BING ! That is, the light of B-ING, the AHA moment, wherein a light bulb flashes atop the head O=
! As the moon approached its fullest this lunation, a discovery came through that has greatly improved the design of the Cosmic SpaceCraft Lanterns. Now the lantern “shades” are nothing but laminated paper, held together by pure ingenuity !
As I described in a previous blog post, I had recently discovered the SlideTabs, a paper model-building system that enables the construction of a variety of polyhedra, most of them simpler and smaller than the shapes featured by The Playful Geometer’s Cosmic SpaceCraft line. I experimented with the system and modified for making mini-lanterns for chirstmas lights. I thinned the tabs it so that the shadows they form would only cast on the black border printed on the shapes. I cut a bunch of these smaller shapes out by hand and it was somewhat pain-staking. The tabs with their rough edges did not slide so smoothly either, so I was hesitant to have anyone else try and put the shapes together.
In hopes of getting a friend’s US Cutter LaserPoint machine to cut out my more complicated star lamps, I defined some cut lines for them, incorporating the SlideTabs V2 tabs for the edges that fold together to make a single pyramid from one page.
Satisfied with the hand-cut prototype, I brought laminated prints to my friend’s shop for a test cut. Well, I spent all evening trying to get that thing to work with no avail. It was a terrible hassle because I had to move the laser a precise location 4 times before it would cut, and I not once was able to get an acceptable result after about 6 hours of trial and error. That was rather frustrating…
Luckily I hadn’t done my taxes in 3 years, so when I got my return this year, I had enough money to purchase the Craft Robo Pro CE5000-40. It’s probably the most expensive thing I’ve ever purchased, but I truly feel it was a wise investment. It’s definitely the key to producing affordable digitally decorated polyhedral lanterns. I like it a lot because I don’t have to manually move the laser eye around much at all, it just finds all the registration marks on its own…well, not perfectly…it does fail to read them sometimes or it will cut out the image unevenly sometimes. I think that’s mostly because of the ever-so-slight wrinkle of the laminated paper. At first I was only getting an accurate cut about half the time, but now I’m batting more like +90%. I found holding the page to the machine — especially when it’s reading — has improved this average greatly.
I used the machine for the first time to cut out some lanterns as featured at the OM festival. The lanterns at this stage still contained velcro tabs to hold them together. You can see the perforation the cutter makes for a clean fold illustrated well here (thanks to Scott Sutherland of http://livingincolor.net), more photos of OM posted on Flickr
Although they looked pretty crisp, the velcro glue back was sticking to things and the staples that held the velcro firmly in place was catching on underlying velcro tabs when the panels were stacked. However, at the time I was just happy to rid myself of the many troubles I had with double-sided tape, packing tape, hot glue, pipe cleaners, all sketchy to say the least.
While I did not have too much trouble putting together the lanterns made with SlideTabs, I had yet to subject the general public to their construction. Someone requested to buy one of my lanterns after seeing them at OM and I offered to put it up for them while visiting Ottawa last week. They offered to help me put it together, and in proceeding, seemed to find it rather frustrating. The lantern they got had already been constructed and deconstructed for a feature at another festival. Another construction revealed lamination peeling up at the edges of the tabs. It turns out that the lamination does not stick very strongly to black toner, as it melts at high temperatures (while it goes through the hot laminator). I had very little trouble with this while I was hand-cutting my lanterns (without SlideTabs) even though I often cut along a black edge . It was an unpleasant surprise to find my product was no longer very user-friendly nor stable while installing it for a friend
Though I got the lantern up fine in the end, I felt kind of bad about our exchange after returning home … and so it was back to the drawing board. I quickly realized I could solve the peeling problem by making the edges of the tabs white so the laminate would stick to the paper and not peel away. However, I was still feeling uncomfortable about the difficulty of using the SlideTabs V2 design, even without the peeling. The pyramids of the lanterns were occasionally popping open at their tabbed edges as well. Thus, I modified the cut lines to use SlideTabs V1, and now the pyramids were both easier to assemble and more robust.
Before this improvement, I was having to add a support pyramid to the wire as seen here :
They are not really necessary anymore with the implementation of the SlideTabs V1, which is a relief. I did manage to cut the support pyramids out with my cutting machine, but I had to push down the cutting head with my hand, which was tricky and perhaps dangerous (for my SpaceRobo, that is).
The greatest breakthrough in SpaceCraft Engineering came while I was returning home from Ottawa on a bus. I was pondering the question: “how could I make a tab that could replace the velcro ?” The first doodle seemed like a stab in the dark, but I had to know if it would work, so I just kept tracing the shape with a pen until I could peel it out of the page and made a second one to see if they would connect. Seen here is the artifact of my discovery:
I had some satisfactory results, so when I got home, I drafted something for my cutter. After one trial and error, a slight tweak on the original design proved to work wonders. I set about using some old laminated designs that I couldn’t run through my machine to build the first paper-only Cosmic SpaceCraft Lantern. This is it !
Its very strong, very crisp, and its so much more fun to put together. I can barely imagine them being any more perfect !
This also means that there is a possibility of making eco-friendly lanterns with soy inks screen-printed on some nice natural cardstock paper. I have yet to determine whether there would be a market for them as compared to the colourful but plasticized digital designs. Your input would be greatly appreciated. Now that my R & D phase is nearly complete, it will be time to start doing some market research soon.
But for now I am busily converting all my models designs to this new tab system to be subjected to the ultimate test, star-fishing ! There’s nothing like a pack of wild kids reaching for the stars to wreak havoc on any weak links in the SpaceCraft Engineering design. You see, I sometimes take the lanterns for walks (mostly out to their exhibits), dangling them from a tree branch raised high in the sky. It’s like a new form of street art “Catch the Star” proved to be a rather entertaining game for the young ones at a special event once so perhaps I’m due for another ‘test drive’ with my latest prototypes.
Admittedly… perhaps I “jumped the gun” a bit on advertising my Cosmic SpaceCraft Lanterns. I recall putting the earliest “catalogue” out with $ signs this May on my blog and recently launched a new website with price tag on it too. For over a year now, I have not been soliciting sales of my lanterns much due to a (waning) lack of confidence in their construction. Since last year’s festival season, many people have expressed a general desire to purchase my lanterns, but only a handful have followed through to seal the deal. I haven’t had any crash landing reports from my customers, but I’m glad that many folks’ plans to support my business have been delayed until now because I want the best for my customers. Within a couple of weeks, all models should be tested and ready for purchase (or trade if you will). This is the culmination of years of tireless tinkering…. it sure feels good to be a maker ! May I be one with the greatest of such.