image below, you will see that the lower panel on the front and left side of NZXT’s H510 is a single panel that has been bent to cover both areas. We forgot about this when designing this Darth Vader themed PC.
So how did we etch the Star Wars logo on the front of this case? Simple, we bent the panel straight and used the Glowforge’s pass-through slot. After the etch, we then bent the panel back into shape. While the final finish is not perfect at the case’s bent corner, it is hard to spot this minor defect unless your are actively looking for it.
Cleaning Etched panels
After we etched our side panels, the exposed metal on the case was dirty. The metal had some material left behind by the etching process, and thankfully this material can be cleaned away using a wipe and some Isopropyl alcohol. After we cleaned our panels and removed our masking tape, we were left with some excelling looking engravings.
Creating a Custom Etched Darth Vader Themed PC Case
Overall, we are happy with the results that we have achieved using the Glowforge Pro 3D Laser Printer (Full Review Here). Using it we have managed to create a Star Wars Themed PC that is unique. We have a clean etch of Darth Vader on the PC’s side panel, and red LED fans at the front alongside a Star Wars logo.
In the future, we could potentially customise this PC case further by etching the case’s tempered glass side panels, or some other components. That said, tempered glass will require different etching settings than a metal side panel, and we sadly did not have enough time to etch this case’s glass before May 4th.
Our only regret with this PC case is that we had to bent the case’s front/left metal panel to allow us to etch a Star Wars logo on the front of our H510. This has left us with a somewhat defective corner, though the change is difficult to spot outside of a close inspection. However, our only alternative would have been to cut the panel into two pieces, and that would have created exposed metal edges that would need to be painted or otherwise covered. Beyond that, cutting the panel would lower the H510 Flow’s structural rigidity. All in all, we are pleased with the results we have achieved here, but it isn’t perfect.
In the future, we are hoping to create more modding content for the PC enthusiast community, which will hopefully include guides, build showcases and similar content. Soon, we hope to tackle tempered glass etching with the Glowforge Pro, and explore other things that we could do with the 3D Laser Printer.