Beginners Laser Cutting Cost Saving Guide: Part 1

Keep your laser cutting costs down with the Ponoko Product Recipe

Product Recipe #1

Jill is a graphic designer from Oakland, CA. While riding her bike to work, she was inspired to create a set of custom-made bike gear-themed coasters to sell at local bike shops and in her Etsy Store.

Here Jill takes you step-by-step through the process she used to turn her idea into a profitable product with Ponoko. Making her coasters at the lowest price possible means she pockets a healthy margin selling to stores and direct to customers.

You can apply these steps to your own project, or you can download all the files here.

Laser Cutting Cost Saving Guide Part 1: Imagine It

First up, I needed a plan. A clear idea of my product, who it would appeal to and how much I needed to make and sell it for in order to turn a profit.

Your Product User

Take a moment to consider who will be using your product, and why. I had bicycle enthusiasts and their thirsty friends in mind.

Your Product Design

Rough out your design. I mostly tried to get a few ideas I had floating around in my head onto paper.

Your Product Materials

My coasters needed to look good, but also stand up to repeated use. I was thinking materials like black acrylic or natural cork. So I bought a few $2.50 material samples. I kinda liked the cork:

Your Target Price, Cost & Profit

Some basic research showed a set of 4 custom-made coasters retails for between $15 and $50 – with many sitting around $30. Working backwards, I calculated my ideal price points.

Your Design Challenge

Now you have your design challenge. Mine was to design a set of 4 bicycle themed coasters at less than $7.50 for making, materials and shipping from my Personal Factory. That’s a target production cost of $1.88 per coaster (75% less than a retail price of $7.50 each).

To summarise Part 1; Jill has identified her market, roughed out a design, investigated material options and worked out her design challenge based on a realistic retail price point.

In the next instalment for this Ponoko Product Recipe, we take a look at the digital design process for making a laser cut bike gear coaster. Jill talks us through preparing a file that is ready to send to the laser cutter.

Have you used Ponoko material samples to help in the early stages of your own design process? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #9

Material Thickness

How flexible are you on material choice for your design? To cut out a shape, the laser is burning through the material. Different materials burn at different rates, and also the thinner a material is, the faster it will cut. For example, 4mm cardboard cuts very quickly, and 9mm acrylic cuts very slowly.

Choosing the right material can reduce laser cutting costs considerably. If your design allows for it, create prototypes in paper (Tip #2) or cardboard (Tip #3) before moving on to thicker or harder materials. You can then have greater confidence in a successful outcome once you move up to the premium materials for your final design.

Have you had experience where changing the material thickness helped reduce laser cutting costs? Let us know in the comments below.

For more complex designs or projects that have a larger vision behind them, it’s time for Tip #10: Ponoko Prime.

Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #8

Multi-Layered Laser Cut and Etched Images

When an image is laser etched it takes on a whole new emotive feel, as many artists have demonstrated in recent years. This example from Malaysian laser cutting service Passion Woody uses a clever combination of photographic imagery with laser cut and etched wood.

It is a simple but very effective technique that gives the printed material a depth and visual presence that really catches the eye. Using laser cutting and etching in a selective way to enhance key aspects of an image enables your messaging to have a totally different impact.

Can you think of other ways to combine laser cutting with traditional printed material? Let us know in the comments below.

7 Tips for Sucessful Selling this Father’s Day

Our top 7 tips for those selling their wares this Father’s Day

I can hear my dad now: “When I was your age, we didn’t start our Father’s day campaigns until June!”. Ah, dad how things have changed.

Father’s day is June 21, and if you’ve selling your Ponoko-made goods online, you’ll want to start planing now. Here are our top seven tips to share your men’s wares with those buying Father’s Day gifts.

1. Reach Out

Folks who have bought from you in the past are more likely to buy from you again. They are already familiar with your products and right now they’re scratching their heads trying to figure out what to get their old man, so let them know! Send out an email with an update on your newest products, and any specials you’re running for Father’s day.

2. Get in Gear

Planning ahead is essential if you want to make sure your products get up in front of your customers in time. You can start marketing right before Mother’s Day and carry your efforts through to Dad’s Day itself. Use our Guaranteed Order Deadlines for Father’s Day as a starting point and work backwards to ensure you’ve got everything ready and in stock when the orders start rolling in.

3. Be Inclusive

Don’t forget all of the different dads out there – The grandads, step-dads, first-time dads, households with two dads, god fathers and father figures. Don’t limit your potential sales to just one kind of relationship.

4. Add a Dad

If visitors are quickly scanning over your shop, they won’t notice that an item is a great Father’s Day gift unless it’s immediately obvious. Getting a dad in your product photo is a great way to visually hint that your product will make a great Father’s day gift. You don’t even have to use your own father – any roommate, spouse, or co-worker than can pass as a dad will do the job.

5. See What Folks are Looking for

Google’s search suggestion feature (shown above) is a quick and easy way to see what folks are looking for this Father’s day. Use the auto-complete function to gather intelligence on search terms like “father’s day gifts” & “gifts for dad”. Do a quick search for “father’s day gift guide” to see what’s popular in your particular niche.

6. Change it Up for Dad

Changing a color scheme from pinks and yellows to blues, grays, or blacks can put a masculine touch on a product. You can also explore swapping out materials like leather or wood. Those gold acrylic stud earrings? Boom, now they are manly wooden cufflinks. You can also put a spin on your items by adding sports or gaming elements.

