How To: Design a Living Hinge

De-mystifying the ins and outs of laser cut curved surfaces

For the most part, laser cut objects consist of flat panels that are either cut or etched before being assembled into a final configuration. There is another way to use laser cutting to create 3D objects from flat materials, and it uses a clever design element called a Lattice or Living Hinge.

It is more common to see makers and hobbyists using Living Hinges in laser cut wood, because the properties of this material allow for a significant degree of flex before the material fractures. There are also examples of Living Hinges successfully being implemented in acrylic enclosures, which demonstrates the versatility of this technique – because without using heat to assist bending, acrylic tends to be notoriously brittle.

We’re going to take a look at two approaches to designing a living hinge – starting with the more accessible trial-and-error method, and then diving in to an overview of the mathematics behind how flat materials can become bendy.   (more…)

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Beginners Laser Cutting Cost Saving Guide: Part 5

Ponoko Cost Saving Guide

Product Recipe #1 – Part 5

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 5: Sell It

With my product line ready to go, it was time to make some money …

Packaging Your Product

Time to consider packaging. l wanted it to look great, but be very low cost. After a bit of experimentation, I came up with this for the cost of $1 per package:

Setting a Profitable Price

With all costs now calculated, it was time to finalize my retail and wholesale pricing.

To start, I used a simple ‘cost plus margin’ pricing model to ensure profitability …

First – Calculate Your Total Production Cost at Various Order Volumes

Total Production Cost = Making + Materials + Shipping + Packaging Costs:

Sets of 4 Coasters 1 11 56 461
Material Sheets 1 x P1 1 x P3 5 x P3 45 x P3
Free Account Cost $18.64 $123.67 $618.33 $5,070.33
Prime Account Cost $15.69 $91.93 $447.42 $3,028.12
Prime Cost / Set $15.69 $8.36 $7.99 $6.56
Packaging Cost / Set $1.00 $1.00 $1.00 $1.00
Total Cost / Set $16.69 $9.36 $8.99 $7.56

Second – Calculate Your Profitable Pricing

My rule of thumb is 1 : 2 : 4 … $1 of cost means a $2 wholesale price, means a $4 retail price. In other words:

Profitable Retail Price = 2 x Wholesale Price = 2 x Total Production Cost.

Hence:

Sets of 4 Coasters 1 11 56 461
Total Cost / Set $16.69 $9.36 $8.99 $7.56
My Wholesale Margin 50% 50% 50% 50%
Wholesale Price / Set $33.38 $18.72 $17.98 $15.12
My Retail Margin 75% 75% 75% 75%
Retail Price / Set $66.76 $37.44 $35.96 $30.24
Overall Profit 50/50 62.5% 62.5% 62.5% 62.5%

To profit, this shows my retail price needs to be between $30.24 and $66.76 per set of 4 coasters to retain a profit margin of 62.5% assuming a 50:50 split in sales across both retail and wholesale channels.

Third – Set a Retail Price that Feels About Right

The information above coupled with knowing the market price ranges from $15 to $50 per set, I decide that my original retail price target of $30 per set is a good place for me to start.

Hence my profits will actually be:

Sets of 4 Coasters 1 11 56 461
Retail Price / Set $30 $30 $30 $30
Total Cost / Set $16.69 $9.36 $8.99 $7.56
My Retail Margin 44% 69% 70% 75%
Wholesale Price / Set $16.69 $15 $15 $15
My Wholesale Margin 0% 38% 40% 50%
Overall Profit 50/50 22% 54% 55% 62.5%
Prime + Packg Cost $16.69 $102.93 $503.42 $3,489.12

This third table tells me a few important things:

1) My Minimum Order Size - To hit a 54% overall profit margin, I need to order & package at least 11 sets of coasters at $102.93 per order. This is a good place for me to start my business.

2) My Most Profitable Order Size - To hit my goal of a 62.5% overall profit margin, I need to order & package at least 461 sets of coasters at $3,489.12 per order. This is a good place for me when I get a reliable stream of retail and/or wholesale orders.

3) Minimum Wholesale Order Size - To hit a 54% overall profit margin, I need to sell to retailers in a minimum batch of 10 sets of coasters at $150.

4) Tough Retailer Negotiation - To retain my profit margin, a retailer will need to order at least 461 sets of coasters to get a wholesale price less than $15 per set.

5) Taking a Tiny Step First - I know I can order & package just one set of coasters at $16.69 and sell them retail at a 44% profit margin, which is really nice to know if I do not want to spend the next level up at $102.93. But I also know that I can not sell this small order size at the $15 wholesale price because I will make a loss.

Of course, if I’m just getting started I can relax some of these 1:2:4 pricing ‘rules’. But they’re a great place to benchmark what is actually going on with my cash.

