“Equation” (Math Art by Dizingof)



Isn’t math beautiful? When a mathematical equation is rendered in 3D and then 3D printed, patterns and forms emerge, reminiscent of images found in nature. Hold something like this in your hands, and a new appreciation for math can be found.

This was printed in ABS at 0.15mm layer height, then treated with acetone vapor to give it a smooth finish.

A time-lapse video of the print can be found here.

The model is by Dizingof, my favorite 3D artist. This model can be found here, and the rest of his work can be seen here.

3D Printing in a Nutshell, Now and in the Future

It’s hard to appreciate the importance of what’s developing with 3D printing and related technologies. Many people equate the current state of 3D printing technologies to the state of computers and software in the early 1980’s. I agree with that, but there’s one BIG difference. With the modern Internet, there is an interconnectedness and ability to easily share and access information that we did not have in the 80’s. Many of the 3D printer designs and related software are released under open source licenses, so others are free to download the designs or source code and make further improvements, then release it back to the community. This Internet-based, open source, community-driven approach to developing a new technology is tremendously powerful!

Here’s a look at the current state of 3D printing, and a glimpse of what’s ahead:



As of today, here’s what’s happening in 3D printing and related technologies:

  • Consumer-level 3D printers are becoming less expensive, more widely available, and easier to use.
  • To show the cost effectiveness of 3D printing, students at MTU printed $1,944 worth of household items for a total cost of $18 over the course of a single weekend.
  • Designers can now create digital 3D models and then sell physical replicas of those models in a variety of materials using services like Shapeways or i.Materialise. No need to own a 3D printer!
  • Children are seeing how easily ideas can be transformed into a physical object. Schools and libraries are starting to install 3D printers, enabling a new kind of experience-driven education.
  • Organ tissues are being 3D printed for medical testing, and surgeons are starting to fix serious injuries with 3D printed implants.
  • The first food printers have started to arrive: Consumer levelprofessional level, and some just for the chocolate lovers.
  • The Smithsonian is in the process of 3D scanning their archives (which contain over 137 million objects, only about 2% of which are on display). They are being made freely available online, with many of them in a downloadable format for 3D printing at home.
  • NASA is sending a 3D printer to the International Space Station so they can build parts on demand.
  • The ability to 3D print entire houses has been developed.
  • Prosthetics are being made available much more affordably and being made available to those who need them.
  • Prosthetics are also being turned into works of art the wearer can be proud to show off.
  • And of course we can’t forget, 3D printing has made its way into the world of fashion.

The Future

In the years to come, things are going to get really interesting:


In Summary

These technologies are going to radically change our world in ways we can only partially imagine now. As the technology continues to develop at an accelerated pace, those futuristic, almost magical technologies we keep collectively dreaming about in our sci-fi movies will begin to materialize. And it’s going to happen faster than you might think, thanks to something that we as humans are hopefully rediscovering – that many people working collaboratively on a challenge can achieve incredible results!


Here’s a nice infographic that sums it all up:

Infographic source: http://www.nerdgraph.com/the-possibilities-of-a-3d-printer/

Monitoring Your 3D Prints

When printing an object for the first time, it’s especially important to monitor the print closely. Even if your printer is well calibrated and your slicing settings are all tuned, each object will be different and can lead to unexpected results.

So, it’s best to monitor carefully if you don’t want to end up with something like this…

There are lots of ways to monitor your prints. Sure, you could sit in front of the printer staring at it all day, but that wouldn’t be much fun, would it? Well, here’s what I do…

My 3D Print Monitoring Setup:

