Creating laser cut 3D forms super easily

and with stunning results!Every day I see a a lot of good content go through my feeds and occasionally they are some real gems which lower the barrier for people to create great designs.

I saw two SketchUp plugins a while ago and have only just had a chance to test them out. I am amazed how easy it makes creating sliceform laser cut models and I’m wondering how I ever did this before. I wish I’d known about these when doing this project with my students back in 2009.

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Creating Great Laser-Cut Designs

Some lessons from looking at Students’ Digital Creations.0001

This year I was asked to redesign and teach a course at Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Design. The course was called Digital Creation and introduced first year students to computers and digital technologies. The aim was to teach them how to design for these tools to get the most expressive objects.

I’d like to show you a few of these projects and consider the principles behind them that could help inspire and refine your own exciting ideas.

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San Francisco Renegade Craft fair

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Last weekend was the Renegade Craft Fair here in San Francisco. There was an amazing variety of jewelry, art, clothing and other craft goodness. It was lucky I only had a small amount of cash on me otherwise I could have gone broke rather quickly.

I was a little surprised to see there were only a handful of stalls with laser cut goodies, so I think there is plenty of room for growth in the laser craft niche.

One who I did meet was Leslie Yang (aka Feisty Elle), a well known Ponoko user who produces intricate bamboo and felt designs. leslieemi_red_web1

Two other stalls also stood out with their rocking laser cut goodness. Pacific Puzzle Works and OrangeSlice. Both are based in Oakland and part of the growing creative hub in this part of town.

I love the detail and refinement of Pacific Puzzle Works’ puzzles. On top of that, owner Lee Krasnow has the patience of a Saint when explaining how to put them together to people who want to have a go.

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OrangeSlice’s designs are elegant and made from sustainably harvested timber. What more can you ask for?

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The Renegade Craft fair runs annually across a handful of US cities. Do you have some unique digitally crafted designs? Perhaps you could show your work at a local craft fair too. We might even be able to provide you with a Ponoko Makers Grant!

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New Bamboo supplier

We have just switched suppliers for our bamboo timber. The new supplier provides a better quality material and has more scope for other thickness options and variations. We hope to add more bamboo options soon.

The new bamboo is the same in regards to thickness and appearance.

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How to improve your engraving results – part 2

This is just a quick note to follow up on some comments left on this blog post, How to improve your engraving results. The original post looked in detail at raster engraving and what you can do to improve your engraving results.

Andrés Santiago Pérez-Bergquist asked if we could post some images that showed vector engraving only so here they are.

During raster engraving the laser beam moves back and forth over an area to remove material and the intensity of the pulses controls how much material is removed. With vector engraving the laser traces along the line and the power of the beam is varied to control the depth of the engraving. This can be very detailed and accurate. The heaviest vector engraving is about 0.5mm deep and the light vector engraving is just enough to leave a mark on the surface of the material. The width of the engraved line is about 0.3mm depending on the material.

Click on the photos to see the engraving results on a selection of materials:

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How to create snug fittings for your 3D products

In the making guide we mention ‘nodes’ as a good idea if you want to create more complex 3D designs. But what is a node and how do you create a good one?

A node is typically used if your design has multiple parts that need to join together either by slotting or with a tab and hole joint.

Nodes are little bumps located in the slots or on tabs in your product that are there to help compensate for material thickness variations and the laser kerf. This idea is they compress when a product is assembled providing friction at points rather than along the whole surface of the slot. This means the slot can be fractionally wider at the opening allowing the pieces to be slotted together easily but still create a snug joint.

Finding the right balance between easy to put together but tight when assembled is no mean feat and is probably quite subjective. What I find easy to put together, some people don’t. It’s best to get a few people to have a go putting your design together if you intend to sell it as a flat pack item.

So what is the key for a successful node?

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8 Common Vector Drawing Mistakes

Being mostly a self taught vector software user I have often wondered about how to best control curves for any drawings I am creating. All to often I can look at my drawing and think something just isn’t right. Thankfully I came across some great posts by Juan over at Typies blog with some great tips on how the create the perfect curve.

Juan talks about vectors in relation to type but the principles are the same for drawings for a new necklace design or a personalized set of coasters. They are also applicable to all the vector drawing software we suggest, whether it is Illustrator, Corel, or the freebie Inkscape.

The first post is about the basics of vector drawing where he outlines the definitions of the terminology used in vector software packages and how to construct your shapes.

In the second he goes through 8 common vector drawing mistakes, showing examples of where to put your points, how many to have, and how to balance the handles.

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Thanks for the tips Juan and I’ll be keeping an eye on your blog for any future advice.

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Even your creative scribbles can be made real!

Most people wouldn’t think it was possible to create an amazing design from a sketch that takes 5 seconds to draw. Karl-Oskar proves this can be done with his 5 Second Plate. The form was created from a series of 5 second sketches that literally became the shape of the plate. The sketches were translated into digital files and cut from glass on a water-jet cutter.
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I find this process very interesting especially in relation to Photomake and using digital technologies to express unqiue quality in a product made by a machine. When we first started talking about an online tool that would take sketches and turn them into laser cutting files, my first thought was how this might be utilized to create the perfect series of indiviualized products. I imagined drawing something over and over again, each one being slightly different because of the subtle variation in hand movements and then being able to sell them as unique pieces. This is the value of digital production over mass production that is becoming more popular. They allow us to create unique products at close to the same price as mass production but there is a ton of value in the uniqueness.

Karl’s 5 Second Plate captures this potential really well. Who knows, maybe one day all of the 5 second sketches could become a product. In the mean time it is great inspiration for how you might approach designing something to make on Photomake.

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How much material does the laser burn away?

In 2008 I sought to try and quantify the kerf of our laser cutter, or how much material the laser cutter burns away when cutting specific materials.

The idea behind providing this information is so you can make a more educated guess of what sizes to draw your shapes if you are needing a tolerance fit. This information is particularly relevant if you are creating inlays and slotting joints*.

Please note that these are old figures, which we are hoping to update soon – we cannot guarantee super-precise kerf widths at this time.

Prototyping for yourself is the best way to guarantee the perfect result but hopefully this info will give you an idea of what to expect.

So anyway here are the results…

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How to improve your engraving results

This test shows how the laser cutter handles raster engraving of different font sizes and how you can improve the quality of your engraving.

Our current set up uses 3 colors for 3 different intensities of raster engraving:
- light gray for light raster engraving
- medium gray for medium raster engraving
- black for heavy raster engraving

The way the laser cutter works is like an old dot matrix printer except instead of dots of ink it uses pulses of the laser beam. For the black the density of the pulses is the highest and you get good resolution. For the lighter engraving there is less density of pulses and this produces a lower resolution especially if the text or shape being engraved is small. This is most noticeable around the edges of the shapes and on curves or diagonal lines.black-raster-only.jpg (more…)

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