Picture taken through lasercut Kaleidoscope made in Copenhagen Fablab

Fablab Kaleidoscope

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016 - 13:31



[If you insist on walking through life without learning anything, you may skip to “AAAAANYWAYS”]

The word Kaleidoscope is coined by its inventor Sir David Brewster from Ancient Greek words kalos meaning "beautiful, beauty”, eidos meaning "that which is seen: form, shape" and skopeō meaning "to look to, to examine" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaleidoscope)

Brewster - a well known scientist at his time invented the Kaleidoscope in 1816 and patented it in 1817. Originally ment for the use in the sciences of decoration it became exceedingly popular before Brewster gained patent rights to the instrument, thus probably bypassing earning a small fortune (The Home Life of Sir David Brewster, p. 97. Margaret Maria Gordon, Cambridge University Press 2010).

The widespread use of the Kaleidoscope shortly after its invention may be seen as an early example of product piracy because copies of the device was already in widespread use by the time David Brewster secured his patents on it (http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-forgotten-kaleidoscope-craze-in...).

According to a new review at that time (“The Literary Panorama and National Register”, Vol. 8 p. 502, 1819 By Charles Taylor) “everybody” was walking the streets and gazing into their Kaleidoscopes - or paid others to have a look into theirs - neglecting to observe the immediate world around them - lost in the virtual environment created by the Kaleidoscope. Reading the article you might very well substitute smartphone, Google Glasses or any other current electronic escapist device for Kaleidoscope and you might get the picture so to speak.

That it really was a craze is witnessed by the number of sold “official” Kaleidoscopes which is supposed to be two hundred thousand kaleidoscopes sold in London and Paris in just three months (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaleidoscope).

The idea of the Kaleidoscope came to David Brewster during his research on “Reflective Symmetry” (https://brewstersociety.com/kaleidoscope-university/sir-david-brewster).
The original versions of the Kaleidoscope did not use mirrors but instead relied on total reflection based on angle of incidence on the front surface of polished slabs of glass painted black on their backside.

Sir David Brewster published a number of scientific papers dealing with the Kaleidoscope and its almost endless variations of configuration (see eg. A Treatise on the Kaleidoscope by Sir David Brewster. Archibald Constable & Company, 1819)


Here are the stuff you need to make your own copy of a Kaleidoscope. This version was made in Copenhagen Fablab during our second version of “Santa's little helpers in Fablab” for the Christmas of 2015. All the gifts produced during this workshop by a number of skilled Makers were subsequently donated to children at a local refugee camp by the organization “Red Barnet Ungdom” (https://redbarnetungdom.dk)

I have strived to make this version of the “Fablab Kaleidoscope” flat pack, easy to assemble (glue-less) and optimizing the use of materials perhaps at the cost of aesthetics. Later versions will try to make up for this.


The files you need to reproduce this is released under Creative Commons Share Alike license - that means that you can make all the copies you need personally but you cannot use it for commercial use. You can also share all of this - but you have to share it like this. If in doubt check here: https://creativecommons.org

All measurements are metric. All the plastic materials used are 3 mm thick. Only exception is the spacer for the contents of the Kaleidoscope (the “object cell” ) which is cut from 4 mm HDF (any 4 mm material will do fine). The spacing of 4 mm used allows me to use other people's leftover colored pieces from the laser tray when I clean it. All acrylic is PMMA in order to be safely used in the laser cutter. All items which needs to be flexible (a property acrylic certainly don’t have) are cut from sheets of POM (“Delrin”). I made the diffuser lens by rasterizing one side of transparent acrylic. You may as well use translucent acrylic or merely sand one side of clear acrylic to obtain the diffusing effect. If you want to use other items in the object cell you can make the spacer another thickness. The edges with their half circles are meant for restricting movement between the individual mirrors.
If you can't find Mirror Acrylic you can substitute it with clear acrylic where you paint the backside with black paint as in the original versions of Sir David Brewster’s Kaleidoscopes.

