Category Archives: 3D Printing

The Week in 3D Printing

This week in 3D printing, we tried to contain our excitement about the possibilities of 3D printed cheeseburgers, gawked at some science-y shoes, explored 3D printing-enabled facial reconstruction, and tried to rewrite the book on… printing books.

Cheez Whiz, anyone?

As Gizmodo reported, scientists at University College in Ireland tried to think as American as possible, and explored how (scientifically) processed cheese might be altered when put through a 3D printing process. Using a desktop FDM printer fitted with a “cheese syringe,” solid cheese was extruded through a custom-designed nozzle, heated to 167 degrees Fahrenheit.

Is it edible? Decide for yourself.

Step into a new form of tech

Courtesy of Bryan Hinkle -YouTube

Support is a familiar word to sports giant Under Armour, and these shoes are no different — but their manufacturing process is. At the heel of the shoe, a 3D printed “dynamic lattice network” is matched to a compression lace system that integrates into the rest of the shoe, forming around your foot. This system is supposed to be steady and sturdy enough for strength training, but ready to tackle whatever you can.

Does that include mud? There’s nothing like losing your $300 shoes to a Spartan race.


A funeral home in Beijing has introduced a new process to cover any facial or head damaged of the deceased that come through its doors. Family members provide a headshot of the deceased, a facial reconstruction is generated, and the  able to produce either a full or partial mask, depending on the needs. This process takes up to 10 hours, replacing a process that could potentially take up to a week — and be less-than-accurate.

I guess it was about time for a 21st-century version of the death mask.

The printing press just got punked

The weirdness here is pretty intense: Popular Science reported on a huge challenge for 3D printing. It’s one that even we wouldn’t want to take on. But it’s one that was first solved over 500 years ago— with the invention of the printing press. That’s because, for… reasons… Ron Arad is printing a magnum opus, a book about Einstein, in a single, 3D printed piece. This is a weirdly hard thing to do, making it all the more worth doing.

Hey, taking on challenges just because they’re there? We’re into it.

We think he’d be into it, too

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.


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.


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.


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:


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:


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


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!


… 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:


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…

The Intersection of STEM Education and 3D Printing

Today’s guest blog comes to us from Kyle Martin of Florida Polytechnic University.

Cars, fighter jets, human stem cells – all made possible with a 3D printer? They’re just a few ways that 3D printing is already leaving its mark on different industries such as automotive, aerospace, and health care.

Created by Charles Hull in 1984 as a learning tool to test engineering designs, 3D printers had, up until a decade ago, been used primarily in prototyping in industrial settings.

Today, the technology has reached a new level of maturity and is moving beyond the limitations of its prototyping roots. As 3D printers gain popularity, they also become critical learning devices in the classroom, and through discounted 3D printing services like Shapeways EDU program. Useful for numerous STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, 3D printers transform ideas in a reality. Here’s how:

3D Printers and STEM Education Unite

Because 3D printers allow STEM students to make their ideas tangible, they benefit from a new level of engagement and applied learning. Instead of looking at ideas in two dimensions, students can look at all angles of their design to determine what works and what doesn’t. With 3D printers now established in many top engineering colleges, students are able to create, build and learn from their mistakes in a faster, more revolutionized way.

The ability to see virtually any design in 3D creates endless possibilities in the classroom. Not only are students learning concepts from a book, but also bringing these ideas to life by visualizing them in 3D. One such example: Medical students can study human ear diagrams in a textbook, and then examine a life-size replica in their own hands for a more hands-on perspective.

Our industry needs more adaptive problem solvers who can quickly identify a problem and then design new, innovative solutions for it. By using a 3D printer in the classroom, students can quickly sharpen these necessary problem-solving skills, evaluate their product and identify failure points. This printing technology has been known as “rapid prototyping” because it cuts the amount of time between design and prototype to days, sometimes even hours, depending on the project. Reinforcing this technology is critical in preparing our students for STEM careers.