The PC is basically the 3D printing workstation. The printer is connected to it via USB, as are the webcams. I don’t actually run print jobs from the PC – too much risk of crashing. I run the jobs from an SD card in the printer, but the USB connection does allow me to connect to the printer via ReplicatorG and remotely control it if needed.
The C920 is on a tripod, and I position it close enough to get a nice detailed view of the filament being extruded, but far enough that the finished object will still fit in the view.
The Quickcam Pro 9000 is positioned in front of the status screen of the printer so I can monitor print progress and temperatures.
The Webcam Timelapse software does two things. First, it gives me a nice full-screen, HD view of the C920 webcam, which is showing the actual print. Second, it records screenshots every X seconds (I use 15 second intervals by default). It drops all of these JPGs into a folder of your choice, then lets you combine the JPGs into a time-lapse video when the job is done. Not only does this provide a nice time-lapse of every print job, which can be kept or discarded as desired, but it also provides an image archive of everything that may have happened when you weren’t looking. If something goes wrong with a print, I can look through the JPG still images and find the ones where the problem occured to see exactly what happened.
The AmCap software provides a nice, clean view of the Quickcam Pro 9000, which can be set to have no menu bar and stay on top of other windows. The result is basically a picture-in-picture view of the print and the status display.
Now, I use Splashtop 2 Remote Desktop on the iPad (or iPhone) to connect to the PC from wherever I am. If I’m at home, it uses the local wifi. If I’m out, then it goes over the Internet. Either way, the video is smooth and clear. So, whether I’m in another room, or sitting at the local coffee shop, I see something like this:
I also keep the audio monitor enabled on one of the webcams. When I’m remotely monitoring, I listen closely to the sounds the printer is making as it extrudes. It’s amazing how much you can tell about what’s going on just from listening closely. You have to learn to recognize the specific sounds associated with your specific printer. There’s a definite sound when it’s running smoothly, with variances in pitch providing an accurate indication of speed. There’s another sound when the nozzle tries to move too quickly in smaller movements, resulting in too much vibration. Another sound indicates that the nozzle is trying to extrude too much filament too quickly, and the filament is slipping and getting backed up in the pinch wheel gears. And then of course there’s that lovely Makerbot “Ta-Da” song that indicates a print has finished.
If a problem occurs with a print when I’m not at home, I can remotely launch ReplicatorG, connect to the printer, and send a reset signal to stop the print so additional filament isn’t wasted.

Using Slic3r with a FlashForge Creator, Creator X, or Creator Pro

The FlashForge Creator family of printers are great printers for the price, but over the past several months, I have had to solve a number of problems and research a lot of answers in order to get everything working as I wanted. Some of these answers were easy to find, but others don’t seem to be addressed anywhere. I intend to summarize here the results of my testing and calibration, which will be most useful for those using a FlashForge Creator, Creator X, or Creator Pro.

My setup:

  • Flashforge Creator and Creator X (dual extruder models)
  • Sailfish firmware v7.6
  • Windows 8.1
  • Slic3r v1.1.7

Note: While this post shows how to set this up on Windows, I’ve posted a video tutorial that shows how to install on Mac OS X.

As outlined in a previous post, I spent a good deal of time testing out various slicing software. I was having a few issues with Slic3r (all of which were eventually solved and will be addressed here), so I went on to try Makerbot Makerware. The latest version does seem to handle the latest Sailfish firmware okay. Overall, the results were good, and I started to shift to using Makerware as my default software for slicing and generating the x3g files needed for printing. But after lots of further testing and careful comparisons, I became convinced that Slic3r has a more elegant slicing engine and produces higher quality results at better speeds, giving you more control along the way. It also produces more effective support material than Makerware. So, determined to use Slic3r, I went back to solve the problems I had run into previously. Hopefully, the following will save others with a FlashForge Creator or Creator X from having to invest as much time in this process as I did.

I recommend first installing the latest Sailfish firmware and following the Sailfish installation, setup, and tuning guides.


Setting Up Slic3r for a Flashforge Creator, Creator X, or Creator Pro

Download and install the latest stable version of Slic3r. Make sure you’re in “Expert mode” (File, Preferences).
Use the Configuration Wizard, or manually configure the printer settings. You’re going to want at least two printer profiles – one for single material prints and another for dual material prints. This is because we’ll use different Start and End G-Code to handle the appropriate number of extruders.
Choose “Sailfish (Makerbot)” for “G-Code flavor” and set the print bed dimensions (X=228, Y=150).
Set the number of extruders to 2.