7. Group Dad Items Together

As you can see in tip #5 above, “father’s day baskets” are a hot search right now. You don’t have to put your products in a literal basket, but grouping together a few complimentary items like a gift & a laser cut greeting card will help. You’re giving your customers an opportunity to save some time with a more impressive looking gift – and you can boost your sales in the process.

Use these notes, as well as our Guaranteed Order Deadlines for Father’s Day as a jumping-off point to create an attention-grabbing campaign around Father’s Day. Feel free to share your big plans below!

Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #7

Use Laser Cutting to Add Something Extra to your Drink

Having a chat with a drink in hand is an important part of any networking event. Indeed, sometimes the most progress is made during those in-between moments when people tend to be a little more relaxed. How can laser cutting make this even better? Cups With Bite are a clever innovation from Shy Shadow that add a little extra to the everyday cup in a light-hearted, fun kind of way.

The paper strips featuring iconic silhouettes of safari animals quickly wrap around the cups to become not only a novel way to identify which drink is yours; but also provide a surface for adding doodles or text to further engage and personalize.

This is another great example of how a familiar, unremarkable item can become a memorable focal point through creative use of laser cutting. Whether a cup has water, coffee or something with a bit more of a kick in it, chances are your company will stick in peoples’ minds if you add a twist of fun to the social side of a networking event.

Have you seen other clever ways that laser cutting has been used to add to the refreshment decor of an event? Let us know in the comments below.

Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #6

Business cards with just the key details

When exchanging business cards with someone, what information about you do they really need? In a world where connected devices are within reach at all times, perhaps your most critical info is your online presence.

Gabe Ferreira reduced his key details down to a personal website address and then maxed out the text to fill the area of a traditional business card. In his own words:

“…there is no distinction between content and material. The cards are more durable and cheaper to produce than most “premium” business cards.”

Making use of the Ponoko Personal Factory can give brand identities a strong visual presence and this example from Gabe shows how clever laser cutting will really stand apart from the more familiar printed alternatives. Have you seen other great laser cut business card ideas? Let us know in the comments below.

Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #5

Simplify details

We already know that it’s helpful to keep things small in size at the beginning. One key aspect that is often overlooked is to keep details simple as well.

This means sticking to designs that take up as little ‘laser time’ as possible.

So how do you go about optimising your design with this in mind? The short version is that the less time it takes to cut, the less it will cost. You’re paying for every movement the laser cutter makes; whether it is cutting, engraving or travelling between cutting and engraving. Many small detailed forms take longer to trace out than fewer larger forms. Circles take longer than straight lines. Items spread out or are further apart take longer to cut than items located close together.

Dense vector line engraving also comes with the same warning. Remember that with lasers, time really does equal money.

What impact has keeping details simple had on your laser cutting costs? Let us know in the comments below.

The next handy hint focuses on another way to save time, and therefore cost, with your laser cutting. Stay tuned for Tip #6: Avoid Double Lines

Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #4


Start small

A great tip for first timers and also just as useful for more experienced makers is to keep things small and simple at the beginning. In short, stick to the Ponoko P1 template. Starting small enables you to test your ideas and be confident before charging ahead with multiple items on larger sheet sizes.

This will keep material costs lower, which is handy not only when experimenting with laser cutting for the first time but also if you are trying out a new material that you haven’t used before.

Make the most of the P1 template size by performing small tests of multiple design ideas. Don’t assume your first attempt will be “The One”. Try multiple cuts, shapes, engravings, etc to see what you like the look of. You are much more likely to end up with a design you are happy with if you remind yourself that it’s not about getting that perfect outcome on the first try.

Keep in mind that with laser cutting, more size or complexity means greater costs. So the smaller dimensions of the P1 template help to constrain the amount of making time, which again means both cutting and material costs will be lower.

What savings have you made by starting small with your laser cutting? Let us know in the details below.

Stay tuned for the next handy piece of advice from the Ponoko team. It’s time to pare things back with Tip #5: Simplify details.

Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #3

Make a Cardboard Version First

It is an exciting moment when your design is ready to be laser cut, but it can really pay off to do a trial cut in cardboard first before moving ahead with more expensive materials.

Remember, with laser cutting you are paying for the time it takes for the machine to make your design… and cardboard cuts really quickly. This contributes to it being one of the most affordable materials, which means you can get a fast, inexpensive test run of your design. Once you are happy with the cardboard version, you can order your design in a more expensive material with greater confidence that it will come out the way you had hoped.

If your final outcome is to be made from cardboard… well, then kick back and relax because you’re already one step ahead!

Tell us about how trial cuts in cardboard have helped keep your laser cutting costs down in the comments below.

Next up in the Top 10 Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs is a handy bit of advice that is easy to overlook. Tip #4: Start small

Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #2

Paper Prototypes From Your Home Printer

Even if you are positive that your design is just right, it is always wise to check those details one more time before sending files to be laser cut. There is a very simple way that this can be done, thanks to your trusty desktop paper printer.

Printing out your design on paper is an ideal way to spot sizing or design errors, see whether holes or tolerances are big enough, and get a general feel for what your final result will look like. You could consider this as a free instant first prototype.

Working with digital files can be super efficient but sometimes people do lose track of whether their design will look just as good in the physical world as it does on-screen. So start your physical prototyping at home, and confirm that everything is a-ok before spending time and money on laser cutting. Once you have your details sorted, then take the plunge and upload your files to Ponoko for laser cutting.

Have you saved by making paper prototypes at home? Tell us about it in the comments below.

The next in our 10 rules for keeping laser cutting costs down is an extension of the paper prototype, but this time the lasers are firing. Stay tuned for Tip #3: Cardboard before expensive materials.