I Am Old- A Birthday Cake Topper Project

I have to apologize for the radio silence. I’ve been in Taiwan the past week, staying in an Airbnb with WiFi that, based on its reliability, might be being transmitted via paperclip, and will be in the Philippines for the next, hiking and probably contracting a tropical disease. But before all that, I wanted to, you know, just check in. Say “hey.”

About a year ago, I made these little cake toppers, laser cut from acrylic:


Since nothing says, “Happy birthday” like a reality check and a heavy-handed reminder of your own mortality, these ended up being quite popular. I sold a whole bunch right around- coincidence alert- my own birthday, which- OTHER coincidence alert- is also this week.

I ultimately stopped selling the acrylic version because I was tired of poisoning myself with noxious plastic laser-fumes, but I still get emails about these on a regular basis, asking if I’ll ever put them back on the line. If only there was a way to make something like this, without all that cancer-causing hassle….

PROJECT: You Are Old Cake Topper

Programs used: Adobe Illustrator (or vector program of choice), Autodesk Fusion 360

Tools used: Insert SVG, Extrude, Fillet, Offset Plane, Pipe, and Combine

Reference Tutorials: For more in-depth info about converting text to expanded paths, check out this tutorial from my crazy bride days. It’s a tutorial intended for laser cutting, but the same principles apply.

This tutorial also shares a lot of similarities with the custom name necklace project– both involve extruding SVG files. We’ll touch on it again here, but go read that one first if you need an extra refresher.

Compatible materials: PLA (Home printers), Nylon, Stainless Steel, Cast Metals (if finished piece fits in bounding box)

STEP 1: Prepare text/artwork

I’m going to just skim this REAL quick- for better instructions, go to the link above. For the sake of speed and efficiency, I’m just going to share a series of screenshots that show how I get my text ready for 3D printing. Note- this doesn’t have to be text. It can be any vector image or motif!

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STEP 2: Insert SVG and Extrude

Just as we did with the name necklace, we’re going to Insert> Insert SVG, size our file to the correct dimensions (I imported mine at 60%). Make sure everything is shaded in orange- if not, go back to your original file and look for any areas that might be causing errors (complicated clusters of points, tight corners, etc. are common culprits).

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Then you’re just going to Create>Extrude (hotkey E). I extruded my text 5mm- thin enough to be delicate, but sturdy enough to withstand printing on a bunch of different devices.

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STEP 3: Fillet

Our cake toppers will look much nicer and more finished if we can fillet the edges, right?

Despite a delicious name, as you might remember from our previous tutorials, a fillet is simply a rounded corner (the sister term for the tool is chamfer, which is basically just a bevel). On a complex shape like this, filleting is basically the work of the devil. I know that’s not very encouraging, but it’s true. To successfully round off all the edges, you really need to just try a bunch of stuff out. Try doing the whole outline of a word at once. If that works, congratulations, you’re better at 3D modeling than I am. More likely, on a shape like this, is that you will have to fillet in sections. The tight edges on this piece, like the inner negative space or the downstrokes, prove particularly challenging. For a less tortuous approach, choose a more rounded font.

The fillet tool is found under Modify> Fillet, or hotkey F.

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It’s difficult, but it can be done, and I think it’s worth it. For the masochists in the crowd, do BOTH sides, like this:

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Spending a lot of time playing with the fillet tool will start to train your eye- before you know it, you’ll be a filleting pro and you’ll be able to make it through a process like this with much more ease.

STEP 4: Add stake

We want to basically just add a long toothpick to each word so we can stick it in the cake. To reduce the amount of finagling to get it into the right spot, we’re going to draw it on a plane that’s at the midpoint of the thickness of our text. Since our text is 5mm thick, we’ll draw it on a plane that’s 2.5mm offset from the original plane.

We do that by using the offset plane tool. Simply select the original plane, and type in 2.5mm in the tool. You’ll see a new plane pop up, sandwiched halfway between our text.

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Now you’re going to create a sketch like you normally would, by selecting that NEW plane. Draw a simple straight line, 4-7″ in length (depending on how tall you want your topper).

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Select the Pipe tool (Create>Pipe). This tool does exactly what it sounds like it does- it makes a pipe. It will default to being solid, unless you select hollow (don’t). Don’t be too skimpy with the pipe thickness- it needs to be thick enough to stand up straight on the cake. 4mm, as I’ve chosen, is probably the minimum you’d want to do.

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Fillet the end of the pipe that will end up in the cake. A good rule of thumb is that fillets on something like a pipe max out at about half the diameter of said pipe- so since our pipe is 4mm in diameter, we can fillet our edge 2mm.

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Once you’re happy with your stake, move it into position, if it’s not already, with the move tool. You might notice that, because we made this on the offset plane, our stakes are already in the right position to intersect the thickness of the text evenly. You should only need to move it laterally, if at all. Copy and paste two more stakes and move those into position as well (use only the lateral arrows, not the up/down arrows- otherwise, you’ll end up moving it off the plane).


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STEP 5: Combine

Because nothing is more fun than being able to finally click that combine tool and know you’re finished. Combine each word with one of the stakes (Modify>Combine), and you’re ready to print!

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Since I’m currently on the other side of the planet, I don’t have a physical sample to show. Rest assured, once I’m back, I’ll update this post with a real photo, with real cake (a.k.a an excuse to make Funfetti).

For now, a pretend computer picture will have to be good enough:

You Are Old Cake Toppers v0




Designer, magpie, maximalist.

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