Custom G-Code (Single Material Prints – Right Extruder)

Under “Custom G-Code” in your single material printer profile, try using the following. I like my G-Code to be well-documented for later reference, hence all the comments at the beginning.  Feel free to remove any line starting with a semi-colon.

Start G-Code:  start_gcode_single.txt
End G-Code:  end_gcode_single.txt
This Start/End g-code incorporates fixes for a number of issues I was having that seem to be related to the particularities of a Makerbot type printer.
In summary:
  • Slic3r’s default g-code wasn’t setting temperatures properly for my machine. This g-code uses the proper M-commands for the FlashForge and utilizes the Slic3r variables to fill in the temperatures you have set for the first layer.
  • Note the use of the “[first_layer_temperature_0]” variable. I couldn’t find this documented or addressed anywhere, but I tried something and got lucky. The variable seen in all the documentation and the Slic3r .ini files is “[first_layer_temperature]”, but on my dual extruder printer, that was returning two numbers separated by a comma. So the resulting g-code would be M104 S225, 225 T0 (which doesn’t compute). On a whim, I decided to try “[first_layer_temperature_0]” and found that yes, this will return just the value for the first extruder (and “[first_layer_temperature_1]” is for the second extruder).
  • The default Start g-code used a simple purge routine to extrude some plastic in a corner of the build plate before starting the job. I found that sometimes, especially if there was some oozing plastic already hanging on the extruder nozzle, the blob of plastic created by this initial purge routine would get caught on the nozzle and would then get dragged along, interfering with the first layer of the print. I greatly prefered Makerware’s approach, which extrudes a thin line of plastic along the front edge of the build plate before starting a job. It has a tendency to wipe off any oozing plastic that was already on the nozzle so you get a nice clean start to each print. I analyzed some g-code from Makerware and incorporated the appropriate bits here, with some modifications (i.e. it uses Slic3r’s “[first_layer_height]” variable.)

Custom G-Code (Single Material Prints – Left Extruder)

Start G-Code:  start_gcode_left.txt
End G-Code:  end_gcode_left.txt


Custom G-Code (Dual Material Prints)

Under “Custom G-Code” in your dual material printer profile, try using the following:
Start G-Code:  start_gcode_dual.txt
End G-Code:  end_gcode_dual.txt
And for Tool-Change G-Code:  tool_change_gcode_dual.txt
In summary:
  • Same use of temperature variables as discussed previously. Note the use of both “[first_layer_temperature_0]” and “[first_layer_temperature_1]” for the first and second extruders, respectively. These temperatures are determined by the material you’re using, as defined in the Filament profiles within Slic3r.
  • The same improved purge routine dicussed above, but modified so that it is repeated for each extruder. The second extruder uses a Y value that’s +1, so it lays the filament down right next to the filament from the first extruder.
  • Tool changes for dual extrusion prints weren’t working for me. When I looked at Slic3r’s g-code, I found that it was using “M108 T0” or “M108 T1” to change extruders. Looking at g-code from ReplicatorG/Skeinforge, I saw that the Makerbot type printers seem to be looking for a simple “T0” or “T1” and don’t seem to recognize the M108 commands. Using the above “Tool-Change G-Code” takes care of this issue by inserting the appropriate commands before each tool change. The M108 commands are still in the g-code, but they just get ignored by the printer.

