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.

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.

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

Ponoko Customer Blasts Past Kickstarter Goal in 3 hours

Another Kickstarter success using Ponoko

UPDATE: The Electric Eel Wheel has now raised over $40,928! Huge congrats to Maurice & Emily on reaching over 800% of their goal!

Maurice Ribble is the Boston based engineer behind the Electric Eel Wheel – a clever electric spinning wheel that makes it easy to spin the fiber of your choice into yarn.

Maurice’s Kickstarter campaign blew past it’s $5,000 goal in just three hours – and is on track to break $20,000 in under a week.

The Electric Eel Wheel was already a huge hit in the hobby fiber, spinning, and knitting communities, so it made sense to make the jump to Kickstarter. “I figured this would be a good project for it because nothing like it has been done before” Maurice says, “my wife who’s been helping with this project really liked the idea of doing a Kickstarter so that’s what really decided it for me.”

Traditionally, yarn is spun with a foot powered spinning wheel – a time consuming process that tends to be hard to master. While there are electric alternatives available, quality wheels are costly- with price tags of $800 or more. This gap in the market was part of the inspiration for the Electric Eel Wheel.

Using laser cut parts from Ponoko, Maurice and his wife Emily set out to create their own electric spinning wheel that was affordable, while still being as good or better than the ones currently on the market.

Maurice says using Ponoko made it easy to reduce costs by iterating through different designs. “I was surprised at how much spending some time optimizing the part layout cut my costs.” he says  “For me it almost cut my costs by half because I was able to share a lot of edges and use the materials more efficiently.”

While this is the fourth commercially available version of the wheel, Maurice was still able to find ways to improve the design and add new innovative features:

“Once I get my hand on the laser cut Ponoko pieces I assemble it and I almost always get ideas on how I might improve it during assembly. When those improvements are getting small I know I’m at the stage where it’s good enough.”

Maurice credits the research he did, as well as the feedback he got early on as the key to Electric Eel Wheel’s explosive success. “I read a lot about how to launch a Kickstarter campaign. Making a good video is important so I spent a lot of time on that.” Maurice says, “I shared it with a few close friends to build my confidence and get feedback on what I might tweak.”

When we asked Maurice what advice he would give to people just starting out with Kickstarter, he warned entrepreneurs-to-be not to let expansion or addition of new features hurt your project:

“Don’t let feature creep hurt your project. First you need to decide when it’s good enough to put on Kickstarter. Some of the ideas that come in are good and I do leave my options open, but you need to always consider pros and cons before adding something.”

Want to get your hands on your own Electric Eel wheel and start spinning your own yarn? The Electric Eel Wheel is available through Kickstarter at a discounted price, with packages ranging from $149-$209.

Got a great hardware idea of your own? Make and sell it with Ponoko.

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

Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #2

Paper Prototypes From Your Home Printer

Even if you are positive that your design is just right, it is always wise to check those details one more time before sending files to be laser cut. There is a very simple way that this can be done, thanks to your trusty desktop paper printer.

Printing out your design on paper is an ideal way to spot sizing or design errors, see whether holes or tolerances are big enough, and get a general feel for what your final result will look like. You could consider this as a free instant first prototype.

Working with digital files can be super efficient but sometimes people do lose track of whether their design will look just as good in the physical world as it does on-screen. So start your physical prototyping at home, and confirm that everything is a-ok before spending time and money on laser cutting. Once you have your details sorted, then take the plunge and upload your files to Ponoko for laser cutting.

Have you saved by making paper prototypes at home? Tell us about it in the comments below.

The next in our 10 rules for keeping laser cutting costs down is an extension of the paper prototype, but this time the lasers are firing. Stay tuned for Tip #3: Cardboard before expensive materials.

Software Upgrade for Ponoko Prime

Prime just got even better.

We’ve just finished some major upgrades to the software that powers Ponoko Prime. For those of you not familiar, Prime is a monthly subscription with tons of benefits like:

• Lower cost making on laser-cutting and 3D printing.
• Free making speed upgrades on every order.
• Volume discounts up to 55% off.
• Loyalty pricing with lower per-minute rates for every month you are a Prime customer.

The bulk of the changes we’ve made are behind-the-scenes upgrades to improve stability and make for a better experience. In addition, we’ve added the following features:

• Easily check the status of your account, next billing date, and your Prime Loyalty rate all in one place.
• Quickly change or update credit card information.
• Get email updates when there is a change to your account.
• Better tools for help desk agents to assist with Prime questions.
• General UX improvements.

As always, you can upgrade to Prime at any time.

Not ready to upgrade? Still curious about the kind of savings you’ll get? Just upload any of your designs to your Personal Factory. You’ll be presented with a Prime price along with your regular cost breakdown.

Got questions about these upgrades, or questions about Prime in general? We would love to hear from you!