How To Make The Most of your Laser Cutting Materials

Browser-based vector nesting tool optimises laser cut layouts

SVGNest

Fitting all of your laser cut parts so that they squish into the least possible area on your laser cutting template can be tricky. Most of us will approach this by trial-and-error, manually shifting objects around until it ‘looks about right’. While this will save a bit of laser time, with complex designs the process can be laborious and you can’t really know whether the layout you have chosen is the best possible solution.

That’s where clever software such as Jack Qiao’s SVG Nest can really come in handy.

What is SVG Nest?

Rivalling powerful (and expensive) commercial options, the freely available SVG Nest uses all the computing muscle your browser can throw at it to come up with the optimal layout for your laser cutting. By grouping all of the elements within a defined area, the geometry-driven genetic algorithm is able to find the best fit by first setting the largest shapes, and then working in the smaller objects around them. It gets really interesting when there are many many design elements, and also when the objects to be sorted are all of a similar size.

Here’s an example using laser cut lettering:

svgnest nesting

Why is this useful for laser cutting?

As we’ve previously outlined in the Top Ten Ways To Reduce Laser Cutting Costs, how you position your designs on the Ponoko template can really make a difference to your laser cutting pricing. One of the reasons for this is that the laser head has less distance to travel between each part, and as you are paying for laser time, minimising travel is an immediate cost saving. Another consideration is the material cost itself – minimising material wastage will also save you money. As an added bonus, being thrifty with your resources can make you feel good too!

For more information about SVG Nest head to Jack’s GIT repository, where you can also see a demo of the software in action. Just be warned, it is seriously CPU intensive so those on mobile devices might want to wait until they’re sitting in front of a harder hitting machine before trying it out.

via Just Add Sharks

Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #30

Having a ball

laser-cut-ball

Give a bunch of people something round that can be thrown, caught, bounced or rolled… and within moments an impromptu game will have started. Even the non-sporty types are likely to join in, so strong is the allure of the ubiquitous ball.

This clever flat-packed ball from Instructables user Scientiffic is comprised of only two simple laser-cut components. Repeated and then snapped together with no need for glues or adhesives, it is a neat example of how you can make a robust and functional object from basic elements.

laser-cut-ball-pattern2

What does an object like this do for your brand?

Engaging customers with a physical object that can then become a light-hearted networking tool allows your brand to form a different kind of association at an event. Incorporating the tactile process of assembling the ball, then adding in the element of play either as an introverted solo activity or as a way to interact with others may indeed prove to be more engaging (and therefore more memorable) than the usual event swag.

A vehicle for your corporate identity

The example here from Instructables shows the components of a ball that have been laser cut from wood. Ways to adapt this design could include the addition of company branding as a laser etched detail, or even changing materials to use acrylic in colors that match your company’s colorway. Other options to generate interest and encourage interaction could involve the addition of simple electronics to illuminate the material from within, or add engagement triggers such as sound or motion sensitive functionality.

Can you think of other ways to make an interactive conversation starter using the Ponoko Personal Factory? Let us know in the comments below. For more ideas for Agencies and Brands, see the other posts in the series.

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How To Understand Vector vs Pixel Artwork

Beginner’s Guide to Digital Imaging Formats for Laser Cutting

vector-pixel-Ponoko-logo

One of the great things about laser cutting is that it makes high-quality outcomes both accessible and affordable. Some new users are happy to dive right in, but others need a little extra help in the early stages… and that’s what we are here for.

Before you get started it is a good idea to familiarise yourself with some of the basic knowledge and terminology associated with laser cutting. Understanding image formats used in the preparation of artwork for laser cutting is one of the common hurdles that newcomers face.

Let’s take a look at the difference between Vector and Pixel artwork, and what this means for laser cutting.

First up: Pixels

Bitmap images use a grid of ‘Picture Elements’ (pixels), each with a specific set of information. This is a fantastic choice when creating or editing images because there is a high level of control over tones, textures and colors. The sensor in a digital camera records information in this way, and image editing programs such as Photoshop use pixels to work their magic.
Common file types: TIFF (.tif), BMP (.bmp), GIF (.gif), JPEG (.jpg).

Pixels: the good

The upside of pixel-based images is that you have such great control that allows you to replicate all the color and detail of the physical world, and so long as you have the original data, edit to your heart’s content.

