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From Fine Arts to Robotics to Biology: Laser Service at the ITS Advanced Media Studio

November 24, 2009

The ITS Advanced Media Studio (AMS) offers four professional imaging services to NYU students, faculty, alumni with an NYU ID, and visiting artists in participating arts and science programs. The services are Wide-Format Archival Printing, Print and Drum Scanning, Rapid Prototyping, and Laser Service, which is the focus of this article. Imagine adding precision to working with fire. The laser system at the AMS does one thing: It burns. However, it does so in a very controlled manner that can be used to great effect. It can cut cleanly and precisely through a variety of materials, including Plexiglas and some woods up to 1/2 inch thick, or it can burn the slightest scorch onto paper, leaving delicate and beautiful marks. The system can be calibrated to etch the surface of many different materials, by burning away thin layers. These cuts and etches can be made into intricate patterns using digital plan files designed in Adobe Illustrator.

At the AMS, we use a Professional Laser Series 6.120D computer-controlled CO2 laser-cutting and -engraving system made by Universal Laser Systems. The system has dual laser capability for up to 120 watts of power using two laser cartridges. It presently uses a 60-watt laser cartridge, and we plan on upgrading soon to the full 120-watt capability. The ITS Laser Service is most popular among designers, artists, scientists, and “techies” at NYU. For example, graduate students within the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) of the Tisch School of the Arts — known for developing cutting-edge interactive media — use our system to cut parts for any of a range of things, from displays and architectural forms, to robotics. One exciting project used laser etching and cutting of leather to make jewelry designs based on L-systems models of biological growth. We are proud that much of the work on display at the ITP Show held each semester is in part fabricated using our laser system. Art students have been making beautiful intaglio prints, using the laser system to burn the image directly onto Plexiglas plates or by burning away an acid resist on a traditional metal plate, which is then etched using an acid bath. While intaglio printing using cutting edge technology is exciting, studio arts students at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development can also be counted on to bring in interesting and challenging projects like etching an image of the Madonna onto toast and intricate designs onto drumsticks or leather. We have cut fabric and paper into shapes that would be nearly impossible to do by hand, that are then used in collages or clothing design. Students taking jewelry design have used the laser to cut or etch elements of their designs onto wood, plastics or metals.

Artists-in-residence from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC) have made work at the AMS that has been displayed all over the world, and we are pleased that we have been able to help them create it. For one residency, the AMS cut dozens of butterflies out of wood and paper for an installation titled “CIA Reading Room for Kids," 2006, by the artists Melissa Dubbin and Aaron S. Davidson. We also cut a plastic model of a jetliner for a piece titled “World's Largest Fish Moved by UPS to Georgia Aquarium," 2006, by the same artists. (More images can be seen at

For the science community at NYU, we have done work on parts for an AIDS field test kit and cut some DNA combs. We would welcome anyone in that community who has other projects that we could assist them with.

These are only a few examples of the many interesting and state-of-the-art uses of the laser system at the AMS. Whether your laser cutting needs are related to fine arts, robotics, or biology, we encourage you to make an appointment at the AMS. For further information and details on all services available at the AMS, including Laser Service, and to access our blog for more examples of our work, please visit and click the grey "AMS Blog" button in the right-hand sidebar. For questions, send email to We look forward to assisting you in fulfilling your “burning desires.”



Taylor Absher is a Faculty Technology Specialist and co-manager of the AMS.

This Article is in the following Topics:
Connect - Information Technology at NYU

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From Fine Arts to Robotics to Biology: Laser Service at the ITS Advanced Media Studio

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