10 Great Materials for Laser Cutting

Ponoko’s most popular materials for laser cutting with pricing info, pros and cons, and example project ideas

The Ponoko Materials Catalog offers a wide variety of high quality sheet materials for laser cutting. From those awesome new Premium materials down to plain old (but ever-so-useful) cardboard, there is a material option for every making scenario. Each material is thoroughly tested to ensure that it cuts cleanly, engraves nicely and just generally looks good. With all these great materials on offer, how do you know which one to choose?

Here is a snapshot of the top ten materials available for laser cutting in your Ponoko Personal Factory. Each material overview includes a price range for the Ponoko sheet sizes, the number of varieties to choose from, and also important information about pros, cons and suggested usage scenarios.

1. CARDBOARD

Pricing: 50 cents to $4.00
Varieties: 4 different types
Pros: Inexpensive, recyclable, easy to paint, easy to join (tape, glue, staples)
Cons: Low durability, not suited to raster engraving
Great for: early prototypes, package design, crafts, kids projects
Make something with cardboard!

2. ACRYLIC

Pricing: $2 to $86
Varieties: 30 different types + colors, up to 6 different thicknesses
Pros: High quality look and finish, high level of detail possible, engraves well, affordable
Cons: Can crack under stress, can scratch
Great for: jewelry, hardware/electronic enclosures, signage, ornaments, wall art, mobiles
Make something with acrylic!

3. BAMBOO

Pricing: $3.50 to $33
Varieties: 2 different types, 2 different thicknesses
Pros: High quality look and finish, affordable, renewable resource
Cons: Engraving results are inconsistent, large sheets are prone to warping
Great for: jewelry, coasters, clocks, ornaments, picture frames, boxes, wall art, mobiles
Make something with bamboo!

4. PLYWOOD

Pricing: $3.50 to $34
Varieties: 2 different thicknesses
Pros: Affordable, engraves well, easy to stain
Cons: Slightly rough unfinished surface
Great for: crafts, models, home decor, kids projects
Make something with plywood!

5. FELT

Pricing: $7 to $45
Varieties: 15 different colors, up to 2 thicknesses
Pros: 100% wool, high quality look and finish, renewable resource
Cons: Strong burn smell, dark burned edge color
Great for: jewelry, coasters, trivets, crafts, ornaments, lining
Make something with felt!

6. MIRROR ACRYLIC

Pricing: $6 to $58.50
Varieties: 3 different colors
Pros: Reflective, interesting effects possible, high quality look and finish, engraves well
Cons: Can crack under stress, can scratch, prone to warping
Great for: jewelry, signage, home decor, wall art, ornaments
Make something with mirror acrylic!

7. CORK

Pricing: $4.50 to $26
Varieties: 1 type
Pros: Flexible, renewable resource
Cons: Does not raster engrave well
Great for: cushioning/padding, coasters, crafts, kids projects, pin boards
Make something with cork!

8. WOOD VENEER MDF

Pricing: $3.50 to $26
Varieties: 3 different types
Pros: High quality look and finish, engraves well, solid/substantial feel
Cons: Inconsistent thickness between supply batches
Great for: clocks, magnets, puzzles, coasters, ornaments, jewelry, picture frames
Make something with wood veneer MDF!

9. LEATHER

Pricing: $13 to $104.50
Varieties: 5 different colors
Pros: High quality look and finish, flexible, soft suede on back side,
Cons: Expensive, low in-house inventory
Great for: bracelets, bags, wallets, book covers, glasses case, iphone/ipad cases, zipper pulls
Make something with leather!

10. MELAMINE MDF

Pricing: $2 to $11
Varieties: 1 type
Pros: High quality look and finish, wipable melamine surface on both sides
Cons: Only 1 thickness available
Great for: countertops, tabletops, placemats, shelving
Make something with melamine MDF!

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Top 10 Designers Announced in Premium Materials Design Challenge

Vote for your Favorites by Sept 1st!

In July, we challenged designers to showcase their skills by creating a product using one of our three new premium materials. At first, we weren’t sure what to expect; This was the first time we ran a contest where designers actually created something tangible to enter, as opposed to just submitting their design files.

Would we get any good entries? Would folks just take the free sheet of material and run? We didn’t know.

We were thrilled to find that although the amount of submissions were somewhat smaller, the quality of entries we recieved were through the roof. The creativity & quality of the submissions made selecting the finalists a challenge in itself.

You can use the hashtag #ponokonewmaterials on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram to see all of the amazing submissions.

Check out the finalists below, and use the survey at the bottom of the page to vote for your top three before Sept 1st.

If you are the designer behind one of the final entries you are encouraged to invite all your friends and family to vote for you. Keep in mind: Voting ends at 10pm PST on Sept 1st.

