DIY Laser Engraver can be made for just $20

Build your own 3D printed laser engraver

With the smooth geometry of a classic arcade machine, the Photon Printer 3D printed laser engraver is a tiny technological wonder. Built as a DIY project by New Zealand engineer Stephen Brockett, the fully functional etching machine was put together using selected DVD burner components and just a few purchased items to fill in the gaps that could not be 3D printed at home.

In part, the project was made possible by salvaging the impressive innards of a standard optical drive, but don’t let Stephen’s modesty fool you… there are a lot of other clever design decisions that kept the total build budget at just $20.

“Optical media drives are actually pretty amazing, they have linear rails, stepper motors, lead screws and even end stops inside them… They’re pretty much an entire axis of a CNC machine ready to go!”

Keeping a healthy respect for the laser at the heart of the machine, a number of safety features were built into the Photon Printer. Nifty inclusions made possible by 3D printing like a roller shutter and angled rear vents (to stop reflected laser light escaping) can be seen in the video below.

The whole journey is fully documented on Thingiverse where it has sparked up a spirited discussion from other makers using the detailed instructions and downloadable files to print out their own versions. Perhaps you could even build on this design further using the Ponoko Personal Factory…

via 3Dprint

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Ponoko’s Google Cardboard Gives You Virtual Reality For < $10.

Virtual reality from Google, with laser cut parts from Ponoko

Google Cardboard is a virtual reality kit that starts with a simple viewer anyone can build or buy. It works by turning your phone into a virtual reality headset using a sheet of cardboard, two plastic lenses, a magnet and a bit of velcro.

Using laser cut parts from Ponoko, you can get started with Cardboard for less than $10.

So far there have been a ton of apps released for the platform including test drives, roller coaster rides, and mountain climbs. But it’s not just games and rides- People are finding new ways to use the kit – from campus tours to marriage proposals to vacation planning.

Anyone can build their own Google Cardboard – there are no official manufacturers and the whole kit is open source. Want to engrave a VR code that opens up your app? Go for it. Want to add custom branding? No problem. Want to design a shiny gold mirror headset? The sky’s the limit.

Since the kit is made up of inexpensive cardboard, it’s perfect for experimenting and creating your own version using laser cut parts from Ponoko.

To get you started, we’ve put together a handy instructable that walks you through how to laser cut your own Cardboard headset with Ponoko for less than $10.

Got an idea for your own custom-made Google Cardboard compatible headset? Let us know in the comments below!

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How To Make The Most of Inkscape’s New Features

Long-awaited updates make Inkscape better than ever for laser cutting

Inkscape users have been on the edge of their seats for some time now, waiting for the feature set of  this exceptional free design program to catch up with some of its more costly competitors.

With Inkscape 0.91, the first major release since August 2010, a ton of fixes and features have been introduced… and we are excited. For a full list of the new features you can check out the release notes, but we’ve picked out a few that are relevant to Ponoko makers:

Measurement tool – The Measurement tool is a new feature for the artist to measure the elements in their drawing. To use the measurement tool, simply choose the tool, click anywhere on the drawing and drag the ruler out. The measurement tool will live-update with measurements of length and angles as you pass over objects in your drawing.

Trace Bitmap – Trace bitmap preview updates live and is resizable.

Select Same – a new feature that allows an artist to select objects that have the same properties as the currently selected object. For example, you could select an object that has a fill of blue. Then, using the new feature select all other objects in the drawing with a fill set to that same shade of blue.

OpenMP multithreading – No idea what this is but it makes Inkscape substantially faster.

New & Improved Guides – Including quick toggling of guides, changing the color of a guide & labelling guides.

Improvements to Text toolbar – Text toolbar shows full list of font style variants for that font (used to be just bold, italic and normal. Hooray for extrabold and hairline fonts!

Improvements to node editing – The tool control bar for the Node Tool features a new dropdown to insert new nodes on the selected segments.

New Layers panel – Reorder your layers by simply dragging and dropping them.

Sounding good so far? For budget-conscious professionals and makers not using Inkscape yet, consider the difference a seriously capable (and free!) software such as Inkscape can make as an alternative to, for example, the Adobe move towards subscription pricing. Don’t forget about Ponoko’s handy free Inkscape Starter Kit, a valuable resource that can really help to save time and money.

Watch the following clip for a neat overview of Inkscape’s new features and let us know how you go with the new updates in the comments below.

Discover more: Inkscape 0.91 release notes

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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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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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Guaranteed Order Deadline for Maker Faire


Hey there makers. If you’ve got something big planned for this year’s Maker Faire Bay Area, these are the dates you’ll need to get your goodies in time for the big event:

Laser Cutting Order Deadlines:
Standard Making & Shipping Speeds: Last Orders by Thursday April 30th 2015.
Upgraded Making & Shipping Speeds: Last Orders by Wednesday, May 13th, 2015.

Metal Machining (PCM) Order Deadline:
Standard Making & Shipping Speeds: Last Orders by Wednesday April 22nd 2015.

3D Printing Order Deadline:
Standard Making & Shipping Speeds: Last Orders by Friday, April 17th 2015.

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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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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.

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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

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