Fab Academy 2015

Applications now open for the next Fab Academy Diploma

Applications are now open for the fifth edition of the Fab Academy Diploma, the main educational program of the Fab Lab Network.

For five months running between January and June in 2015, participants will find themselves immersed in an advanced digital fabrication program directed by Neil Gershenfeld of MIT’s Center For Bits and Atoms. The diploma is based on MIT’s rapid prototyping course, MAS 863: How to Make (Almost) Anything, and operates as a worldwide, distributed campus where Fab Labs across the globe become classrooms and libraries for a new kind of technical literacy.

Learn how to envision, prototype and document your ideas through many hours of hands-on experience with cutting edge digital fabrication technology.

Take note of the following important dates if you think this sounds like a great way to supercharge your creativity and productivity in 2015:

Application period: October 6th, 2014 – November 20th, 2014
Application revisions: November 21st, 2014 – November 31st, 2014
Application notification: December 1st, 2014 – December 10th, 2014
Classes: January 21st, 2015 – May 27th, 2015

A list of participating labs can be viewed here, and more information is available on the Fab Academy website. Applications are open… apply now for the 2015 course!

via Fab Academy

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10 Custom Holiday Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands

Along with the eggnog and scores of holiday-party invitations comes yet another seasonal tradition: Agencies and brands showing off their technical and creative chops with unique holiday promotions and client gifts.

One sure fire way to ensure this year’s holiday campaign stands out (amongst the scores of digital and traditional holiday cards) is to create something unique with your Personal Factory.

We’ve compiled 10 laser cut ideas that caught our eye and thought we’d “share” in the holiday cheer with some inspiration for your upcoming holiday campaigns.

(more…)

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Tiny stroke-only font for laser cutting

Miniature alphabet that you can squeeze just about anywhere

When adding small text to a laser etched design, you want to make sure the font you choose will be legible.

This tiny stroke-only alphabet is available to download from the Ponoko Showroom. The free file contains the entire alphabet plus punctuations, brackets and a few other randoms. Characters are only 1mm tall. Any smaller and you will start to loose the inside of characters like ‘A’ and ‘B’ using the heavy vector setting.

On a light wood like the bamboo the light vector setting seems to work well; while the heavy setting on plastics allow you to paint fill to improve readability.

This character set was based on the free pixel font “Wendy” which you can find on dafont. Wendy was used by Stroke-Only Font creator Josh as an initial guide when laying out the line segments. Unlike the pixel font, for this example, as many line segments as possible are joined to allow easy scaling up to larger sizes.

It is worth noting that these are only grouped lines, so you’ll need to manually place letters onto your design one by one.

Using a mini font like this is worth a try if you want to inexpensively add tiny part numbers or a website/email address to your designs.

If laser engraved fonts are your thing, the Evil Mad Scientists have a great Inkscape extension that is enables even more versatility.

This post originally appeared in an article by Josh Reuss on the Ponoko Support Forums.

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How to get the best results out of laser cut cardstock

Useful tips to get the optimum cut quality from this versatile material

Both NZ and US hubs now offer several cardstock options.  This material is a wonderful choice for greeting cards, business cards, model making and packaging.

Cardstock cuts slightly differently from other materials in the Ponoko catalogues, so there are a few useful things to know to get the optimum cut quality for your project.  Some of these are mentioned in the material pages, such as designing around small light pieces that can shift during cutting.  We always strongly advise that you carefully read material information to get a clearer idea of what results to expect.  Material samples are another handy reference, although we stress that every project is different, and prototyping is the only way to ensure the best outcome.

Something to keep in mind is that many of the mass-produced, intricately cut card products on the market are not laser cut but stamped out with a die – like a cookie cutter.  A laser cuts by burning, so some discoloration can be expected around cut marks.  This is an inherent part of the laser cutting process and can be seen in the catalogue material photos.   (more…)

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Optimize your Laser-cutting design file for lower costs

How to get the most out of your Ponoko order

When you make something with Ponoko, there are 3 key costs to consider: making, materials, and shipping.

Making cost is all about labor — mostly machine labor and a little bit of human labor. Think of your design file as a work order, a set of instructions for the machine to follow. The simpler and more efficient your instructions are, the less time it takes the machine to follow them. And that means less making costs.

Here are a few tips and tricks direct from the Ponoko team that you can use to optimize your design file and help get you the lowest cost possible for your laser cut project.

The key thing to remember with laser-cutting is that you’re paying for the *time* your design spends on the laser cutter.

“If it’s your first time making something, start small with a P1 size material sheet. The smaller dimension will help constrain the amount of making time, and your material cost will be lower.” ~ Yana

“When it comes to laser-cutting, the more complex and detailed your design is the more expensive it will be to make. So when you can, and especially for beginners, I suggest starting with simple designs that aren’t too intricate.” ~ Christina

“Print out your design on paper first. You could consider this a free and instant first prototype. It’s the ideal way to spot sizing errors, see whether you’ve made holes big enough, and get a feel for what your final result will look like.” ~ Josh J.

“For any new design, I often recommend making a cardboard version first. Cardboard is one of our most affordable materials, and the laser can cut it really quickly; so you can get an inexpensive test run of your design. Then when you’re happy with the cardboard version, you can order your design in the material you want and feel more assured that it will come out the way you want.” ~ Josh R.

