Author Archives: mathgrrl

Printing the Impossible: Evolution of a Fidget Cube

fidget toy

Today’s How I Made It post explores a journey to 3D printing a fidget toy. Fidget toys have been trending since October, and it’s amazing to see our community come up with ever-more-brilliant ways to keep those hands busy during deep thoughts, Netflix binges, meetings….

I usually start my designs by prototyping at home with a desktop FDM/filament 3D printer. But some models are really, really difficult to print on a filament-based 3D printer, and my “Fidget Cube” model is one of the worst: it has enclosed hinges that point in every possible direction, and pieces of the model that have to somehow print floating right above other pieces. On an SLS/nylon powder printer like those used for Strong & Flexible plastic prints at Shapeways, such “impossible” prints can be printed with great success rates. But at home, different desktop filament printers, different filaments, and seemingly even different days of the week can have an influence on the success or failure of 3D printing Fidget Cubes.

In this post, we’ll track the evolution of one particularly fidgety 3D design over the past five years, from an assembly model to print-in-place on FDM machines, to multicolor variants, and finally all the way to SLS printing at Shapeways, where we will be able to level up our idea of “impossible” to include the printing of a fully-functioning Yoshimoto cube!

2013: Pieces

Our story begins with a 3D-printable Folding Cube by the legendary emmett. This model prints in eight separate pieces which you then click together to assemble.

This model is based on the popular “photo cubes” that you might have made out of paper and tape when you were younger. If you want to make a paper one, check out Magic Folding Photo Cubes on Instructables. Emmett’s Folding Cube is a beautiful model that is really fun to fidget with, but because I’m not good at rotating or visualizing objects mentally, I had a really difficult time putting the pieces together properly. In fact, I was so bad at it that I vowed never to do it again, and set about to create a remix that could print all in one piece, fully assembled.

2014: Print in Place

After a lot of trial and error, I ended up creating the design from scratch in OpenSCAD. Clearances between hinge parts and adjacent surfaces have to be just right for the Print-in-Place Fidget Cube to print successfully, and getting your slicer settings and model clearances to hit that sweet spot is a fairly advanced 3D printing challenge.

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It probably isn’t going to work on your printer, with your filament, on the first try, but once you find the right settings and clearances you should be able to print these Fidget Cubes reliably with a low failure rate (or, you can obviously go straight to Shapeways). If you decide to print it at home, the Print-in-Place Fidget Cube model we put on Thingiverse is customizable so that you can tweak sizes and clearances and try to find what works for your machine.

2015: Yoshimoto

The folding action of the Fidget Cube is the same as that of the Yoshimoto Cube, an incredible model that takes advantage of the fact that a cube can be evenly dissected into two Stellated Rhombic Dodecahedra — and in fact, that those two Stellated Rhombic Dodecahedra can themselves be folded inside out to form cubes of the same size as the original cube. You kind of have to see it to believe it:

You can make a Yoshimoto Cube using origami or you can purchase a truly beautiful version from the MoMA store. Unfortunately, you can’t make a Yoshimoto Cube by carving up a Fidget Cube into two pieces, because the hinges protrude out of the shape and would interfere with the nesting of the pieces. However, we can carve out a Stellated Rhombic Dodecahadon shape from the inside of our fidget cube to form a Fidget Star that folds one way into a cube and the other way into a Stellated Rhombic Dodecahedron.

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Here it is in action. This piece isn’t any more difficult to print than the Fidget Cube, but it seems a lot more impressive and surprising when the entire shape of the object changes as it turns inside out.

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2016: Embedded Hinges

Next in line is the Kobayashi Fidget Cube by pkobayashi, which prints in one piece and has flat hinges! I think you still couldn’t make a good Yoshimoto Cube out of this, but this version should be much, much easier to print than the Fidget Cube. This design isn’t a remix of mine or of emmett’s, but it is definitely an improvement on both:

Designer pkobayashi later created a Dual Color version, which you print in pieces and then assemble:

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2017: Multicolor

What about two-color print-in-place cubes? As of this year, that also exists. MosaicManufacturing has been making beautiful Multi-Color Fidget Star prints! Design-wise, this was made from the Fidget Star just by splitting the model into two pieces (a cube surrounded by a shell). But, printing it is a serious accomplishment:

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They made me one, and it’s huge! Thank you, Mosiac Manufacturing!!

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They handled the two-color printing with a Palette, a device you can use for pre-processing filament to send to your 3D printer. The Palette actually cuts and assembles pieces of colored filament at exactly the right lengths for switching colors in the correct places while printing.

If you have a dual-nozzle 3D printer then you can download Mosaic Manufacturing’s Multi-Color Fidget Star model and print it yourself. Here is one I printed on the lovely dual-nozzle Ultimaker 3. I happened to print it very small, and on fast, low-res “draft” mode, so it’s nowhere near the highest quality that the Ultimaker 3 can produce, but it still looks pretty good and it works!

