Dear Lazyweb,

I have an Illustrator file. I wish to have the outline therein manufactured into a flat plastic object. Say, 1mm thick. It's basically a comb for holding some small components at a fairly precise spacing, say, ±0.2mm tolerance. (Nevermind what it's for.)

I believe that here in the future, there should be some web service where I upload my .ai file, and then my object arrives in the mail. However, the only one I know of is Ponoko. Which sounds like exactly what I want... except that they're in New Zealand, a fact which they only cop to after you've gotten almost all the way through checkout and only then discover that their shipping rates are insane (like, I think you can put payload into orbit for less.)

It seems like most people who have cutters and fabricators are from the last century, and want to spend a bunch of time talking about it and holding my hand and writing me a personalized quote for the work and asking me about my feelings or whatever. Screw that. I just want the Kinko's of fabbing. Where is it?

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36 Responses:

  1. Tap Plastics might be able to do what you need. I don't know about the mail order bit, but they've got several local locations.

    • Absolutely, Tap is great and seems like a good choice for this, I've taken them several bizarre projects and gotten extremely satisfactory results.

  2. Could you possibly get it sent to someone in New Zealand and get them to send it on for you? It's possibly cheaper that way.

  3. ding_0_ says:

    ponoko in the last month and odd partnered with some cutter in the states so the shipping went from a universal $65 down to something more affordable.

    Otherwise big blue saw with some file conversion, or one who's name I can't remember and requires windows to run their design tools.

  4. funjon says:

    You could come down to TechShop, where they have a laser cutter/engraver which can take your file (once properly converted for import into Corel - don't ask, it's required, it's retarded, I've had this argument). EPS is good. In goes a piece of the proper type of plastic (some cannot safely be lased, they release things like hydrogen cyanide, etc), out comes cut piece.

    I could do it for you for the $30 it costs me for a day pass, I've already gotten checked out on the laser. That's the caveat, you have to take their hour long class first. Or, I can do it for you. Done.

    • kraquehaus says:

      I second this.

      You may even enjoy getting a membership and fabricating random things.

      "I don't have that much stuff I need to fabricate."

      "Ah, but once you have access, you will discover things that need fabricating!"

      This was my friend's sales pitch to me.

      I am not a member, but if I needed fabrication this is where I would go. (i.e., Either turn to a friend with a membership or get a temporary one to check it out.)

      • cattycritic says:

        TechShop rules. You'd take the Epilog laser cutting class then bring in your Illustrator file, and import it into Corel Draw which is what's installed for the laser cutter.

        Of course, this is not what you asked for, since I suspect you already know about TechShop and you'd have done it your damn self already if you wanted. So this answer is likely completely useless. HA

        • kraquehaus says:

          Of course, this is not what you asked for, since I suspect you already know about TechShop and you'd have done it your damn self already if you wanted. So this answer is likely completely useless. HA

          There is a difference between "Lazyweb" and "Lazylathe". ;-)

          I hate to make assumptions. If JWZ has considered TechShop, then I am guessing (not assuming) that he would have said something along the lines of, "...and if you suggest TechShop you might as well sit in a paper bag and buy a nice frame since you'll be part of the peanut gallery."

    • mackys says:

      I so wish they would open one of these in Denver/Ft. Collins. I would be there all Saturday, every Saturday.

    • allartburns says:

      Corel is the only software out there that can make decent lines out of things for use with a laser cutter. Everything else I've played with makes lines that look like ass when you actually cut.

  5. I was looking at eMachineShop.com a while back when I needed a couple of parts milled. Downsides were the need to draw your part using their software and a high setup charge. I didn't get far enough into the process to figure out if Illustrator import was worth the effort; turned out to be much cheaper to take a sketch to my 19th century friend with a milling machine. They at least have the right idea, if a clumsy implementation.

    • zarex says:

      emachineshop is a good service, and will do exactly what jwz wants; it really is the kinko's of fab. Their software imports .dxf (among other formats) now, which I'm pretty sure Illustrator can export.

      And they aren't in New Zealand, either.

  6. baconmonkey says:

    that seems like a lot of work to get all your action figures to stand up on one place.

