Design Tips, Tricks, and Advanced Topics

There are many different graphic software packages and many different laser brands. Each will have their own terminology and steps. This tutorial will cover more specific and advanced design concepts. You will need to translate these steps into your specific application.

Overlapping Objects vs. Punch Outs

Designs that have two objects that seemingly overlap each other can be handled two ways depending on the desired effect. In this example the Blue Arrow will be engraved on the front panel and the Red Box will be engraved on the middle panel. 

Three layers showing front etching, middle, and a combined layer of the former two - the top row shows overlapping and the bottom row shows punch out or subtracted design layers

  • Top Example: If you engrave the objects by just overlapping them and then apply the lights with blue on the arrow and red on the box, you will get a purple arrow. 
  • Bottom Example: If you ‘Punch Out’ or Subtract the arrow from the box on the middle layer, then there is no engraved object directly behind the arrow to mix with, giving you a blue arrow.

Overlapping objects and punch outs can get confusing when you are working with 3 layers.

Three layer design example of overlapping objects on the top compared to the same three design layers as punch outs on the bottom

Tips when using punch-outs:

  1. The front panel never needs anything punched out.
  2. The middle panel needs all of the overlapping objects from the front to be punched out.
  3. The back panel needs all of the overlapping objects from the middle panel and the front panel to be punched out.


Lasers are not known for being friendly with ‘Transitional Gradation’ (meaning a smooth transition from dark to light) in your design. 

Often, the laser will produce a ‘banded’ result:

Comparison strips from black to white with smooth transitional gradation on the left and banded gradation on the right

Luckily with Etch Glow Light Displays, if you etch everything with a solid fill then the object will appear to gradate somewhat once the color from the light is applied.

That’s because light is not infinite. As the light travels from the light board to the top, it exits through the engravings ‘using up’ some of its power or lumens along the way.

Depending on the engraved graphic, it might be noticeable and other times not. 

Color vs Grayscale

We recommend designing your Etch Glow Light Display in color and then converting it to grayscale (shades of gray) before you send it to the laser.

Colored police badge design on left compared to grayscale version of design on right

Converting to Grayscale allows you to have better control over the depth of the engraving because you can see the relative depths before you engrave it.

Shades of Gray

Most lasers control the depth of etching by using the color of the object being engraved. The denser the color, the deeper the engraving. Black will engrave the deepest and light gray the shallowest. 

Acrylic panel depth displayed with a smooth transitionFigure 1: Relative Smooth Transitional Depths - not to scale


Side view of banded levels of gradation and their dramatized etch depth in the acrylic

Figure 2: Relative Banded Gradation Depths - not to scale


Since we know that lasers are not that friendly to a Transitional Gradation like Figure 1, we recommend using only 5 levels of solid fill gray in all your design objects.

Example: The Police Badge Design has a solid design on the back piece of clear acrylic. How dark you set the fill will create different results when you apply the lights. 

For a large shape with a lot of fill you can see an interesting pattern. The lighter etching (light gray) produces a fuller and richer result than the darker etching (black).

Police example showing three variations of gray background design etching levels and showing how results will appear when lit

That’s because the deeper etching (black) ‘uses up’ more of the light as it travels from the LEDs to the top.

Using the ‘Punch Out’ technique, if your design calls for it, will help smooth out the color blending.


The light isn’t being ‘used up’ in the areas not engraved (punched out), so the light will travel further toward the top of the design

Tip: To get good light coverages on larger objects

  1. Engrave with a lighter gray
  2. Use Punch Outs where possible.

Black and Shades of Gray

Something else to consider. Lighter etchings (light gray) will produce a more pixelated result when lasered – meaning the dots will be spread out more. How much will depend on the quality of your laser.

Some lasers allow you to control the dithering (dot pattern) as well as the DPI (dots per inch) or LPI (lines per inch). We have found that increasing these adjustments will have limited impact on the results, however, they will dramatically decrease the speed of your laser.

Comparison of colored etch depths to dot pattern scale
Pixelated results - not to scale

Etch Glow Light Displays use lights to illuminate the engraved pixels. When the light hits the pixels, it gives off a slight glow in all directions, filling in any spaces between the pixels with the color of the light. 

Without lights effect of design on left and with lights effect of design on right with blurring LED effect apparent

Tip: Engrave at a lower DPI either through laser settings or by using lighter grays colors in your large fill areas. This will produce the best quality result at the fastest speed.

When to use Black

We’ve established that larger fill objects (backgrounds) should be engraved with lighter grays. 

However, many times, you will want to use a dark gray or even black fill in your objects. Especially smaller objects or objects that you want to be well defined with sharp edges and without pixilation.

Text is a great example of when to engrave with Black fill:

Colored police badge design with black typeface of "Police" below design

Mixing Black and Gray

There are also times when you might mix shades of gray with black in your designs. 

In the star example we engrave part of the star with a light gray fill and part with a black fill. This is how to create shadows or highlights in an object.  Both the light gray and black are engraved on the same panel:

Grayscale two toned star on left vs colored star on right side

What if Black is one of the Colors in your design?

Since Black is not a color available in lights, how do you make an object black when the lights are turned on?

Your Etch Glow kit comes with Black Cardstock material to make a Backer.  If you punch out the object that is to be black from your design, then it won’t be engraved, and you will see right through to the backer (which is black in this case).

 Simple design example of an arrow object that should be black followed by the punchout layer of the object, the backer cardstock, and how the end lighting effect will display with the punch-out design on the black backer cardstock

Our kits are packaged with Black Cardstock, however, you can use any color or patterned cardstock (or other material) to get different results.

 Punch-out arrow design example on a foil background rather than a black background

Light Pattern

The patented Etch Glow Light Board uses LED lights that have a spread pattern of about 22 degrees. 

Left side of image shows the lighting effects on clear acrylic with one LED lit in the center, the right image shows the same design with the lighting effects of 5 LEDs that overlap lighting

5 LED lights on each row provides coverage for the entire acrylic panel.

Light Path with Cutlines

When designing your own shapes to be cutout, avoid any gaps or holes that won’t get any light. 

Crescent moon shaped design that doesn't allow light to pass through from the bottom tip to the top due to the cutlines and LED travelling concepts

The light needs a continuous path in the clear acrylic to reach the entire design.

The Spotlight Effect

Placing large solid objects too close to the lights will cause a spotlight effect.

 Spotlight effect shown on police badge design where the etched area is too close to the LED board and the light does not travel to the top of the sign

Backside Engraving

All our designs are setup for engraving on the front side of the material.  Sometimes you may want to engrave on the backside of the clear acrylic panels. This leaves a smooth front, and it creates a bit more depth to the finished product.

If you want to try Backside Engraving, remember to flip the image before you separate it for engraving individual panels.

 Police badge design on the left in grayscale and the design mirrored on the right side

Remember to flip the cutout lines as well. In this example the cutlines are symmetrical so it wouldn’t matter, but it is a good practice to flip everything.