Laser cutting on the cheap/panels, cases, etc

edited January 2010 in WTPA1 Mods
So I have always been looking for a cheap and accessible laser cutting solution for panels and other things (illuminated buttons for one) and finally have found my solution:

You simply make EPS file in illustrator or whatever based on their rules (certain colors for lines, cuts, rasters. all with different weights), duplicate it on their three basic sizes ( 181.0 x 181.0, 384.0 x 384.0, or 790.0 x 384.0) and send it to them. They offer all sorts of materials (Acrylic, various wood, leather, felt) and the results are stunning:

This is my panel for my GM5 midi interface completely unfinished. All I actually did was put some furniture polish on is since it took finger prints really easy. And yes, that is bamboo. I got 8 panels (4 sets) out of the 384x384 base board and the total came to $41 shipped.


  • edited January 2010
    Very cool, thanks for that info! BTW, I think the address is , not, right?

  • Whoa -- that's a really good price! And the device looks great too.
    I've checked out Ponoko before and been curious. This is the first review I've heard and it's cool that it's a good one. They don't have fluorescent acrylic stock, though ;-)

    Here's what I've found.
    I use these guys in Chicago:

    Great site, no? If you call them, ask for Woody and tell them I sent you :-)
    They're cheap and good but flakey about deadlines. They're olds, you know. Not used to E-Commerce.
    Their laser is enormous and they have a bigass 4x8 CNC mill too.

    In New York I use:
    Check out the gallery for WTPA photos!
    They are REALLY fast, and nice guys. Not incredibly cheap but not bad. However, I think the biggest thing they can cut is 12" x 24" or maybe 24" x 24", and I don't think their laser is crazy powerful.
    They'll pick you up whatever goofy acrylic you ask for pretty fast. Again, if you holler at them, ask for Joe and tell them I sent you.

    When I gear up for the next WTPA I will do some serious comparison shopping. Any suggestions here I will gladly look at.
  • edited January 2010
    Wow that looks gorgeous.

    I've been thinking of trying to hack together a case myself with some acrylic and a dremel...but this seems like a nicer and less frustrating option.
  • If you haven't done it before with acrylic and a dremel, it's a real experience. You learn a lot by doing it. I recommend doing it once or twice before switching over to the laser -- your understanding of acrylic will go WAAAY up and also you'll know when to laser and when to rock it with gruntwork.
    Embrace that frustration -- once at least :-)
  • Well, it's settled - off to home depot tomorrow! Thanks for the encouragement hehe
  • edited January 2010
    @Todd: Do any of your places laser cut aluminum also? My front panel scheme as of late has been raw metal and a lexan label (I have a friend who has a label machine and does work cheap) but Front Panel Express is still pretty pricey on just the machine work and although I have had large runs of laser cut aluminum done, I have not found a one off place to do them. The people at Ponoko are very receptive and should be able to do custom material, I know that Wilba (the guy behind the Sammichsid) got a custom flat black material for his case that they normally do not stock. I just like the fact that I dont have to do a CAD file to get these done, I am more of a graphic design guy than a draftsman and work a hundred times faster in illustrator than autocad.

    @ Gorgiv, you can do laser cut cases with acrylic, check this out: . That case was done at Ponoko also (which inspired me to try them). If you want to try it yourself, dont use a dremel cutting wheel, get the "cutting bit" (, the wheels will melt the plastic and it will load the abrasive. With the cutting bit, it clears the chips much better

    @dnigrin: Thnx, typo fixed
  • edited January 2010
    @Altitude --
    Nobody I know laser cuts aluminum -- it takes a very serious laser to do that and I'd be surprised if many "prototype-y / hobbyist" shops had one. However, you can cut aluminum on a CNC also. Woody might be able to do it. If it were me I'd check with him, although like I said he can be a flake about emails. He takes illustrator files, I know.

    @Gorgiv --
    Altitude is right, but that's one of the fun things about learning to work with acrylic :-)

    Some observations:
    Acrylic gums up most cutting tools. There are lots of acrylic-specific tools out there, which all generally work better to do what you want (I have a set of weird acrylic only drill bits which work like a dream, but were expensive and limited in size options). Browse McMaster -- you'll learn a lot.

    Acrylic likes to melt (see above). When working with acrylic, it's a good idea to use a cutting fluid (like you would when working with metals). However, acrylic doesn't like oil (it will make it craze) so the best lubricant I've found is cold water with a healthy dose of dish soap in it. This prevents all sorts of sticking and melting, but it does make a mess.

