Another giant step towards changing everything

Previously we talked about the 8 key reasons why people don’t make things these days.

While there are a number of stellar services that solve up to 25% of the problems above, and Ponoko has taken a big step to currently solve 50% of them, there’s no single service that does them all.

Well, within the next 10 days we’re announcing 2 new solutions that move Ponoko another giant step closer towards doing them all.

First off, we’re releasing a world first design tool that will just blow your mind!

One of the biggest issues in making something is the need to learn how to use a design software program. So we’ve created something that completely annihilates this need!

In addition, for the first users of this new design tool we’re slashing 48% off a big selection of the shipping costs.

That’s 2 more of the 8 reasons down, just 2 to go.

So between now and launch date how about we have a bit of fun with this? How about we give FREE making to the first person who correctly describes what this new design tool is going to be?

Now, for those of you who already know what it is because you’ve been an alpha or early beta user, or a family member or friend, please hold your tongue (in a vice grip if need be). But you don’t have to miss out on the fun — feel free to jump in to egg people on! 😉

So to win FREE making with this world first design tool just submit your best guess and creative description of what it is going to be by leaving a comment directly below.

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Roman Pickl

i think it must have something to do with the number 42…


I think you could destroy most people’s barrier to entry with a tool that analyzes a 3D object and suggests how to recreate it with planar materials. It should be complete with faster techniques. Not just accepting Google Sketch up or any other 3D file. Taking a 3D file that contains a solid object like a 40cm x 40cm x 40cm cube and suggesting a construction plan.

Christopher Gilbert

A 3D environment that turns your vector images and material selections, and turns them into 3D objects; essentially a tool that will allow you to ‘build’ your projects before they ever get printed.

David Walker

I think that the new design tool allows a raster sketch to be scanned and converted to a vector drawing then to a tool path that the laser can follow

i think it must have something to do with the number 42…

You guys are developing a program that lets us control the laser machine remotely, so we can take over the facility and feel the power of “lasers”. (said in a Dr. Evil voice)

It should be a tool to work directly from google sketchup drawings.

I think the new design tool will be an online vector-drawing/CAD tool that does live estimates and previews with available materials. Hopefully written in Flash or Flex so anyone can use it regardless of operating system.

I can only speculate that it may be helpfully domesticated laser trained zombies or robots… better yet robot zombies.
Sorry to ruin the fun for everyone by nailing “the secret” in the first post but, I’ve never been good at keeping secrets ESPECIALLY When they in involve robots/zombies and/or lasers.


Tristan Peters

Is it an online drawing application, possibly with a template library?

**IP-Based Pipe Cleaners**

Form my design out of pipe cleaners.

Hook up a couple alligator clips.

Plug it into my USB port.

Fedex the product to my clients.

You guys are geniuses!

Ben out!

Tony Bostrom

” … for the first users of this design tool we’re slashing 48% off a big selection of the shipping costs….” And that resolves one of the issues? I hate to be churlish, but some money off some shipping for some people doesn’t add up to resolving the shipping cost issue. It partially resolves it for a few people. Sorry, but in my view the shipping cost issue remains a problem. A big problem.

I think it will be a teleportation device, allowing any of your legion of cloned and/or robotic Ponoko DesignBots to appear at your side and instantly assist with the design of your idea.

Oh! We have to be accurate? I thought we could just be creative. In that case, I think it will be an awesome browser-based design tool that allows you to collaborate with others in real time. One of the “others” could perhaps be a Ponoko-person. Maybe they aren’t really employees of Ponoko but rather contractors that have had experience with Ponoko’s design process.

Is it an “easy button?”

Cate Donoghue

A kit with special colored pencils and grid paper – the grid color is ignored by the lasers. You draw what you want like you would in inkscape and you mail it in?

Insta live trace! From an uploaded image.

