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

Laser Cut GrannyMan Puppet

Colorful threads complete whimsical animated character

Combining rigid laser cut forms with softer materials can have quite a striking effect, as you can see in this cycling puppet designed for a short film by Teje la Araña.

Colored yarn has been threaded through the laser cut pin holes, completing the form in a way that really enhances the playful feel of the character. You can check out a brief clip of Alvaro Leon’s puppet, and even download files to make a threaded cyclist of your very own from Thingiverse.

Let us know in the comments below if you’ve done something interesting by combining laser cutting with fabric or yarn.

via Thingiverse.

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

How far into the material does laser engraving cut?

All you need to know about laser etched depth

When your design calls for laser etching, whether it is Line Engraving or Area Fill Engraving, the laser burns away a very small amount of material – just enough to make an impression on the surface. The lasers are calibrated to provide a crisp contrasting visual effect, rather than a guaranteed depth. But if you still want to know how deep laser engraving goes, we can take a closer look and also talk about a few alternatives for when your design requires a greater depth than laser engraving can achieve.

How deep does the laser cut?

This varies from material to material, but it is always just a surface impression. In 3mm acrylic you can expect around 0.25mm (0.01″) deep, and in some of the woods the laser will cut up to 0.5mm (0.02″) deep. To go further into the material than this will increase the risk of undesirable damage such as warping (in acrylic) and excessive burning (in timber).

In certain circumstances it can be difficult to predict exactly how laser engraved lines or areas will come out, as we can see in the sample images. Note how the very small Area Engraved text is patchy and even has some elements missing. Here is what Josh has to say in the Ponoko Support Forums:

One thing you can do to improve the quality of the engraving is put a vector engraving line around your text or shapes to make the edges more crisp. There are pros and cons for using this technique and it largely depends on which material you are using. Personally I like a heavy raster engraving on any of the plastics but a medium raster engraving with a medium vector outline on the timbers.

With this in mind, we recommend experimenting with different settings on a test piece (the P1 template is handy for this!) before going ahead with the final design. You can also learn a lot by checking out the Material Samples, and this very handy Laser Engraving Cheat Sheet.

The Ponoko Support Forums are a great resource when it comes to learning all about laser cutting, and you’ll find guides on both line engraving and area engraving complete with sample images in a range of materials and tips on how to get the best results.

What if I want to go deeper than this?

Laser engraving is not always the way to go… some designs call for a larger amount of material to be removed than laser engraving can provide. Depending on your requirements, there are a number of ways to achieve this. Two of the most common solutions are:

1. Use a secondary process to remove the material (for example, cutting a strip halfway through the material using a milling machine or table saw). This is not a part of the Ponoko service, and would need to be done in your own workshop or maker space.

2. Build up the structure from several layers of material. Control the depth of cavities and cutouts by placing a solid layer on the bottom and then reducing the size of subsequent layers to create the required change in depth. This can be easily achieved with laser cutting and is often used to make enclosures for electronics in acrylics from the Ponoko Materials Catalog.

What has your experience been using different laser engraving settings? Let us know in the comments below.

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.

Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #8

Multi-Layered Laser Cut and Etched Images

When an image is laser etched it takes on a whole new emotive feel, as many artists have demonstrated in recent years. This example from Malaysian laser cutting service Passion Woody uses a clever combination of photographic imagery with laser cut and etched wood.

It is a simple but very effective technique that gives the printed material a depth and visual presence that really catches the eye. Using laser cutting and etching in a selective way to enhance key aspects of an image enables your messaging to have a totally different impact.

Can you think of other ways to combine laser cutting with traditional printed material? Let us know in the comments below.

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.

Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #7

Use Laser Cutting to Add Something Extra to your Drink

Having a chat with a drink in hand is an important part of any networking event. Indeed, sometimes the most progress is made during those in-between moments when people tend to be a little more relaxed. How can laser cutting make this even better? Cups With Bite are a clever innovation from Shy Shadow that add a little extra to the everyday cup in a light-hearted, fun kind of way.

The paper strips featuring iconic silhouettes of safari animals quickly wrap around the cups to become not only a novel way to identify which drink is yours; but also provide a surface for adding doodles or text to further engage and personalize.

This is another great example of how a familiar, unremarkable item can become a memorable focal point through creative use of laser cutting. Whether a cup has water, coffee or something with a bit more of a kick in it, chances are your company will stick in peoples’ minds if you add a twist of fun to the social side of a networking event.

Have you seen other clever ways that laser cutting has been used to add to the refreshment decor of an event? Let us know in the comments below.

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.

Laser cut replica Wolcott mirror camera

Creating a miniature replica of pioneering photographic technology

With cameras at our fingertips at almost every waking moment, taking a quick selfie or a snapping a portrait of your nearest and dearest (yes, cats count too!) is something most of us do every day. For photographer Guy J. Brown, the passion for portraiture goes a little deeper; in fact, he specialises in recreating pioneering photographic techniques and devices.

One such device is the Wolcott Camera, said to be the first ever patented back in 1840. Guy has utilised the technology of his 21st century workshop to bring this early portrait machine back to life. The result is something to behold… with laser cut ply components designed in Adobe Illustrator, and hardware purchased from eBay completing the ‘baby Wolcott’.

Follow through to the source link to find out more about this project, including a deeper look at the original Wolcott camera. You can also download files to construct your own nostalgic photographic device – and then show those Instagram filters how it’s really done.

Are you a laser-equipped retro shutterbug too? Tell us about your laser cut camera experience in the comments below.

via Guy J Brown – Laser Cut Wolcott Camera