Introduction: Wave Laptop Stand (Making 3D Shapes in Illustrator)

Picture of Wave Laptop Stand (Making 3D Shapes in Illustrator)
I wanted a nicer laptop stand. I wanted to to make something with a beautiful, organic form. And I work at Instructables, so I have access to an awesome Epilog laser cutter.

The shape that you see in the images below is the result. I'm pretty happy with it; it's really pleasing to the eye, and is a very stable platform for my Macbook (though it should work for most laptops 12" or wider.)

The third picture on this step is my old laptop stand, which will give you an idea of why I wanted to make a nicer one (yes, it's a piece of plywood on four coffee tins.) The new stand has a number of benefits. It:

  • Raises the screen up higher, closer to an ideal height for my eyes (and putting the webcam at a more natural angle.)
  • Tilts the body down, for easier touchpad and keyboard use, for the occasional times when I type on the laptop in its stand.
  • Makes the desk feel less cluttered.
  • Mirrors the form of my ergonomic keyboard.

This instructable has details on how this particular laptop stand was designed and constructed, but I've also included some useful information on how to design a 3D, slot-fit object in general. My approach was slow, since I opted to use a 2D vector drawing tool to design the whole thing. I'm very interested to see if any readers know how something like this might be created in a 3D CAD program.

Step 1: Brainstorming and Initial Design

Picture of Brainstorming and Initial Design

I had a vague idea of what I wanted. Waves, maybe; the intersection of two waves travelling perpendicularly. The result might be a saddle shape of some sort.

The first step was to break out a pencil and start sketching. I played with a couple of ideas before settling on the one at the bottom of the page. The basic idea was a distorted plane, with three points touching the desk surface and three points hitting the bottom of the laptop. The side view (on the right) shows how the whole thing should be squeezed to angle the laptop.

Step 2: Transferring to the Computer

Picture of Transferring to the Computer
As I mentioned in the intro, This entire object was painstakingly designed in 2D. I know in theory that it could be done much faster in a CAD program, but I didn't know how. To design in 3D, one would need to:

  • Design the 3D shape of the object.
  • Figure out how to create slices through the object.
  • Programmatically cut out interlocking slots for each intersection of the slices.
  • Export the resulting shapes as 2D outlines.

If any readers know how this would be done, please leave some info in the comments! [Note: See great comments at the bottom of this instructable from users trialex and theBull on how Google Sketchup might be used to do this design.]

Anyway, back to this design method. I decided to design from the side view, first. The image below shows the cross sections that I came up with. You can see the gray trapezoid around the whole thing, showing a flat bottom and an angled top for where the laptop would rest. Within that, I drew two shapes. The fat one is the plane through the center of the stand, running front-to-back. The thinner shape is the shape of stand along the left and right edges. Let's call these the "spines" of the stand.

I added vertical lines for where I was going to want all the cross-sectional slices (the ones that will run left to right.) Each of these lines would then be used as guides to make the actual cross sections.

Step 3: Extrapolating From the Basic Shapes

Picture of Extrapolating From the Basic Shapes

Next, I created the cross sections by measuring the slices of each part of the spines. These measurements (center spine and edge spine) gave me two parts of the cross-sectional shape, which I then used bezier curves to connect smoothly.

A couple examples are below. I started by drawing a vertical grid, once again. This spacing was to make things wide enough for my laptop (going from center to right edge) with additional guides for later use. For each vertical slice along the spine, I transferred points to this grid. Transferring points is easy: I copied parts of the shape, dragged them directly over the new grid, and marked points.

The first example below is the front-most piece. I took the left-most line from the spines and measured out the middle spine on the left side and then the edge spine on the right. Then, I played with the bezier handles until I had a curve I liked and that could be copied across the rest of the shapes. In this case, I was simply drawing out the handles to be two guides inwards, each.

The second image below is the second cross-section; I just repeated the process for all the measurements on the second spine cross section.

After a bit of work, I had all nine cross-sections mapped out. I now decided that I wanted two more spines, to go in between the center and the edge spines. To do this, I found the height of each cross section between these spines and transferred them to a new spine (side) shape. You can see it in the third image.

Step 4: Adding Slots

Picture of Adding Slots

I had to do some tests to figure out how wide to make my slots. Using the same material, I cut out a bunch of rectangles with differently-sized slots and saw how they fit. I settled on slots 0.195" wide for the 3/16" plywood I was using. They were snug, but didn't require a hammer to push together. In retrospect, I should have made them looser, with "nodes" to help the slots bite. You can see an image from Ponoko's manual for this (it's the second one.) That would have allowed easy assembly without too much forcing.