Pixels: the bad

Image size. Because data is being recorded for every single pixel, as images get larger, so too does the amount of information needed to define the image. Larger file sizes means more storage space required, and more computing power to process the extra information. Also, Pixel-based images do not scale well. While they can be reduced in size, doing so will result in permanent data loss. This means that image quality will suffer if you try to increase the pixel dimensions, because the computer has to guess how to fill the extra space now that the data is no longer available.

Vector Images

Vectors are best known for their use in typography, drawings and graphic art such as logos. The way that images are created using Vectors is quite different from Pixels. Vector graphics are defined by mathematical equations – they take points, connect them with lines in various shapes, then fill with a color or gradient range. To achieve more complex shapes, there would simply be more and more points and lines. Programs such as Illustrator and Inkscape work with Vectors to create images.
File types: Encapsulated Post Script (.eps), Adobe Illustrator (.ai), Scalable Vector Graphics (.svg).

Vectors: the good

The big thing about Vectors is that they are scalable. No matter how close you get, vector artwork will always be crisp and sharp – independent of the image resolution. The same information (and the same sized Vector image file) can be used to draw a circle whether it is 1mm across or big enough to feature on a billboard. File sizes remain small, regardless of the scale of the image.

Vectors: the bad

There is one notable disadvantage with Vectors; they are not well suited to creating photographic images. This is because the volume of information would become so large as to work against the strengths of using the Vector format.

How does laser cutting fit in?

For laser cutting, Vector paths make the most sense because they are using a more efficient way to get the desired result. When it comes to laser engraving, things do start to change. Laser cutters are happy for engraved images to be either Vector or Pixel-based, but it is important to keep in mind that laser time is expensive. A simple logo might take 3 seconds to engrave as a vector outline, whereas the same object as a Pixel image could take 10x as long. This is because to engrave the Pixel version, the laser has to move across the whole image area from top to bottom; a greater distance than tracing the actual linework itself.

So now we know that Vectors are defined conceptually, in a mathematical space, whereas Pixels exist in a literal space within physical confines. The key difference that results from this is that vectors operate independently from the image resolution, and can allow for more cost-effective laser cutting. Pixel images enable a more detailed, photographic outcome – but this comes at a cost in terms of file size and (importantly for laser cutting) time in the laser cutter.

Here’s a video you can watch that helps clear up some of the mystery when it comes to understanding vector and pixel artwork.

Second round for UGEARS self-propelled mechanical models

Extraordinary laser cut machines 

ugears laser cut loco

Having already received a tremendous response to their original Kickstarter campaign, the team from Ugears are not resting on their laurels… they’ve hit the ground running with a 40% increase in production capacity and the enquiries keep on flooding in. So for those who love to marvel at laser cut mechanical wonders, you still have a chance to jump on board the Kickstarter train with a time-limited second round campaign.

Be quick though, because the promo-priced gears stop rolling on January 12!

Who are UGEARS?

Watch the video below to see what UGEARS is all about. You may think you’ve seen impressive laser cut mechanical devices before, but these guys take it to the next level and beyond. Imagine what would happen if you merged the finicky precision of a Swiss watchmaker with a Dad’s club of enthusiastic 21st-century digital makers. A true labor of love, the first model took two years to develop before it was considered ready for production. During this time, the ideas kept flowing and the result is a growing collection of additional products from a tractor to a working safe, a timer to a model dynamometer and no less than 8 other fully functional laser cut plywood whimsies in between.

“Mechanisms have become so tiny. They are hidden so deep inside things that people do not see the whole beauty of rotating gears anymore. What if anybody could get a chance to create a mechanism?”

The second-chance Kickstarter campaign concludes on January 12, and then once the dust has settled, the official UGEARS store will open for business around mid-2016. So if you can’t wait until then, make a pledge on Kickstarter before it’s too late.

Also, it’s good to see these guys are steadily working through their long list of ideas for future mechanical marvels. Head to the UGEARS Instagram for a taste of what they are working on.

UGEARS via Kickstarter

How To Make Laser Cut Interlocking Acrylic Designs

The Importance of Radii

We’ve written about using ‘nodes’ with 3D objects made from wood before, but suggested it may not work for acrylic because it is more brittle and tends to be less forgiving.

However, after working with Drownspire to develop their Vambit toy into a product for a giveaway at Makerfaire, it soon became apparent that you can successfully use nodes when making with acrylic.

Nodes in Acrylic: Two tricks to getting it right

Firstly the nodes need to be a bit smaller; something in the realm of <0.15mm/0.006″ on each side. This means they won’t cover the same range as when used in wood but they still remain a good option.

