Beginners Laser Cutting Cost Saving Guide: Part 2

Keep your laser cutting costs down with the Ponoko Product Recipe

Product Recipe #1 – Part 2

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 2: Design It

Now that I had an idea of where I wanted to go, it was time to prepare my first design for laser cutting. Here are my top tips.

Download a Laser Design Template

Open a Personal Factory laser design template in Adobe Illustrator. Using the template makes it so much easier to get a good result.

Use Existing Images

I did an image search to find a few gears with crisp images on a clean white background to make outlining easier:

Next – I imported the images into Adobe Illustrator, and converted the gears into black outlines:

Get the Essentials Right – Line Colors & Widths

I needed to use these settings to cut along the lines of the gear drawings:

* Stroke Color – Blue (R0, G0, B255).

* Stroke Width – 0.01mm.

To engrave along the lines of the gear drawings I needed to use these settings:

* Stroke Color – Red (R255, G0, B0).

* Stroke Width – 0.01mm.

To summarise Part 2 of the Laser Cutting Cost Saving Guide; Jill downloaded a design template from Ponoko, selected an image and refined the linework in Illustrator, and then ensured that the line colors and widths were compatible with the laser cutting guidelines provided in the template.

With the design sorted, our next step is to look at making a prototype. Continue reading Part 3 of this Ponoko Product Recipe for handy tips that will keep your laser cutting costs as low as possible.

How do you prepare your designs so that they are ready for laser cutting? Tell us about your process in the comments below.

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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.

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How to: Turn a Logo into a Laser Cut Item

Achieving low cost, high quality results quickly and easily

Starting your own line of products can be a challenge, particularly if you’re competing against companies with established backgrounds in manufacturing. By using the Ponoko Personal Factory, you can achieve a refined, professional result with surprising ease.

The following tutorial walks through the process of adding a laser cut logo to a series of products, from the initial napkin scribbles all the way to a final outcome that can stand proud amongst all the other shiny products in the front window of a store.

The project we are looking at is a logo for a custom line of amplifiers. The client requested a finish that would match the mid-century styling of the product casing, keeping things looking modern while retaining a connection to the classic rocker feel of the product line.   (more…)

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Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs

Understanding how to get the most out of your Personal Factory

Have you ever wondered how to reduce your laser cutting costs? Whether you are making for profit or just for fun, it always helps to know you are getting the most bang for your buck. Ponoko’s series of Top Ten Ways To Reduce Laser Cutting Costs aims to do just that, by breaking down the key contributors of Making, Materials, and Shipping.

In this overview, we take a look at what was covered in the Top Ten list.

It all begins with understanding how laser pricing works. With Ponoko, thousands of designers are successfully making products at low cost – with many able to achieve comparative savings of up to 90% less than retail.

They’re able to do this because they know how to best use their Personal Factory to design for laser cutting.

The critical things they understand are:

  • Design – EVERY design feature results in more cost. Hence: Start very simple.
  • Materials – EVERY inch is highly valuable area. Hence: Use every inch.
  • Shipping – EVERY order over $100 is free to ship. Hence: Prototype small, finalize bigger.
  • Account – EVERY Prime order cost 32.5% less to make than Free account orders. Hence: Time your upgrade.
  • Volume – EVERY Prime order over $1,000 cost up to 55% less to make than Free account orders. Hence: Time your upgrade.

Avoiding high costs that can give you quite a fright, Ponoko designers understand they need to price test, test, test, test and test again their “brilliant” and “visionary” product designs. A product is rarely brilliant if it never comes to life because the design failed to appreciate the highs and lows of the making process and materials.

Remember that you pay for every minute the laser is cutting, engraving and travelling between cutting and engraving – this means you want a great design that takes as little laser time as possible.

The following design features cost more because they take more time for the laser:

    • Cutting longer lines takes longer than cutting shorter lines.
    • Cutting lots of short lines takes longer than cutting a less detailed design.
    • Cutting two lines on top of one another takes longer than cutting a single line.
    • Cutting circles takes longer than cutting straight lines.
    • Cutting or engraving designs placed far apart takes longer than cutting or engraving designs placed next to each other.
    • Cutting thicker materials takes longer than cutting thinner materials.
    • Cutting harder materials takes longer than cutting softer materials.
    • Engraving lots of lines takes longer than engraving a few lines.
    • Engraving solid fill areas just takes a long time.
    • Shipping larger sheets further cost more than shipping smaller sheets closer.
    • Larger material sheets cost more in total than smaller sheets.
    • Larger material sheets cost less per item on the sheet than smaller sheets.