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… And Beyond: Shapeways!

Printing any of the Fidget Cubes above on an FDM printer can be a difficult process that involves a lot of trial and error, skill, and luck. A lot of the problem lies with the fact that the model has to print without support material for the hinges to operate, which means that the many overhangs and bridges on the model have to print without that support. These problems melt away if you print with a “powder printer” such as the SLS Nylon printers they use at Shapeways to print in Strong & Flexible plastic:

Having industrial-grade 3D printers makes a huge difference in what you can print successfully. Here’s a wonderful, tiny Fidget Cube Stress Reliever by brandutchmen on Shapeways:

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Even better, with the SLS printers, we can get to the holy grail of Fidget Cubes: Nesting hinged models that combine to make a Yoshimoto Cube! VeryWetPaint created a fully functional, two-piece, nesting Yoshimoto Cube model that prints in SLS Nylon at Shapeways, called the Yoshi prime box. His open-style design very cleverly allows both pieces to be hinged so that they can nest together. It’s amazing!

Shapeways people, what’s next? Can you push this design to the next level? What even is the next level? Let us know in the comments and we’ll see which designers dare to take fidgeting to new heights…

Tutorial Tuesday 9: Help!

Where can you go when you need help with a model or mesh? If you’re like Lise, you can ask your colleagues at Shapeways. But, what’s the next best thing? The Shapeways Forums! They’re a great place to ask for advice, check out what community members are working on, and help other other people with their questions. The Shapeways forum community is super active, and many contributors are more than willing to lend a helping hand. This week, we’ll talk about our favorite Shapeways forum groups for designers and modelers.

Help With Design

Three of the Shapeways forums are especially helpful for design questions: First, the Design and Modeling Forum, where you can ask questions about converting models for 3D printing, repairing meshes, or solving design issues. Or, you can answer other designers’ questions if they overlap with your areas of expertise.

Second, the Software and Applications Forum is a great place to ask program-specific questions. You’ll find people talking about software like Fusion 360, Blender, and Netfabb, or discussing software-specific tools and techniques.

Finally, for questions about customizing your designs with CustomMaker or other tools, check out the Customizable Products & Design Forum. This is a great forum to explore if you’re considering making your designs easily personalizable.

Help With Printing

There are also specific forums focused on questions about 3D printing and physical post-processing. Here are three that are of particular interest to designers and product creators.

First, for questions about the 3D printing process itself, check out the Technologies and Hardware Forum.

To ask questions about printing with Strong & Flexible nylon, Alumide, plated metals, or any other types of materials, visit the Materials Forum.

And finally, to learn more about the various post-processing options you could apply to your models after they are printed, check out the Finishing Techniques Forum.

If you’re stuck on a design or printing issue, try looking through the forums for answers. If you can’t find one, just ask a new question. Chances are, a kind soul from the Shapeways community will come to your rescue! And, if you’re an expert or can solve problems, then pay it forward by answering other people’s questions. Do you have a favorite forum on Shapeways? Let us know in the comments!

 

Top and cover image photo credit: gruntzooki via Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

Tutorial Tuesday 8: Using Sculptris to 3D Model With “Digital Clay”

If you want to make an organic-looking sculpted character head or body, and you want to do it for free, then you’ll want to know how to use Sculptris. Sculptris is a free beginner 3D digital sculpting program made available by Pixologic, the company that produces the professional-grade sculpting software ZBrush. It’s very easy to learn how to use Sculptris to create complex 3D models by pushing, pulling, and stretching a digital ball of clay.

Video Tutorials

For a nice introduction to the basic tools, plus a walkthrough showing how to create character heads, check out the Sculptris Reference Tutorial video by IntroducingEmy.

To dig in even deeper, try watching these three in-depth video lessons that Mr.Brooks made for his students: Becoming Familiar With Digital Sculpting in Sculptris, Using the Grab, Scale, Rotate, Draw, Crease Brushes in Sculptris, and Using the Flatten, Inflate, Pinch, and Smooth Brushes in Sculptris.

For even more Sculptris resources, dive into the extensive Sculptris Jumpstart resource page on Thingiverse, and the video resources on the main Sculptris site.

Sculptris Models on Shapeways

Here are three fantastic Shapeways models that were designed with Sculptris. First, a beautiful Dragon Wall Hook by Kai Bracher:

Next, an elegant and mysterious Woman bust by oekart:

Finally, a scientifically intricate Honey Bee model by PeterAndrew (with wings made in ZBrush).

Have you created any models with Sculptris? Let us know in the comments. We love to hear how different designers are using sculpting software, from free programs like Sculptris to commercial software like ZBrush.

