How to Create Laser-cut Jewelry for Under $4, Using Free Software




Introduction: How to Create Laser-cut Jewelry for Under $4, Using Free Software

In this Instructable I will show you how to make some unique jewelry for less than $4 using free software and a Ponoko laser cutter.

And how to sell it for $14 using a free e-commerce online store (no signup fee, no item listing fee, no sales success fee).

Step 1: Stuff You'll Need

A computer.

Free vector software called Inkscape (check out the next step for details).

Inkscape design templates to upload to Ponoko.

A free making account with Ponoko.

Some brooch pins.

A bit of glue.

A camera and tripod.

Some background paper.

Now it's time to get started ...

Step 2: Download and Open the Free Inkscape Software

If you haven't already got Inkscape installed, head on over to and download the latest version of Inkscape for your computer.

Inkscape is great, not only is it free to use, but it will work on Windows, Mac OS X and most flavors of Linux.

Once you've downloaded the Inkscape application, follow the installation steps.

Once you've installed it, open up Inkscape on your screen so it's ready for the next step ...

Step 3: Download and Open Free Inkscape Design Templates

You're now ready to download and open the Ponoko Starter Kit for Inkscape.

Once you've downloaded the Starter Kit, you'll see there are 3 Ponoko design templates for Inkscape to choose from.

For this jewelry item you'll be working with the smallest material size available - it is called the "P1" (short for Ponoko material size #1).

Open the P1.svg Ponoko design template in Inkscape. To do this you can double click on the svg file or use the menu options inside Inkscape (File > Open) and then find the P1.svg file from there.

After you open the P1.svg file in Inkscape, you'll see an orange box with the words 'Safe Area'. This is the area in which your design must fit. It's dimensions are 7.1 x 7.1 inches or 181 x 181 mm.

(If you're interested, the Starter Kit also includes the Ponoko Making Guide which contains all sorts of helpful information about designing and making with Ponoko).

Now it's time to get all creative and design something ...

Step 4: Define Your Creation - the Shape and Style

This is the highly creative part where you can design whatever product you want.

In short, you need to decide what it is going to be - both the shape of your product and the style to be applied to it.

First, the shape - I decided to make a version of a badge/brooch like the one pictured below. This meant the outline shape was going to be a simple circle. Easy.

Next, the style - I decided to apply a pattern onto the brooch. To keep it simple I decided to use a favorite flower pattern of mine that I had used before on my Box Lamp.

(If you want to use this pattern too, I have attached the Box Lamp pattern file to this step for you to download).

To find other styles, there are plenty of sites offering free vector patterns on the web. Here are some that I found:


The best patterns to choose are those that will open easily in Inkscape - so search by file type for SVG files. Also remember to make sure to check the license agreement allows you to reproduce these works.

Now download the pattern/s you like the most and go to the next step ...

Step 5: Import Your Favorite Pattern Style Into Inkscape

Now that you have downloaded your favorite pattern to your computer, pull Inkscape up onto your screen so you can import your pattern into it. I've included a screen shot below of what you should be looking at now.

To open your pattern in Inkscape, click on "Select File:Import" inside of Inkscape. Now follow your nose to complete the import.

In my case I imported my "Box Lamp Pattern.svg" file, then I chose to delete some of the flowers in the pattern to simplify it a bit. I also shrunk the flowers down to fit my brooch more appropriately.

Check out the video to see how I did this entire step (sorry it's not so clear, but it gives you the steps I took ;)

Now use Inkscape to complete your design ...

Step 6: Design the Brooch and Arrange Your Pattern on It

In the video below I go through the process of using Inkscape to create the outline of the brooch and arrange the flower pattern style within this outline to create something I like the look of.

To create the outline of the brooch you need to:

1) Pick the circle tool from the tool bar on the left.

2) Click and drag open a circle.

3) From the object menu select Fill and Stroke - this window opens to allow you to edit colors and line weights.

4) Edit the color to Blue (R:0 G:0 B:255 A:255) and the line weight to 0.003mm - this step ensures the laser cutter will be able to read your file correctly.

Now that you have the outline of the brooch, you can start arranging the flowers (or your own designs) within it. To do this you need to:

1) Copy and paste the pattern objects as many times as you want.

2) Rotate the objects in the pattern by clicking on any object twice to view the rotation handles.

