© Evonik / Photographer Stefan Wildhirt

An illuminated piece of soccer history

True soccer fans always show who their favorite team is – not just at the stadium. There is merchandise for all areas of life, such as a very special player portrait made from original PLEXIGLAS®.

Soccer is their life. Weekend after weekend, men, women and children crowd into stadiums or cross their fingers in front of the TV. Hope, fear, despair, joy – soccer is pure emotion. True fans bring these emotions into their everyday lives. They save all types of souvenirs in the form of merchandise. The collectors amongst them are always on the lookout for unique pieces, like those that cannot be bought. An extraordinary player portrait made from PLEXIGLAS® Satinice, now available for soccer fans to win, is one example.

A soccer dream come true

Aytac Sulu, the player shown in the portrait, is not likely to be familiar to many fans outside the Bundesliga, but the captain of the Bundesliga club SV Darmstadt 98 represents a contemporary soccer fairy tale.

Chief, leader, idol: Aytac Sulu is captain of the football club SV Darmstadt 98 and has now been immortalized in a very special item of merchandise.

SV Darmstadt 98 – the miracle of Böllenfalltor

The recent history of SV Darmstadt 98 is one of those stories that breeds a true passion for soccer. In the 2013/2014 season, relegation from the third division seemed inevitable for the “Lilies”, as the fans call their club, before a competitor’s bankruptcy pulled Darmstadt back from the abyss. A turning point for the club. The near-relegation turned into promotion to the second division and straight into the Bundesliga. All thanks not to the backing of a wealthy investor, but to the team who stepped up to the plate.

The documentary “90 Minuten 98 ” (90 minutes for 98), for which investors were sought at the beginning of 2016, tells the tale of this soccer dream. This is where Sulu on original PLEXIGLAS® comes into play. Gerhard Luther, owner of the carpentry workshop of the same name in Darmstadt , wanted to raise money for the project with a raffle. “We then hit on the idea of creating an extraordinary player portrait people could win by buying special raffle tickets,” explained Luther. For the workshop’s manager Mathias Knuhr, the project was a welcome opportunity to invent something new.  A few years earlier, he had developed a method for applying photographs to wood.

Like a photo in the newspaper, the image is divided into a grid, such as using points in various shades of gray. These are then milled into a wooden plate. The different depths create various light effects, so the image is revealed when viewed from a sufficient distance. Woodcuts like this are often used for counter trim, the fronts of cabinets or tabletops.

Combination of image and lighting

“With the player portrait, we wanted to go a step further and create a combination of image and lighting with a new material,” said Luther. They ended up selecting PLEXIGLAS® Satinice, the branded acrylic glass from Evonik. “There are many reasons for this. We needed a material with very good light scattering, and we can completely process PLEXIGLAS® ourselves, from the sheet to the final product. You can also do a lot more with it than with glass. For example, we can thermally mold, glue or mill it,” explained Knuhr, who is familiar with the branded acrylic glass from many other projects.

However, there was still some tinkering to be done before the player portrait could be completed. The challenge was to apply the photo to the material and illuminate it with the blue and white colors of the Lilies. “I spent two Saturdays working on the prototypes,” said Knuhr. Using material offcuts, he milled new patterns again and again in order to find the right interplay between image and CNC milling. He ended up choosing a vertical lattice, into which he transferred the image with software he developed himself.

Milling with millimeter accuracy

“The most difficult thing was finding out how deep the mill had to drill until a certain color value emerged,” explained Knuhr. Using a material with no variations in thickness is key. “If I want to mill to a depth of two millimeters, a tolerance of even a tenth of a millimeter makes a big difference. That was yet another reason PLEXIGLAS® was so well suited to our project. When it comes to thickness tolerances, it has the best values on the market,” Knuhr pointed out. Since tolerances cannot be completely avoided due to the production process, even for PLEXIGLAS®, the sheet was calibrated using a wide-belt sanding machine prior to milling. The Luther carpentry team enhanced the newly milled plate with a clear varnish and built it into a lightbox with four meters of LED strips, backlighting the entire area.

The dream continues

This piece of illuminated soccer history was a hit with the Lilies fans. The raffle earned EUR 1,000 for the film. And the soccer dream continues for SV Darmstadt 98. Considered certain for relegation prior to the season, they rose to the challenge once again and finished in 14th place – a good reason for all Lilies fans to collect even more wonderful souvenirs.