File puptcrit/puptcrit.0603, message 159

Date: Wed, 15 Mar 2006 21:20:50 -0600
Subject: Re: [Puptcrit] Strengthening mat board (shadow puppets)

A lot of very helpful suggestions here. Thanks very much. I get the 
list as a digest, so I'd like to respond all at once. I'll tell you 
what I've learned:

> I'd say try Lexan (polycarbonate, which is totally unbreakable, yet
> still has a good deal of flex. We use 1/16" for large figures and
> thinner (.05 mil) for smaller figures or pieces. You can paint it with
> Krylon spray paints.
> Stephen

I just bought some, and will see how the laser cuts it. Different 
materials take the heat in different ways. Some vaporize, some melt, 
some catch fire, some are a mess. Leather won't cut with a laser of the 
wattage I have access to. besides, it stinks when you burn it - smells 
like burning hair.

> From: Gregory Ballora <>

> I recall seeing one of Larry Reed's shows-fabulous mix
> of shadow puppets, mask and dance-- I believe it was
> about the life of one of the Khans of Asia.

I hope Larry will weigh in here...

> At the
> time he was using plastic cut with a laser, and I
> believe he was very happy with the result. I was able
> to buy a souvenir of the show that was a plastic
> sillhoute of o character. I think it is made from a
> material called kydex, which is very a sheet stock
> plastic.

Kydex seems pretty cool - and cheaper than lexan. I prefer transparent, 
however. Obviously, if you want it opaque, you simply spray-paint it.

> My experience with it is that it is very
> durable, and not at all brittle. You mention bending
> the Matt board 30 degrees. Do you need it to bend in
> the show, or are you just worried about it wearing
> out?

I'm doing variations of traditional Javanese puppets. They bend a lot 
in performance, and have a lot of "play", which is required to get 
certain effects and movements.

> From: Mathieu Ren? <>
> I know lexan can be printed on.
> I met a robotics specialist who manufactured his own electronic 
> circuits,
> and then he designed and made his own control panels with Lexan 
> sheets, onto
> which he printed the data and labels. I don't think these were 
> stickers.
> Maybe photo emulsion?

I'd be curious about this technique.

> From: "Mark S. Segal" <>
> Am curious what is this desk top laser????????

There are two popular models - the Epilog and the Universal Versalaser. 
If you call these companies, they'll send you nice little laser cut 
swatches. These are are around $10,000. Price depends on size of the 
cutting bed and wattage and other attachments. There are cheaper models 
I've heard about - a Chinese model that sells for  $3000, but they 
don't have a USA distributor.

> I have heard that thin black  lexan works.
> I can not get it here in Puerto Rico so if you find a source for it I 
> would
> love to know. I use matt board. Larger shadows strenthened with florist
> wire. I can get very detailed cuts (I use stanley knives to cut). I 
> can send
> you an image if you like...
> Deborah Hunt

Shadow puppets take a lot of time, both to design and construct. And 
after you've worked with it a while, you'll want to improve it - find 
the right balance points via trial and error, etc... And they tend to 
break easily - particularly in the wayang style, where they get thrown 
around a lot. The tools determine the aesthetic as much as the artist's 
own vision; the chisel method of Indonesia allows for incredibly 
intricate designs and flowing, round motif patterns. But they take 
FOREVER to make if you don't have an Indonesian wayang sweatshop 
readily available. Stanley Knives and even xacto I find very limiting - 
you are constrained to straight lines when cutting tough material, and 
results are (comparatively) crude. which brings me to...

>   "If you are good with programs like Corel Draw or Photo Shop,  you 
> should be able to scan an image or an existing shadow puppet,
and then create the necessary data files for the sign company... but 
there can be a lot of work to clean up these scans and generate clean 
lines for the laser to cut.  Of course if you create your original 
image on the computer (using line art, not a paint program) then the 
file should be usable by the sign company as it is.
Please, if anyone follows through on the task of contacting a sign 
maker about laser cutting shadow puppets, post your findings here for 
us all to see."
> Joe Dunfee

Lasers revolutionize shadow puppetry design.  You can make a puppet out 
of anything you can draw. They can achieve finer detail than even 
handmade Javanese puppets, and make the cuts in minutes instead of 
hours and days. A Javanese style wayang with several hundred "holes" 
could be cut in well under an hour.

Mr. Dunfee gets it right when he says "there can be a lot of work to 
clean up these scans and generate clean lines for the laser to cut." 
Photoshop is used to get an image scanned and into the computer, and 
also to prep it as far as contrast and other variables, but you then 
need to bring it into a vector-based program like Illustrator. Using 
the "live trace" function you turn the raster image into a vector based 
image consisting of "paths". The lasers need a vector image.

But I am simplifying the process for the sake of discussion. You need 
to spend a LOT of time cleaning up your vector image. LiveTrace can 
only get  you so far - you need to spend time and learn Illustrator. 
But once you have a good design (and you need to prototype it as well) 
you can make multiple copies quickly.

I'll put up some photos of the stuff I'm working on soon. And I would 
be happy to work with people who want to create puppets for new 


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