When these considerations become a part of your workflow it will make a huge difference to how much your laser cutting costs.

In the Ponoko series of  Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs, the key considerations of making, materials and shipping have been optimised to give you the best possible outcome. So keep this list handy and follow the advice; ask us questions in the comments below if you get stuck on anything… and we look forward to seeing what you make next!

Ponoko’s Top 10 Ways To Reduce Laser Cutting Costs:

1. Digital Prototyping

2. Paper Prototypes from your home printer

3. Make a cardboard version first

4. Start small

5. Keep Details Simple

6. Avoid Double Lines

7. Group Parts Together

8. Line vs Area Engraving

9. Material Thickness

10. High making costs? Try Ponoko Prime

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Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #10

High making costs? Try Ponoko Prime

Laser cutting with Ponoko is a great way to have small items like coasters or jewellery cut and shipped to you for little more than the price of a hearty meal. But what happens if your appetite for laser cutting means designs that are bigger than bite-sized? Ponoko has a solution for this, and we call it Ponoko Prime.

Existing as a monthly subscription, Ponoko Prime members enjoy a range of benefits including lower making costs, volume discounts and free shipping for orders over $100. There are other perks to being a Prime subscriber, just check out the FAQs to see if you can save money by using Ponoko Prime.

  • With a Prime account: EVERY Prime order costs 32.5% less to make than Free account orders.
  • Making in Large Volumes: EVERY Prime order over $1,000 cost up to 51% less to make than Free account orders.

Consider your requirements and time your upgrade to Ponoko Prime. There are some serious savings to be made.

With these Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs, the key considerations of making, materials and shipping have been optimised to give you the best possible outcome. So keep this list handy and follow the advice; ask us questions if you get stuck on anything… and we look forward to seeing what you will make next.

Do you think we covered all of the important tips when it comes to reducing laser cutting costs? Let us know in the comments below if you think there is anything we missed…

Top 10 Ways To Reduce Laser Cutting Costs:

1. Digital Prototyping

2. Paper Prototypes from your home printer

3. Make a cardboard version first

4. Start small

5. Keep Details Simple

6. Avoid Double Lines

7. Group Parts Together

8. Line vs Area Engraving

9. Material Thickness

10. High making costs? Try Ponoko Prime

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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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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.

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Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #8

Line vs Area Engraving

For creating surface details on your design, consider using Line Engraving. This method involves the laser following a defined shape, whereas Area Engraving (which can be much more time consuming) is similar to how an inkjet printer works, with the laser head passing across the sheet many times horizontally until the area has been completely filled. Both Area and Line Engraving have their merits, but it is almost always cheaper to use Line Engraving simply because less machine time is required.

There may be times where your design demands the use of Area Engraving. If this is the case, keeping the engraved parts as close together on the template as possible will help to reduce costs.

How have you saved on laser cutting costs by changing your approach to laser engraving? Let us know in the comments below.

Next up we discover whether size matters with Tip #9: Material thickness.

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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!

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Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #7

Pieces close together

With the knowledge that you’re paying for every move the laser makes, keeping all the pieces of your design close together can really make a difference. Instead of having them scattered around the template, try to fit them all together (kind of like a jigsaw puzzle).

Depending on your design, it may even be possible for some pieces to share a cutting line. Just be sure you don’t forget about removing double lines as we saw in Tip #6 if there are any overlaps.

When pieces are close together or sharing a cutting line, be sure that you leave enough space for the kerf (how much material the laser burns away – see here or here).

Once you have tested (and tested and tested!) your design on the P1 template and are ready to produce multiple copies, clever use of the larger P3 template will further reduce the cost per item.

Have you tried grouping parts together in your own laser cutting? What impact did it have for you? Let us know in the comments below.

Now that we have our layout sorted, let’s move on from outlines to details with  Tip #8: Vector vs Raster engraving.

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