How To Make The Most of your Laser Cutting Materials

Browser-based vector nesting tool optimises laser cut layouts


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

How To Understand Vector vs Pixel Artwork

Beginner’s Guide to Digital Imaging Formats for Laser Cutting


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.

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.

How To Create Strength Using Origami and Laser Cutting

New structural options from everyday materials 

In recent years, the boundary between art and engineering has continued to blur with scientists and researchers turning their formidable minds toward traditional craft techniques. The results are starting to get quite exciting, with surprise breakthroughs such as the Japanese origami-inspired ‘zippered tube’ featured above demonstrating that there is still much to learn about how we use familiar materials.

This example highlights a novel process of combining thin flexible sheets of material that have precise cuts and folds in them. The location and combination of these elements enables the material to become rigid when assembled in specific configurations, gaining structural integrity far beyond the original material’s capacity.

The research that developed this construction technique emerged from a collaboration between University of Illinois grad student Evgueni Filipov, Georgia Institute of Technology professor Glaucio Paulino and professor Tomohiro Tachi from the University of Tokyo.

“…we’re starting to see how it has potential for a lot of different fields of engineering” – Evgueni Filipov

Filipov and his colleagues focus on an origami technique known as Miura-ori folding, where a tube is constructed from two precisely folded ziz-zag strips. Individually, the strips are highly flexible but when combined the resulting tube has a remarkable rigidity and controllable degree of compression or folding.

What does this mean for Ponoko users? While much of the focus in the origami research is currently centered around potential uses in architecture and for space exploration; many of the options from the Ponoko Materials Library would be a great fit for this approach to assembly and construction.

via Georgia Tech News Center


How To make a Laser Cut Local Landmark

City of Bath Georgian House flat-pack model


Miniature models of local landmarks are a popular choice when it comes to souvenirs and keepsakes. In this example, the iconic Georgian terrace houses from the city of Bath in the UK are recreated with loving attention to detail.

Available as a flat-pack kit of three neatly stacked cosy homes, you can choose from either 1.5mm card or 3mm poplar ply, and the straightforward assembly process will only take a few minutes.

Ideal for Laser Cutting
Laser cut architectural models are the ideal choice to make use of tab-and-slot construction techniques that allow for quick and easy construction, often holding together without the need for glues or adhesives. Basic elevations of the structure can be traced out in your preferred drawing program (inkscape is a Ponoko favorite) and prepared for laser cutting. Take the guesswork out of designing with interlocking slots using one of several freely available tools and plugins. For a landmark or object with a more sculptural form, 3D models can also be sliced up into panels or interlocking sections that are just right to send to the laser cutter.

Optimise for Production (and add a little extra)
Once you have the profiles and parts that make up your object, arrange them neatly within one of the Ponoko laser cutting templates and add useful notes or assembly tips as etched details. The Ponoko guide to keeping laser cutting costs down contains important information that will save you time and money, so be sure to read through before starting to avoid common (and costly) pitfalls.

It can also be nice to add a little something extra to the assembled model. The Georgian terrace kits by Bob Kann come supplied with a little light to install inside, so that there is a warm welcoming glow that completes the homely feel.

via Bob Kann

How To Help Your Client Launch a Kickstarter Campaign

Head off Crowdfunding questions with these useful tips and resources


Crowdfunding campaigns give entrepreneurs, artists and businesses a unique opportunity to test the viability of their ideas. Yet for many, the thought of running a Kickstarter campaign can be a daunting prospect.

So how can you help de-mystify the process, and give your client the tools and support they need to embrace all that Kickstarter has to offer? Let’s take a look at some of the contributing factors that enable campaigns to reach – and indeed exceed – their funding goals.

Choosing the right platform
The first question to ask is whether or not this method of raising funds is actually suitable for your business proposal. Each crowdfunding platform has its quirks and benefits, and in the example of Kickstarter, many submissions do not even pass the approval phase. It is well worth taking the time to identify which crowdfunding option best suits your business model and potential project outcome.

