Class 3 Prototype for a Playful Clock with Laser Cutter

This clock lets you tell time any way you want. With different magnet sets you can map out your day. Since I may want to develop this idea in the future, I chose to learn using the laser cutter with cardboard and masking tape as my materials instead of investing in acrylic and magnets right away.

For me, this clock is a playful way to undo time when you don’t need it. I myself can over-plan, and on top of that, our fast-paced world is sped up by technologies we use every day. It might be nice to have a clock that helps you simplify your day or adds some punchy humor.



Photos above: As you can see, the clock can show something simple like when your awake or asleep. Or you can still use it as a regular clock. Or you can even tell stories – for example, that you have to leave at 1pm to catch a flight, and then you’re on vacation!

I have lots of ideas about what magnet sets I can design, whether symbols, words, or numbers.  I’ll have a lot of fun asking people what kinds of magnets they’d like to have!

From a design perspective, I do have at least one critical decision to make. How would I address the fact that you can only “fill out” the clock for 12 hours at a time? (The easiest solution I can think of is to create an AM and PM magnet that you can put on the face of the clock if you like.)

For now, on to documenting the process!


1. I made many sketches to flesh out my idea. (Apologies for the out of focus images. Not sure what is happening.)

Below is my idea of a clock, which shows how the magnets themselves would be glued to the back of the clock face.  The paired magnet would be on the back of each time piece.

You can see a ruler at the bottom of the picture, showing my test to see if magnets work through acrylic. I’ll have to further test, though…


Here I’m deciding whether I’d like to create connected/cut/vector pieces in Illustrator, or “separate”/etched and cut/raster and vector pieces. I ended up liking the visual factor of the negative space of the fully cut pieces using vector images.


Below I’m deciding how large the clock should be. 10.5 inches felt right. Plus I knew it had to fit inside the bed of the laser cutter which only allows materials that are 12 x 24 inches. I’m also guesstimating how large the time pieces should be. I decided about an inch tall felt right.


You can see below that I made lots of measurements and drawings to figure out:

  • What width of material is required to sit behind the clock face, so that it “holds” the face of the clock upright even if there is the added weight of magnet pieces?
  • What diameter should that second piece of material be, so that it covers up the clock mechanism from view (if the clock face is made of transparent acrylic, since it could be interesting to see the second piece).
  • At the time, I thought I was buying acrylic so I got very excited about color combinations.


At the bottom you can see my final measurements of what width of acrylic I’d need to fill up behind the clock face, along the length of the screw of the clock’s mechanism

Ultimately I didn’t use acrylic for this prototype, but I have the measurements for later.


Here you can see me trying to make sure that the clock’s hands can pass over the magnet pieces.


Below is a snapshot of my work in Illustrator. I learned how to:

  • Turn fonts into objects by going under Type > Create Outlines, and then under Object > Path > Outline Stroke
  • Merge shapes so that the numbers and letters would be cut together as one piece. I did this by choosing Group > Shape Mode > Merge (the first option that turns them into one shape)
  • Change the fill to none and the stroke to 0.1. I had a lot of odd things going on at this point, but I figured it out with help from new friends!

I did have an issue with:

  • For reasons I don’t understand yet, all of my shapes had a 0.01 pt stroke yet half were still “groups” and had thicker lines evidenced by the laser cutter cutting them much more effectively. The other half were “paths” and had thinner lines, and took three times as long to cut.  I’ll have to ask for help before I cut again.




As for materials, I was lucky to find distinctive cardboard colors in the shop! PLUS they were colors I was thinking of using anyway. Ultimately, I probably won’t use these colors going forward, now that I see them together. Future $ saved on acrylic!


(Yes, my circle hole is off-center. It was fine until I loaded it onto the laser printer’s laptop, which has a very sensitive track pad — I didn’t notice I had accidentally moved the circle until it was too late. Now I know to be SURE my shapes are final before I load onto the laptop!)


Here is the 50 watt printer doing its magic.

giphy laser cutter

I used these settings:

  • For the white card board, I ran this setting twice: 24/40/500
  • For the greenish card board, I ran this setting four times: 10/24/500
  • However, I cheated a bit and removed shapes from my file that were already cut well, so the laser could focus on cutting what wasn’t completed yet. Evidence of me skipping ahead to the number 10 below after deleting the shapes above from my file (I had a back up copy of my file):


Bad image quality evidence of me deleting shapes in my file to save time with the laser.


I also learned that the finger behind the actual laser beam that gives the apparatus support WILL drag burned material across the surface of your cardboard. You can faintly see a line across the peace sign.

I know I could have used masking tape, but this was a prototype and I would have ended up taping the whole board…



A classmate needed to use the laser cutter before class, so I stopped cutting even though a few of my shapes were not cut fully. I used a razor. : (



Going forward, I’ll keep refining the design of my clock. A few quick fixes include bringing down the size of my word magnets. While I did think ahead to size these correctly, obviously that didn’t work.

I’ll also continue to learn the laser cutter!

Honestly, I don’t think I’ll fall in love with the laser cutter because I find its visual effect to be overly perfect and therefore not very interesting.

I’d be more interested in the laser cutter if I paired it with a digital pen that you can use with Illustrator.