My idea: a web-based design creation tool, designed specifically by/for Ponoko. Probably done in Flash (though it’d be possible to get away with just AJAX/canvassing on newer browsers, getting it to work in IE would be more of a pain than just making it in Flash). In other words, a Flash vector drawing program. Something with all sorts of Ponoko-specific options already laid out, with the correct colours for cutting/engraving, and possibly even something to select the material/thickness also built in. There’d be handy dandy tools to do straight lines, curves, basic shapes, and something to convert rough freehand mouse-drawing into a smoothed-out bezier curve. You can move, rotate, copy and paste parts of your drawing, so you can duplicate a fiddly little design thing easily if needed. Possibly with the cost estimation algorithms directly built-in, that constantly provides you with the current estimated making cost as you modify your design. 🙂

Julian Gall

It’s a template that you print out onto paper and then draw on. The template has registration marks or a grid which enable the drawing to be accurately scanned in. You can scan it yourself or mail it to Ponoko on paper.

(I really would prefer to submit Sketchup models though 🙂

Richie Rich

Is it based on the google sketch tool, with a Ponoko add-on? Ooh ooh ohh did I get it .

I’m going to guess (or hope) that it’s a design tool with an extensible framework or perhaps a standardised “Laser Markup Language” (LML) ;-P

Hmm… Perhaps its an application that comes with a peripheral EEG helmet to read a visualization right out of your mind and transfer it flawlessly to the ponoko database. And it requires no prior design skills whatsoever!


It could be a box of tutorial videos and a software bundle to boot!

I think it will be a simple drawing tool based on shapes that you expand. Much like the lego’s online games were a few years ago. Might have a way to go 3d, but that would make it cost more, and not be simple anymore. Put blocks together, and they auto join, add triangles, circles, lines, whatever, and still be able to move the points around, as in vector, but vector may be just a output. I would like to think much like jasc paintshop was in the early days, but easier to add shapes.

I do believe its going to be a simple to use vector based tool – that will enable folks to draw – create their vector designs, so as to get them ready for production.

I’m pretty sure that you will be unveiling a flash-based design tool that lets users sketch parts and pieces within their web browser, and that it will allow parts & projects to be imported from existing designs and modified. This would reduce or eliminate the need for someone to have a vector-based design for some (especially beginner or popular) types of projects.

I would hope it would be a robot. Especially to work my software programs that I can’t figure out. One that does what you program it to do. Hopefully voice activated.

I bet it’s USB-connected plasticine that can be sculpted into a 3D shape, and then imported into a new Ponoko editing interface for final surface modeling and fine tuning.

I think it’s a 3D printer, maybe something similar to the RepRap machine……lol Hopefully

You mentioned in another post about how people want drag and drop functionality, so it is probably going to have that. I’d like it to easily convert from a sketchup file, but I don’t know how feasible that is.

If it is a standalone design tool, then I’d say that it’s going to be extraordinary simple. The new function will have options for which of the 3 sizes you want, possibly what material. There will then be options for light/med/heavy vector/raster. Possibly a preview option if it allows one to choose materials. I’d also go as far to say that there’s “calculate cost”, and “upload to Ponoko” buttons.

That’s how I’d have done it anyway.

It will be an online draw/design app that works with a Wacom tablet, sort of like a ‘napkin’ doodle sketch that the ponoko robots will then translate into an engineered sketch for making. ha!

Margaret Atwood created the ‘long’ pen that she can remotely sign books with from anywhere. Similarly, Ponoko has created a ‘long’ laser that makers can remotely activate from their computer straight through the design lab. All that’s required on the maker’s end is a die-line…with sidebar notes on material specs.

it’s a very small snail that you send to each designer [hence “snail mail”]. it sits on the designer’s shoulder and coaches him through every step of the design process, including encouragement when the designer hits the inevitable “damn, this design sucks” stage.

when its job is done, it packs a very small carpetbag and is on its way to the next assignment.

Maybe something similar to fabidoos editor?

Isn’t it obvious? This new tool is gnomes. A mechanical turk of gnomes. With a vast underground network of tunnels connecting the continents. And probably gophers, but that’s just a rumor.

At first I thought it was a fancy ajaxy web based design tool. But that seems too obvious, and perhaps not easy enough.