The Prizes:

  • Grand Prize – $600 worth of making with your Personal Factory + free Prime for one year ($1,068 value.)
  • 2nd Place – $450 worth of making with your Personal Factory + free Prime for one year ($918 value.)
  • 3rd Place – $300 worth of making with your Personal Factory + free Prime for 6 months ($434 value.)

The Finalists:

 

Cretaceous Critters Coasters by Rebecca Cey

Cigar Cutter by Dan Marino

Cubist Guitar Sculpture by Craig Hein Design

BoomBox Keychain by Junichi Tsuneoka

Geometric Lamp by Iluxo

Tangram by Jeremy Williams

Mini Sketchbook / Journal by Lcrookston

Lotus Brace by Marissa Noell

Cross-Stitched Earrings by Rebecca Cey

Stainglass Game by Bertrand Le Roy


A huge thank you to everyone who helped make our design challenge a success. We will announce the winners here on Sept. 2nd. Good luck!

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Ponoko Customer Blows Past Kickstarter Goal in One Day


Brad Hill is the creator behind LittleRP – A DLP projector-based resin printer that can be put together for as little as $499.

Brad set out to create a printer that was open, flexible and affordable. Rather than using proprietary resins, the LittleRP is designed to use as many different formulations of UV curing resins as possible. By focusing on smaller, higher quality prints, the LittleRP is able to provide high accuracy while keeping costs low.

The flexibility and low cost helps explain the explosive popularity of the LittleRP’s Kickstarter, which passed it’s funding goal of $25,000 is under 24 hours. As of this writing the LittleRP has raised over $98,000, just under 400% of it’s original goal!

The LittleRP’s sleek translucent enclosure is made from Ponoko’s Acrylic Orange Tint, and the housing is made from Melamine Finished MDF seen here:

The LittleRP works using a process known as 3D stereolithography, a 3D printing process that uses light-sensitive resin and a high intensity light source to build a 3D object, layer by layer, rather than using spools of plastic filament as on a majority of 3D printers currently on the market. You can check out the LittleRP in action on it’s Kickstarter Video:

Want to get your hands on your own LittleRP? Head over to Brad’s Kickstarter page to get one while you still can.

Inspired to make your own project? Signup to make and sell for free!

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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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Photochemical Machining Goes Bohemian

Digital fabrication meets ancient jewelry making techniques

Rachel Dropp is the one-woman operation behind Raw Elements Jewelry, a brand that combines modern Photochemical Machining (PCM) with traditional jewelry-making techniques. The results are unique hand-crafted pieces that feature a raw, unique style.

The pieces in the Raw Elements Jewelry line drawn inspirations everywhere from French needle point lace to the phases of the moon.

“While creating new collections I adhere to 3 aesthetic themes: rustic nature, bohemian and sacred geometry.”

The pieces are designed by Dropp, who then hammers, polishes, patinas and does the final soldering to arrive at her finished product. “I love incorporating all of the processes” Dropp says, “because it keeps things interesting and it allows me to have a great mix of products to offer to my customers.”

As someone who enjoys working on the creative side, Rachel initially found it difficult to jump into sales. “I’ve had to step outside my comfort zone” Dropp says “to call boutiques that I feel would be interested in selling my wares and to make appointments”.

Stepping out of her comfort zone has paid off for Dropp, who’s jewelry is now available online on her website and Etsy store as well as in boutiques everywhere from Sonoma County to the San Francisco Bay area

I asked Rachel what was on the horizon for Raw Elements Jewelry. “Coming up in August, I will be attending the Bodega Bay Seafood Art and Wine Festival and then in the beginning of September I will have a booth at Bhakti Fest in Southern California. I also plan to launch a new collection of mini sacred geometry charm necklaces.”

You can purchase Raw Elements Jewelry online at rawelementsjewelry.com or at any of the stores and boutiques listed on her site.

Inspired to design your own product line? Make it with Ponoko!

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Step-by-Step: Laser Cutting Tutorial – Part 1

Getting started with your Ponoko Personal Factory

In this back-to-basics tutorial video, we walk through the process of making a set of laser cut coasters from a free design file.

Following these steps is a great way to get started with Ponoko and realise what’s possible using your own Personal Factory.

In a few short minutes, you will know how to:

• Download a free design file
• Add it to your Personal Factory
• Choose material options to get personal pricing
• Place an order

We’ve made it really easy to start making and get a feel for the laser cutting process. Stay tuned for future posts in this back-to-basics series as you work towards generating your own custom designs and becoming a successful digital maker.

Here is where you can download the free design file featured in the video: Custom Made Coasters

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10 things to know before laser cutting with Ponoko

Useful information for both new users and laser cutting veterans

Are you a seasoned Ponoko maker? Or perhaps your imagination has been tingling and you are bursting to make your very first Ponoko product.

