How far into the material does laser engraving cut?

All you need to know about laser etched depth

When your design calls for laser etching, whether it is Line Engraving or Area Fill Engraving, the laser burns away a very small amount of material – just enough to make an impression on the surface. The lasers are calibrated to provide a crisp contrasting visual effect, rather than a guaranteed depth. But if you still want to know how deep laser engraving goes, we can take a closer look and also talk about a few alternatives for when your design requires a greater depth than laser engraving can achieve.

How deep does the laser cut?

This varies from material to material, but it is always just a surface impression. In 3mm acrylic you can expect around 0.25mm (0.01″) deep, and in some of the woods the laser will cut up to 0.5mm (0.02″) deep. To go further into the material than this will increase the risk of undesirable damage such as warping (in acrylic) and excessive burning (in timber).

In certain circumstances it can be difficult to predict exactly how laser engraved lines or areas will come out, as we can see in the sample images. Note how the very small Area Engraved text is patchy and even has some elements missing. Here is what Josh has to say in the Ponoko Support Forums:

One thing you can do to improve the quality of the engraving is put a vector engraving line around your text or shapes to make the edges more crisp. There are pros and cons for using this technique and it largely depends on which material you are using. Personally I like a heavy raster engraving on any of the plastics but a medium raster engraving with a medium vector outline on the timbers.

With this in mind, we recommend experimenting with different settings on a test piece (the P1 template is handy for this!) before going ahead with the final design. You can also learn a lot by checking out the Material Samples, and this very handy Laser Engraving Cheat Sheet.

The Ponoko Support Forums are a great resource when it comes to learning all about laser cutting, and you’ll find guides on both line engraving and area engraving complete with sample images in a range of materials and tips on how to get the best results.

What if I want to go deeper than this?

Laser engraving is not always the way to go… some designs call for a larger amount of material to be removed than laser engraving can provide. Depending on your requirements, there are a number of ways to achieve this. Two of the most common solutions are:

1. Use a secondary process to remove the material (for example, cutting a strip halfway through the material using a milling machine or table saw). This is not a part of the Ponoko service, and would need to be done in your own workshop or maker space.

2. Build up the structure from several layers of material. Control the depth of cavities and cutouts by placing a solid layer on the bottom and then reducing the size of subsequent layers to create the required change in depth. This can be easily achieved with laser cutting and is often used to make enclosures for electronics in acrylics from the Ponoko Materials Catalog.

What has your experience been using different laser engraving settings? Let us know in the comments below.

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How To Make Glue-less Interlocking Parts

Using the SketchUp plugin SliceModeler for the best friction fit

There are several ways to create 3D shapes from flat laser cut material, and each have their merits. Many Ponoko users ask questions about how to best design for interlocking parts – making this one of the more popular choices for transforming laser cut forms into 3D objects.

Interlocking parts can be mechanically fastened together, but in this tutorial we are looking at how to design friction-fit connections that neatly snap and lock into place.

Pictured above is a laser cut trivet made by Ponoko user Andrew Jones. To produce this form he used the freely available software SketchUp along with the handy SliceModeler plugin. He then compiled a detailed Instructables walkthrough that outlines his design process for interlocking laser cut products.

To achieve the glue-less design, small curved bumps (nodes) are added into each slot. This extra material allows the parts to slide together with enough contact and pressure to fit snugly. This sounds easy enough, but just how to get the right size and number of nodes takes some time and patience. Slot length, material thickness and density are just a few of the factors that need to be considered.

I highly recommend creating parts with different size and numbers of nodes so you can find the best fit that works for you. You might want a very hard fit that needs to be tapped together with a rubber mallet or you might want a fit that can be assembled by hand without any tools. The only way to find the fit that works for you is try different size nodes.

Click through to the full tutorial where you will learn how to create a basic form using Sketchup and SliceModeler, add the nodes, export into Inkscape and then add the final SVG to a Ponoko template ready for laser cutting.

via Andrew Jones on Instructables

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Design tip: Ponoko Color Palettes

Keep these swatches handy to streamline your workflow

Here is a neat tip from the Ponoko Support Forums. Follow the links below to download Ponoko-friendly custom color palettes for your favorite drawing application. Each file contains the necessary cutting and engraving values that will make sense at our end, where the magic happens.

The original post has files for Illustrator, Corel Draw and Inkscape.

Here’s a quick look at the installation process using Illustrator CC.

1. Download the Ponoko color swatch file for Illustrator: ponokoswatch.ai.zip

2. Unzip and move the file to (for Mac systems) Applications > Adobe Illustrator > Presets > Swatches
(For Windows systems replace Applications with Program Files)

3. Import your Palette:

Open Illustrator and go to Window > Swatches to make your Swatches panel active in the sidebar.

Click on the small arrow at the top-right of the Color Palette and select ‘Open Swatch Library’ and then ‘Other Library’.

Browse to your ‘Swatches’ folder and select ‘Ponokoswatch’, then click ‘Open’.

To keep things nice and straightforward on your screen, it can be helpful to expand the color icons into a list.

Click on the small arrow at the top-right of the Ponokoswatch panel and select ‘List View’.

Now you’ll have all the info right there, making it even easier to create design files for laser cutting with Ponoko.

Here are the files for each application:

Illustrator: ponokoswatch.ai.zip
Inkscape: Ponoko.gpl.zip
Corel Draw: ponoko.cpl.zip

Adapted from a post on the Ponoko Support Forums.

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Using white wood filler to fill etchings

Making those detailed designs and laser etched text really pop

Laser etched details do often stand out pretty well in their own right, but sometimes it is a good idea to give them a helping hand.