3) You can also flip any object using the 'flip horizontal' or 'flip vertical' tools you will view under the Object Menu.

4) When you're done, you can spend some time grouping all the objects together to get a design layout on the brooch that you are happy with.

Now think about some design variations ...

Step 7: Create Some Test Variations in Inkscape

At this point I'm not quite sure what type of engraving is going to work the best so I want to create a file where I can prototype a number of different options.

In this case I will create a total of 3 options - the original from the last step and 2 new variations.

To do this you need to:

1) Copy the group of objects you created in the previous step and paste 2 more alongside the first. Leave one with the engraving all black.

2) Click on the second object and ungroup it.

3) Then select all the flowers that have a solid fill.

4) Now open the Fill and Stroke box again - and change the fill color to medium grey (R:126 G:126 B:126 A:255), the line color to green (R:0 G:255 B:0 A 255) and the line weight to 0.003mm.

5) Then select the flowers that are just lines - and change the line color to green (R:0 G:255 B:0 A 255) and the line weight to 0.003mm.

Now repeat the same for the 3rd group of objects, but change the fill color to light grey (R:230 G:230 B:230 A:255), the line color to magenta (R:255 G:0 B:255 A 255) and the line weight to 0.003mm.

This means you have 3 options to test out.

Now it's time to save your designs and go make them ...

Step 8: Save Your Product Design As an SVG File in Inkscape

Once you have created the design that you're happy with, it's time to save it in a file format that you can upload to Ponoko (eps or svg).

The native file format for Inkscape is SVG, so let's use this. Nice and simple.

To save your design as an SVG file in Inkscape you need to do this:

1) Select File: Save

2) When the dialog box opens, name your file and choose a location on your computer to save it.

3) Click Save.


I've called this file flowers_brooch_engraving_test and saved it to my desktop so that I can find it easily.

Now it's time to upload this design file to Ponoko, to get it made ...

Step 9: Upload Your Product Design to Ponoko

By now you've achieved the toughest stuff - actually creating a product design ready to be made! It gets lots simpler from here on.

At the last step you saved your design from Inkscape as an SVG file - so you are now ready to upload it to Ponoko to get it priced, made and shipped to you.

To do this you need to:

1) Either log in to your existing account or sign up for a new account (it's free).

2) Inside of your MyPonoko account, click on "My Designs" along the dashboard. When the page loads, click on "Add a new design".

3) Now click on "Add design file" and then click "Choose file" to browse for and select your design that you saved to your computer from Inkscape in the last step.

4) Click "Add this design file" to complete the process to upload your design to your Ponoko account.

5) If you need to upload more than one design file, click the "Add another design file" button and repeat steps 3 and 4 as necessary.

6) When you've upload all of your design files, click "Done".

(Note: Leave MyPonoko open exactly where it is because you'll need it for the next step).

The images below show this process in detail ...

Step 10: Choose a Material for Your Design

It's time to pick the materials you want to use to make your design for real.

After you clicked "Done" as the final part of the last step you'll be on a page asking "Would you like to add materials now?"

If you are not sure what materials are available, you can click on "Show me the materials catalog first" button - and a new window will pop up showing you the options.

(Right now you can also just follow this link).

By browsing through the Ponoko materials catalog you can compare materials and decide which is best for you.

Because my brooches are simple 2D shapes they can be made from almost any material in the Ponoko catalog.

I decided to use black Acrylic to really highlight the engraving by the laser cutter - this should contrast nicely with the glossy black finish of the Acrylic.

(Note: Remember to leave MyPonoko open exactly where it is because you'll need it for the next step).

Step 11: Add a Material to Your Design

Once you've used the catalog to make your materials choice/s you need to select them for each of your design files.

So now go back to your MyPonoko account where it is asking "Would you like to add materials now?" - and do the following:

1) Click the "Yes" button.

2) Make your choices from the series of drop down boxes.

I chose:
> Material type: Plastic.
> Plastic type: Acrylic-Black.
> Thickness: 0.12 inches (3.0mm).
> Sheet size: 7.1 inches long x 7.1 inches wide (181mm x 181mm).

3) Click the "Add this material" button to confirm your material choice.

4) Then click "Done".

To have a quick look at the cost to make your design from the materials you have just selected click the "Show details" link.