Okay, once I knew what kind of slots I was using, I made some little slot templates to make adding them to the spines and cross-sections easier. The idea was to measure the place where the slots met using the top-most curve of each shape. You can click through the two series of images, below to see how it was done. The image notes have all the details.

Step 5: Layout

Picture of Layout

Once all the shapes were done, I tweaked them and made clean outlines of each. For the cross-sections, only the right half of them was drawn, so I doubled them over as mirror images and joined them.

I them laid out the pieces according to the size of the sheets of plywood that I had on hand. I'm not going to pretend that this is some sort of optimal arrangement; I fiddled until they fit, barely, and called it done.

On this step, you can find the vector files for these shapes in several different file formats. If you just want to download this and get to work cutting it out, one of these should do the trick.

Step 6: Laser Cutting

Picture of Laser Cutting

I fed the vector layout to our laser cutter, and let it rip. It took about twenty minutes to get both layouts cut out. For reference, I used 100% power at 18% speed. You can see images of the pieces being cut out and punched out, below.

Step 7: Assembly

Picture of Assembly

Assembling the laptop stand was actually a bit painstaking. The problem was that the slots were still too tightly-designed, and the when I had to fit nine at a time for each spine piece, I actually had to use a wood mallet to get everything squeezed together. I took care to support each intersection below with a piece of wood and then hammered everything together, going over each joint to get things flush.

After about 30 minutes, it was done! You can see the completed stand in the pictures below.

Step 8: Admire Your Work, Think of Improvements

Picture of Admire Your Work, Think of Improvements
Below are a bunch of shots of the stand with my laptop on it, and how it looks in my workspace. The angle is perfect for the occasional stand and it's very stable. It also feels airier and provides a lot more ventilation when things heat up. There's plenty of room for my cables and such.

Improvements, for the future:

  • Design it in 3D! See step 2 for my thinking on this. If you have suggestions, please leave them in the comments.
  • The slots should be looser; glue can be used instead of friction to keep everything together. "Nodes" can also be used for a nicer fit. See step 4 for details on this.
  • Though the stand is very strong and stable, there is just a bit of flex on the rear legs. I'd eliminate that with a thicker shape that keeps that last cross section a bit fatter in the middle.


dk2k made it! (author)2014-05-30

Hi guys
I've cut recently this stand using a blueprint from internet: (traffic!)
+ 2 photos below

It required additional processing since I saw traces of combustion. I've sandpapered the details, covered with woodstain and varnished.

nagutron (author)dk2k2014-05-30

Love seeing this, dk2k. Love all those other projects on that site you got it from, too. I didn't see them posting copies of my blueprints, though. Did you find them on that site, or derive them from the vectors on this instructable?

dk2k (author)nagutron2014-05-30

Hi nagutron,
I recall that it was some .eps, can't say the origin for sure. The site is mine and all the laser and diy stuff as well. I transformed the EPS into DWG. It lacked symmetry of the parts, I had to alter the width of the notches in order to use 6 mm plywood and increased the height of the supports.

There is one more benefit: air intake of the laptop isn't closed off

Mindmapper1 (author)2013-08-21

as promised here's mine made from 4mm MDF.

nagutron (author)Mindmapper12014-05-30

Looks amazing, Mindmapper1! Glad to see it working in a different material. Definitely let us know if acrylic works out.

pposada (author)2013-09-20

You can check this free software from autodesk ( ) you can easily construct 3d models with 2d pieces, there are various tutorials and i´m not so sure but i think people can share their models.

This other software is specialized in chairs made up of 2d pieces, there is an open library of designs and a dummie for making ergonomic and structure tests. ( ).

I hope you find them helpful for your future projects!

Mindmapper1 (author)2013-08-20

This is excellent made it out of 4mm MDF and it is very stable, strong and does not flex at all. Next plan to be made of acrylic sheet. thanks for an excellent instructable.

nagutron (author)Mindmapper12013-08-20

That is *great*. I'd love to see photos -- post some! MDF is a great idea. I can imagine the slots being much more consistent than with the plywood I used.

mganpate (author)2012-08-16

great idea..........