Tutorial Tuesday 7: What 3D Design Software Should I Use?

Which 3D design program should I use?

Every day, people ask us, “What design software should I use to create a 3D model?” The answer: Everything you can. Each 3D design software has its own unique personality; different programs are good at different parts of the design process. MeshLab is good at modifying meshes, Tinkercad excels at drag-and-drop modifications, and ZBrush enables you to sculpt. While creating one 3D model, you might utilize multiple 3D design programs, depending on what you need at various stages of your design. In this week’s Tutorial Tuesday, we’ll talk about five examples of designs that together use over a dozen different 3D modeling programs. Buckle up!

Inkscape + Blender

As a simple starting example, let’s look at the angel ornament design created in the Shapeways tutorial Creating a design with moving parts. This design used Inkscape to import a drawing and then create nested offsets (shapes within shapes) of that image. Inkscape is great for manipulating 2D images, but to extrude to 3D and add beveled edges and hinges, the designer had to move to Blender.

Interlocking Angel design

Photoshop + Illustrator + Tinkercad + 3DS Max

Here’s another design walkthrough that illustrates how multiple software programs can be used to convert a 2D drawing into a 3D printable designs: How I Made: Custom Bat Wing Earrings by Ghostgirl. This design uses Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to prepare a 2D image of a hand-drawn sketch, Tinkercad to extrude into 3D, and then 3DS Max to round the edges.

Bat Wing Earrings

Sketchup + MeshLab

Sometimes you need an extra software program to export to the correct format for 3D printing. For example, Shapeways community member aeron203 wrote an excellent tutorial on Textured Models with SketchUp and MeshLab showing how to use SketchUp to create a photo frame with an embedded color image texture, and then MeshLab to convert that model to VRML97 format for printing in Full Color Sandstone.

Mathematica + MeshLab + TopMod + Meshmixer

Here’s an example of a design created using four different software programs: the mathgrrl Deltoidal Hexecontahedron model. First, we used Mathematica to export the polyhedron’s vertex set to STL, MeshLab to resize the object by a particular scaling factor, and TopMod to create and stylize the wireframe. You can read about this design process in the Stylized Catalan Wireframes post on MakerHome. A fourth program, Meshmixer, was used to optimize thicknesses and size for printing at Shapeways.

Blender + ZBrush + Rhino

Finally, consider this amazing Skull Ring by tesserato, who was kind enough to write a detailed design walkthrough How I Made: A Skull Ring. Starting from a 3D medical scan, tesserato used Blender to create a stylized low-poly version of the mesh, and to form a ring shape, then ZBrush to do some detailed sculpting, then Rhino for precision scaling before exporting for 3D printing. Here are physical prints of all the stages of the design:

Notice that in each example, designers use what is most convenient for the task at hand. Sometimes that’s based on what tool is best for the job, and sometimes it’s just based on what software they are already comfortable with. What’s in your 3D modeling toolbox? Let us know in the comments!

No Snow? Here’s How to Make Your Own

Snowflakes have always captured the imagination. And, in a winter where even Chicago has (mostly) gone without snow, our imaginations are now more important than ever. Snowflakes also happen to lend themselves well to parametric design, a method of creating around parameters that can turn one design into many.

Today, we’ll learn how to turn one design, a simple snowflake, into multiple products in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials. We’ll start with simple low-res 3D prints and prototypes on desktop FDM machines, and eventually level up to printing in Nylon and Plated Rhodium at Shapeways. Along the way, we’ll have to consider ways to optimize for 3D printing on different types of machines, and how to print affordably with different types of materials. The snowflake design we’ll be working with was created with code in OpenSCAD, and can procedurally generate over a billion unique snowflakes. Let it snow!


3D Printing Snowflakes at Home

Each winter, we make a new 3D-printable snowflake design. Back in 2013, when we didn’t know very much, it was a set of simple Snowflake Ornaments created from extruded SVG images. In 2014 we leveled up to a customizable Snowflake Cutter that used symmetric image maps to mimic the way snowflakes are cut out of folded paper, and in 2015 it was a full-blown Snowflake Machine that uses OpenSCAD code to generate over a billion unique snowflakes in different styles from random seeds.

These flexible digital designs can create many different types of snowflake models, including large decorations, small ornaments, and even cookie cutters, all of which we initially printed on a consumer-level Ultimaker desktop 3D printer:

     

We’ll talk soon about how we converted these designs for printing in SLS Nylon and Metals at Shapeways, but first let’s talk about the parametric design itself.

How to Code a Blizzard

The Snowflake Machine was created in OpenSCAD, a free design program that allows you to use simple code to create and export 3D-printable STL meshes. The power of designing with OpenSCAD is that it is “parametric,” which means that you can construct your designs based on variables and parameters that control the behavior and features of your models.