The locking tabs on the mirror pieces are a modification of the “Dragon Claws” design from Adafruit here: https://learn.adafruit.com/laser-cut-enclosure-design/case-study

I have cut my Kaleidoscope on an Epilog Helix 40 Watt CO^2 laser with a maximum sheet size of 610 mm X 457 mm and the mentioned settings works on that machine in its current state of laser tube life (2 years old). The Epilog Windows driver uses line thickness and color to determine what gets cut and what gets rasterized. The supplied Adobe PDF files reflect this. If you have another laser you can use the supplied Inkscape SVG files and edit those. The Kaleidoscope is constructed in 2D directly in Inkscape (www.inkscape.org). Next version will probably be parametrized and constructed in 3D in FreeCAD (www.freeecadweb.org).


Cut one of these:
Mirror Acrylic (3 pieces and one spare)
Kaleidoskope_3mm_Mirror_Acrylic.svg (Inkscape SVG)
Kaleidoskope_3mm_Mirror_Acrylic.pdf (Adobe PDF)

Cut and Engrave one of these:
Clear Acrylic (Diffuser, Object Chamber and Eyepiece)
Kaleidoskope_3mm_Clear_Acrylic.svg (Inkscape SVG)
Kaleidoskope_3mm_Clear_Acrylic.pdf (Adobe PDF)

Cut one of these:
HDF (spacer for the Object Chamber)
Kaleidoskope_4mm_HDF.svg (Inkscape SVG)
Kaleidoskope_4mm_HDF.pdf (Adobe PDF)

Cut one of these:
POM (Eyepiece and small as well as large clips)
Kaleidoskope_3mm_Black_POM.svg (Inkscape SVG)
Kaleidoskope_3mm_Black_POM.pdf (Adobe PDF)


If your clear acrylic has protective foil you might want to remove it before rasterizing the diffuser. Anything else can be cut with the foil in place to reduce cleanup.
If you don’t fancy the burned edges on the wood you can clean it up with sanding paper or any other abrasive method - just be careful as the spacer is quite thin. When it's in place in the Object Chamber it's plenty strong for what it is meant to do.


Acrylic and POM
Rasterizing: 300 DPI, Speed: 50%, Power: 95%, Dithering: Jarvis
Cutting: Speed: 12%, Power: 100%, Frequency: 5000 Hz

Cutting: Speed: 10%, Power: 100%, Frequency: 2500 Hz


First peel off all of the remaining protective foil if any.

Be very carefull when you snap together the mirror sides with the Eyepiece and the Object Chamber - it breaks if you are not careful. I usually cut a spare one.

The POM has a tendency to fuse a bit in the bottom of the cut. You can either cut it a bit slower (or with more power) or use a pair of pliers when freeing them from the cut sheet.

There are two different sizes of clips. Small ones for the Eyepiece and larger ones for the Object Chamber.

Assemble the Eyepiece (POM with hole cut in center then clear acrylic disc then 3 small clips)
Assemble the Object Chamber (Acrylic Diffuser then the wood Spacer then your objects then a clear acrylic disc and 3 large clips).
Put the Object Chamber on a table with the diffuser lens down. Then carefully press the tabs on the mirrors and click them into the Object Chamber. Then click the Eyepiece onto the Kaleidoscope.

Make sure you don’t overfill the Object Chamber as this will restrict the movement of the pieces.

Make sure that you experiment with all kinds of different materials (colours, transparency, texture, refraction, polarisation) and different levels of filling the Object Chamber as both too little and too much might be disappointing.

Walk out into the world. Enjoy the almost endless variety of portable worlds in your Kaleidoscope. Share the wonderful vistas with your fellow planetary occupants - and do beware in traffic.


If you make this on a similar laser to the one used make sure that the objects are not in groups within groups. Make sure that you don't scale the drawing in the laser printing driver (has to be “actual size” and “landscape”).

If you make this on another laser you will probably need to find your own optimum settings for cutting and engraving. If you have problems with the fitting of the pieces your laser probably have another kerf (the material the laser burns away when cutting) than the one used here. Find out if your 2D software can do inset and outset of curves to compensate for that.


I added a few examples of what you could find when travelling the visual cortex with your slightly updated version of this Victorian science novelty.


Remember: All files and pictures released under Creative Commons Share Alike license. Check this if in doubt: https://creativecommons.org

Enjoy! Michael Hviid, 2016