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

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.

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.

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

Ideas for Creative Agencies and Brands – Laser Cut Flat Pack Vases

Laser Cut Flat-Pack Vase

Flowers in a vase can mean so many things, and bringing a beautiful snippet of nature into our lives has a unique magic to it. Where to put those flowers can be as personal as the choice of flowers themselves, but sometimes it can help to give people something to work with.

As we’ve seen many times before, laser cutting is a great way to quickly achieve novel 3D forms from sheet materials. These vase examples from the Ponoko Showroom by Colin Francis and Chromatophobic use a test tube as the vessel, with a laser cut structure to hold it in place.

How would you use this as inspiration for a promotional product? Let us know in the comments below. To get you started – imagine placing branding on a slot-together structure that assembles around a standard water bottle, that can then become a functional keepsake for conference attendees or clients to take home with them.

Beginners Laser Cutting Cost Saving Guide: Part 3

Keep your laser cutting costs down with the Ponoko Product Recipe

Product Recipe #1 – Part 3

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 3: Prototype It

My goal was to find a happy compromise between design aesthetics (look/feel) and efficient engineering (cost).

Zero Cost Prototyping!

Before I paid to make anything, I used my Personal Factory to price lots of design iterations instantly. I learned a whole lot and it didn’t cost me a bean …

Summary:

Target Production Cost = $1.88 per coaster (75% off retail).
First Quote – #1 = $5.40 per coaster (28% off retail).
Final Quote – #9 = $1.64 per coaster (78% off retail) !!

Here’s what I did to reduce my production cost, without actually making anything:   (more…)

Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #9

Laser Cut DVD Sleeves

Distributing large files on optical media continues to provide significant bang for your buck… even in these times of ever-cheaper flash storage. So if you’re still using discs as a way to distribute your digital wares, why not show off some creative flair with the packaging that goes along with your promotional CD, DVD or Blu-Ray?

The particularly refined laser cut case pictured above comes from designer Jazz Tigen and it is a great example of the impact that can be achieved when you break away from the standard DVD sleeve.

Here are a few more approaches that others have taken in creating unique CD and DVD sleeves through clever use of laser cutting.

Sarah Holbrook

Stine Strand

Neslihan Ulus

What examples have you seen of businesses or musicians using laser cut packaging designs for optical media? Let us know in the comments below, or jump straight in and make your own with Ponoko!

Beginners Laser Cutting Cost Saving Guide: Part 2

Keep your laser cutting costs down with the Ponoko Product Recipe

Product Recipe #1 – Part 2

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 2: Design It

Now that I had an idea of where I wanted to go, it was time to prepare my first design for laser cutting. Here are my top tips.

Download a Laser Design Template

Open a Personal Factory laser design template in Adobe Illustrator. Using the template makes it so much easier to get a good result.

Use Existing Images

I did an image search to find a few gears with crisp images on a clean white background to make outlining easier:

Next – I imported the images into Adobe Illustrator, and converted the gears into black outlines:

Get the Essentials Right – Line Colors & Widths

I needed to use these settings to cut along the lines of the gear drawings:

* Stroke Color – Blue (R0, G0, B255).

* Stroke Width – 0.01mm.

To engrave along the lines of the gear drawings I needed to use these settings:

* Stroke Color – Red (R255, G0, B0).

* Stroke Width – 0.01mm.

To summarise Part 2 of the Laser Cutting Cost Saving Guide; Jill downloaded a design template from Ponoko, selected an image and refined the linework in Illustrator, and then ensured that the line colors and widths were compatible with the laser cutting guidelines provided in the template.

With the design sorted, our next step is to look at making a prototype. Continue reading Part 3 of this Ponoko Product Recipe for handy tips that will keep your laser cutting costs as low as possible.

How do you prepare your designs so that they are ready for laser cutting? Tell us about your process in the comments below.

Laser Cut Letter Stamps

Watch this designer font break free from the digital world

Amongst other things, Tyler Finck designs fonts… and quite beautiful ones at that. Looking for an interesting way to take his digital typography a little further, the font Upstater Regular was selected to be transformed into stamp blocks using a laser cutter.

While we don’t get to see what the stamps will actually be used for, Tyler has posted a neat little clip of the laser cutter in action. The whole character set took 25 minutes to cut and etch, leaving him with a collection of miniature stamps that can now go on to create analogue artworks or literary masterpieces… or perhaps just compose the words for short personal messages; sending sweet nothings in a way that inkjet printers can only dream of.

If this has perked up your own typographic creativity, how about having a go at some laser cut stamps yourself with the Ponoko Personal Factory. Let us know how you go in the comments below…

via Tyler Finck on YouTube

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.