    Acrylic likes to crack. Drill holes very slowly, and use a hold down. Use cutting fluid. With holes above 1/8", drill a pilot hole and move up by 1/8" steps or less. With holes 1/2" or bigger, expect trouble and be even more careful.

    Score and break acrylic when you can. This works pretty well, and is less messy than cutting a long line with a dremel. This does take some practice, and when you mess up you will generally snarl up your piece significantly. However, it makes a relatively clean edge. Normally I score and break pieces to within 1/16" of the final dimension I want, and then sand the edge smooth. With 1/4" acrylic, be especially careful doing this.

    Exposure to large amounts of acrylic dust has made me break out before. Do not fuck with acrylic before a big date. Do not taunt happy fun ball.

    Do a practice piece first, or make two pieces at a time. In the unlikely event you get the first one right, keep it. You probably won't though :-)
    I do this all the time.

    The three good things about acrylic:
    1.) It is pretty hard, therefore you can polish it. Lots of plastics won't polish well.
    2.) You can bend it. Takes a lot of heat though. Read the entry on about this:

    3.) It looks totally awesome.

    Good luck and let us know how it turns out!
  • edited January 2010
    Wow, @Todd with the reference to a fictitious 90's SNL commercial, starring Phil Hartman (RIP), "Happy Fun Ball".
    I'll give this 6 Cobains out of 10 (a scale measuring the quality of 90's reference.)

    Great project, by the way, Altitude.
  • edited February 2010
    Thanks for the heads up on ponoko! Just had some modular faceplates made up. They look incredible, and they're working out really well so far. Because the bamboo's deeper than the standard 1/8", I'm having a few issues with mounting stuff but i think it'll work -- I can actually just thread my jacks right into the bamboo, and I think it will work!
  • ...I'm even considering making bamboo knobs...
  • That looks amazing!

    You can always try to recess the back panel a bit where each jack/knob would go. I've had to do that plenty of times for mounting knobs/jacks in wood. It's never pretty. But it always works.
  • Yeah, I was a little concerned about doing that, given that it's wood and and constantly taking the abuse of plugging/unplugging patch cables. Then again, it's bamboo and this stuff seems really sturdy!
  • edited February 2010
    @smrl: Ha! that is titties. You could always go with the other bamboo which does come in 3mm or counter bore the panels you have (thats what I did, it drills very well).. I assume you did the text in raster? I think my next thing is going to be led backlit pushbuttons like these:
  • Wow, that's amazing. So those are supposed to seat on tact switches? How are you doing the text on those?

    Yeah, I used vectors for the text. Some of the text was done with the lightest engraving, and is almost illegible. The medium engraving seemed very similar to the heavy. I was hoping that there would be a little more "usable dynamic range" there... But maybe that's so for the other materials. I also did a little bit of raster stuff on my pièce de résistance, not pictured, which is the faceplate for my J.H. Living VCOs. I'll throw a pic up when that's assembled. I was really astonished by the quality, but then I'm used to working with junk.

    Also, I wanted to use the other bamboo but it wasn't an option when I was looking at the materials. They must occasionally run out of material stock. That looked like the perfect fit, as long as it could handle front-panel duty...
  • Yeah, those seat on the tact switches. The trick is to glue 3 layers together with various holes in them and there is a couple of ways of doing it. Check this thread: The text is simply laser engraved then infilled with ink/paint.
  • Those bamboo panels look really nice SMRL, just the other day I was thinking about using them for a panel for a plague bearer bare bones kit, after seeing your examples, they look so nice that I definitely think I'll use bamboo instead of acrylic. I've also been pondering using ponoko to make a nice case for my WTPA, instead of the 89 cents pencil case it sits in now (it fits quite well actually though). But I've been too lazy to measure and draw up the plans for it, I'd probably want to use different buttons and I'm not quite sure how I would go about doing that. (and those led buttons are sick, I may have to try some of those. Anyone else use ponoko for a wtpa case yet?
  • didel: Look through the forums, Todd posted the a complete faceplate package with DXFs, pdfs and so forth. I have an illustrator file done also.
  • does anyone know where those buttons came from on the WTPA the one on the front page of the site "party at lulus"
  • The hardware store. Those are bolts.
  • lol my bad I really like that case but have never tried to work with acrylic before
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