Secondly, how you treat the end of the slot is the key. If you have a sharp corner, which is typical in a laser cut slot, the acrylic will always fracture at that point. See this example:

Effectively a sharp corner is creating a weak point in the acrylic. Not such a good thing when this is an important structural part of the design! A small radius in that corner can do wonders to transfer the forces from one face of the hole or slot to the other, and reduces the risk of the material splitting at the corner.

How large should they be?

The larger the radii the stronger it will be so you will need to make an aesthetic decision on how big you can go. On the Vambit the radii was tiny, at just 0.26mm, and it was enough to make a noticeable difference. We suggest aiming for 0.5mm and greater if your design will allow it.

Where to place the nodes

Another trick to keep in mind is putting the nodes on a part of the design where you can guarantee the length. That way you don’t need to bet on the thickness changing and the range of variation is a lot smaller. This occurs when you have 2 edges that are cut by the laser that are the friction edges. This works if you are using tabs but is not necessarily the case if you are using a slotting joint.

For example, in the design of this spinning top Dan put the nodes on the tab as opposed to on the slot.

The tabs on the triangle parts fit into the slots on the circle part. Dimension X and Y will be the same each time as cut by the laser, therefore he put the nodes on these parts. Had the nodes been positioned on the slot for the handle (as in diagram below), the friction points would be against the surface of the material, a part that can vary if the thickness varies.

Other types of connections

An alternative joint is the t-slot joint which is popular with people who make more engineering-type products. This joint uses tabs to locate pieces then a t-shaped slot with a captive nut. This type of joint is great. You can slightly oversize the holes to allow for oversized material and the bolt will hold it snug together. If you use the radii on the corners of the cut outs you greatly reduce the risk of cracking the acrylic by over tightening the bolt.

If you want to go another step, rubber washers can also reduce the chance of over tightening and maintain tension in the bolt so it won’t come undone through vibrations etc.

Hopefully these tips will help you with your next laser cutting project, or perhaps give you the extra tools you need to finalize a design you’re working on.

We’ll be interested to hear your experiences using radii too, and any other advice you might have for people wanting to make 3D designs using acrylic. Let us know below!

This handy advice from Dan Emery was sourced from the Ponoko Support Forums.

Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #29

Promo Items That Force You To Stop And Take Notice

branded-notebook

We’ve all come to expect a ‘swag bag’ at every promotional event we go to.

And now that the practice of receiving free stuff has become so common, it’s almost a blind spot. Which is why it’s so much harder to get it right.

But rather than scour the web to find the most outlandish items to stuff into your bag, what you really need to consider is context. Get that right and knowing what to put into your swag bag will come almost automatically.

To inspire you and get you thinking about your next event, here are some examples of brands who got it right the first time …

Tap Into A Relevant Trend.
If you look around, you’ll find there are a few key trends which people are gravitating towards these days – health, food, technology. Here’s a great example of using a health-related trend to get attendees’ to notice your brand:    (more…)

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Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #28

A Vision for the New Year

The impact of Google Cardboard on the accessibility of virtual reality has been dramatic. While not quite in the same league as ‘true’ VR headsets such as Oculus or Sony’s offerings, it is remarkable what can be achieved using the Cardboard platform for under $10.

One benefit of the accessibility of Google Cardboard is that it is an ideal vehicle for promotional messaging. The platform has been used for advertising campaigns by some pretty big players, as well as a myriad of small-scale campaigns and personal projects.

What is Google Cardboard?

Watch the intro movie below to see how the New York Times introduce their viewer in a campaign that saw the units distributed to over 1 million subscribers. The portal at NYTVR showcases a collection of highly refined immersive clips filmed specifically for use in these virtual reality headsets.

 

The high tech approach to low tech

For a really polished example of Google Cardboard at its finest, look no further than the Volvo XC90 campaign. Using some serious high-tech equipment, they were able to film an immersive experience that enables people to get a sense of what it is like to be physically inside the new car. The Volvo Cardboard viewer has also received a fancy facelift, going beyond everyday cardboard to reflect the luxury feel of the brand.

 

Are you ready to go Virtual in the new year?

Can you think of a way to create your own branded laser cut Cardboard Viewer? Although the content associated with these two examples looks pretty slick, the physical platform itself is still based on the same core components. With freely available plans for the structure to be laser cut, it is surprisingly easy to achieve unique, engaging results from more modest materials and equipment.

If the examples from New York Times and Volvo have perked your interest, then you may enjoy looking further at how others have made use of this affordable technology. There were also some creative submissions to the Ponoko Cardboard Design competition, showing there is still plenty of room for clever adaptations and customizations. Let us know in the comments below how your company can use Google Cardboard to dazzle and delight your customers’ minds.