Today we are revisiting an informative post in the Ponoko Support Forums that runs through using white wood filler to bring out the details on wood and plastic laser engraving.

The tutorial focuses on an example laser cut and etched from bamboo. Follow the link and you’ll be taken through the step-by-step process, including important tips such as remembering to clean off the smoke residue from the laser and how to avoid over-sanding in the finishing touches.

This is one way to do it – but we’ve seen people have great results with other techniques as well. Paints are ever-popular; model paints, acrylic paints… in fact paints of all kinds! Others use sharpie markers, crayons, and even glue mixed in with glitter particles.

Read the full tutorial to see if wood filler is the solution for your next laser etched project.

Ponoko Support Forums: White wood filler

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Vector and Raster engraving examples

Free design shows exactly what will happen in your material of choice

The mysteries of how to get the right settings for vector and raster engraving is something that can take time and practise to fully unravel. Thanks to this free file from James Stokebrand, you can create a mini laser etching cheat sheet in your favorite Ponoko material.

The file is set to work perfectly with Ponoko’s P1 template size, and it includes a range of raster fill values, vector line fill values and even some handy tips for designs that use vector linework.

Pictured above is the file etched onto blonde bamboo, and James has also provided high-res sample images in black acrylic and cardstock. Although there is nothing that can truly replace holding a physical sample in your hand, zooming in on these images is pretty close to the next best thing.

Take a look on the Ponoko Support Forums to see for yourself. The file can be downloaded from the Ponoko Showroom, and if it all looks too confusing for you (don’t worry, we all start somewhere!) there is a simpler version of what James has provided all cut and ready to go on the Ponoko Samples page.

via Ponoko Support Forums

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How to etch mirror acrylic

Laser etched impact made easy

As the Festive Season approaches and we become more and more enamoured with all things shiny, here are our tips on how to use laser etching for some serious impact on mirror acrylic.

People love the combination of crisp laser definition with the reflective sheen of mirror acrylic, and to create these effects there are a few key points to remember. The main one is that you’re not etching into the surface of the acrylic, but rather through the reflective coating on the rear of the material.

Another tip that may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often it can sneak up on you – remember to reverse the artwork so that it reads correctly when viewed from the other side of the sheet.

For an informative collection of examples including vector and raster engraving, as well as different approaches to filling the etched designs, head over to the Ponoko Support Forums for the full scoop.

Ponoko presents: Laser Etched Mirror Acrylic

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How to get the best results out of laser cut cardstock

Useful tips to get the optimum cut quality from this versatile material

Both NZ and US hubs now offer several cardstock options.  This material is a wonderful choice for greeting cards, business cards, model making and packaging.

Cardstock cuts slightly differently from other materials in the Ponoko catalogues, so there are a few useful things to know to get the optimum cut quality for your project.  Some of these are mentioned in the material pages, such as designing around small light pieces that can shift during cutting.  We always strongly advise that you carefully read material information to get a clearer idea of what results to expect.  Material samples are another handy reference, although we stress that every project is different, and prototyping is the only way to ensure the best outcome.

Something to keep in mind is that many of the mass-produced, intricately cut card products on the market are not laser cut but stamped out with a die – like a cookie cutter.  A laser cuts by burning, so some discoloration can be expected around cut marks.  This is an inherent part of the laser cutting process and can be seen in the catalogue material photos.   (more…)

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Laser cutting 3D forms: 123D Make tutorial

Slicing up a T-Rex for laser cutting that roars

The software options available to digital makers just keeps getting better, and one of our recent favourites would have to be Autodesk’s 123D Make.

Why do we like 123D Make so much? Simply put, it just works and really is as easy as 1, 2… 3. The freely available software takes a 3D model and slices it up, then exports the data for laser cutting.

As you’ll see in the following tutorial, there are several very handy (and quite powerful) capabilities built in to 123D Make that help ensure your final result comes together just right.   (more…)

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What to do with your first laser cut design

Four scenarios and next step options for first-time makers

You’ve created a design and uploaded it to Ponoko, placed and order, and now you have your first piece of laser cut delight. So now what?

It all depends on what stage of the process you’re in. We’ve come up with four scenarios to keep things moving. See which one best describes you.

Scenario #1

You: My design is not quite right – it didn’t work out!

Ponoko: Don’t let this get you down. The first try pretty much never turns out perfect for anyone. Making something is a process, and you’re in the prototyping phase. Most of our customers have to make 5-10 prototypes to get their design just right. Don’t forget that we will do whatever it takes to help you get there!

What to do next:

• If you’re not sure why your design didn’t work out or if you think we messed something up, get in touch: service-at-ponoko-dot-com
• If you know what needs to be changed, revise your design and try again. To speed up the prototyping process, we recommend putting multiple versions of your design on a single sheet of material and see which one works best.

(more…)

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Step-by-Step: Laser Cutting Tutorial Part 4

Watching the laser cutter in action

In this four-part series of introductory laser cutting tutorials we have shown you just how easy it can be to become a digital maker with Ponoko. Now it is time to watch the laser cutter do its thing and see those designs become real, tangible objects right before your eyes. Just hit Play on the video above.

Here’s a little refresher on what got us to this point.

• Laser Cutting Tutorial Part 1: Getting started with the Personal Factory
• Laser Cutting Tutorial Part 2: Edit design templates
• Laser Cutting Tutorial Part 3: Custom designs using Inkscape

So now that you’ve got what it takes to become a digital maker, how about losing those training wheels and start making on your own? You can:

• Upload a new design to your Personal Factory
• Check out more learning resources
• Download free design files from the showroom

…and don’t forget to share (or perhaps even show off) your projects on the Ponoko forums.

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