Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #1

Make a Digital Prototype Before You Spend Any Money

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 lower making costs.

Materials vary greatly in cost and your material choice will also have an impact on making time. The general rule is that thinner (and lighter) materials will cut faster, and the quicker your design gets cut the less it will cost you.

Shipping costs can have quite an impact on smaller projects, so see if you are able to combine several products onto a larger sheet size to reduce the per-unit price. For larger or more complex designs, it may be worthwhile taking advantage of Ponoko’s $100 free shipping threshold.

In this series of posts, we expand on each of these areas to give you the 10 best ways to keep your laser cutting costs down.


Tip #1: Digital Prototyping

Before spending any money, you can actually save a surprising amount just by tweaking the order process so that everything works in your favor.

Ponoko users may be familiar with the Product Recipe, a handy Ponoko walkthrough that new users are taken to as an introductory tour after creating an account.

A part of the process that is explained is the concept of Digital (or Zero Cost) Prototyping. How this works is that the Personal Factory is used to price many different design iterations instantly, revealing where the project can be optimised to save money on laser cutting, shipping and more. The best part is that you get all this valuable information without spending a single cent.

As you’ll see in the following results, that’s time well spent.

The Product Recipe example features a laser cut coaster that goes from an initial quote of $5.40 per unit down to $1.64 per unit prior to anyone opening their wallet.

That is quite a saving. Exactly how this was achieved will make more sense as we work through our 10 rules for keeping laser cutting costs down. Stay tuned for Tip #2: Paper prototypes.

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Top 10 Features You May Not Have Used

We’re always adding new features & improvements here at Ponoko: Faster making times, lower shipping options, more materials, a streamlined checkout process, support for new software packages, the list goes on and on.

It’s so long, in fact, that we’ve gathered some of your Personal Factory’s lesser known features here to make sure you don’t miss out on them.

Join us as we count down the top 10 features you may not have used. Hopefully you’ll find something here you didn’t know about before.

#10. Order status information:

Last year we completely redesigned our order status page. You can now double check the details of your order, get progress updates, and tracking information once it has shipped. Just visit ponoko.com/make and click on “show details” to get the low-down on your latest order.

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New! Streamlined Support for Photochemical Machining

Making with metal just got a whole lot easier.

We are thrilled to announce new streamlined support for Photochemical Machining. Previously, if you wanted to create something using Brass, Copper or Stainless Steel, you had to take an extra step to email us the extra details of your order.

Now you can upload PCM design files directly to your Personal Factory account. In addition, you can now upload and get a quote for metal parts along with Laser Cut & 3D Printed designs at the same time, all in one order.

How to make with Photochemical Machining (PCM):

  1. Prepare and save your vector design as a PDF using our Metal Machining Starter Kits.
  2. Upload your PDF to your Personal Factory account.
  3. Select your choice of metal materials and proceed to checkout as usual.

That’s it! You’re now on your way to receiving some awesome metal goodies in your mailbox. Please note: The design requirements for PCM are slightly different from laser cutting with other materials. You’ll want to be sure to read through our design guides before uploading your designs.

If you have any questions about Photochemical Machining don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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Comparing Stains on Laser Cut Wood

How to add a little something extra after all the cutting has been done

With all of the different material options available for laser cutting, it may seem like you are spoiled for choice. But sometimes it is nice to have a little more control over your finished outcome, and that’s were oils and wood stains can do wonders to transform the look of a material.

In this handy test-run and resulting visual comparison, Josh has taken a look at some of the popular Ponoko materials and how they perform with different finishes.

As well as putting together the table pictured above, he has noted down a few handy tips and material highlights that will help you make the right choice for your own laser cutting. Read on in the Ponoko Support Forums and learn how you can get the best possible outcome with stains and finishes on laser cut wood.

This content originally appeared in the Ponoko Support Forums.

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Top 10 Materials of 2014

Join us as we look back at the materials that hit it big in 2014.

The Ponoko Materials Catalog offers a wide variety of high quality 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.

Join us as we take a look at the 10 most popular materials from 2014:

#10) Corrugated Cardboard – Double Layer

We start out countdown with one of our less glamorous materials: cardboard. Cardboard is a great material for prototyping your design and making it in another material later. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use cardboard in a final product. Check out these 20 inspirational designs made from good old fashioned recyclable cardboard.

Make something with cardboard! »

#9) Acrylic – White

White acrylic is one of Ponoko’s most versatile materials. To get an idea of the two opposite sides of the spectrum check out these polar bear snowflake ornaments from PepperSprouts, or this Synthesizer Enclosure from Glitched.

Make something with white acrylic! »
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How to etch mirror acrylic

Laser etched impact made easy

As the Festive Season approaches and we become more and more enamoured with all things shiny, here are our tips on how to use laser etching for some serious impact on mirror acrylic.

People love the combination of crisp laser definition with the reflective sheen of mirror acrylic, and to create these effects there are a few key points to remember. The main one is that you’re not etching into the surface of the acrylic, but rather through the reflective coating on the rear of the material.

Another tip that may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often it can sneak up on you – remember to reverse the artwork so that it reads correctly when viewed from the other side of the sheet.