So instead, I’m going to theorize that the new design tool is a big sweaty guy named Lou, who may not look the brightest but is a total wiz when it comes to vector design. It will be called the BSL (Big Sweaty Lou) protocol, and will result in a design efficiency increase of 80% (or, if you’re me, 130%).

shane parrott

Well, I think we can assume that this is some sort of rapid prototyping design app that puts the ability to ‘make’ into the hands of a novice. And as nice as a raster-vector/Livetrace option would be it can’t be the ONLY feature. (heck, not counting ‘streamline’ it took Adobe 9 versions of their illustration program to implement a raster-vector solution) The app will have to have the ability to set type and have some basic shape building blocks that can have ‘boolean’ operations attached to them. (add, subtract, join, blah blah blah) A tool that allows a novice to free-hand draw with a mouse and have those curves simplified and smoothed would be useful as well. Cutting with a laser is finite work and given that the charges are based on laser-time I think there’s a great opportunity to provide a direct conduit to a design professional to check and verify before cutting. A built-in cost estimator would also be a significant help.

Kudos to the design team for continuing to push the envelope and provide services to a range of people who have never had the tools before! Whatever the launch happens to be I know it will be a wonderful and welcomed toolset. hazah! =)

i hope it eases the shipping cost pains… that is honestly, the only thing that holds me back.


I expect it is, as posted above, some sort of simplified CAD that will do estimates. It would be a godsend if it would preview, but I think the CAD is a safe bet.

I think it’s going to be some sort of ruler/measurement/all-in-one tangible tool that helps you with the 3d process of it all 😉

A neural interface helmet so we can just go to bed with an idea, and wake up with it completed?

Most people how would actually use Ponoko in a professional way…. do not need any vector help. What we need is BETTER MATERIALS & TOOLING PROCESSES NOT ONLY LASER CUTTING. START THERE!!!

If I have heard right, lets just say a little birdy told me. It is an an external overdrive from an accelerated phase three laser processing chip, which, for you novices out there is more commonly known as a ‘Flux Capacitator’…”No body calls me chicken!” but on a serious not is it a straw hat with corks hanging from it?

How about a 3D laser scanner that reads in the shape of a prototype object and lets you make copies with a 3D printer via material deposition?

Its a design tool, probably web-based, which allows the materials to be specified separately from the cut lines.

It would work a bit like CSS style sheets for laser cutters. Using this approach would mean we don’t have to make separate designs for each different material and colour combination that could be used.

Hmm…I agree with a lot of the thoughts here- maybe some kind of converter from Google Sketchup (although I think this is unlikely since Sketchup is more about 3D models and Ponoko is more about 2D images). I think the people who suggested some kind of grid/graph paper that you print out, draw on, and then scan back in have a good idea. Even though this method would lack the precision of CAD, it would be very intuitive and represent a low barrier to entry.

Virtual building blocks?

I think it will be a rapid prototyping machine for 3d objects to instantly be made from a 3d file.

I would love to see a web-based version of Paul Haeberli’s amazing Lamina software. It allows users to import 3d surface file, then “unwrap” it to flat sheets with registration marks that can then be cut on a cnc router or laser cutter. It seems like an obvious tool for the ponoko toolset, and one that should be possible to run server-side, since it doesn’t really require real-time 3d display of anything. It would also push the laser from being a cookie cutter to being able to fabricate volumes without excessive amounts of cutting, and therefore cost.

I’m going to go with a camera. Take a few pics of something similar to what you want to make and a few triangulation and perspective calculations layer and ‘viola!

Judging by certain blogging entrances of late, certain products that are raved about and the new designer services, it should involve digital drawings to your own ability, text descriptions, hand drawn sketches, cell phone and digital camera pictures and rough home made prototypes where needed. In short, everything that people already know how to use. This way you eliminate the need for design software.(Other than your brain which you’ve been using without thinking about it anyway!)

These will probably be transmitted in a portable document filetype to a central repository where others can comment, assist, rate, offer help and advice and everything else that people like to do on the internet!

You can then refine it, repost and then hook up with designers that will produce the final drawings, upload, order it on your behalve and any other stage that you need assistance with. These designers could be local in your area, so you can phone and visit them too.

I hope the other removed obstacle is shipping costs by opening a bureau in London and also offering bulk shipment.

My guess is a 3D click-and-drag CAD tool with a near-zero learning curve.

