Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs

Understanding How To Get 90% Off Retail, By Making It Yourself

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 cost contributors of Making, Materials, and Shipping.

It all begins with understanding how laser pricing works. Then you can achieve savings of up to 90% less than retail.

The critical things to 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% to 55% 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.

Your first quote might give you a fright because your design offends the rules of laser cutting design.

This means you need to price test, test, test and test again your “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 laser cutting 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.

Design Features That Cost A Lot (And How To Reduce That Cost)

These design features cost more because they take more time for the laser to do its thing:

* 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.

Ponoko’s Top 10 Ways To Reduce Laser Cutting Costs

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!

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

You can view all 10 tips on a single page here 🙂

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

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.

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.

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.

Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #6

Avoid Double Lines

When objects are positioned side-by-side, a double cutting line can result if there is an overlap. This means that the laser will cut the same section twice – which means you’ll pay double as well! To stop this from happening, take a moment to go through your design file and make sure that there are no shared lines or overlaps.

For more about avoiding double lines and how to fix them, the Ponoko Making Guides provide all the info you need. You’ll find comprehensive Starter Kits for Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, CorelDRAW and AutoCAD.

Remember that with laser cutting, you are paying for every move the laser makes. Don’t pay twice – check your design file before you upload.

Have you been caught out by this in the past? Let us know your story in the comments below…

Next up we look at another way to keep laser cutting costs down with Tip #7: Pieces close together.

Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #5

Simplify details

We already know that it’s helpful to keep things small in size at the beginning. One key aspect that is often overlooked is to keep details simple as well.

This means sticking to designs that take up as little ‘laser time’ as possible.

So how do you go about optimising your design with this in mind? The short version is that the less time it takes to cut, the less it will cost. You’re paying for every movement the laser cutter makes; whether it is cutting, engraving or travelling between cutting and engraving. Many small detailed forms take longer to trace out than fewer larger forms. Circles take longer than straight lines. Items spread out or are further apart take longer to cut than items located close together.

Dense vector line engraving also comes with the same warning. Remember that with lasers, time really does equal money.

What impact has keeping details simple had on your laser cutting costs? Let us know in the comments below.

The next handy hint focuses on another way to save time, and therefore cost, with your laser cutting. Stay tuned for Tip #6: Avoid Double Lines

Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #4


Start small

A great tip for first timers and also just as useful for more experienced makers is to keep things small and simple at the beginning. In short, stick to the Ponoko P1 template. Starting small enables you to test your ideas and be confident before charging ahead with multiple items on larger sheet sizes.

This will keep material costs lower, which is handy not only when experimenting with laser cutting for the first time but also if you are trying out a new material that you haven’t used before.

Make the most of the P1 template size by performing small tests of multiple design ideas. Don’t assume your first attempt will be “The One”. Try multiple cuts, shapes, engravings, etc to see what you like the look of. You are much more likely to end up with a design you are happy with if you remind yourself that it’s not about getting that perfect outcome on the first try.

Keep in mind that with laser cutting, more size or complexity means greater costs. So the smaller dimensions of the P1 template help to constrain the amount of making time, which again means both cutting and material costs will be lower.

What savings have you made by starting small with your laser cutting? Let us know in the details below.

Stay tuned for the next handy piece of advice from the Ponoko team. It’s time to pare things back with Tip #5: Simplify details.

Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #3

Make a Cardboard Version First

It is an exciting moment when your design is ready to be laser cut, but it can really pay off to do a trial cut in cardboard first before moving ahead with more expensive materials.

Remember, with laser cutting you are paying for the time it takes for the machine to make your design… and cardboard cuts really quickly. This contributes to it being one of the most affordable materials, which means you can get a fast, inexpensive test run of your design. Once you are happy with the cardboard version, you can order your design in a more expensive material with greater confidence that it will come out the way you had hoped.

If your final outcome is to be made from cardboard… well, then kick back and relax because you’re already one step ahead!

Tell us about how trial cuts in cardboard have helped keep your laser cutting costs down in the comments below.

Next up in the Top 10 Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs is a handy bit of advice that is easy to overlook. Tip #4: Start small

Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #2

Paper Prototypes From Your Home Printer

Even if you are positive that your design is just right, it is always wise to check those details one more time before sending files to be laser cut. There is a very simple way that this can be done, thanks to your trusty desktop paper printer.

Printing out your design on paper is an ideal way to spot sizing or design errors, see whether holes or tolerances are big enough, and get a general feel for what your final result will look like. You could consider this as a free instant first prototype.

Working with digital files can be super efficient but sometimes people do lose track of whether their design will look just as good in the physical world as it does on-screen. So start your physical prototyping at home, and confirm that everything is a-ok before spending time and money on laser cutting. Once you have your details sorted, then take the plunge and upload your files to Ponoko for laser cutting.

Have you saved by making paper prototypes at home? Tell us about it in the comments below.

The next in our 10 rules for keeping laser cutting costs down is an extension of the paper prototype, but this time the lasers are firing. Stay tuned for Tip #3: Cardboard before expensive materials.