In real life, snowflakes grow outwards from a core center as they fall through different temperatures, humidity levels, and other atmospheric conditions. These conditions add “plates” and “branches” of various sizes and configurations to the snowflake as it falls. The code for the Snowflake Machine mimics this process, using a random number seed to create many random number sequences that determine the algorithmic creation of plates and branches. Sizing and style parameters allow you to influence the random sequences to create snowflakes with more or fewer plates, fuller or sparser shapes, and so on.

You can make your own unique 3D-printable snowflake designs using the customizable interface of the Snowflake Machine that we uploaded to Thingiverse. Go to the link and click “Open in Customizer” to get started, then change the starting seed and style parameters until you get the snowflake you want. By clicking “Create Thing” you can download an STL of your custom snowflake and then 3D print it at home or by sending to Shapeways.

If you want to have more design flexibility with your snowflake models, then you can download and modify the “Snowflakerator” code from our Hello OpenSCAD one-page tutorial document. For more information on getting started with OpenSCAD, check out our recent Shapeways Tutorial Tuesday post Using OpenSCAD to Design With Code.

Printing Snowflake Ornaments in SLS Nylon

Last year, we decided it was time to level up and 3D print snowflakes on some big-girl machines, with fancy materials like SLS Nylon and even jewelry-quality silver. Of course we don’t have the equipment to do such things from home, so it was time to visit Shapeways!

Of course, printing with industrial-grade machines is different than printing with desktop filament-based machines, and the requirements for things like clearances or minimum thickness can be very different. For example, in SLS Nylon we can print much more detailed and delicate snowflakes then we had printed before. By changing parameters in our OpenSCAD code, we created two dozen new snowflakes optimized for printing at Shapeways in White Strong & Flexible material, a set of Small Snowflake Ornaments and a set of Large Snowflake Ornaments:

To save on per-part costs (which in White Strong & Flexible would be $1.50 for each disconnected piece of our print job), we used Tinkercad to arrange each dozen snowflakes on a thin rod, as shown in the pictures below. The rod can be easily snipped off after printing and shipping. Check out this past post for more tips on how to make models less costly. Tinkercad is a great tool for such simple modifications; for more on that see our Shapeways Tutorial Tuesday post Beginner 3D Design With Tinkercad. For more technical design tips on converting filament designs to SLS Nylon designs, check out our Hacktastic post From Prototype to Product: Snowflakes.

Printing Snowflake Earrings in Multiple Materials

Since holiday trees are only around for a little while but snowflakes can be fun all winter, we also decided to make some snowflake earrings. Earrings are basically just smaller ornaments, but if we simply scaled down our designs from above then their features would be too small, especially for printing in metals.

In the end, we decided to completely remake the flakes with different OpenSCAD parameters and seeds, and made six new designs. We tried to make them as delicate as possible while still having enough minimum thickness for printing in a wide variety of materials. The six designs we settled on were Flurry, Frost, Powder, Ice, Crystal, and Blizzard, shown here printed in six different materials:

Of course, we also need some hooks! After some experimenting we settled on what are called “Kidney wire” earring hooks, because the dangly snowflake prints can just slip around and onto the hooks without us having to deal with opening or closing any metal loops, as shown in the photo below left.

As a final step we altered our designs to be printable in metal; this involved closing up some of the smaller holes in each model so that it would pass the Shapeways Printability Checks for Precious Metals. With Shapeways’ new Variants feature, we were able to add new files to our existing product pages that would be used only when customers opted for printing in Precious Metals like Plated Rhodium.

Okay, that’s enough snowflakes for this winter! Let us know in the comments if you’ve used the Snowflake Machine to make any 3D-printable designs, or if you have questions about Variants, Printability Checks, design tips, or anything else. Or, leave a comment if you’ve ever turned one parametric model into a flurry of different prints and products; we’d love to see what you made.

Tutorial Tuesday 6: Making Your Designs Customizable with CustomMaker

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One of the most powerful things about 3D printing is the ability to create customized, one-of-a-kind objects. You could choose to make many different personalized jewelry pieces from one ring or pendant design by making modifications on a case-by-case basis in your own design software. Or, you can use Shapeways’ CustomMaker tool to make your shop designs personalizable with just the click of a mouse, enabling yourself or your customers to add their own text or images to parts of your designs. This week on Tutorial Tuesday, we’ll talk about how you can turn your existing designs into easily personalizable, one-of-a-kind pieces.

Getting Started with CustomMaker

CustomMaker runs on Shapeways’ own Javascript voxel-based design language ShapeJS, but you don’t need to know anything about that to apply it to your designs. Using CustomMaker to add customizable text and image fields is as easy as dragging and clicking with your mouse.