Chasingthesun73 (author)2012-04-01

Did Pokono's node manual get deleted? I'm curious if / how you can make nodes with a laser?

nagutron (author)Chasingthesun732012-04-01

There's a link to it here:

MRedu (author)2011-12-28

Very very nice. This would even look nice as an ornament in the living room!

sethhepler (author)2010-04-18

 i joined this website just for this one comment:

Sorry to say this, but i am in disbelief that this is generating as much feedback as it is. check out the work over at
this kind of stand can be made by any architecture student in there sleep if they are familiar with rhino and grasshopper. not faulting you, but you have crossed into a realm of parametric modelling where this would not be taken seriously seeing as how it was created with anything adobe. In a scripting sense this form would be extremely basic to create. I think you should invest a couple hours into learning grasshopper (free plugin) for rhino (not free, just crack). You can change density of the grid, extrusion distances, attractions, and material thickness with simple sliders.

sethhepler (author)sethhepler2010-04-18

 you can see examples where students and practicing architects have built there stuff out of grasshopper. i have written a definition where the ribs generated by the surface automatically notch themselves, flatten out into line drawings, number themselves (for large installations), and line up ready to be exported. extremely practical.

nagutron (author)sethhepler2010-04-18

Hey, thanks for the link. Yeah, I would definitely have preferred to have designed this in 3d, but like you say it was a simple shape so I used the tools I knew.

Grasshopper looks pretty easy to use. I code, though, so I'll probably script in Rhino directly when I decide to pick it up. Thanks for the suggestion.

Of course, if you model this or something like it, we'd all welcome some screenshots here or a whole instructable of your own!

pixelpartner (author)nagutron2010-08-20

Nice work! I also spend much time for my design in the SVG app Inkscape. There is a (fresh) free Java application doing exactly your type of work in minutes :

bigjeff5 (author)pixelpartner2011-11-08

Just an update, but SketchChair is still not yet available.

It has been fully funded via Kickstarter since May '11, but the software has yet to be released.

I'm really looking forward to it when they do, though, because it looks slick!

eyerobot (author)sethhepler2010-09-15

You have to keep in mind, that the people that come to this site are the average person on the street. Not groups of students from some tech school, And if someone takes the time to learn how to do something like this in their spare time, With practically no help, Then they are to be congratulated, Because true invention, Is creating an idea that you yourself didn't know yesterday, Even if it's only a wheel.

Aside from that, I do love high tech designs.

I was wondering if it's possible to create a stand that actually conforms to the shape of a human lap, Or even if one can be made that can be used wether your sitting indian style, Or with your legs straight out. Just a thought, cause thats why my laptop sits on my desk all the time.

But I love the design, Because of the overall amount of airflow promoted in this project.

Mashara (author)eyerobot2011-01-23

I'm a Industrial designer, and i do come here a lot, because I am usually amazed with how people get around to do things by themselves. Sometimes, it's true, you think "man, look how much work this took, and you could have done it in a much easier way by doing this and that" but i still come because many times I find very simple and direct ways to do things, that my degree didn't teach me.

spooninbrian (author)sethhepler2010-10-05

But the fact is they haven't, and he did.

80$man (author)2011-10-24


Very nice! I would have to build one!

flyingpuppy (author)2011-07-17

Could this be done with a sheet of plastic thin enough to use a scissors or box cutter on? You know, like the pendant lamps on this site that use plastic pieces? What I mean is, if you don't have a lazer cutter, could this still be done at home?

nagutron (author)flyingpuppy2011-07-17

I don't think so, unfortunately. The slot joints between the pieces need to be fairly strong, and that comes from the material having some thickness.

Without a laser cutter, you could try foamcore (which will still be quite weak) or using traditional woodworking tools like a scroll saw to cut wood.

80$man (author)nagutron2011-10-24

I would recommend using thin plywood (3~5mm) and either a band saw or band saw. Your thoughts nagutron?

playful-geometer (author)2011-10-23

Wow, this is really neat, I love how it opens up a whole field of interesting craft possibilities ! I've been working on a slightly different take to the whole 2D to 3D concept with The Playful Geometer's Cosmic SpaceCrafts for years now and I just entered the Epilog challenge with my Quasicrystal Star Lantern.  I would love to be able to build slatted 3D objects like this with a laser cutter...adding some nice etching designs into the wood would make it look even cooler !  I bet it would be possible to create a python script in Blender to output 2D discetions of a 3D object at regular intervals... maybe if I win the contest I'll see if I can throw something together.

jamilks (author)2011-09-15

Nagutron, aloha from the Big Island~ What a beautiful thing! Originally, in the intro picture, I thought that the shape was so that it would fit on your lap with the narrow end being near your knees, but I see now that it is a desktop set-up...Seems that with a little bit more contouring, it could conform to the shape of the thighs and provide a stable, ventilated base for a laptop...on your lap...
Thanks for sharing, and how fortunate you are indeed to work at Instructables~ I am envious....heh heh...but maybe when I move to the Bay area I'll apply....

nagutron (author)jamilks2011-09-15

Interesting idea! I hadn't considered that use and can imagine some tweaks to the design that might allow it to work both as a desktop and laptop stand.

