Introduction: How to Make a Personalized Jigsaw Puzzle

This Instructable shows you how to make a personalized laser cut jigsaw puzzle using Ponoko. If you've never worked with a laser-cutter or have only used a vector art package once or twice before, then this guide is for you.

Please note this content is 10 years old and the Ponoko website has changed a lot. You no longer need the templates so just jump into Inkscape and skip the templates step. Some of the links might be outdated also.

This Instructable follows the same structure as my previous Instructables on making a laser-cut lamp and jewelry but a little more experience (or persistence ) is needed for the Inkscape stages. As long as you've got a computer that can run a vector software package you'll be able to achieve some very cool results.

Let me know how you get on!

Step 1: Stuff You'll Need

You'll only need a few things for this Instructable:

A steady hand
Some double sided tape or glue at the end to assemble the backing board.

Step 2: Download and Open Inkscape

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, 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 so it's ready for the next step...

Step 3: Download and Open the P3 Template

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 templates to choose from.

Open the P3.svg Ponoko template. (You can double click on the file or use the menu options inside Inkscape (File > Open) and then find the file P3.svg from there.)

You'll see an orange box with the words 'safe area' when you open the P3.svg. For these decorations you'll be working work with the largest material size available - the P3. Its dimensions are 31.1 x 15.1 inches or 790 x 384 mm.

If you're interested, you'll find the starter kit includes the Ponoko making guide which contains all sorts of helpful information about designing and making with Ponoko.

Step 4: Construct a Grid

I set up some guide lines as a grid to help space me space my cut lines.

You can create guide lines by clicking in the ruler area on the left and top of the window, holding and dragging out a guide.

To edit the positioning, double click on the guide and a window will open up allowing you to edit the value.

Step 5: Draw the Puzzle Pieces Cut Line

Firstly I created a bounding box so I know where the pieces will be contained. I made this 340mm x 340mm so that it would fit nicely on a P3 template.

Using the Pen Tool I started drawing the jigsaw lines. Click a point and hold down the mouse button to create the bezier handles and create a curve. If you don't hold down the mouse button you will not create curves but corners.

I find it best start rough and then come back and alter the beziers later.

You can vary the shapes in size and shape a bit if you want.

Step 6: Copy, Paste and Rotate

To keep it simple I simply copied and pasted the jigsaw line 14 times and arranged them on the grid.

To mix it up, so all the pieces were not the same, I used the flip and rotate tools to get a bit of variation in the shapes of the pieces.

Step 7: Outline and Border for the Pieces

I created a rectangle around the outside of the puzzle pieces which will become a frame for the puzzle later. I made it 370mm x 370mm so that there is a 15mm border on all sides.

I used the x and y values to then position it in the right place.

The rectangle was then copied and pasted adjacent to what is already drawn. This will become the base board later.

Step 8: Find/create an Image

James thought that it would be a good idea to use a map for an image on the puzzle. I went to Google maps, located Wellington, NZ (home of Flight of the Concords) and panned around until I found a suitable zoom and image for the puzzle.

Click print at the top right and Google will open the map in another window. The printer dialog box opens up and you can select the printer you want. I printed to PDF using CutePDF Writer so I could then open the image up later in another program. If you're on a Mac it's as easy as going:
File > Print > PDF > Save as PDF...

Step 9: Convert PDF to JPEG

Inkscape can't open PDF files so you need to convert it to a jpeg or a bitmap. I used Photoshop to do this but you could use any graphics program that will open or import a PDF.

Step 10: Open Map Image in Inkscape and Start Tracing

Under the File menu you will find Import. Select this and open the map image you have converted to a JPEG.

Position it off the side of the template for now.

Using the pen tool, start tracing around the different areas of the map. I started with the water area in blue. This time you need not worry about clicking and dragging bezier handles as all the corners are sharp. By using the pen tool you create a closed shape which can then have a fill applied to it.

Step 11: Fill the Water

Now that you have traced the water, open the Fill and Stroke box from under the object menu. With the area of the water selected fill with a grey (R:128 G:128 B:128 A:255) fill. This will tell the laser cutter that this area is to be raster engraved with a medium depth.

Don't worry about the stroke color or weight as we will alter this later. You can also leave this window open so you can easily access it later.

Step 12: Tracing Main Road

The map has 3 different types of road indicated with different colors. I am going to treat all these with different types of engraving so that there is variation in the puzzle. This will also be good for visual clue on how to put the puzzle together.

The main road in orange is traced next. I then filled it with a medium grey fill so it will have a medium raster engraving.

The parks in green are also traced and have a light grey fill (R:230 G:230 B:230 A:255).

Step 13: Tracing More Roads

The yellow roads are traced next. I started at the top right point and traced around the entire outside shape. I then went and traced the internal voids and I show how to join them in the next step. I didn't worry about where it crossed over the main road, I thought it easiest to just keep it one continuous shape.

After I had finished all the outline i applied a light grey fill to the largest shape. Note how all the internal shapes are filled as well. The next step shows how this is remedied.

Step 14: Excluding Filled Areas

As in the first image, select one of the internal shapes by clicking on the outline. While holding down the shift button, select the outside shape (the large shape created by tracing the roads) as well. Holding down shift allows you to select 2 or more shapes at once. You will see the arrows from around the bounding box move to the outer perimeter of all the objects that are selected. Practice this when you are zoomed out if you have any trouble in understanding what is happening.