So how does it work? Suppose you have an existing design on Shapeways that you want to make personalizable. Start by going to the “Customization” section of the product edit page for that design and activate the “CustomMaker” radio button.

Then, select either “Add Text Box” or “Add Image Box” and click somewhere on your object to make the text or image box appear. You can drag to move or re-size the text or image box however you like. The tool will even automatically curve your text or image around rounded parts of your design! Choose whether you want the text or image to be “embossed” (protruding out from your model) or “engraved” (carved into your model), set the detail depth and font parameters, and click “Preview” to see an example of how the customized text or image would appear on your design.

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You can change settings while in the Preview mode and the design will automatically update. To change the placement of text/image box again, press “Edit” to exit the Preview mode. To add a second customizable feature, first “Save Changes” and then return to the Customization menu and preview. You can add up to one text box, one image box, or one of each type of box.

CustomMaker Resources

For a video overview, check out Lauren Slowik’s tutorial How to Use CustomMaker:

For more in-depth information see the Shapeways tutorial Getting Started with the CustomMaker Tool. To discuss CustomMaker issues with the Shapeways designer community, check out the Shapeways forum Customizable Products & Design.

Customizable Products on Shapeways

To see existing CustomMaker designs on Shapeways, check out the list of All Customizable Products in the Shapeways Marketplace. Or just search for anything on Shapeways and then click the “Customizable” checkbox in the left sidebar to restrict to personalizable items. One of my favorites is the elegantly simple Tile by 3Dprintingdog, which lets you upload any image, drawing, or emoji to personalize the design:

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Have you used CustomMaker on any of your designs? Do you have any questions about applying CustomMaker to your existing models? Let us know about it in the comments 🙂

Tutorial Tuesday 5: Quick Fixes With MeshLab

Welcome to Tutorial Tuesday! This week we’ll discuss three methods for modifying 3D meshes with the free software MeshLab. When you export a 3D file to STL format, what you’re doing is creating a file that describes the surface of an object with a mesh of tiny triangles. Sometimes there are problems with that mesh that cause printability issues, and MeshLab can help you fix most of those issues to make your files ready for printing.

We’ll focus on the top three issues that can arise with meshes: having too many triangles (too fine a mesh), having triangles that are oriented incorrectly or inconsistently, and having triangles that intersect with bad geometry. MeshLab has a dizzying array of menu items with long names, but if you know just which ones to choose then you can repair these three types of issues very quickly. Let us know in the comments if you have other mesh-repair techniques to share!

Reducing Triangle Count

Shapeways can accept 3D models with up to one million triangles, but it’s surprisingly easy to go over that threshold, especially if you’re working with 3D scans or a sculpting program. To reduce the overall number of triangles in your model, open the model in MeshLab and from the Filters menu select “Remeshing, Simplification, and Reconstruction” and then “Simplification: Quadric Edge Collapse Decimation.” For more detailed information, see the Shapeways Tutorial Polygon Reduction with MeshLab as well as Mister P.’s video Mesh Processing: Decimation.

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P. S. to MeshLab veterans: Good news! MeshLab updated to a long-awaited new version in late 2016, and in the new version you can perform “QECD” multiple times in a row without crashing the program! There’s still no “undo” in MeshLab though, alas. :/

Orienting Normals

If some of your model appears “inside out” (like the black area in the image below), then you should select and flip any reversed normals using the method outlined in the recipe Using MeshLab for fixing normals in the 3D Printing with RepRap Cookbook.

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Or, try a quick overall fix in MeshLab by selecting “Normals, Curvature, and Orientation” from the Filters menu, then choosing the “Re-orient all faces coherently” tool.

Removing Non-Manifold Edges

If the mesh of your model has faces that meet together in geometrically unpleasant ways, then you’ll need to repair it before 3D printing; see the Shapeways article Fixing Non-Manifold Models. “Non-manifold” edges and vertices look those like the ones shown below from Martin Sälzle at PCL Developer’s Blog.

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You can identify and select non-manifold elements from the Filter/Selection menu in MeshLab; look at the bottom of the view window for a count of the number of bad faces. To repair any bad geometry, use the method from the MakerHome article Shrinking and Remeshing the Fidget Cube: from the Filters menu, choose “Cleaning and Repairing”, and then try some combination of the tools “Remove Duplicate Faces”, “Remove Duplicated Vertex”, “Remove Faces From Non Manifold Edges”, and/or “Remove T-Vertices by Edge Flip”.

What are your favorite fast fixes for repairing and simplifying meshes? Let us know in the comments so we can all learn how to handle mesh problems quickly and get back to designing and creating!