3D Printing and Industry Applications

Using 3D printing technology in applied research is not only revolutionizing the education system, but all industries. Take the medical field, for example. With 3D printing, biomedical engineers can print living cells in a material that is used to reconstruct tissues in the body. The technology also allows medical students to print prototypes of the human heart or aortic valve, which could potentially reduce complications such as transcatheter replacement of the aortic valve in patients.

Many other institutions are already taking advantage of 3D printing. At NASA, for example, 3D printing is used to test alternative materials for improved aviation design like custom wings and rocket caps. The Smithsonian is also using the technology by digitizing many of its artifacts, including the skeleton of a T-Rex, to add a new historical perspective.

The creative freedom of 3D printing technology is transforming education inside and outside of the classroom. One day, students may be able to hold a one-thousand-year-old fossil in their hands without visiting a museum, or study a 3D replica of a human heart before it undergoes surgery – the possibilities are truly endless.

– Kyle Martin

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

Is 3D Printing Still Cool?

In today’s editorial, Angela takes on a question she’s grappled with a lot lately. Opinions expressed are the author’s own.

A couple of years ago, Shapeways faced a question that a lot of people had just then begun to ask: “Is consumer 3D printing overhyped?” Since Pete took on that controversy, a lot has happened in the world of 3D printing. Big manufacturers have invested in making 3DP part of their bottom line. Shapeways has grown, and a lot of players of all sizes have entered the market.

But, is 3D printing still cool? I’d argue that it is — and it isn’t.

What’s cool?

The feats that 3D printing make possible are getting both loftier and more normal: printing in space, printing biological matter for use in transplants and rehabilitation, printing chocolate, printing houses, printing teeth. Soon, there may be few parts of our lives that aren’t touched by 3D printing.

The Apis Cor printer, literally printing a house

If you have access to what 3D printing can actually do, it’s incredibly cool. If your 3D prints are the product of world-class machines and specialized processes, and available in a huge range of materials. If you can create complex prints, even ones with hundreds of interlocking parts. Without Shapeways, most of this stuff would be inaccessible to the average person. Working at the company that makes all this possible, it’s hard for me to see 3D printing as anything but cool.

A machine that walks, propelled by wind, all printed in a single piece of Strong & Flexible nylon plastic for Theo Jansen

What’s not cool?

Most innovations around 3D printing are really industrial business innovations. The printers in question cost more — and require more processing work — than home printers, and that’s because they’re just a lot more capable, versatile, and robust (and clunky, and expensive…). But, the “cool factor” of 3D printing has often centered around the dream of bringing home the equivalent of a Star Trek replicator. That vision is a little tarnished now, thanks to the fact that the real replicators are in factories, and desktop replicators are, well, complicated

Industrial 3D printers (and the companies with access to them) are leading the pack in terms of improving print quality and increasing the number of materials available for 3D printing.

A desktop 3D printing disaster

The verdict is…

3D printing is cooler than it’s ever been — except that it’s not getting there the way most people thought it would. It would be amazing to have a machine on your kitchen counter that could create the objects you need every day, in whatever material you desire. Instead, a platform like Shapeways can bring your ideas to life on demand, uniting a slew of technologies and processes in a single space. And, for the moonshots, big industry players are applying 3D printing in ways we’d never have imagined. Whether you’re printing a phone case or a jet engine part, 3D printing is still probably cooler (and more useful) than you realize.

Note: The opinions expressed here are the author’s own.

The Week in 3D Printing

Houses got built in a day, the hot-but-flawed new Nintendo console got crowdsourced fixes, neon plastic met medical science, and car companies got additive — all this week in 3D printing.

We’re gonna need bigger printers

This 3D printed house went viral this week — with good reason. Built in a day for only $10,000, it’s not only incredibly cute (who doesn’t love a tiny house these days?), but it was also built by an unbelievably cool, enormous Apis Cor printer that had to be moved with a crane. Plus, the house was built in a snowy lot during a Russian winter, which should qualify it to work on Mars, at least in theory.