Don’t be dazzled by dollar signs – just because there are campaigns raising millions of dollars does not mean that every campaign will be an overwhelming success. For the majority of campaigns, a few thousand or even just a few hundred dollars over the target amount can be a big deal.

Be prepared to work hard
Although crowdfunding has been shown to be surprisingly lucrative for some, successful outcomes are not guaranteed. It takes more than just having a bright idea; you have to know your project very well and be prepared to put time into every stage of the funding process. Understand that for every hour you spend (and there will be many!) on preparing the campaign, there will be just as much time required to maintain and promote the project through to completion. Yet even then, your task doesn’t end when the countdown stops. Assuming you are sitting on a pile of money after a successful campaign, you will need to get moving on production and manage the distribution of rewards to your backers.

There is a misconception that a crowdfunded campaign is something that can be done on the side, in your downtime or on the weekends. This is simply not true… one thing that all successful campaigns have in common, regardless of funding levels or project outcomes, is that the campaign itself was a full-time commitment.

There is a strong social media component to the Kickstarter process, with communication and personal interaction playing a large role in backer satisfaction. It can help to remind yourself that Kickstarter is not an online store, even though some backers continue to treat it like one. Integral to successful campaigns is the way people love to feel like they are involved in making things happen. This is a different consumer experience than traditional online shopping, and with careful planning you can use that to your advantage. Choose a variety of rewards including smaller contributions that can help keep people interested in your progress, even if they aren’t in a position to commit larger amounts of money during the campaign. These potential future customers can become informal brand ambassadors through their own social media activity, expanding your reach before the campaign reaches its conclusion.

Be realistic
Not all campaigns are successful, and that is ok. The reasons why a campaign does not reach its funding goals can be quite varied, and are sometimes just as mysterious as to why other campaigns dramatically exceed expectations. When setting up a crowdfunding campaign, plan out how you will navigate through both failure and success, so that your business can continue to evolve beyond the campaign timeline.

Don’t be shy – a Kickstarter campaign is a lot to take on, and it is perfectly ok to seek out help. In fact, many services are popping up that enable a streamlining of each aspect of the campaign. Gathering and processing information beforehand will help to protect you from nasty surprises and also empower you to fully exploit successes and opportunities should they come your way. Here are a few to start you off:

The Ultimate Guide to Crowdfunding
Presented by Shopify, the ecommerce solution of choice for many successful campaigns. This thorough walkthrough over 23 chapters covers all the key considerations to be aware of before taking on your own Kickstarter campaign.

How To Make a Successful Kickstarter Campaign
Using the Pebble Watch as a case study, this detailed investigation looks at how a 24 year old guy’s project with a goal of $100,000 became a $10 million record-breaker.

Tools for Kickstarter: Planning Calculator
A handy tool from Reuben Pressman, you can generate a quick overview of whether your numbers will all stack up. The calculator also includes a valuable Incentives component that will help to resolve the allocation of backer rewards.

Social Media services: Backercamp
Communication and Marketing for your campaign will get a huge boost if you call in the experts to lend a hand.

Manage your Mail: Green Inbox
With so much content flooding your clients’ email and social media, direct personalised messaging gets through to people and saves you time.

Look your best on camera: Elevant Productions
The influence a refined video clip has on campaign success rates is huge. Get it right first time for maximum impact on the small screen.

Case Studies: Success Stories
Also from Shopify, this breakdown of eleven campaigns highlights what they did right and what they did wrong, providing many valuable insights.

Analysis and Infographics
In-depth analysis of campaign metrics, trends and a very handy infographic that helps to navigate The Untold Story behind Kickstarter Stats.

The task of setting realistic goals, achievable rewards and establishing effective communication with backers is often more complex than people first anticipate. By investing a little time in making the most of these resources, the entire campaign experience becomes a whole lot more manageable. Don’t underestimate the impact that thorough preparation can have. By approaching your campaign with the knowledge that you are prepared for any surprises that may pop up – whether they are positive or negative – you will be ready to rise to the challenge.

Are you using the Ponoko Personal Factory to produce rewards for a campaign? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll discuss the best way to help you reach your funding goals.

