How To: Get The Best Results out of Laser Cut Cardstock

Useful tips to ensure optimum cut quality from this versatile material


Cardstock is such a handy material for laser cutting. The versatile combination of lightweight tensile strength, fast cutting/etching and low unit cost means cardstock is a wonderful choice for greeting cards, business cards, model making and packaging. A number of popular cardstock options are available from both NZ and US Ponoko making hubs.

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 tips are mentioned in the Ponoko 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.    (more…)

Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #19

How to use laser cutting to stand out from the crowd


The distribution of ‘freebies’ or giveaway items can be a powerful marketing tool, with novelty objects triggering conversations between stakeholders in new and interesting ways. When used to full effect, these products become memorable in their own right… and most importantly, that also means the brand identity becomes an integral part of the ongoing conversation.

For an exhibition showcasing the best student works titled ‘D& AD New Blood’, the creative design team from Southampton Solent University incorporated visual, conceptual and sensorial metaphors into their very effective event freebie. A neat little laser cut box was produced in the style of the ubiquitous Southampton dock packing crates. Inside, further supporting the theme of “Cargo”, nestled a macabre-looking glass vial with the top sealed in wax.


This small bottle of wine continued to play on the New Blood idea of creative juices being shipped out. All sealed in a laser cut crate with sliding lid and laser etched details, it held just the right combination of conceptual nostalgia and contemporary novelty to become an effective conversation starter. People loved the diminutive scale and the nonsensical utility of the object. This was all made possible through clever use of laser cutting to increase brand awareness. See more photos of the miniature crates on behance.

How would you stand out from the crowd with laser cut freebies using the Ponoko Personal Factory? Let us know in the comments below, and for more ideas for Agencies and Brands, see the other posts in the series.

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Elliptical Laser Cut Boxes

Using Inkscape plugins to round out those boxed corners 


We all agree that laser cut boxes are handy to use as enclosures for DIY electronic projects and for storing little keepsakes. Adding your own personal touch gets a whole lot more interesting when you can break away from the traditional rectilinear form to create elliptical laser cut boxes.

Once again, the magic happens thanks to some clever programming in the form of a freely available Inkscape plugin. Instructables user Bas van der Peet has compiled an extensive guide to using this plugin, with a number of fun examples of what you can achieve when you round off a few corners here and there.


If breaking out of the box sounds like fun to you, head over to Instructables and follow Bas’ guide, then let us know how you go with the plugin in the comments below.

Make your elliptical laser cut boxes using the Ponoko Personal Factory.

Elliptical Box Maker via Instructables


How to Decide When the ‘Price is Right’ in your Retail Strategy


Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 3.44.45 PMPricing your products can be an exciting time as you begin to imagine the cash registers ringing. But when you actually get down to it, the initial excitement often gives way to doubt and nervousness.

Suddenly your mind is racing with questions and explanations – What if you price too low? You might make a ton of sales but still end up alarmingly short of money to cover your expenses.

On the other hand, what if you price your product too high? You might convince the market you are a high-end, luxury manufacturer. It might even begin to draw a financially upmarket range of customers. The high cost may offset your smaller sales figures, but what if the market shifts? What if a change in manufacturing or a new competitior can match your level of quality and reduce the price? Can your businss compete and survive in a price-sensitive market?

Such questions and more will always be floating around and no one strategy can magically address all your pricing doubts. However, by being aware of the options available for retial pricing, you will be in a position to choose the one which suits your business when the time comes.

Before we go into specifics, there are some basic overarching categories which classify individual pricing strategies. These include:

  1. Demand oriented strategies: In a retail environment, you don’t always have to depend on your skills as a marketer to attract customers. Some porducts, or even categories of products, have such a magnetic pull that setting the retail price for them can be done simply by observing demand.
  2. Cost oriented strategies: This is a more common format for calculating retail pricing and revolves around the relationship and ratio of merchandise costs, operating costs and expected profits.
  3. Competition oriented strategies: These strategies involve observing, analysing and responding to market changes to maintain the perception of competitive pricing at all times in a given market.

Let’s begin by looking at some common demand oriented strategies:

Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
As the name suggests, this is a price manufacturers recommend retailers use to sell their products. This strategy is used by manufacturers to standardize prices of products across multiple locations and retailers.

However, MSRP can also be used in a market where there is high product demand. In such a market, by sticking to the manufacturer’s price, the retailer can drive higher profit sales and determine what the price levels of certain products will be in his store, irrespective of the consumer’s bargaining power.

Demand Ceiling Pricing
In this form of pricing, the retailer takes into account the maximum a consumer will pay for a certain item and as far as possible, try to keep the price up to that level so as to maintain a demand momentum for that product.

Demand Floor Pricing
Here, the retailer takes into account the lowest he is willing to go on price to meet demand for a particular product. This is usually done on lower cost items where a retailer might go lower on the cost to keep the volume of demand constant for longer.

Odd Pricing
Studies have shown that when customers spend money, they actually feel a sense of loss. But if you help minimize this feeling of loss, it is possible to nudge customers into making a purchase. In retail, you can do this by ending the price with an odd number like 5, 7, or 9. For example, using $8.99 instead of $9.00.