“One thing to remember is that the laser cuts the material by burning it. So thinner materials will cut faster than thicker materials. The laser is also faster at cutting straight lines than curves.” ~ Catherine

“Try to make all the pieces of your design fit together like a puzzle instead of scattered around the template. See if there are any pieces that could actually share a cutting line*. And put the rest of the pieces close together, but be sure to leave enough space for the kerf (how much material the laser burns away).” ~ Dan

*If pieces in your design share a cutting line, you must remove any “double lines” created by the overlap. Check our design starter kit for more info.

“Raster Fill Engraving is a very time consuming process, similar to how a dot-matrix printer works. For creating details in your design, I usually recommend using Vector Engraving instead. If you do use Raster Fill Engraving, try to keep the engraved areas as close together on the template as possible.” ~ Josh J.

Now you’ve heard the tips from our in-house experts, here is a summary of how to keep your laser cutting costs down:

• Time = money
• For beginners, start with a small size material (P1) and a simple design.
• Print your design out on paper to spot any immediate problems with the design.
• Make a cardboard prototype. You won’t regret it.
• Keep in mind that different materials burn at different rates.
• Fit the pieces of your design close (but not too, too close) together.
• Consider whether Vector Engraving is a better option than Raster Fill Engraving

Originally posted on the Ponoko Support Forums

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Laser cutting 3D forms: 123D Make tutorial

Slicing up a T-Rex for laser cutting that roars

The software options available to digital makers just keeps getting better, and one of our recent favourites would have to be Autodesk’s 123D Make.

Why do we like 123D Make so much? Simply put, it just works and really is as easy as 1, 2… 3. The freely available software takes a 3D model and slices it up, then exports the data for laser cutting.

As you’ll see in the following tutorial, there are several very handy (and quite powerful) capabilities built in to 123D Make that help ensure your final result comes together just right.   (more…)

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What to do with your first laser cut design

Four scenarios and next step options for first-time makers

You’ve created a design and uploaded it to Ponoko, placed and order, and now you have your first piece of laser cut delight. So now what?

It all depends on what stage of the process you’re in. We’ve come up with four scenarios to keep things moving. See which one best describes you.

Scenario #1

You: My design is not quite right – it didn’t work out!

Ponoko: Don’t let this get you down. The first try pretty much never turns out perfect for anyone. Making something is a process, and you’re in the prototyping phase. Most of our customers have to make 5-10 prototypes to get their design just right. Don’t forget that we will do whatever it takes to help you get there!

What to do next:

• If you’re not sure why your design didn’t work out or if you think we messed something up, get in touch: service-at-ponoko-dot-com
• If you know what needs to be changed, revise your design and try again. To speed up the prototyping process, we recommend putting multiple versions of your design on a single sheet of material and see which one works best.

(more…)

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Step-by-Step: Laser Cutting Tutorial Part 4

Watching the laser cutter in action

In this four-part series of introductory laser cutting tutorials we have shown you just how easy it can be to become a digital maker with Ponoko. Now it is time to watch the laser cutter do its thing and see those designs become real, tangible objects right before your eyes. Just hit Play on the video above.

Here’s a little refresher on what got us to this point.

• Laser Cutting Tutorial Part 1: Getting started with the Personal Factory
• Laser Cutting Tutorial Part 2: Edit design templates
• Laser Cutting Tutorial Part 3: Custom designs using Inkscape

So now that you’ve got what it takes to become a digital maker, how about losing those training wheels and start making on your own? You can:

• Upload a new design to your Personal Factory
• Check out more learning resources
• Download free design files from the showroom

…and don’t forget to share (or perhaps even show off) your projects on the Ponoko forums.

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Step-by-Step: Laser Cutting Tutorial Part 3

Using Inkscape to design your own laser cut product from scratch

Welcome to the third instalment of Ponoko’s back-to basics tutorials. This time we get creative and generate a laser cut design from scratch that can be used with your Ponoko Personal Factory.

It all begins with key information from the Inkscape Starter Kit, a tremendously useful resource that sorts out everything you need to know about the free software package, Inkscape.

The tutorial walks through how to use Inkscape to draw a design using basic shape tools, the text tool, and Path commands. In the demonstration, Josh whips up a laser cut coaster and repeats the pattern before finalising the file to be ready for laser cutting.

In a little over ten minutes, you’ll be able to:

• Create a design from scratch with Inkscape
• Create and combine basic shapes
• Check your design in outline mode
• Format your design for laser cutting

Stay tuned for Ponoko’s Laser Cutting Tutorial Part 4 where we get to see the laser work its magic.

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Step-by-Step: Laser Cutting Tutorial Part 2

Using free design software to customize a design file

For the second instalment of Ponoko’s back-to-basics tutorials, we walk through the process of customizing a design file using freely available design software. The recommended software is called Inkscape, an open-source vector drawing program that offers powerful features in an easy-to-learn format.

Making use of the same free design file introduced in part 1 of the Laser Cutting Tutorial series, this time we walk through the process of adding your own text to the laser cut coaster.

Follow through as the process is explained from downloading Inkscape through to preparing the custom file for uploading to your Personal Factory.

In just under six minutes, you will know how to:

• Download Inkscape (available for Mac or PC)
• Open a design file in Inkscape
• Customize the design file with your own text
• Prepare the file for laser cutting

Now we’re just about ready to generate custom designs from scratch using Inkscape, so stay tuned for our Laser Cutting Tutorial Part 3.

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