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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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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Industrial Designer Iterates From Idea To Market in Just 15 Days.

Industrial designer Delna Balsara teams up with Ponoko to quickly bring her product idea to life.

Delna Balsara is the industrial designer behind BUKUL – a clever bamboo organizer that keeps your pens, notebooks, phone and tablet organized while you’re on the go.

Made from laser cut bamboo from Ponoko – the BUKUL comes with 2 elastic belts, one for securing your pens and phone to a notebook, and a larger belt for connecting the BUKUL to your laptop.

Delna got the idea while at work, going from meeting room to meeting room juggling her belongings in her hands. “Sometimes it was embarrassing” she says “It wasn’t enough to warrant carrying my backpack everywhere, but I kept dropping things.” A friend recommend she try out Ponoko, so she signed up and set to work on creating a solution for herself.

Delna was impressed with how quickly she was able to go from idea to prototype. “I drew it out in Illustrator and uploaded it to Ponoko – super easy.” she ways “I had it within a week”. Delna then set to work on hand-sewing the first set of elastic straps, and checking the measurements of her new invention.

The quick turnaround time meant she was able to quickly revise and update her product in days, rather than weeks. “The measurements were still a bit off for my phone and pen to properly fit” Delna says “so I revised my file and uploaded it to Ponoko. Once again, it was sent in no time and my first BUKUL was made.”

With a working final product in her hard, the BUKUL soon caught the eye of her co-workers. “Every meeting I went to, colleagues wanted to know where I bought it.” she says. It was clear that folks were looking for a way to keep organized when they walk into a meeting, studio or class. “Everyone was urging me to sell them on ETSY” she says “so I finally bit-the-bullet and set up a store.”

Delna points out Ponoko’s speedy customer service made it easy to iterate from idea to final product:

“I love the ease of uploading my files, the production statuses that I get, but most of all it’s the customer service. Anytime I’ve had an issue or question about a file, someone gets back to me right away and is really helpful. I think there’s just an overall ease to the process, from beginning to end.”

Delna’s story is another great example of how you can go from idea to final product faster than ever before with Ponoko.

The BUKL is available on Delna’s ETSY store.

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

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Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #10

High making costs? Try Ponoko Prime

Laser cutting with Ponoko is a great way to have small items like coasters or jewellery cut and shipped to you for little more than the price of a hearty meal. But what happens if your appetite for laser cutting means designs that are bigger than bite-sized? Ponoko has a solution for this, and we call it Ponoko Prime.

Existing as a monthly subscription, Ponoko Prime members enjoy a range of benefits including lower making costs, volume discounts and free shipping for orders over $100. There are other perks to being a Prime subscriber, just check out the FAQs to see if you can save money by using Ponoko Prime.

  • With a Prime account: EVERY Prime order costs 32.5% less to make than Free account orders.
  • Making in Large Volumes: EVERY Prime order over $1,000 cost up to 51% less to make than Free account orders.

Consider your requirements and time your upgrade to Ponoko Prime. There are some serious savings to be made.

With these 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 if you get stuck on anything… and we look forward to seeing what you will make next.

Do you think we covered all of the important tips when it comes to reducing laser cutting costs? Let us know in the comments below if you think there is anything we missed…

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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Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #9

Material Thickness

How flexible are you on material choice for your design? To cut out a shape, the laser is burning through the material. Different materials burn at different rates, and also the thinner a material is, the faster it will cut. For example, 4mm cardboard cuts very quickly, and 9mm acrylic cuts very slowly.

Choosing the right material can reduce laser cutting costs considerably. If your design allows for it, create prototypes in paper (Tip #2) or cardboard (Tip #3) before moving on to thicker or harder materials. You can then have greater confidence in a successful outcome once you move up to the premium materials for your final design.

Have you had experience where changing the material thickness helped reduce laser cutting costs? Let us know in the comments below.

For more complex designs or projects that have a larger vision behind them, it’s time for Tip #10: Ponoko Prime.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Guaranteed Order Deadlines for Father’s Day

Ensure delivery in time for Father’s Day day by ordering before these deadlines.

To ensure you’re stocked up in time to sell and ship your products into your customer’s hands, here are your order dates for you to run an organized ship – keep in mind, the earlier you order, the more you’ll save.

Laser Cutting Order Deadlines:
Standard Making & Shipping Speeds: Last Orders by Wednesday June 3rd, 2015.
Upgraded Making & Shipping Speeds: Last Orders by Wednesday, June 17th, 2015.

Metal Machining (PCM) Order Deadline:
Standard Making & Shipping Speeds: Last Orders by Wednesday May 27th 2015.

3D Printing Order Deadline:
Standard Making & Shipping Speeds: Last Orders by Friday, May 22nd 2015.

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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.

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