I bet two old tires and a bag of tortillas you’re a Engineer or Designer that loves to model flat-pack, laser cut designs in SolidWorks, but has never ventured to have them made, yeah? Or, maybe you’re curious about a company called Ponoko, but not sure how to get started creating your designs.

Well, it’s true. Ponoko is by far one of the coolest ways to have your 2D or 3D designs actually manufactured. However, there’s that step of getting a SolidWorks part into the .EPS format Ponoko needs. Here are two ways you can do it.

More to the Design and Make process
I won’t go into the details of designing for laser cutting. A lot of factors you’ll need to consider are mentioned in the Ponoko Starter Kit you can download below. This article will give you a quick overview of two ways I’ve learned to convert SolidWorks parts into the .eps format Ponoko uses to feed into the machines that cut out your design. For more information, visit Ponoko’s Make process overview.

Downloads

There are three files you’ll need to download. I’ll assume you already have SolidWorks. If not, don’t worry. Some of the process will still apply to other 3D and even some 2D CAD systems.

Ponoko Starter Kit
green download arrowInkscape starter kit
This will, at the very least, give you an overview of the process. It’s has design tips and informatino about the entire process.

Inkscape
green download arrowInkscape
Why Inkscape and not another? Simple. It’s free. This is the program that allow you to save out an .eps to be brought into Ponoko.

SolidWorks Drawing Template for Ponoko
green download arrowponoko-templates.slddrw
This is a drawing template with the three material sizes Ponoko uses. The Safe Areas are marked on the sheet and brought into Inkscape to confirm position.

From SolidWorks to Ponoko – The Process

One method of taking a 3D model into Ponoko is laid out in the Starter Kit, but I find the following method (and the alternative I mention farther down) the easiest way to get parts into a format accepted by Ponoko.

Quick Note on Design:
Make sure you are familiar with the available thicknesses from Ponoko. It will definitely help to know you can’t go thicker than .16″ within in a 15″ x 31″ area.

  1. Layout your parts
    In the SolidWorks drawing template for Ponoko, lay out your parts within the areas defined on the template.
  2. Save as Illustrator file (.AI)
    Go to File, Save As… and in Save As Type… select Adobe Illustrator Files (*.ai). Note: You’ll want to have just one sheet in the SolidWorks drawing or move the sheet with the parts on it to the beginning. Saving as an Illustrator file will only save the first sheet.
  3. Open in Inkscape
    In Inkscape, simply go to File, Open. Locate your save illustrator file and select it. Inkscape will open the Illustrator File directly.
  4. Change line color and style
    Select all the line to be lasercut and go to the Object menu and select Fill and Stroke…(Shift-Ctrl-F). A sidebar will appear. Select the Stroke Style tab and change the stroke to .003 mm as shown below.

    Also, be sure to set the Stroke Paint color to R: 0 G: 0 B: 255, otherwise you’ll get only an engraving of the parts.

  5. Save as .eps
    Go to File, Save As… and select Encapsulated Postscript (*.eps)

A Quicker Alternative – Copy Sketches

You can quickly get profiles of your parts into Inkscape with a simple copy and paste. Once you get the above process down and it all become more familiar, you may prefer to do this instead.

  • Select the profile face of your part
  • Start a sketch
  • Convert Entities
  • Box select all the sketch lines
  • Copy (Ctrl-C)
  • Go to Inkscape
  • Paste (Ctrl-V)

After this you can follow the same procedure as above to adjust the line weights for laser cutting.

Update:If you’re wondering about fitting materials together and tolerances, this post “How much material does the laser burn away?” is a must read. Thanks Blake.

There’s a lot more to the process of getting a product created. If you have questions about any of the steps on the SolidWorks side or the Ponoko side hit the comments. Having the ability to create your own product (and sell it) is a privilege a lot of us wish we always had. Fortunately, Ponoko is here and making it all a little easier for all those people with all those ideas.

Author

Josh is founder and editor at SolidSmack.com, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.