How to design an enclosure using the Laser cutter in the Engineering College maker space.

Jonathan Valvano, EE445L, University of Texas at Austin


Background steps
1) Get trained on the Full Spectrum Hobby and Pro Laser Cutters,
2) Download and install the Retina Engrave Software on your laptop from
3) Download and install PCB artist from



Figure 1. Example boxes (Lab3Box, Lab9Box, WoodBox and WoodBox2).


Planning steps
0) Choose whether you wish to build the box out of acrylic or wood, and obtain the raw material so you can double check its thickness. Download the box starter file specific for that material, and which best matches your needs. The sizes in this list are the inside dimensions of the enclosure. Download


Lab3Box.pcb is a 4.08 by 3.04 by 1.04 inch box, 80 mil acrylic, 8 by 8 inch raw material. 

Lab9Box.pcb is a 3.92 by 2.4 by 0.72 inch box, 80 mil acrylic, 8 by 8 inch raw material.

CirqoidBox.pcb is a 4.10 by 3.10 by 1.00 inch box, 100 mil acrylic, 8 by 8 inch raw material.

WoodBox.pcb is a 4.00 by 2.5 by 0.75 inch box, 125 mil wood, 6.5 by 9.5 inch raw material. 

WoodBox2.pcb is a 4.00 by 2.5 by 0.75 inch box, 125 mil wood, 6 by 8.5 inch raw material.

Lab3Box93.pcb is a 4.65 by 2.418 by 1.488 inch box, 93 mil acrylic, 9.3 by 8 inch raw material

Lab3Box93square.pcb is a 4.65 by 2.418 by 1.488 inch box, 93 mil acrylic, 9.3 by 8 inch raw material

Lab10Box93.pcb is a 5.58 by 2.976 by 0.93  inch box, 93 mil acrylic, 10.4 by 8 inch raw material


For the 80 mil acrylic all slots are down-sized to 70 mil so the pieces will fit snugly. For the 93 mil acrylic all slots are down-sized to 84 mil so the pieces will fit snugly. For the 100 mil acrylic all slots are down-sized to 90 mil so the pieces will fit snugly. For the 125 mil wood all slots are sized to 115 mil. The board outline layer can be used to determine the amount of raw material needed.

1) You can design your box with the same application with which you designed your PCB. I used PCB Artist for these examples. Open the appropriate starter file and print all layers of the existing starter file at 100%. Find some cardboard that has a thickness approximately equal to your final material. Glue the paper printout to the cardboard, and cut out the pieces. This step is important for you to visualize how the six parts designed in two dimensions will fit together to make a 3-D object. It is important to keep straight which side of each piece is up/down, left/right, and inside/outside. The paper printout exists on the 6 outside faces of the box. Save the PCB file with a different name. Figure 2 shows the top side of Lab9Box.pcb

Figure 2. Design in PCB Artist.


2) Think about the mapping between PCB layers and the build process. I set PCB Artist to view only the layers used in the design: document, top copper, top silk, bottom silk, and board outline. I use the document layer to define parameters not translated to either cuts (vector) or etching (raster). Notice I added labels in the document layer to show the left/right, front/back, and top/bottom orientation. I use the top copper layer to define all cuts. In particular, I will cut holes in the sides of the box for items like LEDs and switches. The top copper layer also defines where in the box I wish drill holes. I use the top silk layer to define labels that will be etched on the pieces in raster mode. I use the bottom silk layer to define the other piece situated in an orthogonal dimension.  In PCB Artist the etching occurs on the outside layer, and the inside layer will not be etched.  I use the board outline layer to define the size of the raw material from which the 6 pieces will be cut. Execute Settings->Grids and set the Step Size to match your material thickness, and set the Snap Mode to Grid.  The following figure shows the settings for the 80 mil acrylic on the left, and the 125 mil wood on the right.


Figure 3. Settings->Grids for 80 mil acrylic and 125 mil wood.