(Note: Remember to leave MyPonoko open exactly where it is because you'll need it for one final step :).

Step 12: Click to Make Your Brooch

The final step in MyPonoko is to click to make your brooch.

Here's what to do:

1) On the webpage you ended the last step on, click the "Make it" button.

2) On this new screen review all of the details of what you want to make, including the price - is it all accurate? If not, make adjustments.

3) If so, click "Add shipping details" and follow your nose through the check out process.

You're done!

Now you just have to wait for your laser-cut parts to be delivered to your door :)

Step 13: Here's What Happens While You Wait

Between the time you make your order to when your parcel leaves Ponoko your design is laser cut into the material you chose.

Lots of people ask how the laser-cutter works its magic - so check out my previous instructable to see a video of the laser cutter in action.

I also took a few photos of it in action ... there is not much to see when cutting black acrylic so the image of it is cutting some MDF timber.

The second photo is how the brooches looked straight after they had been cut by the laser - it is a bit dirty but easily wipes clean.

Step 14: Receive Your Creation and Work Out the Best Cost Option

This is your chance to check out your handy work.

Look at the shape, the style and the different engraving tests to decide which one looks best, or is best value for money.

I like the heavy engraving the best for 2 reasons.
Firstly, it is quite a lot cheaper than the medium and light engraving because I included light vector outlines around the flowers on them.
Secondly, the contrast of the white on black makes it stand out better when it is being worn.

So now I will look at how much it cost to manufacture these brooches:

To start with, my original prototypes cost:
Making costs - $6.77
Materials cost - $2.43
Shipping to USA - $4.60
Packaging - $10
TOTAL - $23.80
Cost per brooch = $7.93 each

So to get the price down I arranged as many brooches as I could onto a P1 and P2 to compare the price differences - and this is what I got:

For an entire P1 with Light or Medium engraving I will get 23 brooches for:
Making costs - $95.97
Materials cost - $2.43
Shipping to USA - $4.60
Packaging - $10
TOTAL - $113.00
Cost per brooch = $4.91 each

For an entire P1 with Heavy (black only) engraving I will get 23 brooches for:
Making costs - $48.07
Materials cost - $2.43
Shipping to USA - $4.60
Packaging - $10
TOTAL - $65.10
Cost per brooch = $2.83 each

For an entire P2 with Heavy (black only) engraving I will get 110 brooches for:
Making costs - $161.40
Materials cost - $9.86
Shipping to USA - $9.57
Packaging - $10
TOTAL - $190.83
Cost per brooch = $1.73 each

This little experiment shows the benefit of producing products in limited runs. Spreading the cost of materials, packaging and shipping out over multiple units really helps bring the cost down.

This is fantastic news for me to work out a great price to sell these at.

This approach could also work if each of the brooch designs were completely unique. If they had a similar amount of engraving and cutting as the flowers, tiling 23 unique designs over a P1 sized piece of material would result in a similar per unit cost.

This could be great for personalized gifts for your 23 closest friends and family!

Step 15: Glue the Pin on the Brooch

Now it's time to finish the brooch off.

Firstly, give the back of the pin a quick sand to rough up the surface and help the glue stick better.

Then squirt a small amount of glue from the first tube onto a scrap of wood. Then the same amount from the other tube. (Follow the instructions according to the glue manufacturer).

Mix them together thoroughly and apply a small amount to the back of the pin. Then stick the pin down roughly in the center of the disc.

The glue will then need to dry for a few hours so place the brooch somewhere out of the way.

Step 16: Photograph Your Design

I want to put these in my Showroom for sale - so I want to take great photos of them.

The image below shows how I typically set up to take photos of products.

I use a plain white background as this usually shows off the object I am photographing the best. If the design is white it might be easier to contrast it and use a black background. I recommend using a plain background regardless of color so that it doesn't distract from the details of the design. If the result is a bit stark and clinical then it could be good to combine it with an image of the design in context, in this case on a person.

I usually try to avoid using the flash, especially if using a compact camera where you cant adjust the intensity of the flash, as they tend to blow out the image. The flash can also make the shadow disappear which can be important for making the design seem real.

If you use a tripod you can slow the shutter speed down so you can get enough light in and not need the flash. The macro setting on your camera could also be good to use to make sure all the details are crisp.

Lighting is probably the most important thing in getting nice looking photos. Indirect natural light is great if you don't have flash studio lights.