Converting from G-Code to .X3G Using GPX as a Slic3r Post-Processor

You can download the GPX utility from here. Place it in a directory of your choice.
I found that if you just place the GPX executable into the “Post-processing scripts” field in Slic3r, it doesn’t work the way I want it too because Slic3r doesn’t let you pass command-line arguments to the script (for security reasons). To get around this, I created my own little Perl script to call GPX with the options I want.
If you don’t have a Perl interpreter installed, you can get one here.
In Slic3r’s “Print Settings” under “Output options”, I use the following for “Post-processing scripts” (modify according to where you have Slic3r installed):
run-gpx.pl is as follows:
#!/usr/bin/perl -i
use strict;
use warnings;
use File::Basename;
use Win32;
my $fname = $ARGV[0];
my ($name, $path, $suffix1) = fileparse($fname, qr’\.[^\.]*’);
my $shortname = “$name$suffix1”;
my $shortpath = Win32::GetShortPathName($path);
exec “D:/gpx-win32-1.3/gpx.exe -g -p -m r1d $shortpath$shortname D:/Dropbox/3DPRIN~2/$name.x3g”
You’ll need to modify the last line according to where you have gpx.exe and where you want the .x3g files placed.
This will call GPX, tell it that we’re using a Replicator 1 Dual (which is basically what the Flashforge Creator is), and tell it where to place the .x3g file. I like having all of the resulting .x3g files go into the same directory so they can then be easily copied to the SD card for printing.

Closing Comments

During testing, I discovered a couple of minor software bugs. I reported them to the developer, and he had them fixed within a few days!
Slic3r is excellent software, and has been released to the community free of charge. If you find the software useful, I encourage you to make a donation to support the hard work Alessandro is doing.
Have a Flashforge Creator or Creator X and know a better way of doing anything covered here? Post it in comments.
Good luck!

Cellular Cocoon Vase, with Acetone Vapor Treatment

Cellular Cocoon Vase, by Dizingof, with Acetone Vapor Treatment

This vase was printed in ABS at 0.15mm layer height. I kept the print speed pretty slow due to all of the details and overhangs, so this took about 24 hours to print.

After printing, I treated the whole thing in an acetone vapor bath (using a large deep fryer and a version of the method outlined by Austin Wilson and Neil Underwood here.)

A time-lapse video of the print can be found here.

The model can be found here. Model credit: Dizingof (aka Asher Nahmias)


3D Printed Architectural Design Brings an Idea to Life

As I’ve said before, 3D printing has the power to bring ideas to life in a very real way. Here’s an example of how well this works for the smaller ideas as well as the big ones.

For the last 4+ years, my mom has owned and operated a wonderful vegetarian café in Woodstock, IL, called Expressly Leslie Vegetarian Specialties. You can check it out here.

We recently discussed possibilities for creating a Health-Department-approved production kitchen in her home so she could prepare certain dishes on a larger scale than what she can produce at the current café.

She laid out a design for a small production kitchen that would fit in a corner of her basement, and drew the following for me as an illustration:

Initial sketch of a design for a small production kitchen
Initial sketch of a design for a small production kitchen

I decided to surprise her by not only designing a 3D model of her concept kitchen, but also 3D printing a physical model of it for her. So I did a bit of searching and found a free piece of software for designing homes (or rooms in this case) that is able to export in a standard 3D file format. Using SweetHome3D (link below), I put together the following according to her instructions:

Production Kitchen Design - 2D View
Production Kitchen Design – 2D View
Production Kitchen Design - 3D View
Production Kitchen Design – 3D View


SweetHome3D lets you export as a Wavefront OBJ file. But when you export a room by default, it does not include the floor, which I wanted in my print. To get around this, I created a “wall” but set it to only 2″ high and with X and Y dimensions slightly larger than the rest of the room. Then, I edited the properties for each object in the room to increase the elevation value by 2″ so it would sit on top of the floor. There might be a better way to do this in the software, but I couldn’t find it, and this worked well for my needs.

I then used Blender (link below) to import the OBJ file and export it as an STL file. From there, I brought it into Slic3r and prepared it for printing.