3) If you need to change the material thickness, you should make this change first. You should move all edges of each piece so it snaps to the Grid, which is the material thickness. Obviously, make sure the inside of the box has room to fit the PCB and other components you wish to house.


4) Next, adjust the size of the box as needed. It is really helpful to leave the snap to Grid at the same setting so all box dimensions are multiples of the material thickness. Top and bottom pieces should be the same size, left and right should be the same size. Front and back should be the same. Adjust the slots so they all fit together. One trick I use to make sure it fits is 1) save the PCB, 2) move/rotate pieces overtop each other to see all the slots will fit, 3) revert to the saved version. This is where the documentation helps to know which edges should line up.


5) Next, open the PCB file that contains your actual PCB. In the box PCB, change the grid snap to value convenient for the actual PCB. Select components like the PCB mounting holes, LEDs, switches, display, and PCB board outline. Select all components that will physically interact with the box. Copy these components and paste them into the box PCB over the top (or bottom) side of the box. Move all these components together. Remember the box PCB shows the outside view of the box top, so you may have to flip the actual PCB depending on how you plan to mount the actual PCB into the box. The white in Figure 4 shows the PCB pasted over the top side of the box. The pasted actual PCB components have been flipped and rotated by 180 so the bottom copper layer of the actual PCB physically touches the inside of the top of the box.

Figure 4. Components of the actual PCB pasted over the top side of the box


The next step is to draw top copper rectangles for switch and display, and to draw circles for the LED and mounting screws. Recall the top copper layer will be cut by the laser. Next, add top silk to label the six sides of the box as desired. Recall the top silk will be etched on the material. You can add holes and rectangles on the other sides for off board switches and connectors. It is important to remove or change layer to document all top copper that was pasted in from the actual PCB. Figure 5 shows the final edit. Remember, first we will etch the top silk (raster) and then cut with the top copper layer. It is helpful to observe the design with just top copper and top silk. Zoom way in to make sure there are not two or more copies of top copper objects.

Figure 5. The top side of the box with cutouts for display, switch and LED.


6) Measure twice and cut once. You should not skip this step. Print out both your PCB and your box. Glue the pieces to cardboard and cut out the sides. Verify the labels are on the outside of the box and the slots, grooves and tabs will fit together.


7) There are eight slots, four on the top and four on the bottom. Once you are sure you do not wish to change the size of the box, we will shrink the size of the eight slots so the pieces will fit snuggly. For the 80-mil acrylic, we will reduce the width of the slot from 80 to 70 mil. For the 93-mil acrylic, we will reduce the width of the slot from 93 to 84 mil.  For the 100-mil acrylic, we will reduce the width of the slot from 100 to 90 mil. For the 125-mil wood, we will reduce the width of the slot from 125 to 115 mil. We wish to move both sides of each slot by 5 mil, so we set the Grid to 5 mil, Figure 6. Figure 7A shows the slot before and Figure 7B shows the slot after reduction. This step accounts for the amount of material that will be removed by the laser during cutting.


Figure 6. Settings->Grids for ½ the desired shrinkage. For 93-mil acrylic I set the grid to 3mil and moved one side 6 mils and the other side I moved three mil.


Figure 7A. A slot is originally 1680 by 80 mil.


Figure 7B. We shrink the slot to 1680 by 70 mil. Notice both lines are moved towards each other.


8) To prepare for cutting make a pdf print of just the top copper, and a second pdf print of just the top silk. Make both prints 100 %, all black. The portrait/landscape orientation should be the same. The laser cutters have more horizontal dimension than vertical dimension. Print the pdf at 100% and cutout the copper pieces to verify orientations are correct.

Cutting steps

1) Follow all safety and procedural steps as instructed by the Makerspace.

2) First etch the labels by printing the top silk

3) Second, cut the pieces by printing the top copper layer.


If you have any comments or corrections please contact me at