For an informative collection of examples including vector and raster engraving, as well as different approaches to filling the etched designs, head over to the Ponoko Support Forums for the full scoop.

Ponoko presents: Laser Etched Mirror Acrylic

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7 Important Dates for Online Sellers

For folks selling online, Christmas is without a doubt the busiest time of year.

Online shoppers shelled out over $46.5 billion in the 2013 holiday season.

While a big chunk of sales went to powerful online marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart, last year shopping carts such as Shopify and Big Commerce commanded the highest dollar value per individual order.

If you’re making and selling online, get ready for this year’s influx of holiday orders by planing around the following important holiday milestones:

Feel free to embed this infographic on your site or blog using the code below:

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Laser-Cut Halloween Costume

How one dad used Ponoko to make his kid’s dreams take flight

Halloween is approaching once again, and that means creative parents are busy putting together costumes for their eager little Trick or Treaters.

Taking note of his son’s ‘outsized interest in aviation’, SketchUp guru Aidan Chopra set himself the task of building an aeroplane at just the right scale for the diminutive 2½ year old pilot. The outcome – a laser cut cardboard aeroplane costume – looks fantastic, with cartoon-like proportions that give a real sense of comic aviation nostalgia.

Aidan has put together a thorough walkthrough of his design process, including references and explanatory diagrams that take you through each stage of the project in comprehensive detail. We’ve included a few snippets from the original SketchUp post here, but do be sure to click through to the source for all of the juicy insights.

He began by referencing an enthusiast’s model of a WWII era fighter plane, and squished the proportions until it looked both fun and wearable. Having decided on laser cut cardboard for the final construction, Aidan then explored using Ponoko to produce the components… and that was where things really became interesting.

By taking time to plan out which materials to use, what sheet sizes and the relevant Ponoko requirements, he could then proceed with modeling the plane so that both construction and laser cutting costs were optimised.

The plane is constructed from 58 laser cut parts, of which 32 are unique. It took a little patience to work out how to best fit these onto the Ponoko P3 laser cutting template for double-layered corrugated cardboard, but the effort quite literally paid off by reducing cutting time.

“I’d discovered that it’s significantly cheaper to produce two copies of the same cutting file than it is to make two different sheets. Good thing, because it turns out that most of my airplane parts are symmetrical; they’re mirrored copies that exist in pairs.”

A lot of thought went in to each stage of the design process; from considering the scale and proportions appropriate for a child pilot, the material thickness and template sizes in the Ponoko Personal Factory, through to the inclusion of nodes on the slotted sections so that all the components fit together and hold in place securely.

The accuracy of the cutting was astounding. I’ve never laser cut anything; I expected the pieces to look good, but the quality of what I got made me alternate between grinning and literally giggling. For a person who spent hundreds of hours in architecture school hacking away at cardboard, foam core, basswood and plexiglass with an X-Acto knife, the extravagant expense of laser cutting instantly justified itself. I was hooked.

What a fantastic success story for a first-time Ponoko user. Why did he start off with a project as complex as this? It all may make a little more sense when you consider Aidan’s background. Having moved on from architecture, he became a master of the modeling program SketchUp. That’s no idle boast – some users may find him familiar as the author of the SketchUp for Dummies book series. Aidan’s guest post on SparkFun is both informative and entertaining, so click through if you’d like to hear the full story.

via SparkFun and SketchUp

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Metal etching project hits 300% of Kickstarter goal

POLIGON Sculpture Shows What’s Possible With Ponoko’s Metal Etching Service

Unfolding into the mailboxes of many backers, the latest runaway success from Kickstarter features these elegant and refined sculptures by Poligon.

At the time of writing, pledges for the faceted brass and stainless steel creatures are about to eclipse 300% beyond the modest Kickstarter funding goal. Produced using a metal cutting and engraving process called PCM (Photochemical Machining), the clean lines and precise folds of these user-assembled sculptures have a striking visual presence and it’s easy to see why everybody wants one!

“We fell in love with the process because it doesn’t require hugely expensive tooling but gives highly accurate results with beautiful metals. It really has freed our creative thinking and these sculptures are just the beginning!” – Poligon

While we talk a lot about laser cutting and 3D printing here at Ponoko, metal cutting and engraving via Photochemical Machining is perhaps the quiet achiever. Taking less of the everyday focus, but (as we can see with the sculptures from Poligon) PCM certainly makes quite an impact from time to time. The Ponoko service is often used for intricate jewellery, and you can learn more about how Photochemical Machining works in our comprehensive overview.

Rodrigo and Matthew from Poligon had their own extensive experience in modelling and production to draw on, and the success of their Kickstarter campaign is well deserved. If you are inspired by this to give PCM a go yourself, then Ponoko has all your needs covered from laser cut card prototypes through to finely etched products in brass, copper and stainless steel.

Other Kickstarter projects that have used Ponoko’s services and exceeded expectations include the wildly successful Game Frame (1,031% over goal), the LittleRP affordable resin 3D printer (475% over goal), and the musical wonder that is Motion Synth (108% over goal).

Support Poligon on Kickstarter
Make your own PCM products with Ponoko

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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.

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