Either way, here is a top-10 list that we think will come in handy for those new to laser cutting, and it also contains useful information that will help more experienced Ponoko members keep things running smoothly.

Let us know what you would add!

1. How long it will take to make and ship your order.

We make all orders as quickly as we can, and how long that takes depends on the volume of orders we are processing at any one time. Due to the number of variables involved, we’ve written a separate post to help you work out the likely total time your order will take.
Read about our order timeframes.

2. If you are using Inkscape, you MUST use our design templates, or your design will be sized incorrectly.

We strongly recommend that everyone use our templates for laying out their laser cutting designs. If you are using Inkscape *it is 100% necessary*. The way that Inkscape works with measurements is different to other vector-based design software packages, and if you do not use our templates your parts will be made the wrong size. If you’ve already got an Inkscape design ready, we have created a guide to putting it on our templates.
Read how to place existing Inkscape designs onto our templates.

…so that’s the first two, and there are eight further important pointers to wrap your head around when you continue reading the full post.   (more…)

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Design Challenge: Over $2,500 up for Grabs!

This month, we’ve added three new premium wood veneers to our materials catalogue. To celebrate, we’re throwing a design challenge with $2,500+ in prizes up for grabs!

The Challenge:

Using one of our new premium materials, design a product that flaunts your creative brilliance and showcases the quality of our new premium materials.

The Materials:

Left to right: 3.5mm Maple, Cherry & Walnut Veneer. Click here to enlarge.

These high quality veneers have a wood laminate on each side which is sanded smooth and finished with a clear coat. The premium appearance makes these materials ideal for jewelry, coasters, clocks, or other high end products.

How to Enter:

Step 1 – Make with a Free P1:

Place an order with your Personal Factory using one or more of our new premium materials. To give you a leg up, your first P1 is on us.

Step 2 – Submit:

Take some great photos of your creation and share them with us on Twitter, Facebook and/or Instagram before 10pm PDT on August 24, 2014. Use the hashtag #ponokonewmaterials to make your entry official.

Step 3 – Vote:

We will select the top sumbissions and post them on our blog for the community to vote; then it’s up to you to tell your friends and family to head over to our blog so they can vote for you!

Check out the design challenge rules & guidelines for all of the competition details.

Competition Calendar:

The Prizes: (Over $2,500 up for grabs!)

  • Grand Prize – $600 worth of making with your Personal Factory + free Prime for one year ($1,068 value.)
  • 2nd Place – $450 worth of making with your Personal Factory + free Prime for one year ($918 value.)
  • 3rd Place – $300 worth of making with your Personal Factory + free Prime for 6 months ($434 value.)

How Voting Works:

Ponoko will select the finalists and post them to our blog on August 26th, 2014. Readers with vote for their favorites on our blog between August 26th and September 1st.

All winners will be announced via the blog on August 26th, 2014.

Judging Criteria:

Finalists will be selected using the following criteria, in no particular order:

  • Clarity and resolution of design.
  • Originality.
  • Presentation and photography.
  • Interesting use of material(s).
  • Attention to detail.
  • Production feasibility.
  • Market appeal.

Again, be sure to check out all of the competition rules and guidelines before submitting, and good luck!

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What is Laser Cutting?

Taking a step back to go through some laser cutter basics.

What is laser cutting, and why are we so excited about it?
As we’ll see in this brief overview, laser cutting is a relatively simple technology that makes it possible to cut or etch forms from sheet materials.

Laser cutters work in a similar way to other CNC (computer controlled) tools, however the cutting is done with a powerful beam of light instead of a sharp blade. To cut, the laser beam is focused to hit the material at a precise point, causing it to melt, burn or vaporize. Etching is achieved by focusing the laser on the surface of the material, where it will only burn or vaporize the topmost layer.

Laser Cutting is particularly useful because it works touch-free, meaning no mechanical forces or pressures are transferred to the material. This enables delicate cutting paths that can be repeated with a high level of precision, whether they are cut all the way through the material or etched as an impression onto the surface.   (more…)

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NEW Materials: Three New Premium Veneers

Three new premium wood veneers for your premium products

EDIT: 7/15 – To celebrate the launch of these new premium materials, we’re throwing a design competition with over $2,500 worth of prizes up for grabs!

Left to right: 3.5mm Maple, Cherry & Walnut Veneer

We’ve expanded our material selection in the US with three new premium wood veneers.

These high quality veneers have a wood laminate on each side which is sanded smooth and finished with a clear coat. The premium appearance makes these materials ideal for jewelry, coasters, clocks, or other high end products.

Click on the images below or head over to the materials page to get all the details on our new premium woods.

Premium Veneer MDF – Cherry:

Premium Veneer MDF – Maple:

Premium Veneer MDF – Walnut:

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