Optimize your Laser-cutting design file for lower costs

When you make something with Ponoko, there are 3 key costs to consider: making, materials, and shipping.

Making cost is all about labor — mostly machine labor and a little bit of human labor. Think of your design file as a work order, a set of instructions for the machine to follow. The simpler and more efficient your instructions are, the less time it takes the machine to follow them. And that means less making costs.

Here are a few tips and tricks direct from the Ponoko team that you can use to optimize your design file and help get you the lowest cost possible for your laser cut project.

The key thing to remember with laser-cutting is that you're paying for the *time* your design spends on the laser cutter.

"If it's your first time making something, start small with a P1 size material sheet. The smaller dimension will help constrain the amount of making time, and your material cost will be lower." ~ Yana

"When it comes to laser-cutting, the more complex and detailed your design is the more expensive it will be to make. So when you can, and especially for beginners, I suggest starting with simple designs that aren't too intricate." ~ Christina

"Print out your design on paper first. You could consider this a free and instant first prototype. It's the ideal way to spot sizing errors, see whether you've made holes big enough, and get a feel for what your final result will look like." ~ Josh J.

"For any new design, I often recommend making a cardboard version first. Cardboard is one of our most affordable materials, and the laser can cut it really quickly; so you can get an inexpensive test run of your design. Then when you're happy with the cardboard version, you can order your design in the material you want and feel more assured that it will come out the way you want." ~ Josh R.

"One thing to remember is that the laser cuts the material by burning it. So thinner materials will cut faster than thicker materials. The laser is also faster at cutting straight lines than curves." ~ Catherine

"Try to make all the pieces of your design fit together like a puzzle instead of scattered around the template. See if there are any pieces that could actually share a cutting line*. And put the rest of the pieces close together, but be sure to leave enough space for the kerf (how much material the laser burns away)." ~ Dan

*If pieces in your design share a cutting line, you must remove any "double lines" created by the overlap. Check our design starter kit for more info.

"Raster Fill Engraving is a very time consuming process, similar to how a dot-matrix printer works. For creating details in your design, I usually recommend using Vector Engraving instead. If you do use Raster Fill Engraving, try to keep the engraved areas as close together on the template as possible." ~ Josh J.


• Time = money

• For beginners, start with a small size material (P1) and a simple design.

• Print your design out on paper to spot any immediate problems with the design.

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

• Keep in mind that different materials burn at different rates.

• Fit the pieces of your design close (but not too, too close) together.

• Consider whether Vector Engraving is a better option than Raster Fill Engraving

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