How to prototype your laser cut design for free

My first Ponoko mess-up and how I could have avoided it...
A recommendation from Josh Judkins.

Scale Fail

LEFT: result of my original design. | RIGHT: what it was meant to look like.

Yes that's right - I managed to make a TINY unreadable business card (about the size of a Mahjong tile) as a result of using the wrong Units when I was designing it. Suffice to say, Pixels do not equal Millimeters.

I console myself that this age of rapid prototyping and digital manufacturing allowed me to discover my mistake quickly and with minimal expense. Not like the $327.6 million which went down the drain due to improper Unit conversion with the Mars Climate Orbiter.

However, I could have easily spotted the mistake before even uploading my design. I now know that I could have prototyped my design at (virtually) zero cost to myself, using equipment available in my own home.

I could have printed out my design on paper.

Avoid Scale Fail

So next time you're uncertain whether your design is too detailed, if you've left enough room to fit chain through a hole, or if you want to see how large your Ponoko business cards will turn out...

Print it out at 100% scale and make your first prototype FREE.

All good? Jump back to myPonoko.

Did you need to make some adjustments? Upload your updated design.


Have more questions? Submit a request


  • 0
    Jay Goel

    This is great advice! A few more tips from someone who has made these mistakes:

    1. I used a razor to cut out holes in the paper where the laser would cut to see if my components would fit through. It turns out that paper is very forgiving - so when my design came, my holes were less than a millimeter too small, and I hadn't caught it because the paper wasn't as rigid as the acryllic.

    2. I did not take the thickness of the material into account (doh!) So while the interlocking parts fit on paper, I was approximately 3mm off in my initial design.

  • 0
    Josh Judkins

    Thanks for providing these additional tips Jay - a great follow-up to the original post!

  • 0

    I always do this when designing PCB layouts, printing on paper and then making sure the components etc have clearance or whatever else I need to check.

    So far, I have yet to make a finished board where there was a clearance\size error, as I've picked any up during the tests on paper.

    Once I did end up with the data lines of a USB port crossed, took a while to figure that one out! (USB device malfunction errors from Windows)

    I think it turned out the footprint for the USB port had actually had the pad numbering done wrong.

  • 0
    Josh Judkins

    Thanks for the tip, Agent 24!

    I hadn't thought about using this same idea with PCB layouts, but of course it would work just the same (if not be even more important).


  • 0
    Drew Kondo

    I use Inkscape, and it's very difficult to print from it. Any suggestions?

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