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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How to combine shapes in *Inkscape* for laser cutting with Ponoko

In three easy steps

Two weeks ago I posted a video tutorial for combining shapes in Illustrator for laser cutting, and I wanted to make sure that our large number of Inkscape users had the same technique available to them…

If you’ve watched the Illustrator video, you may experience a sense of deja vu – the main difference here in what commands to use in Inkscape, and where they can be found.

Below is a transcript of the video:


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How to combine shapes in Illustrator for laser cutting with Ponoko

The right way, and the wrong way

In this short tutorial, I’ll show you how to combine shapes in Illustrator to create single vector objects for laser cutting with Ponoko.

Below is a transcript of the video:


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A How-To for Toothy Wheels

Make your own gears with Ponoko

The MAKE blog recently featured a guest post from brainy, bad-ass Dustyn Roberts on making your own gears. The article includes step-by-step instructions for using Inkscape to design your gears and using Ponoko to have your designs made.


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How to make snug joints in Acrylic.

The importance of radii

We’ve written about using ‘nodes’ with 3D objects made from wood before, but suggested it may not work for acrylic because it is more brittle and less forgiving.

However, after working with Drownspire to develop their Vambit toy into a product we could give away at Makerfaire, I discovered that you can successfully use nodes when making with acrylic.

There are, however, some tricks to it.


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Remove Double-Lines in Inkscape

Saving yourself making time and cost

As many of you will know, you can save making time and cost by placing the pieces you want to cut directly side-by-side. This way the two pieces can share a cutting line between them – effectively cutting two sides in one stroke.

The trick to making this work, however, is the removal of the unneeded extra line. When you first place the objects directly side by side, you should be able to see the shared line as being a darker blue to the others – at this point it’s a double line – one blue line directly on top of the other.

Removing this extra line in Illustrator is straightforward, but in Inkscape it’s a bit more complex:

Before you begin: Select All and use the Path > Object to Path command.

Step 1: Select the Edit Paths by Nodes tool.


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Creating laser cut 3D forms super easily

and with stunning results!Every day I see a a lot of good content go through my feeds and occasionally they are some real gems which lower the barrier for people to create great designs.

I saw two SketchUp plugins a while ago and have only just had a chance to test them out. I am amazed how easy it makes creating sliceform laser cut models and I’m wondering how I ever did this before. I wish I’d known about these when doing this project with my students back in 2009.


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