Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #14

High contrast laser cut layers

Laser cut and etched wood has a striking impact all on its own, but as this example from San Francisco creative duo b-spired shows, adding in a backing layer of bright colored card really makes things pop.

Enhancing the crisp lines and bold negative space that is such a strength of laser cutting, the layered card creates a high-contrast visual impact that completely transforms the natural tone of the timber. The same effect will be equally impressive when applied to other popular laser cutting materials such as acrylic and metals.

These greeting cards and invitations by b-spired also have a sturdy backing and a neat little pop-out stand, because when something looks this good, chances are high that people will want to display them.

Imagine how this technique would look when applied to corporate identities and company artwork. How can you use the Ponoko Personal Factory to create promotional laser cut layered items, inspired by b-spired?

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DIY Laser Engraver can be made for just $20

Build your own 3D printed laser engraver

With the smooth geometry of a classic arcade machine, the Photon Printer 3D printed laser engraver is a tiny technological wonder. Built as a DIY project by New Zealand engineer Stephen Brockett, the fully functional etching machine was put together using selected DVD burner components and just a few purchased items to fill in the gaps that could not be 3D printed at home.

In part, the project was made possible by salvaging the impressive innards of a standard optical drive, but don’t let Stephen’s modesty fool you… there are a lot of other clever design decisions that kept the total build budget at just $20.

“Optical media drives are actually pretty amazing, they have linear rails, stepper motors, lead screws and even end stops inside them… They’re pretty much an entire axis of a CNC machine ready to go!”

Keeping a healthy respect for the laser at the heart of the machine, a number of safety features were built into the Photon Printer. Nifty inclusions made possible by 3D printing like a roller shutter and angled rear vents (to stop reflected laser light escaping) can be seen in the video below.

The whole journey is fully documented on Thingiverse where it has sparked up a spirited discussion from other makers using the detailed instructions and downloadable files to print out their own versions. Perhaps you could even build on this design further using the Ponoko Personal Factory…

via 3Dprint

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Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #13

Laser Cut Annual Reports and Catalogues

Celebrating a company’s milestones and achievements, the Annual Report is an important document that can be further enhanced through clever use of laser cutting. By using typographic voids, multicolored layering and other similar techniques familiar to laser cutting designers, the published information becomes interesting and eye-catching in a way that invites the reader to explore further.

Pictured above are examples of laser cut cover artwork on Annual Reports and Catalogues from Under Consideration (top-left) and Croatian Post (lower-right) as well as internal content from Pelayo Insurance (top-right) and the Zuiderzee Museum (lower-left). We can see in these different approaches that selective application of laser cut elements can help to give a sense of prestige and style to the printed material.

Have you seen other interesting examples of laser cutting on business publications? Let us know in the comments below, and see if you can come up with a novel way to transform your next annual report into a dynamic document that has lasting impact using the Ponoko Personal Factory.

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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…)

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Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #12

Laser Cut and Engraved Name Tags

Attending a conference or event involves many layers of social nuance, and the ubiquitous name tag is one way to help people connect. As these laser cut and laser etched examples show, with a little creativity and planning in advance you can find all kinds of ways to make personal identification novel and memorable.

Pictured above are samples from the Engraved project by John T Kim. Although they are business cards and not ‘name tags’, the clean graphic impact of this design and the way that it has used the precision of laser etching are a good reference point.

Click through for several traditional examples plus a few that come at the idea of identification in a whole new way. (more…)

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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.

Hence:

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 :-)

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Topographic coffee table inspired by Minecraft

From pixels to iconic laser cut contours

The blocky aesthetic of Minecraft has broken beyond its digital confines before, but we’ve never seen it done with as much finesse and refinement as this coffee table by Martin Raynsford. Meticulously planned and laser cut with the help of the friendly guys at Kitronik, this is one table that has been turning heads… let’s take a look and see if we can discover why.

The final item is incredible and every time I look at the landscape I see something new in the details that I had forgotten about.

It wouldn’t be a Martin Raynsford project without a thorough run-down on how the table was made. We’ve outlined the key stages of the process here, but we do recommend flagging the full article for a deeper read during your leisure time.

Making the topographic model: As a motion sickness sufferer, Martin could not actually build within Minecraft – so he turned to Cinema 4D to generate the form.

Slicing the model: The layering was achieved using a tool for 3D printing called Slic3r. This was a good choice because the construction of the layered contour table is similar in principle to the way a 3D printer deposits material.

Adding that Minecraft aesthetic: Each layer to be cut was exported as a low resolution bitmap image, and then re-worked in Inkscape to prepare for laser cutting.

Cutting a Prototype: Knowing that going full size right away means paying big bucks while risking big mistakes, Martin started off with a half-scale mockup that revealed a number of insights relating to construction and assembly of the laser cut forms, as well as when best to paint the layers.

Full Sized Construction Once he had more confidence that the final design was resolved, the next step was to make the most of material sheet sizes. With freshly laser cut contours in hand, he then applied a clever system of alignment guides that would ultimately speed up the construction process.

The table base: Knowing better than to second-guess a good thing, Martin chose Ikea’s Lack coffee table as a sturdy base. The contour section was then designed to slip over the top so that it can be removed to separate the parts again if design changes or updates occur in the future.

Sounding good so far? Boosted by a number of explanatory images, the full (and nicely detailed) run-down of Martin’s process makes for an interesting read over on the Kitronik blog.

This process is a great example of how careful planning helps to achieve high quality results. If it looks a little intimidating, you can always start small with the Ponoko Personal Factory, and then work towards larger and more complex projects.

Have you constructed a topographic form using laser cutting? Let us know in the comments below.

Martin Raynsford via Kitronik

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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.

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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.

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How To Make The Most of Inkscape’s New Features

Long-awaited updates make Inkscape better than ever for laser cutting

Inkscape users have been on the edge of their seats for some time now, waiting for the feature set of  this exceptional free design program to catch up with some of its more costly competitors.

With Inkscape 0.91, the first major release since August 2010, a ton of fixes and features have been introduced… and we are excited. For a full list of the new features you can check out the release notes, but we’ve picked out a few that are relevant to Ponoko makers:

Measurement tool – The Measurement tool is a new feature for the artist to measure the elements in their drawing. To use the measurement tool, simply choose the tool, click anywhere on the drawing and drag the ruler out. The measurement tool will live-update with measurements of length and angles as you pass over objects in your drawing.

Trace Bitmap – Trace bitmap preview updates live and is resizable.

Select Same – a new feature that allows an artist to select objects that have the same properties as the currently selected object. For example, you could select an object that has a fill of blue. Then, using the new feature select all other objects in the drawing with a fill set to that same shade of blue.

OpenMP multithreading – No idea what this is but it makes Inkscape substantially faster.

New & Improved Guides – Including quick toggling of guides, changing the color of a guide & labelling guides.

Improvements to Text toolbar – Text toolbar shows full list of font style variants for that font (used to be just bold, italic and normal. Hooray for extrabold and hairline fonts!

Improvements to node editing – The tool control bar for the Node Tool features a new dropdown to insert new nodes on the selected segments.

New Layers panel – Reorder your layers by simply dragging and dropping them.

Sounding good so far? For budget-conscious professionals and makers not using Inkscape yet, consider the difference a seriously capable (and free!) software such as Inkscape can make as an alternative to, for example, the Adobe move towards subscription pricing. Don’t forget about Ponoko’s handy free Inkscape Starter Kit, a valuable resource that can really help to save time and money.

Watch the following clip for a neat overview of Inkscape’s new features and let us know how you go with the new updates in the comments below.

Discover more: Inkscape 0.91 release notes

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