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

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #6

Avoid Double Lines

When objects are positioned side-by-side, a double cutting line can result if there is an overlap. This means that the laser will cut the same section twice – which means you’ll pay double as well! To stop this from happening, take a moment to go through your design file and make sure that there are no shared lines or overlaps.

For more about avoiding double lines and how to fix them, the Ponoko Making Guides provide all the info you need. You’ll find comprehensive Starter Kits for Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, CorelDRAW and AutoCAD.

Remember that with laser cutting, you are paying for every move the laser makes. Don’t pay twice – check your design file before you upload.

Have you been caught out by this in the past? Let us know your story in the comments below…

Next up we look at another way to keep laser cutting costs down with Tip #7: Pieces close together.

Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #5

Simplify details

We already know that it’s helpful to keep things small in size at the beginning. One key aspect that is often overlooked is to keep details simple as well.

This means sticking to designs that take up as little ‘laser time’ as possible.

So how do you go about optimising your design with this in mind? The short version is that the less time it takes to cut, the less it will cost. You’re paying for every movement the laser cutter makes; whether it is cutting, engraving or travelling between cutting and engraving. Many small detailed forms take longer to trace out than fewer larger forms. Circles take longer than straight lines. Items spread out or are further apart take longer to cut than items located close together.

Dense vector line engraving also comes with the same warning. Remember that with lasers, time really does equal money.

What impact has keeping details simple had on your laser cutting costs? Let us know in the comments below.

The next handy hint focuses on another way to save time, and therefore cost, with your laser cutting. Stay tuned for Tip #6: Avoid Double Lines

Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #4


Start small

A great tip for first timers and also just as useful for more experienced makers is to keep things small and simple at the beginning. In short, stick to the Ponoko P1 template. Starting small enables you to test your ideas and be confident before charging ahead with multiple items on larger sheet sizes.

This will keep material costs lower, which is handy not only when experimenting with laser cutting for the first time but also if you are trying out a new material that you haven’t used before.

Make the most of the P1 template size by performing small tests of multiple design ideas. Don’t assume your first attempt will be “The One”. Try multiple cuts, shapes, engravings, etc to see what you like the look of. You are much more likely to end up with a design you are happy with if you remind yourself that it’s not about getting that perfect outcome on the first try.

Keep in mind that with laser cutting, more size or complexity means greater costs. So the smaller dimensions of the P1 template help to constrain the amount of making time, which again means both cutting and material costs will be lower.

What savings have you made by starting small with your laser cutting? Let us know in the details below.

Stay tuned for the next handy piece of advice from the Ponoko team. It’s time to pare things back with Tip #5: Simplify details.

Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #3

Make a Cardboard Version First

It is an exciting moment when your design is ready to be laser cut, but it can really pay off to do a trial cut in cardboard first before moving ahead with more expensive materials.

Remember, with laser cutting you are paying for the time it takes for the machine to make your design… and cardboard cuts really quickly. This contributes to it being one of the most affordable materials, which means you can get a fast, inexpensive test run of your design. Once you are happy with the cardboard version, you can order your design in a more expensive material with greater confidence that it will come out the way you had hoped.

If your final outcome is to be made from cardboard… well, then kick back and relax because you’re already one step ahead!

Tell us about how trial cuts in cardboard have helped keep your laser cutting costs down in the comments below.

Next up in the Top 10 Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs is a handy bit of advice that is easy to overlook. Tip #4: Start small