In any case, I moved on from Instructables a long time ago, but still remember my years there fondly. And I still use this stand every day :)

nautileaks (author)2011-06-04


pingaling (author)2011-02-11

Very rad indeed!! How do you find it for stability?

leugim (author)2010-08-29

I'm an ID student at Buenos Aires (UBA) and this shapes are fairly easy to produce just with rhino -and if you like more control- adding grasshopper. My morphology class teachers are incredibly good at this class and I think the gallery link of our models (we have to actually build the models the end of cuatrimester with our hands) would be usefull for inspirational purposes. The more complex shapes are in the advanced "Morfologia Especial 2" course. Have fun!

notingkool (author)leugim2010-10-08

Sos de Buenos Aires? mira vos, yo soy de La Plata, estoy en ingenieria aeronautica, y necesitaba hacer algo parecido para el ala de un avion, no me explicarias como hacerlo, si se puede con inventor? o con CATIA? si no consigo el Rhino y el grasshoper.

Mashara (author)notingkool2011-01-23

Rhino con T-Splines es lo mejor. Todo lo organico que antes no podias hacer con Rhino lo haces enseguida agregandole T-Splines.

DI Sara (UBA) ;)

notingkool (author)Mashara2011-01-23

gracias por el dato. se puede cortar asi la pieza? es decir para hacer secciones?

Mashara (author)notingkool2011-01-23

Podes hacer el volumen de como queres que quede el ala, y despues tenes una funcion Contour, que te permite generar las curvas como si la cortaras con planos paralelos en el eje que vos le definas con la separacion que vos quieras. A eso despues le dibujas las que apoyan perpendicularmente para armar el armazon.
El T-Splines te permite hacer la forma que vos quieras al ala, el Rhino solo es duro para lo organico.


notingkool (author)Mashara2011-01-23

gracias, despues lo voy a probar

nagutron (author)leugim2010-12-20

I got around to looking at the works produced in your course. Inspiring shapes and methodology! Here's a more-direct link for anyone who's interested.

Thanks for this, leugim.

notingkool (author)2011-01-23

¿como es el proceso para "cortar" las secciones? es decir ¿como generaste las secciones que forman la figura en 3d? Porque yo quiero dibujar una pieza en 3d y luego extraer las secciones de esa pieza a ciertos intervalos para despues armar un prototipo de laminas de carton, parecido a lo que hiciste vos. la pieza en un ala semi eliptica, a la cual hay que sacarle secciones a 45º del eje, para formar las costillas.

ziga321 (author)2010-12-26

wow, great design!

sherwinsevilla (author)2010-12-24

wow nice

zsu_the_creator (author)2010-12-20

Whit this idea you could be a millionaire! Or you are that right now?

nagutron (author)zsu_the_creator2010-12-20

An idea seldom makes anyone a millionaire, my friend. Hard work and a good idea and bunch of luck sometimes does. And in this case, I'm not willing to put in any hard work to make any money off this, which is why the plans are free for anyone else to try!

skazochniza (author)2010-12-06

it's incredible!

czarnian (author)2010-11-07

I just have a common A4-letter printer, so, how is the scaling for getting the pieces in the right proportion?

Great design!!!

nagutron (author)2010-08-20

pixelpartner says: Nice work! I also spend much time for my design in the SVG app Inkscape. There is a (fresh) free Java application doing exactly your type of work in minutes :

Thanks! SketchChair looks seriously awesome. I loved the demo video. Let me know when you have Linux/OSX binaries available.

GenericBadness (author)2010-06-26

Don't have the time to read your complete post right now, but on the outro I must make the effort to say that one quick glance tells me this is some seriously cool s8it!! I found 'instructables' by mere chance, and it is like my new baby. A good-looking one. Not one of the type that people consider giving up for adoption. Coo-coo...

tosteen509 (author)2010-04-16

I work at a machine shop where we use a Haas V4-500 Coherent Laser. I use aluminum pins to support the material I am cutting and function as a heat sink. However, the pins are constantly getting butchered from repeated use and have to be replaced. In your photos above, it looks as if you are using some sort of grate to do the same thing. Is that true? If so, how is it designed and does it work well? 

Thanks in advance!

nagutron (author)tosteen5092010-04-17

 You must have a much more powerful laser than we do. Ours doesn't affect metal at all, really. When we laser-etch laptops, it's actually burning off the anodized finish, but the base metal is completely unaffected. So, I guess we just don't have your problem.

A mesh could help you out, though. The profile it presents to the laser is much narrower, and there's more of it distributed around. Perhaps it would last longer than a few pins. 

ilikepieinmyshoe (author)2010-04-06

The old stand is classic! 

andydrumer12 (author)2010-03-20

 Woo for late 2008 MacBooks! 

wocket (author)2010-02-22

awesome instructable!

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