Update 21 November 2012: My Ponoko order arrived yesterday. It is proof that the technique works - all lines were cut perfectly, the engraving looks great, and the text is raster engraved beautifully. See below for the ocular proof.
I really like Ponoko’s laser-cutting service. It’s a breeze to use and the customer support is excellent. With it, I can now create custom enclosures for my electronics projects, bringing a new level of professionalism to their finish.
The only bit I find hard is capturing my designs in the vector graphics tool Inkscape. This is clearly an immensely powerful program with a plethora of features. Mastering such programs seems to involve setting oneself up for success, becoming intimately familiar with what each tool does, picking up lots of tricks, and memorising all the shortcut keys. It’s a significant time investment and a steep learning curve; and because I only design enclosures every now and then, it takes a while to reacquaint myself with all these things.
A lot of my designs involve repeating elements - equally spaced mounting holes, for instance. This repetition led me to ask whether I could specify my designs programmatically. I’m comfortable with programming, and certainly more adept at it than I am at using a vector graphics tool!
Specifying a design in code seemed to bring with it a number of advantages:
Point perfect positioning. Ability to specify precise coordinates and no risk of “bumping” shapes out of their intended place.
Built in workflow. Possible to set a flag and change from “design” mode, with guidelines and annotations shown and thick lines for printing, to “production” mode, with only the details to be cut/engraved shown and thin lines for the laser cutter.
Versioning. Standard source control tools, like Git and SVN can be used.
Public transport friendly! It’s quite feasible to type on a bus or train; much harder to use a mouse to create precise graphics.