DIY Glowflake

Shortly after we posted our 2010 Holiday Card video, we had requests for the patterns and a how-to manual for making spherical “Glowflake” style shapes.  Fortunately, making a “Glowflake” isn’t hard or time consuming (though, from the video clip, you can see that we at LMN work abnormally fast).  We created the components parametrically in Grasshopper, so modifying the shape is not difficult if you know your way around the software.  If you don’t know Grasshopper, you can use the existing 2D pattern and modify it in any vector graphics software (Illustrator, AutoCAD, etc) as long as you don’t mess with the interlocking tab locations.  In minutes, you too can be the proud owner (or designer) of a lightweight spherical magnetic light fixture!

Ingredients:

  1. Yupo (or similar material) for the Glowflake itself.
  2. Pattern (or Grasshopper definition).  See below for more downloads.
  3. Scissors (or a laser-cutter) for cutting.

To add the glow:

  1. LEDs: 1/4″ diameter Lumex Standard LEDs (the through-hole variety).  The diffuse bulbs work best.  Use high-intensity LEDs: something > 1000 mcd, if you can get them.  Mouser has a wide selection of colors and intensities.
  2. Batteries: 3-volt Li-cell work best.  The CR2032s variety can be found in bulk at around $0.25 per unit.
  3. Magnets: strong rare-earth magnets are great.  We used 1/8″ thick x 1/2″ diameter.  Other sizes are fine.
  4. Electrical tape (white or the color of your choice).
  5. Scissors.
  6. Glue (or Nitto)

Assembly Instructions:

First, cut out the pattern provided (or use your modified pattern).  In the video, you can see that we used a laser-cutter to produce the flake components.  This was fast and accurate, but you can always just use scissors if you don’t have access to a laser-cutter.  Once you have the components for a single Glowflake, lay them out on a work surface.  You should have 5 pieces per sphere.

Second, assemble the sphere.  This is a bit tricky.  The general rule-of-thumb is that the slots for the interlocking tabs always pair up as follows: slots that meet a corner match slots that meet a flat edge.  Don’t worry, if that doesn’t make sense, just follow along with this image sequence.  Lay two of the component cut-outs down on a flat surface (as seen in the image at left).  Match up points A with A, B with B.  Slot each tab so that the two segments are loosely together.  Next, simply keep attaching the matching points down the side. Once all the interlocking tabs are paired up, push to invert the entire assembly.  Each of the tabs should push against each other and hold their shape.

Once these two pieces are attached, you should have something that looks like the image at right.  Lay this completed section down on the work surface.  Repeat this process once again using two more flat pattern segments.  Follow the same rules above, inverting the hemisphere to give it rigidity.  You should have two segments that look identical.  Now, lay one of the hemispheres down on your work-surface next to the final remaining flat segment.  Again, line up the slots for the interlocking tabs, much like you did in the first step: A matching A, B matching B.  Lock these slots together, then continue to lock the remaining tabs.  The final step should be straightforward: match the hemisphere with three segments to the hemisphere with two.  The the interlocking tabs for these should line up perfectly.  To give the sphere rigidity, use a small amount of glue (or Nitto) under each tab.

Third, install the LED lighting.  The LED throwies were a simple modification of the original design.  Instructables has a great LED throwie tutorial, if you don’t already know how to do it yourself.  The rule to follow is simple: squeeze the long (positive) pin of the LED onto the positive (+) side of the battery, with the negative (short) terminal of the LED pressed on the negative (-) side.  In the pattern provided, we’ve included mount-points (which resemble little pig snouts) for the through-hole LEDs pins.  Push the pins through both sets of overlapping mount-points so that the LEDs are facing inward.  Pinch the battery to the LED terminals (following the rule above) and then use the electrical tape to fasten the assembly in place.  Repeats as many times as you see necessary.  In our design, we left enough mount points for 6 LEDs per sphere and used the remaining mount-points for the magnets.

Fourth, mount the magnets.  If you would like to make your sphere stick to magnetic objects, you can use rare-earth magnets.  We used 3 per sphere and had little trouble throwing the entire Glowflake at sculptures, bridges, street-lights, etc.  Simply glue one of the magnets between the mount-points provided (the same ones used for the LEDs) using strong glue (or Nitto).  Yupo is quite strong and resistant to tearing, but the magnets are powerful too,   so wrap a bit of electrical tape around the magnet and the mount in strips to secure the attachment tightly.  Once this is done, you should have a fully functioning Glowflake (or flakes) ready for throwing…

Though our Glowflakes were decorative and fun, there are many potential effects that could be achieved with different variations of material, pattern, and luminary.  LEDs do a good job, but nothing prevents you from changing the pattern or material and mounting a single bulb in the center of the sphere.  If you do this, make sure that your luminary does not run so hot as to burn your material.  Below you can download the parametric definition for the pattern – which will make creating different variations easy.  In return for sharing, all we ask is that you link to this website and show us what you have created.

Digital Materials:

If you would like to create your own pattern that can be mapped to a sphere, you are welcome to use our Glowflake Grasshopper definition:  Download Glowflake, 50.32 kB   This definition was created in Grasshopper version 0.8.0004 and includes the accompanying Rhino .3DM file.

If you would just like to cut out our Glowflake shape, simply use this 2D pattern (in DWG format).  Feel free to make changes if you like, but be careful with the slot-tab locations.  These need to follow the general rules outlined in the steps above.

Have fun!

Thanks to all the LMNers who made this happen in such a short period of time: ldacosta, kgregga, thenderson, amacdonald, & tschaffer.

3 Comments

  1. kailin says:

    another material to try would be Canson Opalux Vellum – it is a translucent, coated paper product that is really durable. it might give a different, more diffuse effect than the opaque Yupo.

    it is a bit cheaper, but not much…

  2. Nando Costa says:

    Hi. I am going through a similar process (laser-cutting on Yupo) and have ran into some difficulties finding the perfect settings for the laser engraver. I know it is unlikely anyone there will have the time to help me with this. But if you do have a minute or two, I would very much appreciate to hear about your experience. Thanks again for your consideration. If you are available, please email me your number to nando@nandocosta.com

  3. kailin says:

    We fine tuned our settings by testing several different powers and speeds.

    Try cutting out a simple shape with a speed and power similar to what you would use for chipboard:

    If it cuts through and/or melts try, systematically raising the speed/lowering the power until you just cut through without melting the Yupo.

    If it doesn’t cut through, try systematically lowering the speed/power until you find one that cuts through.

    Since all lasercutters are different, I’m not sure how much more help we can provide, other than to just test until you get it right.

    -kailin

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