Without profit I can not continue my passion of making things for others. With profit I create new possibilities for myself :-)

Profiting from On-Demand Inventory

Continuing on my theme of keeping costs low, I decided to keep my stock digital until I had customer orders. This way I have zero cost until I make a sale and collect the cash.

The third table above shows that I can order just 1 set at $16.69 to fulfill a $30 retail order at a 44% retail margin. But I make nothing on a wholesale order – which tells me I need to set a minimum wholesale order size of at least 10 sets. And, in general, to maintain healthy profits I probably want to produce at least 11 sets each time I get an order, so I have a tiny stock on hand for fast delivery.

My friendly bike store owner pre-ordered 10 sets of 4 cork coasters when I was user testing in his store. He paid me the $150 wholesale price.

So I made the following design (of 45 coasters):

Download design file for this step.

I sold 10 sets for $150 at a cost to me of $93.57 (= $83.57 production + $10 packaging). A 38% wholesale profit margin to get me started ($150 wholesale price – $93.57 total cost = $56.43 profit).

Promoting Your Product

I sell my coasters to retailers and on Etsy. Here are my top tips.

Good Photos Sell

Well lit, crisp high-resolution photos of your product are a must.

Describe Your Product Well

I describe what it is made of, what the dimensions are and what it feels like. I share a bit about myself as well, so folks can identify with me as a person.

Be Pro-Active

Don’t just sit back and wait for customers to come to you. In the case of local bike shops, I just walk in, introduce myself and start a conversation. For larger retailers, I search company websites to get in touch with vendor departments. Wherever possible, I speak directly to their buyers.

Go for it!

  • Imagine it
  • Design it
  • Prototype it
  • Make it
  • Sell it

It really is that easy and low cost to make money selling your own products. You’re only limited by your imagination and determination. Ponoko can help you with the rest :-)

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Beginners Laser Cutting Cost Saving Guide: Part 4

Ponoko laser cut cost saving guide 1

Product Recipe #1 – Part 4

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 4: Make It

And now for the fun stuff…

My Final Design & Material Choice

From the price testing and cardboard prototype earlier, I decided on this final design. And from the three $2.50 material samples I bought earlier, I decided to do my first real test using the cork material:

Download design file for this step.

Make a Few for User Testing

I laid out my winning coaster design onto a template for the smallest P1 material sheet size and ordered:

Yippeee! My Final Product

A few days later I received a very special delivery. I was pretty excited!

Time for User Testing

I tested my coasters with potential customers – biking friends, my friendly bike store owner and his customers. They loved the design and I took pre-orders.

But some wanted a different material. So I repeated the process above to make some in black acrylic …

Final Product Line!

With cork and black acrylic coasters in my new product line, I was ready to sell.

Making tests in the final material choice enables you to trial your actual product with potential customers. This way, you can get a real feel for how people will respond to your design, and also make any last-minute changes in response to genuine feedback before moving ahead with the final production run. It was through this process that Jill discovered a demand for alternate material options, an important marketing opportunity that she otherwise may have missed.

Next up in Part 5 of this Ponoko Product Recipe we look at preparing the product for sale and making sure that the final pricing is right for the coasters to sell at a profit.

How have you tested your production-ready designs before moving on to the final sale item? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

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Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #11

Laser Cut and Laser Etched Awards & Trophies

Rewarding people for their hard work or congratulating team members on a particular achievement has greater impact when something tangible can be handed over. If the presentation item is good enough, hopefully it will be retained and proudly put on display to share with others.

With even the most straightforward use of laser cutting and laser etching, awards and trophies can be easily customized. Identifying the event and naming the recipient in crisp, clean laser precision adds a perceived authenticity to the trophy. We’ve come a long way from hand-engraved brass name plates glued to a generic cup!

Pictured above is a laser etched award plaque-in-progress by Epilog Laser. For more creative approaches, check out their other examples and think about how you could make the most of Ponoko’s laser cutting service to give your next presentation ceremony a memorable impact.

Have you used laser cutting or laser etching to produce an award? 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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Beginners Laser Cutting Cost Saving Guide: Part 3

Keep your laser cutting costs down with the Ponoko Product Recipe

Product Recipe #1 – Part 3

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 3: Prototype It

My goal was to find a happy compromise between design aesthetics (look/feel) and efficient engineering (cost).

Zero Cost Prototyping!

Before I paid to make anything, I used my Personal Factory to price lots of design iterations instantly. I learned a whole lot and it didn’t cost me a bean …

Summary:

Target Production Cost = $1.88 per coaster (75% off retail).
First Quote – #1 = $5.40 per coaster (28% off retail).
Final Quote – #9 = $1.64 per coaster (78% off retail) !!

Here’s what I did to reduce my production cost, without actually making anything:   (more…)

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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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