Also if you want to know the ideal odd number to pick, it’s 9. A study conducted at MIT and the University of Chicago ran an experiment on a standard women’s clothing item with the following prices $34, $39, and $44. The item priced at $39 outsold even its cheaper counterpart price of $34.

Zone Pricing
It’s no secret that certain suburbs or geogrpahical areas house more affluent people. In such areas, the demand for certain types of products or categories will always be high, simply due to their increased ability and propensity to spend. Using this tactic, retailers can map out certain areas where they can get away with charging more for the same stocked item as compared to stores in other locations.

Now, let’s examine some cost oriented pricing strategies:

Multiple Pricing
This is a common pricing strategy wherein you can sell more volumes of smaller itesms simply by grouping them together. It’s a strategy you normally see in grocery stores and even across clothing brands espcially for smaller things such as socks, underwear and T-shirts.

Discount Pricing

All customers love agood bargain. That’s why sales, discount coupons and even holiday deals are so popular. The only thing to consider is why you’re choosing to discount your products. If it’s for more footfalls, consider going wide with your discounts so as to attract a variety of people. If it is to get rid of unsold inventory, try setting a time limit on your discount (1 day only, flash 12-hour sale) so as to not draw too much attention to the items on sale. And if you’re trying to attract price-conscious customers, club your discounted items together to seem more appealing.

Loss-leading Pricing
If you’ve ever walked into the store because you saw a ‘too-good-to-be-true’ discount sign but walked out with three things, you’ve just experienced loss-leading pricing at work. The idea is once you get a customer in store to buy one item, just looking at other items on the shelves is often enough to drive more sales.

Finally, let’s examine competiton oriented pricing strategies:

Below Competition Pricing
As the name suggests, retailers employing this strategy use a competitor’s pricing data as a benchmark and consciously price their products below them to lure consumers into their store, instead of the competition’s.

Above Competition Pricing
While below competition seems like a no-brainer, retailers need to be cautious before using this strategy. That’s because if your competition is willing to go head to head, he might keep dropping his prices to the point where it’s no longer financially viable for you to go any lower. A good example of this is Amazon who brought the cost of paperback books so low, they put Barnes & Noble out of business.

Instead, retailers can do the exact opposite – benchmark their product at intentionally higher prices than their competition. This forces customers to stop and consider why your prices might be higher. And, not surprisingly the conclusion most arrive at is – your produt must be of higher (and therefore better) quality. A classic case of this strategy working is Starbucks, where people consistently pick them over Dunkin’ Donuts.

One of the most exciting and nerve-wracking aspects of retail is determining what price to sell your products at. However you must remember that pricing is both an art and a science. It requires an experimental attitude and an intuitive feel for how you want your brand and, by extension, your products to be perceived.

Please feel free to share in the comments below other ways you might calculate your retail pricing.


How To: Design a Laser-Cut Interlocking Box

Build your own custom enclosures 

boxmaker screenshot

Boxes! Everyone likes putting things in boxes, and there is something so satisfying about making your own enclosure to neatly round off a DIY project. It’s something that electronics enthusiasts have been doing for a long time – and with the handy Box Maker web app and plugin, making a custom enclosure is easier than ever before.

Existing as an online calculator and also a laser cutter-friendly Inkscape plugin, you should be well covered to fit Box Maker into your workflow.

The Box Maker interface on Inkscape is very straightforward to use. Once you have set the size of your box, you then have control over the tab size, the material thickness and the all-important kerf (the amount the laser cuts away).    (more…)

How To Make Custom Bokeh Lens Filters

Give your photography a boost using laser cut filters

Techniques for taking dramatic photos often rely on fancy (ie expensive) equipment, but as this little project from Jin Tsubota very effectively demonstrates, you can achieve some impressive results on a tight budget thanks to the Ponoko Personal Factory.

Watch the video above to see Jin’s step-by-step walkthrough of the remarkably easy process he used to make custom laser cut Bokeh Filters for a friend’s wedding.

“…I thought it would be fun to surprise him and his bride by shooting their wedding with these DIY bokeh filters.”

For those not familar with Bokeh, it refers to the aesthetic quality of the blurred elements that are captured through a camera lens. Bokeh filters take advantage of this, by controlling the shape of these areas using a physical filter attached to the front of the lens.

Inspired by these results, we had a quick go using the Ponoko logo! While our outcome isn’t quite as impressive as Jin’s, it is still fun to experiment with this technique.


You can see a photo with no filter on the left, then the filter with laser cut Ponoko logo, and the effect it creates on the right of the above image.

DIY Bokeh Filters make for a great low-cost laser cutting project, and the results can give your photography a unique, eye-catching personal touch. Have you made your own laser cut camera filters? Let us know in the comments below.

Laser Cut Bokeh Filters via YouTube: Jin Tsubota


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…)

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.


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 :-)

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.

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.

Let’s Talk Ideas

Ponoko designs & makes promo products from scratch for event marketers.  Hit us up for a free quote.

Free Design & Quote »