When you buy the latest toy way too soon

The Nintendo Switch made waves last week for being, well, the latest Nintendo console to hit the market. But, as Gizmodo reported, it’s might not have been… ready — at least as far as the design is concerned. Enter the internet’s most resourceful 3D designers, who’ve been sharing 3D printed solutions for everything from a faulty kickstand to a missing d-pad and inadequate joysticks. Maybe Nintendo wanted people to hack together fixes? Or not?

Fighting cancer with PLA

TechCrunch brought us the story of candy-colored tumors, set in silicone, that are helping doctors practice tricky laparoscopic liver cancer surgeries before operating on real patients. Never before has practicing dangerous life-saving surgeries been so… cute.

Drive it off the print bed

OK, we’re not exactly there yet, but according to Forbes, the largest car manufacturers — including the literal inventor of the assembly line — are starting to incorporate 3D printing into production processes in a typically large-scale way. It might be a while before 3D printing moves beyond the prototyping stage for most cars, but super-high-end rides will likely see more and more 3D-printing-enabled customization. In the meantime, I’ll stick with custom 3D printed cars I can actually afford:

A whole stable of sweet (N scale) 3D printed rides… courtesy RAILNSCALE

RC Customization Series: The Story so Far

Two months ago, inspired by our amazing — and growing! — RC car community, I set out on a journey into the world of RC cars. Colleague Tijs Lochbaum and I took a Tamiya Hornet completely apart and gave it a whole new look. We’ll be ready for the big reveal soon, but in the meantime, we’re taking a look back to see how far we’ve come.

We started with a dream of taking a classic Tamiya Hornet and making it our own. During this whole process, Tijs Lochbaum, who is a well-known European RC drifting expert, was our guide. As it turns out, I had a lot to learn about how to make a custom RC Car. I always thought you could only buy a complete car in a toy store, so a whole new world opened up for me. For one thing, I never thought so much manual polishing was involved to make the parts look good. I could go on all day about what I didn’t know — but instead, let’s take a look at what we’ve done so far:

Lap 1 – Upgrading The Tamiya Hornet

In the 1st Lap of the RC Customization Series, we explain our plan and what we need to create a custom RC car classic, the Tamiya Hornet.

Lap 2 – RC Engineering

The 2nd Lap features an interview with designer Alberto Massarotto from AMPro Engineering. Alberto takes us through his design process to guarantee his parts fit on original RC car body and chassis.

Lap 3 – Finalizing the Parts

On Lap 3, we look at post-production methods. Polishing, dyeing, sanding and preparing for spray-painting — we covered it all.

We’ve come a long way already, and we just have a few finishing touches to add. In the meantime, here’s a teaser shot of our completed Tamiya Hornet:

Stay tuned for the full reveal!

Brand Spotlight: ALEPHba Jewelry

Structured, minimal, and personalized are just a few words that describe ALEPHba jewelry. ALEPHba was created by an architect and a scientist who both needed to find a perfect present for a mutual friend. The initial ring transformed into an entire collection and with that, the team grew twofold. ALEPHAba now includes Morteza, Kylee, Tommaso, and Efthymia. We were lucky to get a chance to speak with Morteza and the team this week about their experience opening ALEPHba and where they see the brand heading.

The ALEPHba team includes Morteza, Kylee, Tommaso, and Efthymia. How did you all come together to create ALEPHba?

I think it started about a year ago when Efthymia and I wanted to get a gift for a common friend and I remember I just had heard of Shapeways at the time and I really wanted to try it out. I work as an architectural designer in New York and because of that I’m fairly familiar with 3D printing and 3D software in general. So we quickly modeled what we could now call ALEPHba’s first prototype ring, and that was about it. It was only after that first prototype was very well-received in the design community that we thought of making ALEPHba jewelry a thing.

Render of the collection by ALEPHba

I was very lucky to have such talented friends like Kylee and Tomasso who offered their help to make ALEPHba become a reality. Both of them bring a lot of new ideas to the table and helping us grow as a brand. It’s a new experience for all of us, and what’s important is that each of us learns something new along the way.

M prototype in strong & flexible

Your ring designs are elegantly minimal and personalized. Where did the inspiration for the core design come from?