Tutorial Tuesday 4: Using OpenSCAD to Design With Code

Welcome to Tutorial Tuesday! This week, we speak to the geeks. Did you know that you can create 3D-printable designs with code — no 3D modeling required? OpenSCAD is a programming language for solid modeling, specifically built for creating designs that are exportable as triangular meshes for 3D printing. In this post, we’ll walk you through the basics and show off some Shapeways designs created with this powerful parametric modeling software.

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Getting Started With OpenSCAD

If you’re an experienced programmer, then you’re going to love this. But even if you’ve never written a line of code before in your life, you’ll be able to learn the basics of OpenSCAD and get started modeling right away! Start by downloading a free copy of OpenSCAD and bookmarking the very useful OpenSCAD User Manual and OpenSCAD Cheat Sheet.

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For a quick start, check out the Hello OpenSCAD one-page starter document with OpenSCAD sample files. For extensive documentation and examples, see the Thingiverse OpenSCAD Jumpstart page and OpenSCAD discussion group. Or, get started in less than 10 minutes by watching and playing along with the video PolyBowls – A simple OpenSCAD code walk-through.

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If you like learning by video, then you should also check out Patrick Conner’s video playlist of OpenSCAD tutorials. This playlist is how I initially learned about OpenSCAD and the videos are very clear, simple, and easy to follow.

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OpenSCAD Models on Shapeways

OpenSCAD is particularly good for creating models based on equations or data, or that are procedurally generated. Here are four beautiful jewelry models on Shapeways that were designed with OpenSCAD:

 

sponde  tentacle

rhumb  lorenz

Going beyond jewelry, OpenSCAD is also a great tool for making abstract sculptures, processing and modifying data, and even creating household objects. Here are four more Shapeways models made with OpenSCAD:

 

12star  loxodrome

sappho  dyson (1)

Do you create with OpenSCAD? Let us know what you’ve made in the comments. If you’re just getting started and have any questions, let us know that too. See you next week!

Tutorial Tuesday 3: Beginner 3D Design With Tinkercad

This week, Tutorial Tuesday is for beginners. If you’ve never designed a 3D model before, then this post will show you how to get started. We’ll start with showing you how to design simple 3D models with a free program called Tinkercad, and then how to send those models to Shapeways for 3D printing. It’s easier than you might think! Get a cup of coffee and join us. You’ll have designed and ordered your first 3D design before you’re done with your coffee.

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First steps

If you’re completely new to 3D printing, then one of the best ways to get started is with Tinkercad, a free 3D modeling program that runs right in your web browser. The Tinkercad user interface is extremely intuitive — just drag, drop, modify, and combine 3D shapes to create a 3D design which can be exported for 3D printing. To use Tinkercad, you’ll have to set up an Autodesk account, which is free and only takes a minute. Go to www.tinkercad.com and sign up now before reading any further, so you can play along.

OK, let’s get started!

When you log into Tinkercad for the first time, you’ll start inside the Learning the Moves Tinkercad Lesson, which teaches you how to navigate around and move 3D objects. If you’re an absolute beginner, we recommend working through this and other Tinkercad Lessons to learn the basics. Click on the step arrows in the upper left for instructions within each Lesson, and to move ahead to the next Lesson.

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There are a LOT of Tinkercad Lessons, and some of them are more technical than others. Don’t feel like you have to complete them all right now. When you’re ready to exit the lessons and make your own design, click on the multicolored Tinkercad logo to go to your main Designs page, and click on “Create New Design.” 

Designing a Model

To jump in right away, simply drag objects from the right sidebar in Tinkercad onto the blue Workplane, then use the “handle dots” on your objects to change their size or shape. For detailed instructions and tips on how to do this, watch Tinkercad’s beginner-friendly video Introduction to Tinkercad Beta.

autodeskvideo

Tinkercad switched to a new ground-up redeveloped Beta version last year, and there are lots of new features that make designing in Tinkercad even easier than it was before. If you’re already a Tinkercad pro and just want to know what’s different in the new Beta that came out this year, check out the Tinkercad video Updates: TinkerTour and Tinkercad Beta or the Tinkercad Beta Participant Guide. If you’re completely new to Tinkercad, the video Tinkercad Beta – New Features: Shape Controls is a good place to get started learning about the powerful new Beta features.

shapecontrols

For a comprehensive one-stop-shop introduction to Tinkercad, including beginner and intermediate videos, links to 3D models and projects made with Tinkercad, check out the Tinkercad Jumpstart resource page on Thingiverse.  While you’re there, be sure to learn about the key Tinkercad tools Align, Ruler, Workplane, Group, and Hole — they are the secret to creating interesting Tinkercad designs.

