How To Find Open Source Design Files

Design resources that help you get started with laser cutting


The learning curve can be a steep one for some people when it comes to wrapping your head around digital manufacturing. Not only do you need to understand how to design for CNC, 3D printing or laser cutting; starting from scratch is daunting and design resources can be hard to come by.

In an attempt to de-mystify the process of digital manufacturing, Obrary takes inspiration from the changes enabled by the Open Source movement and has set up a resource supplying design files and code for anyone to use or improve on. Their motto is “Making it easy to make.”  They do that by providing the Maker community with a library full of open designs and a series of eBooks full of information about the making process.  The site has open designs from Makers from across the globe.

“Beyond improved sharing of design resources, new design approaches and engineering patterns are enabled”.

Users are encouraged to make their own tweaks to the designs, learning by trial and error in much the same way that made development for the Raspberry Pi so popular.

Have you ever wanted to build a cage gear mechanism? They’ve got one of those. How about an adding machine or even something simple like a robust shelving system… these are but a few of the designs that have been made freely available to the Obrary community. The design file package includes a number of file types including CAD files, interchange files (DXF, PDF, etc) and CAM files.  So you should be able to find a file format that fits into your manufacturing process.

And one nice feature of the site is that all of their designs and eBooks have the same license – Creative Commons-BY-SA.  This is a truly open license that even lets you sell products made from the designs.

“…making, building, and collaborating, not because we have to, or because it’s research, but because it’s so fun.”

Already a digital maker? Use the comments form below to tell us about other resources that were useful when you were just getting started, and how you’ve taken these skills and design adaptations into the Ponoko Personal Factory to turn them into reality.

See more collaborative designs and handy resources at Obrary.


Elliptical Laser Cut Boxes

Using Inkscape plugins to round out those boxed corners 


We all agree that laser cut boxes are handy to use as enclosures for DIY electronic projects and for storing little keepsakes. Adding your own personal touch gets a whole lot more interesting when you can break away from the traditional rectilinear form to create elliptical laser cut boxes.

Once again, the magic happens thanks to some clever programming in the form of a freely available Inkscape plugin. Instructables user Bas van der Peet has compiled an extensive guide to using this plugin, with a number of fun examples of what you can achieve when you round off a few corners here and there.


If breaking out of the box sounds like fun to you, head over to Instructables and follow Bas’ guide, then let us know how you go with the plugin in the comments below.

Make your elliptical laser cut boxes using the Ponoko Personal Factory.

Elliptical Box Maker via Instructables


Laser cut precision

DIY callipers with imperial and metric vernier

Keeping track of precise measurements and the finest details just became a little easier, thanks to Sean Murphy’s updated vernier callipers on Thingiverse. He has come up with an interesting adaptation of a design that was originally intended to be cut from acrylic and then bolted together.

What did he do differently? Well, aside from tweaking the accuracy a little, Sean also laser cut the measuring device from paper and double-sided taped the two halves together.

“The result is a super thin set of callipers that can be slipped in a binder, folder, or book yet still give accuracy down to a few hundred microns.”

Very handy indeed… and because they are cheap, quick and easy to make, you could keep a set within reach at all times for refined accuracy wherever you happen to need them.

via Thingiverse

Tiny stroke-only font for laser cutting

Miniature alphabet that you can squeeze just about anywhere

When adding small text to a laser etched design, you want to make sure the font you choose will be legible.

This tiny stroke-only alphabet is available to download from the Ponoko Showroom. The free file contains the entire alphabet plus punctuations, brackets and a few other randoms. Characters are only 1mm tall. Any smaller and you will start to loose the inside of characters like ‘A’ and ‘B’ using the heavy vector setting.

On a light wood like the bamboo the light vector setting seems to work well; while the heavy setting on plastics allow you to paint fill to improve readability.

This character set was based on the free pixel font “Wendy” which you can find on dafont. Wendy was used by Stroke-Only Font creator Josh as an initial guide when laying out the line segments. Unlike the pixel font, for this example, as many line segments as possible are joined to allow easy scaling up to larger sizes.

It is worth noting that these are only grouped lines, so you’ll need to manually place letters onto your design one by one.

Using a mini font like this is worth a try if you want to inexpensively add tiny part numbers or a website/email address to your designs.

If laser engraved fonts are your thing, the Evil Mad Scientists have a great Inkscape extension that is enables even more versatility.

This post originally appeared in an article by Josh Reuss on the Ponoko Support Forums.

Laser cut artworks inspired by nature

Leaves, MC Escher’s Rippled Surface and some sci-fi just for fun

Using a laser cutter to add physical presence to 2D artworks can be really effective, as these recent explorations from Maxime Beauchemin show. Having kicked things off with a rather elegant laser etched ATAT walker, he then moved on to more everyday ephemeral visions.

Pictured above is an acrylic replication of MC Escher’s iconic Rippled Surface print, where Maxime faithfully recreates the layered illusion of water surface, reflected trees and rippled distortion.