  7. iphy says:

    It's not the magic you're looking for; but, you might drop the folks at http://becausewecan.org a line and see if they're intrigued. They certainly have the tools. The TechShop folks are pretty cool as well.

  8. jered says:

    So, the "1st Floor, 795 Folsom Street" address on their contact page is just their New Media Douchebag's address?

    • jered says:

      Sorry to be one of those people that follows up to himself, but their shipping FAQ says they do fabbing in SF too. The US shipping costs don't seem too outrageous comparatively, though the $10 packing fee seems steep. Have you considering asking if you can pick up from their Folsom St facility and avoid shipping costs altogether?

      • latemodel says:

        ... they do fabbing in SF too

        Then why do the shipping times and costs still reflect international shipping?

        • jered says:

          Then why do the shipping times and costs still reflect international shipping?

          Um, because they don't? $4.60 for the first sheet is not what it costs to ship from NZ to the US. Did you look at the shipping FAQ page I linked?

    • Hah! My (temporary) office is in that building too. The internal decorating is total dot-com douchebag pointless pseudo industrial with bright colors. I get flashbacks to 1999 every time I walk in. I despise the place.

  9. latemodel says:

    If you're willing to suck it up and deal with a late-20th-Century machine shop, I speak the language and will be happy to translate. It will, however, involve a quote. There's no way around that. But the reason they want to know your feelings is that you don't speak the language, and they want to make sure they'll get it right.

    As for the Kinkos part, part of the problem is that you want a small run. Most fabricators will look at you like you're crosseyed if you ask for 5 of something, much less one.

    If you would like to start a company to do this, give me a call and I'll help you put together your team. I can even pitch it to Google for you.

  10. duskwuff says:

    tugrik is more of a hobbyist than a "Kinko of fabbing", but he's relatively local and might enjoy a challenge like this.

  11. mattbot says:

    Photo acid etching a zinc plate can give you those sort of tolerances. I'm guessing conductivity is an issue, so you can then cast a mold with rubber cement from the plate and use it to set your plastic or epoxy. Doing this yourself is dirt cheap but it takes some skill to stay with ±0.2mm. Look for a local etching place to do the hard work with the zinc acid bath. You can email them a pdf of your ai file. Handle the molding yourself. Then mass produce. Or not.

    I worked at a ceramics place about 10 years ago and produced the ~500 ai files for this sort of process.

  12. Yes, Ponoko are here in New Zealand. Given that we're across the date line, we're in your future and you're in our past. So Ponoko have to ship their stuff back in time to reach you. That's why it costs so much.

  13. jlewis_nz says:

    I work for Ponoko and just wanted to chime in about the shipping rates.

    Shipping costs were a bit 'payload into orbit'-ishness. BUT as of March we have been making your designs from SF, for US customers, and this means we've been able to dramatically lower shipping costs.

    Do have another look and track me down if there is anything I can help with.

  14. rog says:

    Sounds like big blue saw might indeed help, but they don't take the exact format that you're after.

  15. Pololu will do that. There's still a quote involved, but it's basically because their cost depends on the design (mostly linear length of the cut, but I gather there are other considerations).

    For materials Pololu's machine won't do there's DC water jet.

  16. jochemdb says:


    You could actually help to bring the 3D fabbing future closer by becoming a beta test user!

    Just have a look at http://www.shapeways.com. We are starting an internet service allowing you to upload your 3D designs and have them produced using Rapid Manufacturing (or 3D printing).

    So, if you ever wanted to fab some of your designs into real objects, come to Shapeways and sign-up. Please indicate you're a 3D designer. http://www.shapeways.com/beta

    What is in it for you? Well we offer to produce your models at very low prices. What do we want? Some time and skills. Upload some of your 3D models, or alternatively model something new and let us know what your experience is.

    Thanks in advance for helping us!



    • Just curious -- why does your Gallery page require an invite-only account? If you want to generate interest, you ought to have a publicly viewable gallery of what you're capable of producing.

      • jochemdb says:

        Hi, I understand what you're saying. We'll remove the invitation-only system in a few months. If you would like to be invited as one of the first, feel free to subscribe yourself as a beta tester!