And here is the result:

3D Printed Model of a Small Production Kitchen Design
3D Printed Model of a Small Production Kitchen Design

As is common with objects with large, flat surfaces like this one, there were some problems with warping and delamination. I treated those the best I could by brushing on a bit of acetone to seal those gaps as they appeared, but some of the issues occurred while I was sleeping and are still visible in the final print.

After printing, I treated the whole thing in an acetone vapor bath (using a large deep fryer and a version of the method outlined by Austin Wilson and Neil Underwood here.)

A time-lapse video of the print can be found here.

The model I used for the 3D printed sign on the font can be found here. Model credit: Steven Morlock

SweetHome3D software can be found here.

Blender software can be found here.


Opportunities for 3D Printing in K-12 Education

As discussed in a previous post, there is exciting potential for 3D printing as part of an educational curriculum. It can help to bring ideas to life in a tangible form that can help facilitate new understanding.

Here are just a few possibilities that come to mind for using 3D printing as part of a K-12 curriculum:

  1. 3D Printed Bridge-Building Contest
    Challenge kids to design, model and print a bridge that can span a space of about six or seven inches (that way, the bridge will fit on most 3D printer build platforms). Limit them to a specific amount of filament used to create the bridge (the 3D printer and/or slicing software will tell you exactly how much filament any given model uses, so you would just have the students submit their STL files to you for analysis). For younger kids, an adult can help do the 3D modeling, but the kids can still figure out what design they want and then see the result created before their eyes. When one bridge breaks, they would just make a change in the model to try to address the issue, then reprint.
  2. 3D Printed Models to Illustrate Complex Ideas
    Simply providing students with a 3D printed model that they can hold in their hands, turn around and look at from all angles can be very helpful. Examples might include molecular/atomic models, biological models (i.e. internal organs), or geometric models that illustrate mathematical concepts. For physics classes, models for things like catapults, working gears, pulleys, etc. can be printed to illustrate specific principles.
  3. Product Design Challenge
    Challenge students to come up with a unique design for a new product, or an improved design for an existing one. Students would then 3D model the product (with help from adults as needed) and then print it out. Not only does this create an incredible experience for the student, as they are able to take an idea and turn it into a physical reality, but it also provides valuable experience in terms of the modern product development lifecycle.
  4. Replicas of Famous Figures and Historical Locations for History or Social Studies Class
    Teachers can 3D print busts of famous figures so students can experience them in three dimensions. Historical locations such as Stonehenge, the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Roman Colloseum, the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, etc. can also be printed. The Smithsonian Museum has undertaken a massive project of 3D scanning their collection of over 137,000,000 artifacts and making them available online, here: http://3d.si.edu  So, for example, you can now download a detailed life mask of Abraham Lincoln, made a day before his 56th birthday, in the STL file format, ready for 3D printing!
  5. Architecture and Interior Design
    Have students design a house or other architectural structure, or design the interior of a single room, then 3D model and print the design. There are software tools available that make these kinds of designs easy to create with mostly dragging-and-dropping components where you want them. Just make sure to pick a software package that can export to an STL file for printing. For example, http://www.sketchup.com/, which has a plugin available to import/export STL files, available here: http://extensions.sketchup.com/en/content/sketchup-stl. They also offer K-12 grants and deeply discounted educational pricing.
  6. Digital Sculpting
    Art students can explore digital sculpting, using software to virtually sculpt a model, just as they would if working with clay. For example, Autodesk makes many of their excellent applications available free of charge to students and educators. Go to http://www.autodesk.com/education/free-software and check out 123D Sculpt if your students have access to iPhone or iPad devices. They can create a model by “pushing” and “pulling” on a virtual lump of clay, then export the file for 3D printing. It’s a very easy and intuitive way for kids to get started with 3D modeling.
  7. 3D Printed Prosthetics
    In a school with several thousand students, there’s a good chance that one or more of those students are missing fingers, a hand, or some other limb. What if a group of students could 3D print and assemble a fully functional prosthesis for that person? Well, it’s very possible, and some schools are working with the e-NABLE volunteer community to do exactly that.
We have to think about the profound value and potentially life changing experience that these types of activities can have on students of all ages. Then ask ourselves, in today’s schools, where the focus is on standardized testing, can we make room for something like this? I certainly hope so because 3D printing will be a part of our future whether we like it or not. Our kids will need to learn about this new technology just like they will need to know how to code. It’s important to really think about what education is, what it should be, and make changes that are child driven, rather than financially driven. Technologies like 3D printing are giving us an opportunity to provide our children with an exciting kind of experience-based education that has the power to truly inspire them to achieve great things.
Here are some videos showing students involved with 3D printing. Notice how genuinely interested and engaged they seem:

