FAQHow to

Planning designs around materials

Planning designs around materials

Sometimes, customers need guidance about the best materials for their projects. If we consider how products will be used and where they will be displayed, there’s usually a good solution.

Material properties

Plywood that has laminated layers. Mdf is pressed into fibre boards of different thicknesses. Both become stronger with increasing thickness. Even at 3mm, plywood’s laminated layers give strength in two dimensions. It’s ideal for making small pieces like keyrings and golf bag tags that endure heavy usage, and it’s cost effective too.

Oak can snap with the line of the grain when there are imperfections in the grain called shakes. Other solid woods don’t have shakes.

Perspex is very robust, but it can shatter when dropped or snap at narrow points. Its broken edges are sharp edges and they cut skin easily. They’re so sharp I haven’t felt injuries at the time.

Mylar and polypropylene are bendy and flexible and can be almost indestructible. I use polypropylene for ballet tutu templates that need to take being snipped against with shears, but can bend with the netting. Rigid templates wouldn’t work.

Design delicacy

If a design is delicate, then robustness needs to be built into the design to ensure it will perform. As a rule, I find that keeping narrow areas of a design to 2 to 3mm wide works with any material in most cases. Here are my top tips for designing artwork for laser cutting.

treated oak sign mounted on stone gateway

Will the products be handled?

If objects are to be handled, especially by children, materials need to be chosen with care.

Wood is chunky and light. I’ve made giant plywood and mdf jigsaws with FifeX and The Malting House Design Studio that have worked really well.

Coloured perspex models (pictured at the top), coloured Valchromat and foam are good options too, and extra pieces can be made just in case.

Outdoor display

Which materials will stand up to the weather or survive being mounted in the ground?

Green oak and green larch are ideal for outdoor use without any treatment at all. They’ve been used for building for hundreds of years and can survive in the ground for 20 years or more. They make great wayfinding posts, signs and plaques.

Other softwoods and hardwoods need varnishing every year or so to protect them from the weather. If there#’s no budget for maintenance, it’s best to choose a low maintenance wood. Green larch is a cost effective option if green oak is too costly.

Marine ply is suitable for outdoor use with treatment. Unfortunately, laser grade ply is indoor grade and will only withstand outdoor display with very regular treatment.

Perspex, on the other hand, is perfect for outdoor use. It’s weather proof, is UV stable and doesn’t rot.

Mylar and polypropylene are perfect for flexible stencils as they can be washed.


Have you got a product you’d like to develop but aren’t sure how? Contact us or ask for a quote.