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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‘Clean Up’ your paths in Illustrator & upload easier

Remove hidden problems in an instant.

This short post will show you how to avoid one of the most common design file problems Ponoko creators encounter. The image above shows two halves of the same file, viewed in two ways.

In View > Preview mode it appears fine, with all of the visible elements formatted correctly. In View > Outline mode, however, suddenly we can see a number of hidden points – which appear as Xs.

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How to reduce burn marks on acrylic

Or how to avoid “smudgy yuckyBurn marks are an inherent part of the laser cutting process – we are cutting things with a highly focused beam of fire after all. There are some tricks to minimizing this issue for different materials, and this post deals with acrylic.

Most of the acrylic sheets we use come with protective paper on both sides. It’s possible for us to leave this paper on when making your design, which we tend to do where it will not interfere with your engraving. The main downside to this is needing to peel paper off both sides of the acrylic, which can be time consuming and tricky if your design is intricate.

Generally our rule is: cut with paper on both sides if there is no raster engraving in the design, or if all raster engraving is of the heavy variety. Heavy raster engraving burns through the paper without any trouble, as does heavy and medium vector engraving. If the file has medium or light raster engraving, however, we will remove the protective paper from the top of the material unless otherwise requested.

It is possible to use medium engraving through the paper, but due to the dot matrix nature of the raster engraving not all the paper is burned away. A slightly sticky residue may be left on the plastic if you ask for this option – which may need to be cleaned off before you use it.

Below are some typical examples of what you get when laser cutting acrylic. It should be noted that it is most obvious on black hence using it as the example material. Also the images have been zoomed in to great detail and emphasizes the effects more than might be obvious to the naked eye.

Cutting – Paper Left On vs Paper Removed
On the left through the paper and on the right without paper. The right shows a clear example of the smudgy burn marks that are left on the acrylic after cutting. Clearly the shapes cut through the paper is cleaner than not.

Heavy Raster Engraving – Paper Left On vs Paper RemovedOn the left through the paper and on the right without paper. You can see that engraving through the paper produces a crisper result. The vaporized acrylic builds up around the outside of the letters when the paper is not use and produces this slightly ‘inflated’ look. This would probably polish off should you have the desire to do so.

Medium Raster Engraving – Paper Left On vs Paper Removed

On the left through the paper and on the right without paper. Again engraving through the paper is a little crisper in the letter forms, but as mentioned earlier there may be sticky residue left over from the adhesive of the paper.

So what does all this mean?

If you want us to leave the paper on, you should only use heavy raster engraving. If you use medium or light raster engraving, we will make your design with the paper removed.

If you would like to specify how you want your job cut, make a note in the Special Shipping instructions.

Other tips for engraving & cleaning acrylic:
How to improve your engraving results – Part 1
How to improve your engraving results – Part 2
Tips for cleaning acrylic

Kudos to @deleifd and @skruff for the awesome type design.

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