Tutorial: Guide to optimising lines for laser cutting

Optimise your files before uploading to save laser cutting time and money

optimising laser cut files

Ponoko’s recent prototyping party reminded me how important effective nesting parts in laser cut files is. This guide is about optimising line work to achieve faster cuts and thereby saving money. Cutting time is generally the most expensive component when ordering from Ponoko. In the forums recently, people shared their methods of saving money, but I think nesting line work requires greater exploration…

David is an industrial designer from New Zealand. He contributes a weekly article on personal fabrication for Ponoko. You can follow him on Twitter @dizymac

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The finishing touch: filled laser engraving tutorial

A simple technique for making your laser engraving stand out
Rich Decibels Exenterator
This week I finished a project I’ve been developing for a while: the Rich Decibels Exenterator. Sound samples and technical details and so on are available on my blog but for this post I just wanted to demonstrate my engraving-filling technique. For me it is the ideal way to add labels to my DIY electronics gadgets.

Check out the full step-by-step tutorial on the forum.

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Tutorial: how to design a laser-cut enclosure for your DIY electronics

A case design case study

I’ve just written up a step-by-step tutorial detailing the process of designing an electronics enclosure from concept to completion. It covers circuit design and layout, laser-cut construction techniques, and little extras like accounting for kerf and dog-boning corners to reduce stress.

Be sure to send any questions my way, and I’ll do my best to answer them on the forum.

For some awesome examples of this kinda thing, check out this blog post on custom, laser-cut enclosures created by Ponoko customers.

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Tutorial: using repeat patterns for laser etching

Add some pattern to your lasercut designs

Ponoko’s Josh Reuss has put together another quick tutorial that’s fun, easy, and a great way to jazz up your lasercut designs.

Josh walks you through using Adobe Illustrator and free pattern packs to create a design file that will have the patterned parts laser-etched.

Check out the tutorial and start etching patterns on your Personal Factory made products.

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Ponoko Project Guides

Free resource for running a design project with Ponoko.  Design, educate, inspire.

Are you a student wanting to design and make a something real? Are you an educator looking for an engaging project that will inspire your students to explore new technologies and create tangible products? 

Well, here at Ponoko we have created Project Guides – a super-useful step by step resource for structuring a design course or a project using the Ponoko system. 

Amongst other features, the Project Guides cover the possibilities of laser cutting, material suggestions, file formatting, costs and timeframes.   

We’ve also included some fantastic case examples from various institutions that have used Ponoko for design courses.

The Project Guides are suitable for any level of design education. After all, if you can use a computer, you can make with Ponoko.

Download the Project Guides and unleash some serious inspiration!

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A Precise Fit With Ponoko

Inkscape Instructable to help your 2d designs fit just right

Carol Wang is nutty about knots, and she’s also untangled the mysteries of laser cutting with this fantastic feature on Instructables.

In a handy companion to our own article on the same topic, Carol runs through a series of tests that help determine how to achieve snug fits in acrylic, particularly when combining different colours that interlock.

Not only will it help your 2d designs come out the way you want them to; you’ll also save money and time by ensuring all your measurements are right before making the first cut.

There’s no need to get yourself in a knot over tolerances…

Read the full breakdown from Carol on Instructables

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Isometric Drawing in Inkscape

guest tutorial from Edgar Castelo

Isometric perspective is a way to illustrate 3D objects using the object’s exact dimensions. It’s different from true perspective, because in true perspective things look smaller/shorter with distance.

Although you probably wouldn’t send in an isometric file in for digital making, it’s a great technique for technical renderings of your 3D designs.

Ponoko fan and avid Facebook “liker”, Edgar Castelo, created a tutorial for doing isometric drawing with Inkscape and has given us permission to share it on the blog. Although this tutorial uses Inkscape, it works well for any vector software. ::

Let’s pretend we want to figure this piece, with text, and a hole:


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Add Colour to Your Laser Cut Detail

Paint filling and masking laser engraved parts.

Painting in engraved detail gives your design an additional unique factor and makes less likely to scream “I’m laser cut!”  In the old days of hand cutting materials, you would have to sit there for hours, carefully applying masking tape of fluid in strategic areas to ensure a crisp paint edge.  Like trying to paint straight stripes on a wall, only on much smaller scale.

Fortunately, should you choose to try paint filling your laser cut engraving, your can mask required areas with laser cut precision.  The acrylics are cut with protective paper on, and all engraved areas are ready to be painted.  Other materials can have transfer tape applied to top surface on request.  The exceptions to this are leather and felt because transfer tape does not stick well to those.  Some woods can present the same problem also, so experimentation is always advised.  Protective paper and transfer tape are not the same thing.  Protective paper is the brown film on both sides of acrylic sheets and is applied at point of manufacture, which means that, by default, all our stocked acrylic has protective paper on both sides.  Transfer tape is the light-coloured adhesive sheet that is stuck on to keep all the parts in place when the cut design is removed from the lasercutter.

Transfer tape over white acrylic, over bamboo ply

There are two main factors in this process: digital, which is your design; and physical, which is the actual painting.


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Ins and Outs of Holes

How to determine placement and size of jump rings when laser cutting jewellery.


Making jewellery is incredibly popular among Ponoko users.  It’s an excellent way to get a feel for laser cutting and try out a range of materials.  Popular rigid materials include plywood, acrylic, veneer mdf, bamboo, metals; while leather and felt are commonly used soft materials.

Much of the jewellery is based on 2D shapes, so minimal prototyping is required to get the optimum result in final product.  However, there are still a few problems that jewellery makers run into.  Many of those are the result of not considering how other components or findings, such as jump rings, clasps, pins, etc will be attached.  The other contributing factor is material durability.  You have to use enough material to avoid breakage.


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How Detailed is too Detailed?

Getting superb results from thin plywood and bamboo.

Every now and then we come across P3 design files that are so densely populated with designs that we marvel at the super efficient use of space.  It is fantastic cutting something that will generate minimal waste. However, there can be a downside to adding so much detail onto a large sheet.

Sometimes a sheet of material may not be very flat when we get it from the manufacturer. This is seen most commonly in 2.7mm/0.106″ bamboo, 5mm bamboo (NZ) and other thin plywood. Unfortunately this is the nature of material. The inherent tension in the grain of the wood and the way it is constructed means the panels can warp between the factory they were made in and the Ponoko shop.

Additionally, dense cutting and engraving generates heat build up, which can cause the sheet of material to warp during cutting. This can adversely affect the quality of the cutting, engraving and has the potential to damage the machine. This is most apparent on thin materials like leather, styrene and bamboo.

So why is warping so detrimental to cut quality?


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