Keeping it Social: Leveraging Social Media for Product Promotion


Automation. Some love it. Some dread it. But no matter which camp you belong to, there is no denying its power to make our lives easier in some ways. One clear avenue for automation success is social media. Today, the width and speed of social media channels has far surpassed the reach and (in many cases) the efficacy of traditional feet-on-street marketing.

Yet, for many marketers, leveraging this growing resource can feel daunting given the number of choices and the understanding necessary to maximise the potential of each channel. But as we’ve learnt through our own experience, if you plan carefully the results can be stimulating and the process a lot of fun. Through this blog, we’ve tried to distil our understanding of everything we’ve learned (and are continuing to learn) along the way.

Understand your choices
With so many options out there, choosing the right one for your business can feel like an overwhelming experience. But, to avoid information overload, we feel the best way to get things moving is by starting small. While the temptation to jump into every platform will be strong, learn to exercise restraint and be selective about which platforms you choose. Also, take the time to monitor each channel to understand whether they are bringing in positive results for your brand.

Let’s take a look at the recommended options:


How To: Get The Best Results out of Laser Cut Cardstock

Useful tips to ensure optimum cut quality from this versatile material


Cardstock is such a handy material for laser cutting. The versatile combination of lightweight tensile strength, fast cutting/etching and low unit cost means cardstock is a wonderful choice for greeting cards, business cards, model making and packaging. A number of popular cardstock options are available from both NZ and US Ponoko making hubs.

Cardstock cuts slightly differently from other materials in the Ponoko catalogues, so there are a few useful things to know to get the optimum cut quality for your project. Some of these tips are mentioned in the Ponoko material pages, such as designing around small light pieces that can shift during cutting. We always strongly advise that you carefully read material information to get a clearer idea of what results to expect. Material samples are another handy reference, although we stress that every project is different, and prototyping is the only way to ensure the best outcome.    (more…)

Elliptical Laser Cut Boxes

Using Inkscape plugins to round out those boxed corners 


We all agree that laser cut boxes are handy to use as enclosures for DIY electronic projects and for storing little keepsakes. Adding your own personal touch gets a whole lot more interesting when you can break away from the traditional rectilinear form to create elliptical laser cut boxes.

Once again, the magic happens thanks to some clever programming in the form of a freely available Inkscape plugin. Instructables user Bas van der Peet has compiled an extensive guide to using this plugin, with a number of fun examples of what you can achieve when you round off a few corners here and there.


If breaking out of the box sounds like fun to you, head over to Instructables and follow Bas’ guide, then let us know how you go with the plugin in the comments below.

Make your elliptical laser cut boxes using the Ponoko Personal Factory.

Elliptical Box Maker via Instructables


How to Decide When the ‘Price is Right’ in your Retail Strategy


Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 3.44.45 PMPricing your products can be an exciting time as you begin to imagine the cash registers ringing. But when you actually get down to it, the initial excitement often gives way to doubt and nervousness.

Suddenly your mind is racing with questions and explanations – What if you price too low? You might make a ton of sales but still end up alarmingly short of money to cover your expenses.

On the other hand, what if you price your product too high? You might convince the market you are a high-end, luxury manufacturer. It might even begin to draw a financially upmarket range of customers. The high cost may offset your smaller sales figures, but what if the market shifts? What if a change in manufacturing or a new competitior can match your level of quality and reduce the price? Can your businss compete and survive in a price-sensitive market?

Such questions and more will always be floating around and no one strategy can magically address all your pricing doubts. However, by being aware of the options available for retial pricing, you will be in a position to choose the one which suits your business when the time comes.

Before we go into specifics, there are some basic overarching categories which classify individual pricing strategies. These include:

  1. Demand oriented strategies: In a retail environment, you don’t always have to depend on your skills as a marketer to attract customers. Some porducts, or even categories of products, have such a magnetic pull that setting the retail price for them can be done simply by observing demand.
  2. Cost oriented strategies: This is a more common format for calculating retail pricing and revolves around the relationship and ratio of merchandise costs, operating costs and expected profits.
  3. Competition oriented strategies: These strategies involve observing, analysing and responding to market changes to maintain the perception of competitive pricing at all times in a given market.

