Forums/Tutorials/Metal Machining Starter Kits

Metal Machining Starter Kit: Adobe Illustrator

Dan Emery
posted this on July 10, 2013, 16:35

    1. What is possible with Photochemical Machining (PCM)?
    2. What materials are available?
    3. What sizes are available?
    4. How much will it cost?
    5. How do I get a quote?
    6. How long will it take to receive my designs?
    7. How do you design for Photochemical Machining?
      1. To etch an area.
      2. To cut internal holes.
      3. To cut an outline.
    8. How do you tab your designs into the materials?
    9. How do you add a break in your line?
    10. What is the smallest overall part size that can be made?
    11. What is the smallest feature that can be made?
    12. How close together can you put your designs in the sheet?
    13. How do you convert fonts for laser cutting?
    14. How do you save your file?
    15. What other tips should you know?
      1. How to offset your cutting lines.
      2. How to convert strokes to fills.
      3. Creating complex laser-cut shapes easily.

What is possible with Photochemical Machining (PCM)?

PCM is great for intricate designs like jewelry and name badges. You can etch into one side of your materials sheet.

What materials are available?

There are 3 material options available - Stainless Steel, Brass and Copper.

What sizes are available?

01-templates.jpg

Download the Illustrator design templates.

Two of our design templates are available for PCM designs - P1 and P2 sheet sizes. These design templates match the size of the material sheets, and you can choose the one that best suits the size of your design.

How much will it cost?

Unlike the pricing for our other cutting services, PCM is a flat rate based on the size of your material. You can add as many designs as you like to maximize your material usage and lower the cost per unit. Please note that you will need to leave a small gap between multiple designs on the same sheet. See prices here.

How do I get a quote?

Click here to get an instant online quote to make your design from 3 different metals. There, you'll upload your correctly formatted digital design file, choose a material to make it from, then you’ll see an instant quote to make it.

How long will it take to receive my designs?

Orders ship in about 15 business days.

How do you design for Photochemical Machining?

You need to format your file in a certain way so we know what your design is to look like. The requirements for PCM are different from other fabrication processes and are as follows:

There are 3 design elements; etching, internal cut-out, and outline cuts:

02-3_elements.png

 

To etch an area

Any textures or patterns that you want etched into the top of the material ...

Set the fill color to black with RGB values of 128, 128, 128:

03-Grey_fill.png

To cut internal holes

Any cut-outs inside the outline ...

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

04-black_fill.png

To cut an outline

The outer most line around your shape, the edge ...

Set the stroke weight to 0.8mm:

05-line_weight.png

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

06-blue_line.png

This line will need a break in it (a tab) to hold your design into the surrounding material during production. When you receive your design you can wiggle your parts to remove them from the waste.

How do you tab your designs into the materials?

Add a break in blue outer cut line that is 0.04” / 1.0mm in length. Your tab MUST be this size or larger or it may not survive the making process and your part/s will be lost:

tabs-09.png

Parts 0.25” - 2.5” / 6mm - 63mm need one tab. Parts 2.5” / 63mm or greater need 2 or more tabs.  The tabs must be in a place on the design that can structurally support the design during production. If in doubt ask us for advice.

How do you add a break in your line?

Select the “Add Anchor Point (+)” tool.

Click on your line to add 2 new points 0.04” / 1mm apart:

break_in_lines-06.png

Using the Direct Selection Tool click on the line between the 2 points you just added:

break_in_lines-07.png

Delete this line segment:

break_in_lines-08.png 

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

There is a minimum part size of around 0.25” x 0.25” / 6.3mm x 6.3mm. Parts smaller than this are too difficult to process and cannot be made. 

What is the smallest feature that can be made?

The kerf for PCM is half the material thickness. This means that a small amount of material is lost while the chemical cuts out your design. You need to make sure your design accounts for this.

Any positive features smaller than 0.04” / 1.0mm will be too thin and might bend or get damaged in handling. Any negative features (holes) smaller than 0.04” / 1.0mm may not be completely cut out. 

How close together can you put your designs in the sheet?

All design must be spaced to have 0.20” / 5.0mm of separation between them in the design file. As such you cannot share cutting lines. All designs must be isolated. There can be no joined or nested parts:

11-spacing.png

How do you convert fonts for laser cutting?

Any text you use in your design file needs to be converted to outlines. 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:

12-fonts_conversion.png

How do you save your file?

Save your design as a PDF file preserving the Illustrator editing capabilities:

13_save_PDF.png

14-PDF_options.png

Then upload your PDF file here to get an instant online quote to make it.

What other tips should I know?

How to offset your cutting lines.

You may want to offset your outer cutting lines to account for the thickness of the cut. Here’s how you do that ...

Draw your design at the dimensions that you want it. Use a white fill on the background shape and a “construction line” outline with a line weight of 0.01mm:

offset-10.png

Make sure the outline is a closed shape ...
Select Object > Path > Offset path.
Offset the path 0.4mm with the “Rounded” option selected:

offset-11.png

Set the offset line color to Blue (r:0 g:0 b:0). Change the line weight to 0.8mm. Remove the construction line from your design:

offset-12.png

How to convert strokes to fills

To turn a black stroke into a filled shape in Adobe Illustrator, select your line and use the Object > Path > Outline Stroke command. We don't recommend converting lines that are less than 0.02" / 0.5mm in stroke weight.

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

18-convert_strokes_to_fills.png

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:

19-Pathfinder_tool.png

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.

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Ready to upload your PDF design file? Get an instant online quote here.

 

 

 

Comments

User photo
Jessie

Is it possible to use aluminum for PCM?  I want to make silver colored jewelry that I will apply some texturing and shaping to afterwards.  Stainless steal is a bit difficult to work with.  Thanks!

December 31, 2013, 11:22
User photo
Dan Emery
Ponoko

Hi Jessie

PCM only works on stainless steel, brass and copper. Aluminum can be laser cut or milled but the material properties limit the amount of intricacy you can have in the design.

August 7, 2014, 21:46
User photo
Benjamin Schwartz

Is 8pt. text the smallest that you can cut?

September 5, 2014, 11:10
User photo
Dan Emery
Ponoko

8pt is the smallest size that we recommend. Anything smaller may not be very legible after processing.

September 24, 2014, 12:52