From the Path menu select Exclusion. This will punch the smaller shape from the large one.

Work your way around the image until you have punched out all the internal shapes and you are left with just the areas where the roads are with the light grey fill as shown in the last image.

The good thing about using this technique is that now it is one shape that can be moved and edited easily.

Step 15: Tracing the Smallest Roads

Using the pen tool, trace the lines of the smallest roads. I only want to have a vector type engraving on these roads to add another level of hierarchy so I only needed to draw 1 line along each road.

The 2nd image shows all the roads without the background.

Step 16: Changing Colors and Line Weights

With the light grey roads selected, open the Fill and Stroke box again.

I wanted to put a light vector around the perimeter to add some crispness to the engraving. Set the stroke color to green (R:0 G:255 B:0 A:255) and the width to 0.003mm.

I also did the same to the water areas and the park areas. For the main road I used a red (R:255 G:0 B:0 A:255) line to give it a heavier vector engraving.

Step 17: More Line Colors and Weights

Select all the smallest roads.

Change the line color to green (R:0 G:255 B:0 A:255) and the line weight to 0.003mm. With all the lines still selected, go to the Object menu and select Group. This will link all the lines and make them a bit easier to manage.

Now the map has been traced you can delete it from the background.

Step 18: Resizing Map

Select all the map objects and 'Group' them together.Resize the map to be the same as the jigsaw pieces we drew earlier. In this case the size needs to be 340mm x 340mm.

Step 19: Changing Line Weights and Colors of the Jigsaw Pieces.

We need to tell the laser cutter which lines to cut. With all the lines needing to be cut selected assigned the following values

Color - Blue (R:0 G:0 B:255 A:255)
Line weight - 0.003mm.

You may want to group all the lines after you have changed the color and line weight.

Step 20: Combining Everything

Move the map image onto the template in line with the jigsaw pieces.

Image 2 shows how to raise the blue cut lines to be on top of the filled areas of the map. The order shouldn't make any difference to the laser cutter but its good to see where all the pieces will be cutting out just in case anything needs altering.

With the blue jigsaw pieces selected, select Raise to Top from the Object menu. The 3rd image shows the result with all the cut lines visible.

Step 21: Save As an Eps File

Currently, Ponoko only accepts .eps files.

Choose "Save As..." from the "File" menu. A dialog box appears (see image below). Change the name to "jigsaw". Now choose "Encapsulated Postscript (*.eps)." from the drop-down list.

Now click "Save". When the "Output" panel appears make sure the "Convert texts to paths" tickbox is ticked, then click "OK".

Step 22: Uploading .eps Files to Ponoko

Your .eps files are ready to now upload to Ponoko!

1. If you've already got a MyPonoko account - then log in. If not, sign up for an account.

2. Once in MyPonoko, click on "Add" in the red bar. When the page loads, click on "Add a new design."

3. To upload your .eps files click on "Add an .eps file" and then choose or browse for your .eps file on your computer.

4. If you want to upload more than one .eps file, click the "Add another .eps file" button and repeat step 3 as necessary.

5. If you have any trouble uploading your file, head over to the forum.

6. Click "Done"

Note: Leave MyPonoko open, you'll need it open for the next few steps.

The images below show this process in detail.

Step 23: Choose a Material

It's time to choose a material.

While still in MyPonoko, click on the "Show me the material catalog first" button or follow this link.

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

I decided to use 4mm Plywood - Eurolite (Italian Poplar) as the engraving will contrast nicely with the pale finish of the timber.

Note: Remember to leave MyPonoko open, you'll need it open for the next few steps.

Step 24: Adding Materials to Your .eps Files

Once you've made a choice, select your material for each .eps file.

Go back to your MyPonoko account and click the "Yes" button under the 'Would you like to add materials now?" question.

You'll then need to choose from the drop-down list.

If you measure in mm:
> Type: Plywood - Eurolite (Italian Poplar)
> Thickness: 4.0mm
> Sheet size: 790mm long x 384mm wide

To confirm your material choice, click the "Add this material" button, then click "Done".

To see the cost of your materials click the "Show details" link and you'll see a breakdown of your costs.

Note: Leave MyPonoko open, you'll need it open for one final step :)

Step 25: Make Your Puzzle

The final step in MyPonoko is to make your decorations.

Click the "Make it" button to start making.

The first screen confirms the details of your order as well as showing the costs so far. Click "Step 2" and then follow the making steps:

1. Add shipping address
2. Add billing address
3. Review and confirm
4. Add payment details
5. And we're done.

Now you just have to wait for your laser-cut parts to be delivered!

Step 26: Laser Cutting...

So what happens between the time you make your order to when your parcel leaves PonokoHQ? A few people asked how the laser-cutter works its magic, see my previous instructable to see a video of the laser cutter in action.

Step 27: Peel Off the Backing

Once you receive your parts, peel off the top sheet which holds all the pieces together and the protective backing on the bottom side of all the parts.

Step 28: Assemble the Base Board

Take the rectangle with the hole cut from the center and apply double sided table to the back of it. You could also use glue but you would have to leave it for some time to dry.

Stick it to the backing board.

Now you can have fun completing the puzzle.