Let’s begin by looking at some common demand oriented strategies:

Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
As the name suggests, this is a price manufacturers recommend retailers use to sell their products. This strategy is used by manufacturers to standardize prices of products across multiple locations and retailers.

However, MSRP can also be used in a market where there is high product demand. In such a market, by sticking to the manufacturer’s price, the retailer can drive higher profit sales and determine what the price levels of certain products will be in his store, irrespective of the consumer’s bargaining power.

Demand Ceiling Pricing
In this form of pricing, the retailer takes into account the maximum a consumer will pay for a certain item and as far as possible, try to keep the price up to that level so as to maintain a demand momentum for that product.

Demand Floor Pricing
Here, the retailer takes into account the lowest he is willing to go on price to meet demand for a particular product. This is usually done on lower cost items where a retailer might go lower on the cost to keep the volume of demand constant for longer.

Odd Pricing
Studies have shown that when customers spend money, they actually feel a sense of loss. But if you help minimize this feeling of loss, it is possible to nudge customers into making a purchase. In retail, you can do this by ending the price with an odd number like 5, 7, or 9. For example, using $8.99 instead of $9.00.

Also if you want to know the ideal odd number to pick, it’s 9. A study conducted at MIT and the University of Chicago ran an experiment on a standard women’s clothing item with the following prices $34, $39, and $44. The item priced at $39 outsold even its cheaper counterpart price of $34.

Zone Pricing
It’s no secret that certain suburbs or geogrpahical areas house more affluent people. In such areas, the demand for certain types of products or categories will always be high, simply due to their increased ability and propensity to spend. Using this tactic, retailers can map out certain areas where they can get away with charging more for the same stocked item as compared to stores in other locations.

Now, let’s examine some cost oriented pricing strategies:

Multiple Pricing
This is a common pricing strategy wherein you can sell more volumes of smaller itesms simply by grouping them together. It’s a strategy you normally see in grocery stores and even across clothing brands espcially for smaller things such as socks, underwear and T-shirts.

Discount Pricing

All customers love agood bargain. That’s why sales, discount coupons and even holiday deals are so popular. The only thing to consider is why you’re choosing to discount your products. If it’s for more footfalls, consider going wide with your discounts so as to attract a variety of people. If it is to get rid of unsold inventory, try setting a time limit on your discount (1 day only, flash 12-hour sale) so as to not draw too much attention to the items on sale. And if you’re trying to attract price-conscious customers, club your discounted items together to seem more appealing.

Loss-leading Pricing
If you’ve ever walked into the store because you saw a ‘too-good-to-be-true’ discount sign but walked out with three things, you’ve just experienced loss-leading pricing at work. The idea is once you get a customer in store to buy one item, just looking at other items on the shelves is often enough to drive more sales.

Finally, let’s examine competiton oriented pricing strategies:

Below Competition Pricing
As the name suggests, retailers employing this strategy use a competitor’s pricing data as a benchmark and consciously price their products below them to lure consumers into their store, instead of the competition’s.

Above Competition Pricing
While below competition seems like a no-brainer, retailers need to be cautious before using this strategy. That’s because if your competition is willing to go head to head, he might keep dropping his prices to the point where it’s no longer financially viable for you to go any lower. A good example of this is Amazon who brought the cost of paperback books so low, they put Barnes & Noble out of business.

Instead, retailers can do the exact opposite – benchmark their product at intentionally higher prices than their competition. This forces customers to stop and consider why your prices might be higher. And, not surprisingly the conclusion most arrive at is – your produt must be of higher (and therefore better) quality. A classic case of this strategy working is Starbucks, where people consistently pick them over Dunkin’ Donuts.

One of the most exciting and nerve-wracking aspects of retail is determining what price to sell your products at. However you must remember that pricing is both an art and a science. It requires an experimental attitude and an intuitive feel for how you want your brand and, by extension, your products to be perceived.

Please feel free to share in the comments below other ways you might calculate your retail pricing.