Creating a Ponoko 2D laser cut project in ShetchUp is easy, but takes a couple of steps. SketchUp is great for creating 3D objects, but Ponoko (a fabrication service) doesn’t accept its files for 2D laser cuts.
To convert 3D designs to 2D images for laser cutting you’ll need to download/install SketchUp and Inkscape. You’ll also want to install the FlightofIdeas SVG converter (here are instructions and files) and download Ponoko’s Inkscape templates (here). Eventually you’ll also want to set up an account with Ponoko to get your design fabricated.
FlightofIdeas also has a valuable Instructable on how to do this you should check out.
The real benefit of using SketchUp is that you can put together 3D pieces of your design to see how they fit together. You can even rotate parts to see if they have proper clearance. Below is an example of my design in 3D. This design is made of Acrylic plates whose thicknesses were pulled from Ponoko’s list of materials. You’ll want to select a material for your laser cut design before you can correct make your 2D model into a 3D model.
TIP: I found it really useful to keep 2D versions of each piece of my design as a separate SketchUp file. I’m still new to SketchUp, and trying to make changes to the 3D parts was a little frustrating. Also, if you use the FlightofIdeas SVG converter on a 3D part each face of that part will be converted to a 2D shape. You can delete the extra shapes, but that’s just another step that can cause errors. Avoid it if you can.
Below is a 3D design I’m going to have made out of 1mm thick Acrylic. I keep three files for this design. The first is just the 2D version, the second is the 3D version, and the third is the 3D version saved as a component (shown below).
In SketchUp open your 2D design, select the face you want to have cut out of the material you’ve selected, and then select the FlightofIdeas plugin. I’ve docked the plugin to my tools panel, yours might be floating around the work area of SketchUp after you install it.
Locate a place on your computer to store the new file.
Launch Inkscape and open one of the three template sizes Ponoko provides. You must use a Ponoko template or the design’s scale will be wrong when you have it fabricated. In this case I’ve opened their smallest “P1” template.
Select File->Import from the task bar menu and import the SVG file created from the FlightofIdeas plugin. Then move the object around until it is within the orange borders of the template. Note that at this point, if you converted a 3D object using the SVG converter plugin you’ll have a bunch of 2D faces to deal with. You’ll have to delete all the shapes you don’t need fabricated.
You can import a variety of 2D models to fill the template space. Below is the file I submitted for my robot’s lever arms. This is made up of three 2D models with four pieces of each style copied and pasted into the template. You can rotate the models and move them around to make room for as many pieces as possible inside the template area. Check Ponoko’s 2D rules for things to watch for.
Before submitting the design to Ponoko you’ll need to change the stroke weight to 0.01mm. This is done by selecting all of the objects you’ve imported (and copy/pasted) and selecting Object->Fill and Stroke from the task bar menu. In the Stroke style tab change the width to 0.01 and make sure the units are set to “mm”. Your objects will now be outlined with faint lines that are hard to see. That’s what it’s supposed to look like. You can also check to make sure that the Stroke paint setting is set to blue (setting shown on the right). Ponoko uses different colors for for different actions. Blue is for cutting, other colors can be used to engrave images. etc.
At this point save your file and login to your Ponoko account. You should be able to upload your file to their web site and get your design laser cut. I uploaded two designs yesterday, and when I get them in the office I’ll let you know how things went.