Just over a year ago, my brother and I discovered the world of 3D printers.We both had interests in getting one as he was previously a machinist/ fabricator and I was a serial hobbiest, were eager to get 3D printer and we both went in halves for a Solidoodle 2.
When this little box of possibilities arrived at our doorstep (about 6 months of waiting), we were overjoyed and began to wonder what we could make. Setting up the printer wasn’t too much hassle as Solidoodle kindly pre calibrates it before shipment, however the software wasn’t as user friendly. The first day was tweaking settings with many failed prints and a cube was getting boring to print. So I created a little square pot called the “Calibrator”
This was my first experience in creating an model for a 3d printer, which i had to try a few times as the modelling techniques I used for game assets would cause errors when printing. When creating a model for a game environment, the goal is to get the best usage of the topology from the poly budget. In creating a model for 3D printing, the goal is to create an object that has an solid outer shell. This is because the printer needs set positive and negative space for it to print the model, any polys not contained in the shell will cause errors in the print. This required a new skill set to develop 3D models for printing as modelling techniques for games development didn’t work.
One method to create the solid geometry was to extrude detail meshes on flat planar surfaces. This process converted a .svg into a .stl by extruding the content in Blender. The best quality prints was when the topology was kept low as the printer head would slow down when printing fine geometry and would creat flaws in the model. This process created some high detailed patterns on the flat surfaces and was easy to print, However it was still a 2D surface.
A request was to create tiny people in a variety poses, Never having experimented in using the printer to create macro object before, I created a series of tests to see what the minimum size that the printer could replicate. I was surprised by the test of how small the printer can go, so I use this data to create a low poly figure for the use of creating the poses. When creating the character, the frame of the character was created to the minimum size and then The key features were emphasized or exaggerated so the printer would capture these features. This character was rigged so we could pose and export a variety of different positions.
When printing these models, I found that the printer is capable of creating a model with an incline angle of 45 degrees, as a pose that exceeded this maximum would turn into spaghetti. From this I added a support structure to the build, printing at this size also showed how fragile the material was. The support was created to attach to the strongest areas and that would be easy to remove without damaging the model. As word drifted that we had a 3D printer, other people started making requests too… Bigger requests.
The Sollidoodle 2 has a build area of 6x6x6 inches, this size has been able to created a variety of object without any extra work needed. When creating a model outside the size range is when it becomes a challenge, these models need planning and preparation for reassembling when being modelled as models not following this will take longer to segment and reassemble after printing.
Cutting the model can be used to segment it into the smaller pieces, however it can be a tedious process. Cutting where seams are or an area where the geometry is simple makes it easier to hide the join in the reassembly process. Avoid areas with thin geometry and adding joinery techniques to the sliced section will improve the structural integrity of the model.
When setting the orientation of a part, find a position with the most surface area on the bed with the least amount of support needed for geometry. Dry run the assembling process before adding glue to the mixture, making sure that all the parts are ready to fit together and check to see if their are any problem areas to a part. When satisfied with the dry assembly then add glue. this process needs to be precise as impression of any part will take time to fix.
The 3D printer has been an interesting tool to work with in developing models. When a model needs precise measurements for a project, I change from a mesh editor to a CAD editor. CAD allow for precise measurements to be added in the modelling process. These models can then be exported as .stl and imported into an mesh editor for adding extra content or checking the mesh.
From having the 3D printer, I have learned a variety of new skills with 3d modelling. From exploring the capabilities of the machine, considering the assembly of the model when its in development and utilizing different modelling style to get precise models. I am still finding new ways to create content to achieve a desired goal. The Solidoodle has been a great tool to work with and if you would like to see any of my 3D printed creations, please check them out by clicking here.