3D Printed Marble Display Stand, Designed by a 10-Year-Old

I had a terrific experience today. Yesterday evening, my 10-year-old son came to me with a drawing of a display stand he wanted to make for his favorite marbles (yes, it’s okay to laugh at that). The marbles were of different diameters, and he wanted the stand to have a square base with cylindrical towers to hold each marble. He had very specific instructions on how tall he wanted each tower to be.

So, he went off to bed, and I started to learn some 3D modeling (which I have never done before, so please don’t laugh at my almost non-existent modeling skills).

Here’s what he gave me (I added in marble measurements so I’d know how to size each tower):

Initial Sketch of Marble Display Stand
Initial Sketch of Marble Display Stand

And here’s what I modeled:

3D Model of Marble Display Stand
3D Model of Marble Display Stand

So, I started it printing and went to bed myself. When we woke up in the morning, this was waiting for us:

3D Printed  Marble Display Stand
3D Printed Marble Display Stand

Zachary (my son) arranged his marbles and found that everything fit perfectly!


3D Printed Marble Display Stand, with Marbles
3D Printed Marble Display Stand, with Marbles

The look on his face when he saw this was priceless! I could tell that this made a huge impact on him. He had an idea, sketched it out, and then we brought that idea into physical form – from his head to the real world in just a few hours.

My wife and I homeschool Zachary, and it’s clear that 3D printing is going to be an important part of his education. It’s no wonder that schools and libraries across the country are installing 3D printers. Much like kids in my generation grew up with computers, Zachary’s generation is going to grow up with 3D printing. The thought of having a new idea for an object and then printing out a physical model of it may seem somewhat magical to us, but it will seem very normal to our children. Over time, this will help us as a society to become co-creators, rather than mere consumers.


A time-lapse video of the print can be found here: http://youtu.be/x_CIL2l2pcs

And if for some strange reason, you want to print one of these for yourself, you can download the model here: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:206589 (model credit: Zachary S.)


Twisted Vase Printed in Taulman T-Glase

Twisted Vase Printed with Taulman T-Glase

I’m really enjoying this Taulman T-Glase material. It has great optical properties, as you can see in the photo. It sticks great to Kapton tape, and it prints at about the same temperature as ABS, so my setup doesn’t even need any changes to print with T-Glase.

Taulman also has T-Glase in color. The only print difference is that the dyes for PETT retain heat longer, so you’ll want to make sure your material fan is “ON”. Also, as the dyes are molecular solids, they inhibit the light pipe capability, so
users will have to use colored lights and clear t-glase with light pipe designs. (For a description and photos of light pipes, see the bottom of this page: http://www.taulman3d.com/t-glase-features.html)

A time-lapse video of the print can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_59s8gGgYJw

The model can be found here: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:18672  (model credit: Maak Mijn Idee)

You can find more info or buy Taulman T-Glase here: http://taulman3d.com/t-glase-features.html

Vase Printed in Taulman T-Glase

Vase Made with Taulman T-Glase

Beautiful, isn’t it? Click on the photo for the full resolution version.

