Engraving Aluminum Dog Tags (Otherplan Classic)
Engraving anodized aluminum dog tags is a fun and fast Othermill project. By milling away the colored anodized coating on the metal, the shiny raw aluminum underneath is revealed. The contrast between the colored coating and the raw metal is visually pleasing, and it requires very little setup and milling time to achieve a finished product.
This tutorial shows you how to take a design made in Adobe Illustrator, personalize it, and engrave it onto a dog tag. If you don’t have Illustrator on your computer, you can still mill the example design to get a feel for engraving aluminum. This tutorial is for Otherplan for Mac OS X, but we also have the same tutorial for Windows using Vectric’s Cut2D software.
Tools, Materials, and Files
Files to Download
Step 1: Personalize the design and save an .svg file.
- Open DogTag.ai in Adobe Illustrator and change the text to match that of your dog/cat/friend. Hit the Esc key when you’re done. If you don’t have Illustrator, skip to Step 2.
- Using the Selection Tool (or pressing V), right-click the text and choose Create Outlines.
- From the File menu, choose Save As.
- Change the format to .svg and click Save.
- Click OK to use the .svg default settings.
Step 2: Set up the Othermill.
Follow these steps to set up your mill. For a complete walkthrough of unboxing and setting up your mill for its first use, see our Getting Started guide.
- Make sure your mill is plugged into a grounded electrical outlet.
- Connect the USB cable to the back of the Othermill and to your computer.
- Download Otherplan for Mac OS X.
- To install Otherplan, double-click the .dmg file you downloaded and drag Otherplan to your Applications folder.
- Open Otherplan by double-clicking the icon in your computer’s Applications folder.
- Turn on your Othermill by pushing the power button on the back of the machine and by twisting the red Emergency Stop button on the right side of the machine clockwise.
- Enjoy the mill’s cheerful beeps that play during its start-up sequence.
- In Otherplan, a dialogue will pop up that will ask you to “Start Homing” the machine. Homing tells the machine where it is in space and makes sure the position of the tool in the machine matches the position of the tool in the software. This ensures that all your cuts are exactly where you want them to be.
- Click the Start Homing button. The Othermill will go through its homing procedure, which will take a few seconds.
Step 3: Set up your material.
- Click the Setup Material button.
- From the first dropdown menu, choose Anodized Aluminum as your material.
- From the second dropdown menu, select Custom Size.
- If you have digital calipers, measure your material’s width, height, and thickness (see our Calipers guide for detailed instructions) and enter those dimensions into the boxes. If you don’t have digital calipers, here are some dimensions that should work:
○ Width (x): 1.961”
○ Height (y): 1.135”
○ Thickness (z): 0.056”
- Click Continue to advance to the Material Origin dialog. Make sure the material origins for z, y, and z are all set to zero. Then click Done.
Step 4: Import and set up your design file.
- Click the Import Files button in the Plans panel, and select the .svg file you just saved (or DogTagExample.svg if you don’t have Illustrator).
- You’ll see a rendered version of the file appear on the machining bed in Otherplan, and the file name should appear on the right side of the screen with some options and buttons below.
- Leave the Engraving button selected, but click the Cutout button to de-select it. The dog tag is already the shape we want, so we don’t need to do a cutout.
- Right below this, there is a place to choose which tool you’ll be using. Select an Engraving Tool, and remove any other tools by clicking the X next to them.
- Change the Engraving Cut Depth to 0.004” and press Enter.
Step 5: Set up your tool.
- In the upper right corner of the Otherplan window, click the Set button (it will be labeled Change if there’s already a tool inserted) to begin the process of inserting a new tool. The z-carriage will lower, making it easier to install a tool, and it will also bring up a dialog box to walk you through the tool-locating process.
- From the dropdown menu, select Engraving Tool and click Continue.
- Remove the collet from your accessories kit if you haven’t already installed it. The collet is the cylindrical, ribbed, metal object with a hole through it that holds your tool in the machine. Snap the wide end of the collet into the collet nut.
- Screw the nut loosely back onto the spindle shaft.
- Slide an engraving tool about ¾" into the collet. If it doesn’t slide in very far, loosen the nut more. Then use the two wrenches to tighten the collet nut. It doesn’t have to be super tight, just snug plus a little bit.
- Click Continue and the mill will position the tool over the bed. The tool should be in an unobstructed area, but if it isn’t, use the x and y arrows to position it so it is.
- You’ll be instructed to make sure the tip of the tool is in the “safe zone,” which is the area in front of the white piece of plastic that makes up the bottom of the x-carriage. The green rectangle in Otherplan illustrates this as well.
- Click Locate. The mill will perform a tool touch-off, which sets the z position of the tool. After a successful touch-off, the mill will re-home itself. For an in-depth description of the tool touch-off sequence, see our Locating a Tool tutorial.
Step 6: Attach your material to the Othermill bed.
Now it’s time to position a dog tag in the machine and attach it to the bed.
- Click the Loading button in the main Otherplan window. This will bring the bed forward.
- Cover one side of the dog tag with a single layer of tape and peel off the backing.
- Make sure your bed is clean and has no dust, swarf, or gunk on it.
- Stick down the tag such that the bottom and left edges line up with the bottom and left edges of the bed, with the hole toward the left side.
- Click the Home button to retract the bed to the home position.
Step 7: Mill your design onto the dog tag.
It’s a good idea to stay close by your mill while it’s cutting. Never leave a working mill unattended.
- Click the Start Cutting button inside the panel for your design. Watch as the mill engraves your design into the aluminum dog tag.
- When the mill is finished, vacuum up all the dust and then click the Loading button.
- Pour or squirt a little alcohol around the edges of the dog tag to loosen the tape.
- Using your scraper, gently pry up the dog tag and remove the tape. You’re done!
Your tag has been milled! Hopefully this tutorial gave you a good sense of how engraving works on the Othermill. Now your friendly pet (which need not be a dog) can be clearly and fashionably identified.