There are tons of products that can be bought by just about anyone who has enough means, but there’s that little bit of extra excitement when you get something that’s limited, or better yet, made just for you. In 3D prints, you can have something unique by a simple customization of the design. In this episode, Tom and Tracy Hazzard discuss how to make this possible, starting from the basic and manual strategies. They also talk about some of the easy-to-access tools you can use in customizing designs, and touch on the intermediate methods available.
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3D Print Design Customization
This is the Ask Us Anything segment. This anything that came to my mind because we’ve talked about it once before. When we were discussing Eduardo’s question, I made a suggestion. It was about 200 different napkin rings and making each one different. I suggested that he think about, “Wouldn’t it be great if everybody’s initials were on this if you made each one different?” It does raise a design complication. This is the question we’ve dealt with once before but maybe we didn’t deal with it in quite the detail that we should go into. It is complicated to do 200 different items with different names and initials on them. We did it when we were doing totally custom garden markers with like, “Nana’s Garden,” and then it would have a different name of a plant on it. There was a lot of that. Each one would have to be redone in the computer system, a file created, re-sliced and then sent to the printer. That was a lot of design and work but you came up with some optimized ways to do that.
That’s what we want to talk about now. If you’re going to do something like that, what are the different ways you might go about it? The great thing about 3D printing is you have the opportunity to customize and make each one unique whether it’s napkin rings at a party with everybody’s name on it or garden markers with different vegetables. Given the opportunity, that’s a great thing. The not so great thing is the amount of time it can take creating that CAD file and all those variations of files you’ve got to print.
There are some tools out there, some great apps and things that you can use that do this for you now. Things have gotten a lot better than when we were first doing this a couple of years ago.
There are still some limitations, but they’re coming a long way. We want to give a shout-out to 3DPrinterOS because that’s one company that has an app. If you’re using their service, which is a cloud-based slicing software, it can stream to your own printer as long as your printer is able to be on the internet and if they have a profile for slicing your particular printer. Those are a couple of ifs that you’ve got to research and make sure. Let’s assume that they do have a slicing profile for your printer and your printer is internet-connected. They have an app where you can load your model in that is made for adding text to it of various fonts. You can either have it be embossed or debossed. Meaning you can have it be popping out from the geometry of the model you’ve created or cut into it. There are several companies out there who have the opportunity to do things like that and one of those is 3DPrinterOS. Another is MatterControl and I know it could do that.
They were adding it when we spoke to them before but we’re going to be re-interviewing Lars coming up and we’re going to be doing an event at MatterHackers. I will get an update on that but I was sure that they have that feature built into their MatterControl.
We’ll find out about that and report it to all of you, not only about that capability. I know they have some new things coming out even the new version of MatterControl Touch and I’m sure that MatterControl has been upgraded since we’ve seen it. There will be more to report on that.
That was one of the features that they were bringing into the MatterControl Touch when we talked to them last. I’m sure it’s there now. Using those tools will make this easy for you.
Also, with other APIs, other cloud-based programs that are enhancing the 3D printing process. I’m also thinking about AstroPrint where we have an interview with Drew Taylor. Those kinds of platforms are open and meant for people to write new apps within them. Keep an eye out on these kinds of platforms and you’ll find more things like that.
You can go to AstroPrint.com and you can check through all the apps that they have available. I’m sure there’s probably one.
Let’s talk about what we did in the beginning because there wasn’t a lot of support except maybe for the Thingiverse customizer but that’s coding and I can’t code.
The Thingiverse customizer drives me insane because every time you do one and save it, it saves yet another file into the design library of Thingiverse. That’s why we have 100,000 of the same things over and over again. I find that one annoying. I wish it didn’t work like that.
It’s also hard to use. You have to learn how to code to at least a certain level to make use of it. I don’t recommend that one. Let’s take the garden markers for instance. In the beginning, we made a list of all the different vegetables or plants that we needed to print garden markers for and created that three-dimensional text and extruded it. I found that a lot of fonts that you extrude into 3D and 3D modeling programs create a lot of geometry that is troublesome.
It depends on the software because we’ve seen ZBrush and some of those other ones don’t quite have that same issue with their smoothing tools.
