Tag Archives: aprs

Laser engraving metal using zinc spray

While looking for a way to create front panels and detailing on homebrew equipment, I was pointed to a YouTube video by Mark Presling entitled Metal Finishing With Mark – Metal Engraving 101.

In the video, Mark explains how cold galvanizing zinc spray, when ‘excited’ by a laser, burns at a high temperature to permanently mark the surface of the material onto which the zinc was sprayed. Mark suggests that this only works on stainless steel, however, other videos show how it can be used on ceramics, glass and similar substrates to burn or melt the substrate. I’m not exactly sure of the process, but, it certainly does leave a controllable, visible mark on the surface, which is exactly what I was after!

The box above shows markings for the 144 MHz antenna, GPS antenna, and status LEDs for an APRS transmitter I happened to be working on at the time. The effect is to leave a darker surface on the Hammond diecast box, which (at least to my testing) is very hard wearing and does not come off with use of solvents…

Here’s how

Firstly you’ll need to coat the surface to be etched with a liberal spray of zinc cold galvanizing compound. I used MOTIP Zinc Spray because it was the cheapest I could find on eBay and it works just fine – perhaps I got lucky but I’ve seen several videos on YouTube each swearing by a different make of spray, and they all appear to work. The important thing is that it is high in zinc. It’s an epoxy based aerosol, so, spray outside using the appropriate precautions. The spray should be quite thick, I spray on about 4 heavy coats one over the other and then let it ‘dry’ for around 5 minutes, just until the main solvent has evaporated.

While the spray is drying, design your artwork. I’m making a line drawing of the car along with my callsign to put on the box, mainly to see how it comes out – I’m keen to see if the line drawing comes out well or not – so watch this space! My design looks like the following:

Next we get to put the metal into the laser cutter. I use a 60W CO2 laser cutter, with the power set to around 50%. Others have reported success using 10W diode lasers. I found that 50% was about right for my machine. Going slowly helped a lot, I reduced the machine to around 5mm/second. Where possible, vector engrave as the laser power is continuous and more controlled than raster scanning, but for large areas, such as the text, raster scanning works fine. I always reinforce text with a vector engrave around the outer.

You’ll need to focus the machine as you’d normally do in order to cut the surface.

Once focused, frame the metal on the cutter bed. My laser cutter has a spotting laser which really helps with this.

At this point, you’re ready to go! When the paint is hit with the laser, it goes a very burnt/sooty black. The process generates some very nasty fumes, which you are well advised not to breath – this includes metal vapors which are incredibly dangerous.

Once the engraving is done, leave the work in the cutter’s fume extraction for a short while to be sure that the chamber is clear of toxics, and then remove the work. Mine looks like this:

The final stage in the process is to use a paint remover to remove the paint from the metal to reveal the final design. I use cellulose thinners, which works well. Be sure to do this in a well ventilated space, otherwise you end up with a headache (like I have now, as I write this!).

I think you’ll agree that the final result looks very clean and tidy, and has retained all of the detail present in the original design.

This process is quick and easy to do if you have a laser cutter, uses a cheap-ish (around £6) can of zinc spray, and produces good, repeatable results with minimal fuss. It’s very useful for creating front panels and similar.

You may also find that spraying another colour of paint over the top, and then sanding down very lightly will further accentuate the design.

Some VHF Tinkering

On the way home from work on Friday, my attention was brought to my mobile APRS setup, which was showing received callsigns from Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and France. Once home I decided to connect up my KAM KPC-9612+ TNC to an old Kenwood PMR and see what I heard. The antenna is just a loft-mounted Diamond V-2000, so nothing fancy. About 1 metre of RG58 into the radio. The map is pretty impressive, showing what good conditions were around on VHF at the time. The orange circle shows the ALOHA circle (local reliable APRS network size) – more here – basically the area to which your transmissions would normally be in contention with.


My usual small station EME setup consists of two 9 element DK7ZB Yagi’s bayed at 13 metres. Combined with a Yaseu G5400 Az/El, K3NG’s Arduino rotator interface and YO3SMU’s PstRotator, this is a reasonable attempt at a small station EME setup. Of course you can do it with less, but, it becomes somewhat laborious. With the moon tracking facility of PstRotator, I can set up once, and allow the software to keep the antennas pointing in the correct direction.

The antennas look like this:

At least we don’t have neighbours!

In the shack, I used my Icom IC7100 (since my Anglian transverter was having issues), a homebrew 1kW solid state amplifier, and PGA144 preamp based on the PGA-103+.

Most of the spare time during the weekend was taken up by relearning everything I had forgotten since I last tried EME and VHF data modes. I was able to confirm the setup was working correctly using GB3NGI beacon as well as some others on the make-more-miles on VHF site. Within around an hour I was successfully receiving SP4KM, ZS4TX and K5QE via the moon on 144 MHz.

The screens above are rather busy with the rotator controller, NetworkTime program for keeping the PC clock synchronised via NTP, and CAT7200 which usefully translates the DTS/RTS line style PTT interface to a newer CAT/CI-V instruction.

As mentioned, when the moon was below the horizon, I also played around with other modes. SSB resulted in few contacts, but more than the ‘none’ I managed on CW. I quickly found my feet again on FT8, working into Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands. At the end of the weekend, PskReporter was showing the below map for M1GEO on VHF:

I have promised myself two things:

  1. To get on VHF more often. Well, do do more radio, basically!
  2. To finish the 144 MHz amplifier off. I have the basic functionality, but it’s lacking a user interface and other nice features. The hardware is there, but there’s no translation onto the nice graphics LCD.