Daisy — A Fireman’s Best Friend

Completed digital painting from Photoshop
January 17–19, 2017 I was invited by Bonny Lhotka to the first ever, “Image Imaginarium” hosted by Roland DGA in Irvine, California. Along with a handful of talented artists, photographers, and print experts, we were each given an opportunity to create our own individual art pieces utilizing the wide range of printers offered by Roland. After three straight days of nearly non-stop file preparation, technical jargon, “what-if” conversations, and positive attitude, I walked away with a couple of suitcases of magic. This is the story of just one of the successes.

I have a long-time friend. He is a fireman. He had a dalmatian for almost as long as I have known him. Her name was Daisy. This past autumn was the last one for her. In the past, I have created digital paintings, portraits of dogs. I typically have them printed via an online canvas print vendor. I was going to do the same for my friend and his family when they commissioned me to paint their passed pet and family member.

Looking at various photographs provided by my friends, I painted Daisy using Adobe Photoshop CC and my trusty Wacom Intuos3 tablet. I nearly sent the file to the online vendor when the notion of creating an engraved version of the artwork onto quarter-inch acrylic came to mind.

Reversed artwork created by 1-Touch Laser Photo for laser-engraving on Universal Laser System PLS 4.60. Artwork was reversed because the engraving was intended to be on opposite side of print
Completed engraving on eight-inch squared clear acrylic plastic sheet. Only recognizable with correct light refraction.

Using a Universal Laser System 4.60 PLS CO2 laser cutting machine and the 1-Touch Laser Photo software, I first engraved an eight-inch square portrait with full bleeds on the 1/4” acrylic as my tester piece. When the engraved acrylic sat upon any white surface, a ghostly, almost hologram-like image would be created.

I often transfer my digital images to plastics and metals using DASSART products, and thought this project could be a good process when combined with the engraving, but the ability to keep the transfer registered would be daunting.

Then I was invited to “Image Imaginarium” where my only real size limitations were what I was willing to carry or ship. So, I then engraved a larger portrait, 12-inch square, centered on a 16-inch square piece of acrylic, knowing I could register precisely and print onto the acrylic itself.

The Beast: The Roland DGA Versa UV LEJ-640FT UV Flatbed Printer at the Roland DGA Headquarters in Irvine, California where the “Image Imaginarium” was held. Sample prints on stone, wood, and countless other substrates decorated the facility.

Using Roland’s massive Versa UV LEJ-640FT UV Flatbed Printer and the direction and instruction of Product Manager, Jay Roberts and Application Specialist, Kitt Jones, we made light work on ol’ Daisy.

Unsure if printing on a white piece of plastic and overlaying the engraving would be the most visually intriguing option, we printed the portrait on a piece of white acrylic at the eight-inch squared size first. This job could have been easily been printed on any of the LEF UV printers whose beds range from 12” x 13” (LEF-12i), to 13” x 20” (LEF-200), and up to 13” x 30” (LEF-300), but they were busy creating the other artist’s projects. Lucky, once again, I went straight to the beast, the 64-inch wide by 98-inch long bed. In order to align perfectly with my engraved piece, I had to print exactly registered to the white plastic. The recommended, best practice, quickly became my ace for most all of my remaining projects. We simply sent the file to print in the “Draft” setting onto a large white piece of scrap paper adhered to the bed of the UV printer. After that completed, we manually aligned the white plastic over the print guide. The rip software used for the larger printer is Dual VersaWorks, and it saves previously printed jobs, as well as, queues up numerous others to keep a larger production moving efficiently. Using the software, we simply raised the print head enough to accommodate the 0.2” tall substrate, and sent the print again.

Nearly completed first print on eight-inch square white acrylic.

I was pleased that I had a couple of ideas and options available to me, for overlaying the engraving on top of the printed piece was fun, but not quite the caliber of “awe” I was intending. I quickly moved on to printing on the larger, 16-inch square engraved piece.

Typically used for large banners and exterior signage, the LEJ-640FT prints white ink and a clear gloss. Combining the gloss with layers of ink create brilliant raised surfaces nearly opposite to my engraved acrylic. I wasn’t wanting to accentuate this piece with gloss, for I felt the engraving did that well enough, but I did need Daisy’s head to appear solid and be opaque against the transparent background. To do so, I created a white channel in my Photoshop file that filled the area of the dog’s head. I left the background without any white, and only the specks of misty yellows, blue-greens, and purples remained.

For Dual VersaWorks to recognize the white channel, it must be named 
 “RDG_WHITE” as shown here. White is printed in the locations where black 
 is present on the channel.

Since this larger piece was on clear acrylic and also needed precision placement above the engraved area, we again sent the image to print as a “Draft” with no white ink onto the scrap paper adhered to the bed of the printer. We then aligned the clear, engraved acrylic over the print, adjusted the print head to accommodate the new thickness, and printed again, this time with the white channel recognized through the Dual VersaWorks rip software.

Roland Versa UV LEJ-640FT Flatbed curing ink with ultra-violet light onto clear acrylic substrate. The 16-inch squared area took just over ten minutes to complete.

The UV printing process is really interesting. The printer sprays the ink onto the substrate and the ultra-violet light immediately cures the ink, solidifying and adhering it to the material. I was told that if left uncured, the ink would pool, and spill, and make an enormous mess, just like a spilled bottle of paint. I never would of guessed this was the case, for from my position, as soon as the ink was sprayed, it appeared immediately dried.

The engraving was originally flipped horizontally on the backside of the acrylic and the UV printing was “normal” or right-sided on the front. The printing took just over ten minutes.

Details of finished piece.

The way the ink rests just a quarter of an inch above the engraving creates a distinctive depth and texture. My digital brush strokes appear as if scraping the clear substrate, giving the piece a far more reliable sense of individuality not typically felt with typical canvas prints I have experienced before.

Once home, I returned to the Universal Laser System cutter and manufactured a frame using a 0.125” laserable walnut sheet of wood and a few more framing pieces of acrylic. Using 1.5” metal standoffs, I combined the print with the one-of-a-kind, hand-assembled frame. The standoffs accentuate the portrait’s subject even further by casting a shadow of the head onto the rich and dark wood pane behind it. The softness of the background speckles combined with the engraving on the back create the dream-like memory I was wanting to achieve with this portrait. We have photos of the subject, but this was intended to be a peaceful and happy memory that trigger moments and stories.

Finished piece mounted on walnut wood with metal 1.5” standoffs and additional laser-cut acrylic framing.
In future projects, I envision being able to use the gloss to layer the various shapes of the subject to add an additional depth and texture, such as the collar, dog tags, eyes, and hair in this portrait. I can see testing with more details in the engraved background, as if it were an entirely different image that the memory portrait would overlay.
I would also want to test by using more gloss and white distributed outside of the figure head further to help the faint colors to become more prominent, but overall, I am deeply pleased with the final piece, and now, onto the next project. (Coming Soon)