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Tinkercad models on Shapeways

Tinkercad seems like a simple program, and it is, but you can still use it to make beautiful 3D models. Here are three products on Shapeways that were made with Tinkercad: on the left, a metal Shapeways Keychain made by Shapeways user The Void; in the middle, a simple but elegant Y Ring made by moyer; and on the right, a practical Hario Skerton Coffee Grinder Bottom Bracket made by erin.io.

keychain yring coffee

So, how do you get your Tinkercad models to Shapeways for 3D printing, or even to sell in the marketplace? First, click the Export button in the upper right of your Tinkercad window, then export your model as an .STL file. Then, open a new browser window and navigate to the Shapeways upload page, and click “Upload a 3D model” to get started.

Pay close attention to the size of your model — its size will have a big impact on the cost and printability of your design. Large objects cost more to print, and models with very small design features may not print reliably. You can use the “Ruler” tool in Tinkercad to measure and scale your object before exporting, or, after exporting, use the Scale button on your model’s Shapeways page to change the size of your model. You should be able to order a small physical 3D print of your first Tinkercad model in Strong & Flexible nylon plastic for less than five dollars!

Share your work and join the discussion

We love to hear from you, and we’re here to answer any design/printing questions you have. Want some advice on aligning objects? Exporting to Minecraft? Importing 2D images into your designs? Let us know in the comments.

What’s more, if you make your Tinkercad design public, then you can share it with others. Click on the “list” icon that is third from the left in the top menu bar, then click on the “gear” icon near your design and select “Public.” Then, just copy the URL for your design and share it in the comments below to show off your design.

Better yet, you can easily make your design public on Shapeways so that your friends and fans can order prints of their own. If you’d like to do this, go to your model page on Shapeways and choose “Edit product with this model”, then check “Offer for sale to others” and “Display to the public,” and fill in category and pricing information. Share the URL in the comments, and maybe you’ll get your first customer!

Tutorial Tuesday 2: Full-Color Printing and Character Models

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Welcome to the second Tutorial Tuesday! There’s a lot of 3D printing and design information on the internet, and it’s our job to sort it out. Let us know in the comments what you’re working on and learning about, and we’ll try to tailor future Tutorial Tuesdays to your needs.

We’ll pick up where we left off last time, with a second round of design and printing tutorials from right here at Shapeways. This time we’ll get technical, focusing on some of the more specialized issues that arise when designing, exporting, and printing 3D models. If you’re already a designer or 3D modeler and need technical advice on how to convert and export your designs and animations for 3D printing, then this week is for you.

3D Printing in Full Color

There are lots of options for 3D printing in one color or finish at a time, but just one if you want to print multi-color objects at Shapeways: Full Color Sandstone. The printed colors of your 3D model can be determined by a detailed UV texture map that you upload with your design, or by adding colors to the faces of your design in some 3D modeling programs. With full color printing, you can create some amazing models like those shown above.

Get started printing in full color by reading the step-by-step Shapeways tutorial on Exporting to VRML and X3D for color printing, or watching the Shapeways video Full Color 3D Printing. Full color printing is especially great for printing 3D character models from video games or animations. But not every 3D character design is suitable for 3D printing; what looks good on the screen might have areas that are too thin for printing successfully, or the mesh of the digital model might have problems that affect printability. Not only that, but a digital 3D character model doesn’t have to worry about gravity or balance, but a physical, 3D printed version of that model might not be able to stand up without falling over, due to tiny legs or an awkward pose. Learn how to convert your favorite video game and animation designs into 3D-printable models with the Shapeways tutorial Tips and tricks for character models.

fc3dp2    fc3dp3

Advanced Character Printing

Even if you’re a professional 3D modeler, it can be difficult to convert your digital models into ones that are suitable for 3D printing. Shapeways member BhushanArekar is a ZBrush sculptor who has created many 3D printed full color designs, including this model of Xev from The LEXX:

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The following detailed two-part Shapeways tutorials by Laurie Berenhaus will help you turn your intricate characters into real-life printed models: Part 1: How to Prepare your Render/Animation Model for 3D Printing, and Part 2: Adapting your Character or Animation Model for 3D Printing, which includes a video.  If your model has articulated or mechanical parts, then you may also appreciate the tips in the Shapeways tutorial Designing mechanical parts for 3D printing.

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Even after all that, we’ve barely scratched the surface of the tutorials that Shapeways has to offer — but that’s enough for this week!  This week we got technical, but next week we’ll go back to the basics and explore how to create 3D designs with one of the most easy-to-use 3D design programs, Tinkercad, so stay tuned.

We’d love to hear from you, so if you’d like to share your own experiences 3D printing in color or with converted character designs, please join the discussion in the comments. And as always, if there is a topic or technique you’d like to learn more about, let us know and we’ll try to make it a topic of a future Tutorial Tuesday. Have a great week!