I think it’s an embedded flash or java type page on the site which has integrated drawing capabilities with auto uploads to the site. It will have the ability to do everything a basic CAD program could. Draw, cut, align e.t.c all within the material templates provided currently.

we all get to win lotto?

that would solve all of my design issues… 😉

I’ll go with a vector-based tool that allows the user to draw a profile(s) of a product, a smart system that builds a 3D equivalent out of flat materials, solves joints, an editor for selecting which material and at what thickness, and a guarantee that what you see will be what you get.

Your tool will enable those of us with no graphic design knowledge and limited technical ability to create a drawing on an electronic sketch pad that automatically translates the drawing into vector format that the laser machine can read.

Please, anything that you can create to help me design my first project would be fantastic. I was estatic when I stumbled upon Ponoko for the first time and I have tons of ideas in my head of things that I want to create, but I have no graphic design knowledge and I felt like I had to go back to school to learn a new trade before I can create a project as a hobby!

I can’t wait to see what you have for us!

A tool that teaches people how to design? Without being nearly as annoying as clippy? =)

I was looking at torchmate, for the ‘hardcore’ folks that make stuff from steel! … I would love to see a service done using something like that so we could cut metal steel up to 1/4″ thick. Their software takes similar files and will optimize the cutting by ‘scrunching’ parts together on one end of the workpiece. Yes, laser cut steel is even better, but plasma torch has a wider kerf and does work even though the cut is messier.

On another large scale scenario, have a similar rig designed better for cutting MDF and plwood. Even foam board seems to be a favorite for 3d sculpting.

Packaging these for the Ponoko format of marketing might be more of a challenge. But who knows, get a group of vendors across the nation/world you might be able to do local build/delivery. … Just another business idea I don’t have the capital to pursue myself.

For shipping, I think you should offer a ‘standing special’, cut in one or two easy to cut materials, whatever fits easily and fully into a USPS Priority Mail flat rate box, for the flat rate of USPS Priority Shipping plus your materials/service fee.

This service might be more oriented to the ‘maker’ in ‘prototype’ stage rather than a production product.

A on-line ‘sketch book’, where you could import ‘eps’ or other formats, and save them online.
After being made into an item, they could be put into your ‘store’.

Like SketchUp, being able to virtually put materials on an item and see it ‘wrapped’ in 3D would be good.

Materials and thicknesses are downloaded in the system. Using something like theirs to match materials to use, and download a ‘pricing file’ or make it easier to get a pricing estimate would help.

ShopBot has a way to share or sell plans online called ProjectWizard. It has some nice features, especially the extended pictures and descriptions of the plans. This product is oriented to help shopbotters share plans or sell them to each other. ShopBot does not use standard g-codes.

The killerapp would be to ease the transition between a ‘back of the napkin’ drawing, to something workable. A product that could take sketches, and assign attributes (lengths, radius to curves, etc) after a ‘best guess’ is done by a program.

A second thing that would be great, is an adaptation of your current software so it could do a ‘best fit’ of parts onto material to reduce cutting time and cost to the end consumer. This way you could provide ‘partial material pieces’ and use the remainder for other customers. Or even a way that customer could just put in parts, and your software makes ‘optimum cutting’ suggestions and packing of parts onto material for least cost to the customer.

Another item, make a special ‘design camp’ marketing feature. Allow museums, or summer camps or NPO’s of any type to have ‘makeit camps’, where kids design things using your tools. And could have their ‘finished project’ sent in bulk over night to their camp or directly to their homes at a significant ‘camp discount’. Yes you still must make money, but with the right conditions, it might be doable! This could get lots of ‘bulk’ orders of similar material to be cut, hopefully reducing your overhead.

Back on drawing tools, I saw one program that would automatically insert ‘tabs’ so when items are cut they do NOT fall out when cut out. Using this would make sense especially if the ‘tabs’ are mostly cut out, so minimal trimming/finishing is required by the receiving customer.

Wrapping these and the other ideas together is a big task. I hope they could be of some value.

I think it’ll be a web-based tool that allows you to see how a piece is going to be cut, the path the laser is going to follow, and highlight the problem areas along the way (indicating when the minimum separation between two cuts is too close, where lingering on a specific part for too long is likely to heat the material to a point where it might begin to bend etc.)