Turning to laser cut wood for another project, the delicate structure of a decaying leaf skeleton is revealed.   (more…)

123D Make partners with Cricut

Giving 3D form to desktop cutting projects. Next stop, to the laser cutter!

Already well established as the gold standard for bringing super-simple 3D construction to the DIY masses, Autodesk 123D has announced an exciting partnership that goes one step further. They’ve teamed up with Cricut, the guys responsible for desktop electronic cutting machines that induce equal measures of desire and envy amongst Makers and Crafters.

The collaboration features a new series of easy-to-assemble 3D DIY projects including dinosaurs, rocket ships, creatures and homewares that are all geared towards owners of the Cricut machines.

Now, while this is a clearly targeted partnership that brings the clever slicing technology of 123D Make to users in the Cricut community, it is also a welcome reminder of the resources that are readily available and can be easily incorporated into your laser cutting workflow.   (more…)

Get to know your laser cutter better

DIY Kerf measuring tool refines your laser cutting precision

Although it isn’t critical on all laser cut projects, for anything with parts that fit or slot together, kerf is something that is worth paying attention to.

It may sound like a Jim Henson creation – but kerf is in fact a very real technical term. Kerf refers to the gap that is left by the cutting device – in our case, the laser beam in a laser cutter. It’s usually more of an issue when laser cutting in wood, but will also come into play when laser cutting acrylic and other materials.

Open source enthusiast Dave Chamberlin has come up with a nifty device that can be used to accurately measure the kerf of a laser cutter. The simple cutting pattern has been uploaded to Thingiverse, and includes instructions on how to measure your kerf etched right onto the device itself. Here is what it looks like:

Follow the source link below to download the file and try it out on your own laser cutter. You can also discover what else Dave is up to in his open source maker crusade over at Takeaway 3d Tech.

Thingiverse: Laser Kerf Measuring Tool

2Plex Laser Cut Construction Kit

Archimedean solids made easy

Benjamin Schaeffer likes to build things, and his latest foray with a laser cutter has resulted in a neat little collection he calls the 2Plex Construction Kit.

It’s all about having fun with form, building modular structures out of lightweight cardboard pre-cut shapes. As you can see from the image above, the variety of objects you can create from the simple geometric elements is quite open ended.

Don’t let terms like stellated octahedron throw you. As Ben says in his video construction walkthrough:

“This is mathematics. Not all mathematics is about numbers. Some mathematics is about form and shape.”

Available on Thingiverse in handy files that are ready for the laser cutter, the modular geometric forms have been optimised for construction using standard corrugated card.   (more…)

OpenDesk distributed manufacturing

Open source micro-factory turns your local laser cutter/CNC into a private IKEA

Exploring new models for open and collaborative digitally fabricated design, OpenDesk aims to become the destination of choice for modern open source furniture.

“By downloading, printing, purchasing or customising an OpenDesk, you’re helping to create a new way of buying products. One that’s more transparent, sustainable and flexible than current manufacturing models”.

With a growing repository of clever, flexible products from a number of designers, the OpenDesk model enables people to choose at what level they wish to engage with the manufacturing process.

The OpenDesk network helps create laser cut furniture from wood and other materials for less

Got a laser cutter of your own, or know someone with a CNC machine just down the road? Then you can download comprehensive drawings that are ready to send straight to the machine. Perhaps you’re not a carpenter or maker yourself but are happy with the flatpack IKEA process. OpenDesk puts you in touch with a workshop in your area, where the design can be cut and finished (oiled, sanded, polished etc) and sent to your door for you to assemble. If hands-off is more your style, there is even an option for a professional to whip it all together for you.

The idea is that the more work you do, the lower the cost will be. Of course, in many locations the OpenDesk network may not yet have makers who can deliver or assemble – so some users will be forced to buy flat-pack or arrange the making themselves.   (more…)

The Neo-Artist: Last chance to get involved

Time is ticking – Kickstarter campaign ends 4pm Friday EDT

When we recently discovered The Neo-Artist, it seemed like Lincoln Kamm was living the dream. He has developed an expertise in helping creative people find ways to produce and sell their work using the latest in digital manufacturing technologies, and now he wants to share it with you.

All of his knowledge (and a few extra practical perks) are condensed into the publication The Neo-Artist, which is the focus of a Kickstarter campaign that wraps up on Friday July 12 at 4pm EDT.

A nice snapshot of what The Neo-Artist is all about can be seen in the clip above, where Lincoln is interviewed by 3D Printer World. Watch the interview to discover more about the campaign, as well as cat-breading and other insights into Lincoln’s creative world that led him to share his expertise in The Neo-Artist.

If you need a little convincing to get involved in this campaign, one of the perks for backers is to receive discounted consultation time with Lincoln himself on your own projects. Imagine having personal, one-on-one time with an expert in making a success of making! Jump on board before it’s too late.

via Kickstarter