Ponoko

Starter Kit: Adobe Illustrator

Starting your design

Adobe Illustrator (R)

»  What is possible with laser cutting?
»  What materials are available?
»  What sizes are available?
»  How much will it cost?
»  How do I get a quote?
»  How do you design for lasers?
  »  To cut a line
  »  To engrave a line
  »  To engrave an area
»  What is the smallest overall part size that can be made?
»  What is the smallest feature that can be made?
»  What color mode should Illustrator be in?
»  How do you design for mirror acrylic?
»  How do you convert fonts for laser cutting?
»  How do you convert images for laser cutting?
»  How do you export your file?
»  How do you get the lowest price?
  »  Sign up for Prime
  »  A simple design = low price.
  »  Prototype your design for free at home.
  »  Start with a small size material (P1) and test multiple simple prototypes.
  »  Make a cardboard prototype. You won't regret it.
  »  Tile your designs to make the most of the material
  »  Consider whether line engraving is a better option than area engraving
  »  Group designs with area engraving as close together as possible
  »  Removing double lines
  »  Thinner material = Lower cost
  »  Curved lines vs. Straight lines
»  What other tips should I know?
  »  How to improve your engraving results
  »  Converting strokes to fill colors
  »  Creating complex laser-cut shapes easily
  »  Expand any appearances
  »  Clean up stray anchor points
  »  How to self check your designs before uploading
» Print this guide

What is possible with laser cutting?

Laser cutting is great for intricate designs like jewelry, coasters, homeware and many other things. 2-dimensional or layered designs tend to be the most successful and value for money for reselling.

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What materials are available?

There are over 100 material options available include acrylic, wood, leather and metal. See them here. See them ordered by price here.

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What sizes are available?

Download the Illustrator design template set.

We have 4 templates sizes available which match match the sizes of the materials available. Choose the size that best suits the size of your design. You can add as many designs as you like to maximize your material usage.

Not all of the templates are available for each material so you’ll need to know which material you wish to use before you start laying out your designs. eg: Black acrylic comes in P1, P2, and P3 sizes. Birch plywood comes in P1 and 24x12 sizes.

You can see on the right hand side of the materials page which templates you should use for that material.

Our material sheets themselves are always slightly larger than the template Safe Area, and are often cut out on a saw so they don't have nice smooth laser-cut edges.

If you have a product in mind that requires nice, clean edges, then we recommend adding a blue cutting line around the ‘safe area’ part of our templates.

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How much will it cost?

Our software works out how long your order will take to make based on the material you have selected and the number of lines in your file. We then multiply that time by a per minute making rate to get your making cost.

Simply upload a correctly formatted digital design file into your account, choose a material to make it form, and we’ll provide you with an instant price for making it.

We have lower per minute rates on bulk orders available for Prime members as well as loyalty pricing that gets lower the longer you are a Prime account member.

You can also upgrade your making and shipping speeds to ensure your design arrives by your deadline.

Read out 10 tips for getting the lowest price here.

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How do I get a quote?

Login to your account and go to ponoko.com/quote

Simply upload a correctly formatted digital design file into your account, choose a material to make it form, and you’ll see an instant price to make it.

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How do you design for lasers?

There are 3 design elements; cutting lines, area engraving, and line engraving

To cut a line

Then set the stroke style to a width of 0.01 mm:

And set the stroke color to blue with RGB values of 0, 0, 255:

To engrave a line

Then set the stroke style to a width of 0.01 mm:

And set the stroke color to red with RGB values of 255, 0, 0:

To engrave an area

Set the fill color to black with RGB values of 0, 0, 0:

It's that easy.

Want more engraving options? Check out our advanced engraving options here

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What is the smallest overall part size that can be made?

Designs should be bigger than 5mm/0.197". When we cut your design, your sheet of material sits upon a honeycomb-like bed. Very small parts (5mm/0.197" round/square and smaller) can fall through the laser bed during cutting and be lost.

This is something that cannot be avoided, so your best option is to add extra copies of your small parts to your design to account for those which may be lost. You can also tag your pieces into the surrounding material.

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What is the smallest feature that can be made?

Designs should not have features (eg ascenders or descenders on text) smaller than 0.04”/1.0mm. A small amount of material is lost as the laser cuts out your design, approximately 0.2-0.4mm, or 0.1-0.2mm either side of the line you draw. You need to make sure your design is drawn slightly larger than your desired result to account for this.

For durable designs we recommend that any positive features are not smaller than 0.04”/1.0mm so they don't bend or break in use or get damaged in handling.

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What color mode should Illustrator be in?

Designs need to be in RGB color mode. After downloading, open your chosen template in Illustrator as you would normally. Go to File > Document color mode and make sure your document is set to RGB - then create your design.

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How do you design for mirror acrylic?

We cut through the back of the mirror sheet - through the reflective coating. Designs need to be reversed so when viewed from the front, any lettering, numbers or engraving will appear correctly.

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How do you convert fonts for laser cutting?

Any text you use in your design file needs to be converted to paths. This way the laser cutter will follow your design correctly, regardless of whether or not it has the font installed.

This is as simple as selecting your text and then choosing Type > Create Outlines from the top menu. You won't be able to edit the text once you've done this, so do it last after your spell check.

You can engrave text into the materials using area engraving, line engraving, or a combination of both.

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How do you convert images for laser cutting?

Our making system only registers vector artwork. It will ignore images inserted into your design in other formats (such as .jpg or .bmp). You can trace the image by selecting the inserted image and using the Object > Live Trace > Tracing Options command.