Tutorial Tuesday 1: The Basics of Designing for 3D Printing

Welcome to the first Tutorial Tuesday on Shapeways! Each week, we’ll explore 3D design tutorials to help designers of all levels create and 3D print digital designs. This week, we’ll begin at the beginning with a tour of the basics: How to create simple designs, work with 3D printing constraints, and optimize models for materials and costs. Make sure to let us know in the comments what you’re looking to design, and share any questions or requests you might have along the way.

Whether you’re a 3D printing beginner or a seasoned pro, if you’ve tried looking for 3D printing and design tutorials online, then you’ve probably noticed that there are already a lot of tutorials out there. The hard part isn’t finding design tutorials, it’s figuring out which of the many available articles and videos are worth reading or watching! On Tutorial Tuesdays, we’ll be curating and discussing the best existing tutorials so that you can focus on designing and printing cool things.

Before we venture out into the big bad internet, let’s take stock of we have here at home. Shapeways already has dozens of great 3D printing and design tutorials to help you create, print, and troubleshoot 3D models. This week we’ll be covering the very basics, taken from the Shapeways 3D Printing & Design Tutorials collection and the Shapeways YouTube Channel.

1-SW_3D_printing_tutorials_grid-border   SW_youtube_videos

Creating simple designs

If you’re completely new to 3D design, then the first thing you’ll need to know how to do is create a digital model. One of the fastest and easiest ways to do that is with the Shapeways 2D to 3D Creator Tool, which enables you to quickly turn a 2D image into a 3D-printable model. To get started quickly, check out Laurie Berenhaus’ video Using the 2D to 3D Tool and you’ll be up and running in just four minutes. If you’ve got more time on your hands, try working through the detailed six-video playlist Beginner 3D Modeling for 3D Printing: How to turn a sketch to a 3D model to a 3D Print by Lauren Slowik, Design Evangelist for Education at Shapeways. In that series of videos, Lauren will walk you through the process of using Photoshop to convert a sketch into a digital 2D file, then show you how to use Tinkercad to turn that sketch into a digital 3D file, then finally uploading the model for 3D printing at Shapeways.

2d_to_3d_video    beginner_3D_playlist

Design considerations for 3D printing

However you create your 3D models, in order for them to be 3D printable, they will have to meet certain design constraints. For example, you’ll probably want to make the walls of your models as thin as possible to keep 3D printing costs low, but at the same time you’ll need to keep those walls thick enough so that your design can 3D print successfully. Check out the Shapeways Minimum wall-thickness for 3D printing tutorial for tips about identifying thin walls and features, and the Shapeways Thin walls tutorial to learn strategies for designing delicate features for printability.

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But what if your model doesn’t have any thin walls at all? Well, that might be a problem. For example, printing a solid cube can be very expensive to 3D print, because of the amount of material the 3D printer must use to create such a model. A hollowed-out cube — that is, a thin cubical shell with a small escape hole so that 3D printing material can be removed from its interior — will cost far less than a solid cube of the same size. If you’re used to printing on a desktop filament-based 3D printer, then hollowing out models might be new to you, but it is an essential part of modeling for printing with SLS nylon powder and in other materials at Shapeways. To learn how to turn your solid models into hollow ones for printing, read the Shapeways tutorial Creating Hollow Objects. Even more importantly, some digital 3D models aren’t 3D printable at all, at least not initially. For technical details about making your designs “watertight” and “manifold” for printability, take a look at the Shapeways tutorial Things to keep in mind when designing for 3D Printing.

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Materials and Costs

We’ll finish this week with some hints on how to keep costs down while printing with different types of 3D printing materials. For detailed information on each type of 3D printing material that Shapeways offers, check out the 3D Printing Materials guide. For tips on choosing the right 3D printing material for your design, especially if you want to print in cast or plated metal, read the Shapeways tutorial Choosing the best material for your products.

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Whatever material you use, your 3D printing costs will depend on the volume of your object, and/or the amount of space it takes up in the machine, and/or a per-part handling fee. If you’re printing with SLS nylon, also known at Shapeways as Strong & Flexible Plastic, then you can reduce printing costs by hollowing out your model and by enclosing or connecting multi-part models. See the Shapeways tutorial Design for Low Cost 3D Printing: Strong & Flexible for details. To learn about cost-optimizing techniques for more exotic materials, check out the Shapeways tutorial Design for Low Cost 3D Printing: Detailed Plastics, Full Color Sandstone, and Metals.

Design for Low Cost: Nylon    low_cost_fancy

Stay tuned, because next Tuesday we’ll dive deeper into printability with our second round of tutorials, including information about designing, exporting, and even repairing digital models for 3D printing. Have a great Tuesday, and make sure to leave your questions, ideas, and requests in the comments. And, don’t forget to share what you’re working on as you learn to 3D model. See you next week!