Hopefully you’ll be able to upload a piece as an EPS, or make one live on-site.

I also think that this is a very cheeky way of assembling a specification for the tool!

I’m just hoping that it’ll be Open and cross-platform. If it isn’t it’ll have a hard time keeping pace with offerings from the Open Source world and the last thing I need is another proprietary tool like Google Sketchup!

Vik :v)

A plug-in that allows me to export/upload my models directly from 3ds Max straight into a compatible .eps file with realtime costing while I design 🙂

A simple drag-drop flash/shockwave based program with a number of pre-set “outlines” which snap together to form a completed 2D design. Included with this program are “real-time tutorials” to explain how things work similar to what Sony offers with their software programs.

*alternate reality*
A small program similar to YouTube Uploader but in this case, it gives me costing, uploading, product-set-up all from my desktop without having to always log-in to Ponoko to do said work. Also allows mass-editing of my current uploads.

Jon – Create Unique Memories

Michael Pledger

Some kind of flash/Air drawing app that uses everyones existing designs (if they make them available) in a library. Plus a bunch of auto tools like kerf calculating etc

A virtual “school kit” sort of design software that is intuitive and instead of complicated shtuff it involves a ruler, pencils, and a virtual pink rubber eraser?
(or basically is a drawing program that “translates” sketches into usable data for builds)?

Well, my guesses are the above or did someone mention gnomes? Maybe 42 gnomes? 🙂

Interoperability with Alibre Design Express. Some kind of export or “print” that spits a proper SVG file out of Alibre!!!!!

A drop-down materials selections with drag-n-drop shapes in a vector-based Flash widget anyone can embed on their own site that also displays a live bill of materials and shipping cost. Think Facebook ‘make a gift’ widget.
Built on a new API service that allows other developers to integrate your service into their own domain-specific applications.

Okay, so you could make a very simple vector program or web 2.0 app tailored just to Ponoko, which cuts the learning curve for a tool. Big on the wish list is something to auto-generate notches, link which ones should connect, and do basic design checking. Exporting 3D parts for test assembly in Sketchup would be nice too.

But you said “completely annihilates,” not “massively simplifies.”

So my guess is a crowd-sourcing tool for designers. Submit a sketch or idea and get an eps file and a 3d sketch preview from someone who knows what they’re doing. You’d then have an opportunity to give feedback to refine the design a couple of times before ordering.

PS: On the cost issue: what I think a lot of users want out of Ponoko is the ability to make snap-apart models like those dinosaur kits at low cost. So how about adding an ordering option with a super-cheap thin plywood. You can fit 6″ by 12″ sheets on the laser and do them all in one go, and ship them in flat-rate envelopes. That gives makers a chance to experiment with designs cheaply, and gives first-time users something fun to play with before they’re good enough to build more complicated models.

Marah Fellicce

3d printing or CNC type capabilities ?

Deb Ferguson

Tetris that can curve, invert and other tricks?

A 3D environment that turns your vector images and material selections, and turns them into 3D objects; essentially a tool that will allow you to ‘build’ your projects before they ever get printed.

a psychic monkey

John Hennessy

an apparently simple app that takes written instructions such as

“I want a square a foot on a side”
“now round off the corners”
“And drill a matrix of quarter inch holes in it”

Then draws some version of that and allows you to play with the parameters. This basic step is what (IMHO) holds a lot of us back. We do not know how to start the process of design at the most basic level – or we are intimidated by it. We can say what we want. We can scribble on paper…. but we do not have the means to get from scribble to design. Thing is – it is way easier to just say the words or type them than describe how to pick a pen up, frabooble the grep or yack the spline tension.


searching an idea need a time and energy…
we’re not superman or wonder woman 😛

I think its a simple brain implant that allows our thoughts to directly control the lasers via an etheric thought transfer process that involves the television, phone lines and the bugs the fbi have implanted in my fillings…

a mirrored acrylic sheet option would be nice
ifact anything uber shiny or metallic looking

brain implants or you have made your own generic gimp type design programme that does lots of the tecnical stuff for you leaving the user free to concentrate on form

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