This material just arrived today. It’s Taulman T-Glase (short for “Tough Glass”).  This stuff is nylon based, so it’s super-strong, it has terrific optical properties, and it’s FDA approved for direct food contact. It’s also fully reclaimable, so you can melt down failed prints and extrude new filament from it. You can even mix in up to 12% of the total weight with plastic water bottles!

I think this is going to be really nice for jewelry, like earrings and bracelets. Going to try some of those out soon.

This vase came out nicely, except for some minor layering defects near the top, where it curves outward. I should be able to correct that by reducing the print speed as it approaches that part of the print.

A time-lapse video of the print can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FyfqfqMWJ48

The model can be found here: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:104694 (model credit: Håkan Langemark)

You can find more info or buy Taulman T-Glase here: http://taulman3d.com/t-glase-features.html

Cat Drinking Pond

Cat Pond

We recently adopted two kittens, so I decided to print this out for their water dish. The threaded port is sized for a 1-liter bottle, so you just screw in a bottle of water, then you don’t have to worry about refilling the water dish for a while. This was printed in PLA, which is a bio-degradable plastic – safe for the kitties!

The model can be found here: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:38224 (model credit: JohK)

Dual Extrusion Rhombic Dodecahedra Chain

Rhombic Dodecahedra

This was a very cool print… This object is designed specifically for the Replicator 1 Dual printer. The individual segments of the object are spaced exactly as far apart as the two extruders on the printer. This means that if you load one color into each extruder and then enable ditto printing (which causes both extruders to do exactly the same thing at the same time, rather than working one at a time), then it prints out exactly as shown above. Kudos to Emmett Lalish, who designed this object!

The model can be found here: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:31151 (model credit: Emmett Lalish)

Diagrid Bracelet

Diagrid Bracelet

I’ve made about a half-dozen of these so far. My wife keeps giving them away to people so I have to keep making new ones (which is fine with me).

The model can be found here: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:7045 (model credit: Jessica and Jesse from Nervous System, http://n-e-r-v-o-u-s.com)

A time-lapse video of the print can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvRzQnx-_ec

4-Stage Planetary Gears

4-Stage Planetary Gears

There’s no better feeling than printing something like this, then taking the pieces off the build plate and assembling them, only to find everything fits perfectly and works smoothly. This part also comes with a drill bit insert you can replace the handle with. Then you can use a power drill to turn the gears really fast. Even running a power drill at top speed, these gears work flawlessly!

The model can be found here: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:23030 (model credit: aubenc)

A time-lapse video of the print can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n94G-tNsSPo

Polyhedron by Leonardo da Vinci

Polyhedron by Leonardo da Vinci

I printed a small version of this, about 2 inches in diameter. My son liked it and asked me to print a bigger one in red. This required printing will full support, and at this size, it took a long time to finish – about 18 hours. This was printed in ABS @ 0.2mm layer height.

The model can be found here: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:156482 (model credit: Roger Peng)

Coin Traps

Coin Traps

This is one of my favorites. The coin is too big to be removed through any of the holes, so anyone you show this to who isn’t familiar with 3D printing won’t be able to figure out how you got the coins in there. The trick is to print it half way, pause the print and drop the coin in, then finish the print.

The model can be found here: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:193941 (model credit: mathgrrl)

iPhone 5 Case with Moving Gears and Geneva Mechanism

iPhone 5 Case with Moving Gears and Geneva Mechanism

I love this iPhone case. The phone fits perfectly, there’s a nice cut-away where the buttons are, and the power button on the top of the phone has a spring-loaded 3D-printed part that makes it very responsive, with nice tactile feedback. The backside of the case has a set of working gears and a geneva mechanism (lower right of the photo). The main part of the case is printed in two pieces, and the gears and pins are printed separately. Then a little super glue here and there, and everything works smoothly. I didn’t even have to clean up the parts at all. Everything came straight off the print bed and fit together perfectly.