It depends on your CAD program and the font you’re using. I found I had to do a little bit of repair to the text in a two-dimensional line form before I would extrude it in three dimensions but beware, you might have to do that. You extrude it in three dimensions and then I would save each of those different vegetables, tomatoes, carrots, celery, cilantro or whatever it was. I created a CAD file where I had all of those words already built so I could change them out. That’s easy because you know you’re going to have a defined set of vegetables or plants you’re going to use. Maybe there are twenty of them and you can save that and use them.
We had people say, “I want to order a garden marker. This was off of Etsy.” That’s Kathy’s Garden or Jean’s Garden or Barbara’s Garden. In that case, you need all the letters of the alphabet there. What I ended up doing is creating every letter of the alphabet in the size that we wanted it, optimized it, tested it and made sure there weren’t any errors in the geometry. I saved the entire alphabet in a CAD file so that I could just pull the letters I needed to down to the right location and build whatever words I needed to. That’s the manual old school way of doing it, but it can be done. In some ways, that’s how you get more exactly what you want in terms of where you want things positioned. Maybe the angular rotation. We had some words that we arched along a path because of the shape of the garden marker. It’s advanced stuff to go and work with text and make these things the exact way you want them. It would be nice if everything was automated, but it’s tough to do.
It’s worth it. When people got those, they loved them because they were so personal. It didn’t feel like something that just get slapped on.
I’ve been thinking, there’s got to be an automated way to write a script for a certain CAD program that you could type in the word you wanted and it would automatically pull the right letters and put them in the right position. Maybe you could, but I’m not a coder. I’m not going to do that. It’s easier for me to save the file of all the letters, move into the position, save out a new STL file and print it.
I still think when we were doing it, it didn’t take you more than 5 or 6 minutes to do the name change.
Once I set up a file that had all the building blocks, then you just put them together. You do one big Boolean operation, making it one solid model, all those letters were touching each other a little bit or touching perimeters so you could make it into one model, slice it and print it. It wasn’t that bad, but creating that original file took hours.
That took time but you did it once and then it made it easier to manipulate those later.
If you either have a business where you’re doing 3D printing, if you’re a UPS store franchise and you’re doing some customized text on some of your models for people or if you’re considering starting a 3D printing business maybe, a good thing that comes to mind would be doing trophies or something. You want to prepare ahead and create a limited set of fonts. You don’t want to go crazy and have to do 100 fonts because that will drive you nuts. It will take too much time and it wouldn’t be worth it. A few fonts and set up the alphabet in the right size, and maybe some different scales for heading verses, a name, set it up and save that file. You can put those building blocks together and do it a little quicker when you have a customer or an event that you’re trying to do something for.
The effect is worth it. People love it and it shows off what 3D printing can do well, which gives you a one-off piece.
Something that’s uniquely yours. It wasn’t the same old thing someone could buy in the store down the street.
There’s added value for that.
The reality is people out there especially a lot of education settings and schools, this is probably a good thing. I would think you could create a nice little classroom assignment over and help kids think about the realities of working in three dimensions and what it takes to do it. They’ll probably come up with some better ways to do it over time.
The idea of a font going from two dimensions to three dimensions is such a great class structure to go because the serif fonts don’t work so well. They don’t look good when you 3D print them. It’s a great exercise to have your students go through to try that and see what works and what doesn’t work. They learn a lot in that process.
I didn’t mention that I learned a lot about that. When you think about a serif font having a fine point at the ends of letters, it can’t print that. You have a nozzle of a certain diameter. There’s minimum thinness that it will be able to print to and we had to deal with that. Another little tip, I did find that when I took those letters and extruded them if I put a small radius at the top edges of all the perimeter of the letters, they printed a little better. It happened to be the printers that we use, those curved surfaces print a little better than flat surfaces. I also think the design looks a little more refined that way. After I extruded, I put probably a 0.4-millimeter radius depending on the thickness of the letters. It ended up having some restrictions there but a little radius on there helped make it look nice and more professional.
It looked intentional for 3D printing instead of trying to just stick a font in there.
Instead of stamping it out or something.
If you have a question about anything design, 3D printing or anything for that matter, we’re always here. You can find us on 3DStartPoint.com or WTFFFPodcast.com and you can send us an email at Info@3DStartPoint.com or Info@WTFFFPodcast.com.
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