What really inspired us in the first place was the alphabet itself, the fact that so many words with so much meaning come from putting a limited number of letters in a specific order.

We wanted to make a collection that is not just about the jewelry piece itself, but rather about the person who’s wearing it. We designed each letter of the alphabet elegantly to both stand on its own as a unique piece and complement others when paired in endless combinations.

Our work is an expression of alphabet in a three dimensional form, similar to the art of calligraphy that is the expression of alphabet in two dimensions.

 Your shop is beautiful, complete with custom renders and photos. What is your process for creating these designs and the overall brand? Does each member focus on a different feature?

One of the main goals we had launching the new collection of ALEPHba jewelry and the new website was to focus on building a brand identity, and all of us contributed to envisioning what that is. Beautiful renderings and accurate photos are an essential part of this effort. Another option we wanted to make sure we give our customers was sizing.

We knew the combination of different sizes and different letters of alphabet would be plenty. So we took advantage of parametric design tools to expedite production of different options and sizes.

The sizing chart you have created is not only beautiful but functional. Could you tell us a bit why you found a need to create it?

ALEPHba size guide

Our size guide is part of a bigger effort we made in making the online shopping experience for jewelry a bit easier.

We knew that the fit is extremely important for a person buying a ring or bracelet, but unfortunately there’s a gap between the customer and the physical product in online shopping experience. We wanted to help bridge that gap with our size guide.

Business cards double as ring sizers

We designed it to be beautiful and serve a purpose. It is made in the form of a bracelet so it can be worn like one. On the surface, there are ten circular holes, each representing a ring size. You can find your ring size by trying each of the holes around your finger until one fits perfectly. That would be your ring size.

Our collection currently only includes rings, but we are already working on bracelets and other items. The size guide can also help finding your bracelet size. Just wear the piece around your wrist as you would with any cuff bracelets. If it’s a good fit, then your bracelet size is Medium. If you find it very loose around your wrist, you’re probably a Small. But if the fit is too tight, you should probably go with the Large.

Shapeways’ inexpensive option for plastic prints and quick turnaround was a key factor for us deciding to make something like this. We’re hoping the turnaround time is even shorter in the future.

Looking forward, where is ALEPHba headed?

We’re very excited to launch our new website that’s integrated with Shapeways and see what the reaction is from the community.

3D printing has a lot of potential in jewelry design, and we’re happy to be part of this movement. We are already working on adding new products to our collection and have a lot of cool ideas that our fans should expect to hear about on our Instagram and Twitter.

We would really love to get more engaged with our customers and hear what they think and how we can improve our products.

We are working on setting up a small pop-up store in Brooklyn with samples of our products to engage with more people and give them a chance to see and try the products for themselves.

If you would like to learn more about ALEPHba or pick up your very own ring, check out their Shapeways shopInstagram, or website.

Desktop Vs. Service-Based 3D Printing: A Tale of Spaghetti

“What does this error message mean?!” “Wait, why is there only half a print?” “But… I JUST leveled it…”

While owning (and maintaining) a desktop 3D printer may sound like fun, it’s not for the faint of heart… or for those who lack fairly in-depth technical ability. Between constant leveling of the print bed, double-checking to make sure you’re not going to have a filament run-out, and the ever-possible “Whyyy did it just STOP?!?!?”, it can take some serious dedication to the project to make sure that printer is running at 100%, especially when it comes to constantly lubricating, tightening and adjusting. And while desktop 3D printing may SOUND more affordable, you really do need to shell out some serious coin to get a reliable printer. One day it’s running correct, next you’ve got a build plate full of spaghetti: 

Sometimes you need something that just works — and that’s where a service-based 3D printing platform like Shapeways come in.

Upon uploading to a site like, your file is automatically processed through an incredibly intricate system. Model checks are automatically performed to estimate whether or not your file is not only printable, but also what materials it can be printed in. Yes, materials. Metals, plastics, acrylics, porcelain — each material opening totally new doors of creativity.