Here are some links to other Instructables that show how to take great photos:

Learn Photography
Basic Photography Tip

Step 17: Set Your Price and Get Selling Your Design

To sell your design you can add it all over the show, including the Ponoko marketplace.

To get selling on Ponoko you need to register to be a seller first (free signup, free item listing, zero sales success fees - see screen shots below) and decide how much to sell it for.

Ideal mark up goes something like this:

Manufactured price x 2 = Wholesale price
Wholesale price x 2 = Retail retail price

So here's how I work out the pricing based on producing the heavy engraved brooch in runs of 23 to fit on a P1:

Manufactured price:
The brooch - $2.83
The pin - $0.50
The glue - $0.30
TOTAL COST - $3.63

Wholesale price = $7.26
Retail price = $14.52

Therefore the price I would sell the design for in my Showroom is around $14. And I would sell it to a retailer at around $7.

You can see the entry in the Ponoko Showroom and download the design files if you want to get straight into making.

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    8 years ago on Introduction

    People who make things to sell so often fail to account for their total costs, including the cost of their labor. As a one-off item, the true cost certainly isn't $4. You might be "out of pocket" $4, but that isn't your cost.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Thank You for the explanation, your post is very helpful and "instructable."

    I am confused why someone could not distinguish the difference between an effort that is helpful and self-serving spam. If you work for the company, it is even better, I expect the information to be more accurate.

    Thank You for the Inkscape tip as well, I was not aware of that tool.

    Keep up the good work!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Actually, as I see now, there are several of these tutorials on this site from this person...selling the same site product. This person needs to be banned as they are breaking the terms and conditions of this site. How about it, Instructables??


    10 years ago on Introduction

    As it was not stated at the gitgo that this person worked for this company and then the tutorial has major SPAM and despiration for clients written all over it. For SHAME! It would have been nice to see this tutorial with some truth in front of it. It's always best to be upfront right away.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    I still don't quite understand's confusing to me, I'd like a tutorial to understand how the thing is supposed to work. They make the designs that you give them into products? Do people buy directly from their site instead of from you...confusing.


    11 years ago on Step 13

    I lost it at the title... Laser cutter for under $4. LOL what a farce.


    12 years ago on Introduction

    This doesn't feel too spammy to me, mostly because I'd love to figure out how to use Ponoko. My biggest complaint is that if someone wanted to make a few different small items this doesn't seem to be the way to do it; the making cost is too high for personal use.


    13 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for your comments guys - I work with Dan (aka the author of this Instructable) at Ponoko. We'd surely welcome a category as per your suggestions - we do always check with Eric before posting. Y'know the reason we use Instructables is because it's a great and easy way for us to prepare and present this info for our own users. Is there any one (or more) thing that we can do that would improve our Instructables in your eyes?


    Reply 13 years ago on Introduction

    'Fess up from the get-go that this is posted by someone who works for Ponoko. Cuz it's still great info to have, but now I feel like I don't want to use it because it wasn't presented in an up-front way.

    akimbo m
    akimbo m

    13 years ago on Introduction

    Hmm... ya think it would be a good idea to have an official section where we can at least know that such posting is an attempt at advertising but has a little bit of instructable value?

    akimbo m
    akimbo m

    Reply 13 years ago on Introduction

    In other words... encourage transparency


    13 years ago on Introduction

    Am I the only one that sees this as SPAM? It's very well done SPAM but it sure looks like SPAM to me.


    Reply 13 years ago on Introduction

    Just a smidge. It does instruct a bit.


    Reply 13 years ago on Introduction

    Sure it instructs a lot, but it is still advertising for a service. All of this author's I'bles send you to the same website, so they all look like SPAM to me? I think there should be a special category for the Instructables that happen to have Instructable value but at the same time advertise their products and services. Dremel just posted five that fall into this category.


    Reply 13 years ago on Introduction

    I didnt see the others, sounds like a bannin to me


    13 years ago on Introduction

    Oh yeah. I just gave you 5 stars btw. I know what I want for christmas now, a laser cutter and if I can't get one of those then a gift card to ponoko.


    13 years ago on Introduction

    Great Instructable! I have been a little hesitant about working with ponoko because I didn't really understand the whole process. This is a great guide! Thanks for everything!, Joe