The model for this case can be found here: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:79606 (model credit: Brandon Watt)

Treefrog Layer Height Comparison

Treefrog Layer Height Comparison

This was an interesting print. It was helpful not only for testing and calibration, but also because it shows the difference in print quality when using different layer heights. The one printed at .34mm has visible layers and misses tiny details like the frog’s nostrils. The one printed at .05mm looks and feels smooth and shows even the tiniest of details.

Of course, there’s a trade-off between quality and print speed. The print times were as follows:

0.34mm layer height: 28 min
0.27mm layer height: 39 min
0.10mm layer height: 1 hr 24 min
0.05mm layer height: 2 hrs 54 min

The model for the Treefrog Comparison Plate can be found here: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:80870 (model credit: Dr. Konrad Walus)

The model for the Treefrog can be found here: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:18479 (model credit: MorenaP)

Fun with Slicers

I recently bought a Flashforge Creator 3D printer from Amazon. It’s essentially a Replicator 1 Dual with a different name. The first thing I did was update the firmware to the latest version of Sailfish firmware, currently v7.5 (http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:32084).

After that, it was a matter of getting everything calibrated and determining the optimal settings for slicing models (that means preparing them to print, for those not familiar with 3D printing). As anyone who has explored 3D printing knows, there are a lot of software options available for processing and slicing models, and none of them are perfect. I spent many days thoroughly testing and experimenting with three different slicing engines, so I thought I’d share some of my experiences for others who might be in a similar situation.

Approach #1: ReplicatorG with Skeinforge 

First, I used ReplicatorG with Skeinforge (as recommended for the Sailfish firmware). Skeinforge is a great slicer with lots and lots of configurable options. However, it is several years old and hasn’t really kept up with the rapidly increasing size and complexity of 3D models being processed. After lots of tuning and testing, I managed to get great quality prints at pretty fast print speeds (80-150mm/s). However, I then discovered that Skeinforge has a tendency to crash with out-of-memory errors when trying to slice larger or more complex models. It’s also the slowest of the slicing engines I tried.

ReplicatorG can be found here: http://replicat.org

The Sailfish firmware, which includes the latest version of ReplicatorG, can be found here: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:32084

Approach #2: Cura

When I tried out Cura, after reading positive things about it, I was thrilled with the interface and the speed. It’s definitely the best overall user experience of all the tools I’ve tried. However, Cura does not yet seem to be aware of the acceleration capabilities of the new Sailfish firmware. The result is that, even after calibration, the printer’s movements tend to be overly jerky and the resulting print quality suffers significantly. Sadly, I had to put Cura aside until that changes.

Cura can be found here: http://software.ultimaker.com

Approach #3: Slic3r

Finally, I moved to Slic3r v1.0.0RC1. ReplicatorG does have the ability to select Slic3r as the slicing engine, but the version of Slic3r included in the ReplicatorG package isn’t the latest. This is unfortunate, because ReplicatorG not only slices the STL files (3D models) and converts them to g-code, but also converts them further into the x3g format required for my printer (and other Replicator models).

Luckily, I was able to get GPX working as a post-processor within Slic3r. I’ll post more details about this some other time, but GPX is a command line tool for converting g-code files into x3g format, and it can be called from within the Slic3r program (or from within Cura).

Once this was setup, I went through another extensive round of testing and calibration. Slic3r isn’t as fast as Cura, but it’s faster than Skeinforge. Like Skeinforge, Slic3r gives you lots of options for controlling speed and other factors that affect print quality.

Now that I’ve got everything pretty well optimized, I’m getting great quality prints at good speeds. The Slic3r / GPX combination is working great. In a future post, I’ll share details about the specific settings I’m using, as it may benefit others using a Flashforge Creator or a Replicator 1 Dual. Others may find some useful information also, but keep in mind that settings are always going to be very specific to the type of printer used. They also vary based on the type of filament used, environmental conditions, and other factors, so you’ll need to do your own testing to see what works for you.

Slic3r can be found here: http://slic3r.org

GPX can be found here: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:81425

Exploring the art of 3D printing and related technologies