Aside from providing pricing and lead time estimates, the system automatically checks any potentially problematic areas, and allows you to automatically fix them for the selected material, ensuring that it’s printable. That’s something you’ll only learn by trial and error on a home machine, potentially wasting filament and lots of time in the process. Then, the design is checked manually for printability by a Shapeways employee before it’s sent to the printers. Finally, each piece is hand-finished by production staff.

Once it’s ordered, your order arrives at your doorstep in a matter of days, a finished product of the highest possible quality and resolution in its material class. No more fiddling around with settings, layer height, slicers, or burns from loading up printers.

That said, there are also advantages to 3D printing at home, and ways that it can co-exist with a service-based model. If you’re not concerned about high-resolution finished products and have plenty of time to nurture your hobby, an inexpensive desktop 3D printer might be right for you. If you’re a product designer in the early stages of prototyping your design, having a manufacturing machine in your office can lead to a fast iteration in plastic of small- to medium-sized products. Once you’ve iterated and are happy with your design, then it’s time to send it over to a service-based platform for superior accuracy, minimal stepping, and the ability to receive it in multiple materials, ranging from plastics to precious metals and ceramics.

Tell us your experiences with transitioning from desktop to service-based 3D printing, or if you use both in tandem, in the comments below!

Shapeways Takes Genericon 30 by Storm

Over the weekend, we attended Genericon XXX, hosted by students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, for 48 hours straight of cosplay, anime, sci-fi and gaming. It was an amazing weekend. Just a few of the highlights were:

Our crew!

Left to right, me, Dhemerae and Sarah of TheLaserGirls (decked out in 3D printed cosplay), and Ian of Nvenom8 Designs.

Genericon, Cosplay

The vender area of the con — so much cool merch and swag!

Our panel discussion on 3D printing was on the Main Events Stage, so exciting!

Sarah tells the audience why she likes ZBrush during our panel on 3D printing:

Over the weekend, TheLaserGirls also took over the Shapeways Instagram account and took  #Genericon by storm:

Admins by day, superheroes by night🔥💪🤜👊☄️🏋️🖖🤘@shapeways #3dprinting #cosplay #genericon #golaser

A post shared by Sarah C Awad and Dhemerae Ford (@thelasergirls) on


Taking a break to do some old-school roleplaying with Pathfinders. Here, our party is about to get ambushed by a Giant Scorpion.

We had a great time playing games, checking out the cosplay, and talking about 3D printing!

The Week in 3D Printing

This week in 3D printing was all about kids, mystery-solving, and a magical spoon.

Color Us Impressed

Huffington Post wrote about how Act For Kids is using 3D printing to create monster-shaped crayons to help provide art therapy to children who have experienced child abuse or neglect. Because drawing can be extremely therapeutic, the idea is that these crayons will allow kids to “draw away their monsters,” said Christian McKechnie, Co-Founder of Act For Kids.

Image courtesy Act for Kids YouTube channel

Vroom, Vroom

NewAtlas covered how Rolls-Royce spent 400+ hours 3D printing a small missile that propels children at a blistering 10MPH through hospital corridors. No word if they actually use their blinkers to signal a lane change.


Hong Kong police used two 3D printers to reenact crime scenes to help with police investigations. CNets Zoey Chong opens up the article with a fitting Scooby Doo reference, “And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids and your 3D printers.”

Finger Licking Good

PSFK gave us the skinny on a glass wand prototyped on a 3D printer that helps to enhance the sweet flavors in foods like yogurt, Nutella, and honey. May not work well for hot wings.

At 3D/DC, Gauging Trump’s Impact on the Maker Movement

Former President Obama was a vocal proponent of the Maker Movement, hosting the White House’s first Maker Faire, establishing the National Day and National Week of Making, and launching Nation of Makers, now a non-profit organization. The new administration has so far been less vocal in its support, but, if this week’s 3D/DC policy conference is any indication, there’s reason to have hope that support will continue in the new administration.

Shapeways Design Evangelist Lauren Slowik took part in the panel The Maker Movement and the New Administration, joined by a group that included members of governmental organizations that actively support Makers. The Congressional Manufacturing Caucus, Congressional Maker Caucus, U.S Department of Commerce, and the U.S. Marine Corps were all represented.

