Introduction: How to Make Laser-cut Holiday Decorations

This Instructable shows you how to make simple laser-cut decorations for the Holidays 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.

After my last Instructable on making a laser-cut lamp, I wanted to create a clearer step-by-step guide. 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.

If you prefer to skip the Instructable and just get making, feel free to download the .eps files I've already created.

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
Ribbon/String/Cord/Twine - we used elasticated ribbon
Ponoko Inkscape templates

Step 2: Finding Images

You'll need to find images that are in the style of the decoration you'd like to make. Google Images search is great for this. Just head on over and type in your favorite decoration name (I used Christmas Bell to get the results below).

Good images to look out for have simple shapes and outlines. They also have nice clean backgrounds. This will help make things easier :)

Save the image or images in a folder on your computer. You'll be using these later.

Step 3: 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 4: Download and Open Ponoko Inkscape Starter Kit

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 P1.svg Ponoko template. (You can double click on the file or use the menu options inside Inkscape (File > Open) and then find the file P1.svg from there.)

You'll see an orange box with the words 'safe area' when you open the P1.svg. For these decorations you'll be working work with the smallest material size available - the P1. Its dimensions are 7.1 x 7.1 inches or 181 x 181 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 5: Import Images

With your P1.svg open, you can import an image from which to create your decorations.

To import, click on "File > Import..." (See the first image below). Then find the images you saved earlier. Choose one, and click "Open".

The imported image now appears in your P1.svg file. (See second image below.)

Step 6: Tracing the Image

In this step, I'll show you how to trace over the image to create the shape of the bell.

Some of the terms I use may be unfamiliar, especially if you haven't used Inkscape before - but do not worry!

The video shows you what to do so you'll get to see what the terms mean. If you do want to become more familiar with some of the terms and concepts of vector graphic software, you can check out Inkscape's help manual.

Note: This movie seems to pause after 10 seconds of playing. You can continue playing the movie if you nudge the slider forward and click play again.

Set up your drawing area
Use the magnifying glass to zoom in on part of the image.

Draw a rough shape
Select the pen tool and draw a rough outline over the top of the image.

I did this by drawing points along the outline of your image. I hold down the mouse button and and transform each point into bezier curves by dragging the handles that appear on each side. In the video, you'll see how I use these handles to edit the curves of the bell.

Refine your shape
With the shape roughly traced, go through and edit each bezier so the curve matches the curves of the bell.

Finishing your bell
At this point it's easier to see how your finished bell will look if you remove the imported image from your drawing area. You can then make any additional tweaks.

Step 7: Adding a Hole (and Maybe a Twinkle)

Because I want to hang my decorations, I need to add a small hole to the top of the bell.

When you hang your decorations you'll need to think about two things: the size of the hole and the distance from the edge.

Size of the hole
Make sure your hole is wide enough for the type of thread you choose. You can edit the size of the hole using the width and height boxes at the top.

Distance from the edge
Position the hole far enough away from the edge. This ensures that your shape is strong enough to be hung from the hole and the laser doesn't melt it. The distance from the edge on my bell is 2mm (slightly less than 0.1 inches).

The first part of the video below shows you how to I created the hole.

Preparing to add some twinkle
You can some twinkle finish to your bell by engraving an 8-pointed star into the surface. The second part of the video shows how I added mine...

Note: this movie seems to pause after 17 seconds of playing. You can continue playing the movie if you nudge the slider forward and click play again.

Step 8: Changing Line Colors and Widths

To make sure the laser-cutter cuts and engraves the right bits of the decoration, you'll need to change the colors and widths of the lines you've already drawn. To change the colors and widths you'll use the 'Fill and Stroke' dialog box which you open from the 'Object' menu.

Give your twinkle an engraving color
Select the twinkle with the pointer tool. Remove the stroke and then fill it with black (RGB, 0, 0, 0). This tells our laser-cutter to engrave deeply into the surface.

Cutting out your bell
We can now tell the laser-cutter what parts we want to completely cut-out. Cutting lines need to be set to a stroke color of blue (RGB, 0, 0, 255). Set the line width to 0.003mm.

When you change the cutting lines to 0.003mm you may not be able to see them on your screen anymore. Don't worry, they are still there - if you zoom in you'll be able to see them.

Finally, group all your shapes together. To do this, select the outline of the bell, the hanging hole and the twinkle, then group them together (go to menu option: "Object > Group").

Watch the video for a full breakdown.

Note: this movie seems to pause after 15 seconds of playing. You can continue playing the movie if you nudge the slider forward and click play again.

Step 9: Arrange on P1.svg

It's time to choose how big you want your decorations to be.

Making your decoration fit
I decided I wanted 6 decorations on my P1.svg. I resized the decoration and then tiled it so that 6 bells fitted within the safe area.

Tiling is a way to arrange shapes so they fit within a certain area. In this way, you'll use the material as economically as possible. You'll need to copy and paste the decoration 5 more times and rotate it to fit.

Watch the video to see how I tiled the bells.

Note: this movie seems to pause after 11 seconds of playing. You can continue playing the movie if you nudge the slider forward and click play again.

You can also have a go at creating some other shapes. Inkscape has some good shape tools which you can use to create custom decorations. See the image below for some examples.

Step 10: Creating a Ponoko-ready .eps File

Currently, Ponoko only accepts .eps files.

This means changing your P1.svg to a P1.eps. In Inkscape, this is an easy task.

Choose "Save As..." from the "File" menu. A dialog box appears (see image below). Change the name to "Red Bells". 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".

If you want to cut your decorations out of more than one material, save another copy of your .eps - we named our second one "Arctic Ice Bells".

Note: his movie seems to pause after 8 seconds of playing. You can continue playing the movie if you nudge the slider forward and click play again.

Step 11: 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 12: Choosing Materials

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.

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

I decided to use 2 acrylics - Red Tint and Arctic Ice - because they are bright, festive colors. :)

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

Step 13: 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.

I chose:
> Type: Plastic
> Color: Acrylic - Red TINT
> Thickness: 0.12 inches
> Sheet size: 7.1 inches wide x 7.1 inches long

If you measure in mm:
> Type: Plastic
> Color: Acrylic - Red TINT
> Thickness: 3.0mm
> Sheet size: 181 mm long x 181mm 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 14: Make Your Decorations

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 15: 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, so this movie shows it cutting out the Holiday decorations.

Step 16: Laser-cut Parts

With the laser-cut parts in your hands, peel off the adhesive film. (The film protects the material while it's cut by the laser-cutter.) The pieces will pop out easily.

Step 17: Finishing Touches

Hang your decoration by attaching ribbon/string/twine through the hole at the top of the bell.

Then hang it from wherever needed, in my case, my tree :)

If you'd like download the .eps files I created.