 

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Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #27

‘Swag Bag’ Items Destined To End Up In The ‘Trash Bag’

swag_tote_bag

Giving away promotional items at an event isn’t a new idea.

But just because this trend has been running for a while doesn’t mean it’s foolproof. If you don’t put enough thought into exactly what goes into your swag bag, chances are you’ll be forgotten minutes after the event. Or worse still, be remembered as the dorky brand that handed out real junk. While this kind of bad press would have faded quickly in the past, social media ensures embarrassment now follows you around for days and its impact can last much, much longer.

While choosing the right items for your swag bag depends on your company message, your audience and the event you’re attending, here are 10 wrong ones you must definitely avoid.

Branded Key Chains.

keychaain

It used to be cool to get a keychain in your swag bag, until everyone started giving them out. And right now, it’s become one of the least effective ways to get attendees to remember your brand. Of course, some companies think they’ve worked their way around ubiquity by adding other functions to their keychain. But most conference attendees already have enough bottle openers and whistles or pen torches around and don’t need one more.       (more…)

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Entrepreneur turning hobby into novelty toy and apparel company

Robots! Yeah!
robomustache1

Imagine a community of robots; from helpers to dance masters to happy companions and more. What stories would they tell? What journeys would they embark on, as their world and ours merge into one fantastical creative adventure?

The characters from RoboMustache were created and designed by Charles Wade of Greensboro NC, and they are working their way into the hearts and imaginations of young robot enthusiasts one laser cut assembly kit at a time.

It all started with the Helper Bot

GREENSBORO, NC — After graduating from college, designer and maker, Charles Wade, began his hobby by making unique animal stickers, which later morphed into woodcraft and papercraft creations. During a test for one of his woodcrafts he designed and built a poseable wooden robot. The Helper Bot was born.

With the creation of the Helper Bot, Wade began experimenting with other ideas. After receiving feedback and appreciation for his work, he created more robots and designed assembly kits that would allow others to build his creations.

Resurrected from the scrapheap in a derelict factory

Wade has cultivated his hobby into a career by establishing RoboMustache; a collection of wooden robot assembly kits, accessories and merchandise. More than a collection of novelties, the RoboMustache hints at a rich world of storytelling as well. Coined from a found project in a derelict factory, as the company grows, so will the RoboMustache universe. The story will expand to tell more about the existing robots and bring in new robots along the way.

The most mustchioed  ‘Staff Pick’ on Kickstarter

Wade is crowdfunding the project to take the RoboMustache universe to the next level. The Kickstarter launched Dec. 4, 2015 and runs through the new year. Rewards for backers include assembly kits for each of the RoboMustache characters, laser cut in bamboo ply by Ponoko.

For more information on RoboMustache, visit RoboMustache.com or email contact@RoboMustache.com. To see the Kickstarter, visit RoboMustache.com/Kickstarter

Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #26

Cool Conference Swag You Could Laser Cut For Pennies!

Packing for a conference is a lot like packing for a hike.

You have to pack the essentials, you want to pack a few standby items and you’d like to bring certain vanity items along, just for the heck of it. But as you pack, you also need to keep a check on the weight of your pack. Plus, unlike a hike where you probably won’t encounter more than one or two people at most, a conference is full of people who are eager to hand you bags of stuff!

Yet before you begin rummaging through conference bags for stuff to keep, here’s a quick list of things most attendees wish they had brought along which can be laser cut really cheap.

Simple Conversation Starters.

Lasercutwristband

Laser Cut Wristbands.
While you will do your best to network before the session and during the breakout periods, the fact is you won’t be able to approach as many people as you’d like. But rather than rush through conversations with multiple people, you can use a little laser cut panache to draw people to you.

If designed well, this is bound to get you noticed even when you do something as simple as answer a phone call. It also helps you stand out in a crowd by acting as a distinct visual marker. Within a conference setting, you get instantly noticed if you have to raise your hand. And finally, it can be a great way to share your personal details without having to repeat them over and over (just in case your name or email has a complex spelling). Plus, if you run out of business cards, or don’t feel the need to share a business card with certain people … you can redirect them to your wristband for your details instead of the awkward fumble for a pen and napkin.

Things That Make You Memorable.

lasercutbusinesscard

Laser Cut Business Cards.
Getting noticed is only half the battle. Your next step is to leave a lasting impression on your new acquaintances. Here are some easy to produce laser cut items, which can do the trick.      (more…)

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