Choose ‘Black and White’ with the ‘Ignore white’ option checked. Adjust the ‘Threshold’ slider to adjust how the image is traced.

Next, you'll need to use the Object > Expand command. If the trace has worked correctly, vectors should appear around all of the individual parts of the traced image. You’ll be able to edit the vector paths as you wish.

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How do you export your file?

Step 1: Use the File > Save as command and select the format as 'illustrator EPS':

Step 2: Make sure your final ‘EPS Options' panel looks the same as shown below, then click 'OK':

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How do you get the lowest price?

Sign up for Prime

Prime account members get the best pricing always.

Bulk pricing - is automatically calculated when you price up larger orders

Loyalty Pricing - Your making rate gets lower the longer you remain a Prime member.

A simple design = low price.

Each line you create in your design adds making time to your order. The less detail in your file the less time it will take to cut out and the less it will cost.

Prototype your design for free at home.

Print your design out on paper to spot any immediate problems with the design such as over all scale or parts that are too detailed. If your design doesn’t look right on paper chances are it won't be right for laser cutting either.

Read more here

Start with a small size material (P1) and test multiple simple prototypes.

Test your ideas on a small piece of material first. We recommend starting with a P1 for prototyping your design and testing multiple design variations in 1 order.

Experiment with different engraving types and sizes to see which will work best for your design.

Make a cardboard prototype. You won't regret it.

Cardboard is cheap and cuts fast. Prototyping complex interlocking designs in card is a good way to resolve any design issues before committing to making it in a more expensive material

Tile your designs to make the most of the material

Our 4 templates sizes match the sizes of the materials available. To make the most of the material you can copy as many designs as will fit inside the template. Leave 1-2mm of spacing between designs to ensure designs come out well.

Consider whether line engraving is a better option than area engraving

Area Engraving is a time consuming process, similar to how a dot-matrix printer works. For creating details in your design, line engraving might be a cheaper option.

Group designs with area engraving as close together as possible

For area engraving the laser head moves quickly back and forth on the horizontal axis, and slowly down the vertical axis a 0.1mm at a time. The less vertical distance the laser has to travel while doing area engraving the cheaper the design will be.

Removing double lines

If you place objects directly beside each other, it's likely you'll end up with cutting lines sitting one on top of the other.

You should be able to see these quite plainly as being a darker blue than your other cutting lines. You need to change these double lines into a single cutting line, otherwise the line will literally be cut twice – which is not the best for your material, or the machine.

Read more about how to remove double lines here.

Thinner material = Lower cost

Thinner material cuts faster than thicker material and therefore will have a lower making cost.

Curved lines vs. Straight lines

The lasers slow down dramatically on curves, ask yourself, are there any parts that you can take away curved sections without compromising the overall design? Several vector drawing programs allow you to either simplify linework down to straight lines. If not try to reduce the size of radiuses as shown in the image below.

Also if you have lots of long straight lines try to align them parallel with either the x or y axis - this means the laser's lens is only traveling in one direction at a time, it is slightly more efficient for the laser cutting

Read more about this here.

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What other tips should I know?

How to improve your engraving results

The laser cutter works like an old dot matrix printer except instead of dots of ink it uses pulses of the laser beam. The laser head moves back and forth on the horizontal axis This means vertical elements do not come out as defined as horizontal elements.

Where vertical elements, like the letter I or L measure less than 1mm the area engraving outcome is not very crisp. This is more noticeable the smaller the text gets.

One thing you can do to improve the quality of the engraving is to combine area and line engraving on your text or shapes to make them stand out better..

So if you want engraved text to come out super crisp,

Then set the stroke style width to 0.01 mm:

Set the fill color to black with RGB values of 0, 0, 0:

And set the stroke color to red with RGB values of 255, 0, 0:

Converting strokes to fill colors

To turn a black stroke into a filled shape in Illustrator, select your line and use the Object > Path > Outline Stroke command. We don't recommend converting lines that are less than 0.5mm in stroke weight. If you want a very thin engraving line, we would always recommend using line engraving instead of area engraving.

There are other engraving options shown on the samples we send out and in our material catalog - which can be used with some caution.

Read about advanced engraving options.

Make sure you only use a solid, single color fill – no patterns or textures.

To give your area engraving a clean edge, you can combine it with line engraving around the outside of your shape.

Creating complex laser-cut shapes easily

You will find a key set of tools in Adobe Illustrator for creating laser-cut designs is the Pathfinder window. You can access this by using the Window > Pathfinder command:

[18-Pathfinder tool]

Using the tools in this window, you'll be able to combine shapes and remove one from another - resulting in clean closed paths that will help you easily cut out exactly what you're wanting to make. We recommend exploring these commands and discovering how they can help.

Read more about how the first two Pathfinder buttons work.

Expand any appearances

Object > Expand Appearance will only be available to use (bold and black) if you have effects or appearances applied to objects in your design which have not been Expanded yet. Often you will not need to use this command, but it's worth quickly checking to see if it is selectable before you export. If you can use this command - do.

Clean up stray anchor points

Object > Path > Clean up... will remove any stray anchor points (which may be incorrectly formatted), objects with no stroke or fill value and empty text objects from your design. If there were none of these things to clean up, you'll get a pop-up to tell you so. We would recommend always running this command before you export, as it can never hurt.

How to self check your designs before uploading

If you have any trouble uploading your design file to Ponoko, you can self check your Illustrator designs pretty quickly using the Select > Same commands. We have put together a video which outlines how to do this.

Watch the self-check video/


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