President Obama was never alone in his pro-Maker Movement initiatives. The bipartisan Congressional Maker Caucus, led by California Representative Mark Takano, has worked since 2014 to raise awareness around the potential of the Maker Movement to revitalize American manufacturing. Yesterday, Rep. Takano signaled a more proactive approach to stimulating the movement:

The panelists also focused on how the nature of manufacturing in America has evolved. Lauren stressed the importance of shifting the focus to building human capital. Said Jahanmir, Senior Legislative Fellow for Rep. Tim Ryan and co-chair of the Congressional Manufacturing Caucus and Congressional Maker Caucus, agreed, adding that the Maker Movement provides a powerful set of tools for job creation. Captain Chris Wood, Co-Lead for Additive Manufacturing, U.S. Marine Corps, shared that the military is setting up interesting pathways to becoming Makers, with a guiding educational philosophy that learning the technology of making isn’t something you can lecture to students, but something they must be shown how to do.

Dr. Jahanmir was optimistic about the potential of the movement, adding, “Old jobs disappear, but new jobs always come around,” but cautioning attendees, “You have to educate Congress on making. The public shouldn’t wait for the administration to do the work.”

Shapeways community members also spoke on the Extreme Applications of 3D Printing, 3D Printing and the Future of Education, and Women in 3D Printing panels. For full coverage of the 2-day event, follow Nation of Makers and Public Knowledge Policy Fellow Sara on Twitter. Cover image courtesy @NationOfMakers.

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.

NASA’s Time Travel Machine and the Art It Inspired

“Exploration” by Ashley Zelinskie

Nowhere does the line between art and science blur more readily than when we look to the stars. NASA has long been known to recognize the artistic power of space exploration, famously releasing a series of Space Tourism Posters to eager space- and art-lovers last year. Now, the agency has tapped into the imaginations of a range of multimedia artists to celebrate the James Webb Space Telescope, the observatory that will let us glimpse the ancient origins of our universe.

Twenty-five artists were selected to preview the telescope (which launches in 2018), and create works inspired by it. With its sail-like, 21-foot, gold-plated mirror – and mission to peer back in time – inspiration came easily (see the full collection of works here). One of the chosen artists, Shapeways community member Ashley Zelinskie, conceived of a work, “Exploration,” that represents the symbolic and literal achievements of the telescope.

To create the piece, which was 3D printed with Shapeways, the artist 3D scanned the arms of John Cromwell Mather, astrophysicist, cosmologist and Nobel Prize in Physics laureate and Amber Straughn, astrophysicist and Deputy Project Scientist for JWST Science Communications. Then, Zelinskie added a scan of her own arm. She combined the three limbs with a representation of the telescope’s mirror, with its 18 golden, hexagonal segments.

The arms stretch from the surface of the mirror, reaching into the unknown in a symbolic representation of the search for knowledge. “Art asks people every day to think about abstract ideas and opens a doorway for creative thinking,” the artist explained. “My hope is to apply this open-mindedness to science and, in this way, be better equipped to take in the universe in all its vastness and mystery.”

The surfaces of Mather, Straughn, and Zeleskie’s outstretched arms are made up of a lace-like lattice of symbols. They represent the Friedmann-Lemaître-Robertson-Walker metric – the solution to Einstein’s field equations of general relativity. This metric, which describes the universe, is joined by the formula that describes a parabolic mirror. Dr. Mather summed up the symbolism of the pairing with, “One might say we build one (the telescope primary mirror) to test the other (Einstein’s equations).”

Dr. Amber Straughn framed “Exploration” in appropriately poetic terms: “Astronomy by its very nature drives us toward the unknown…there’s something uniquely human about wanting to find out about our surroundings, to explore our world, to discover new things. That’s what astronomy is all about.”


“Exploration” and the other works inspired by the JWST will be on display at the Goddard Visitor Center in Greenbelt, MD, from March 3 to April 16, 2017.