We have gotten a lot of positive feedback about Tech Tuesday. Yes, a lot of comments, some controversial. But mostly positive. We have been hearing from people who are highly technically capable already like Vicky Somma. I know we talk about her a lot, but the people who communicate with us the most get talked about the most. She has said a couple times to us over Twitter that she loves Tech Tuesdays. I am thrilled about that because sometimes I think she knows more than we do in certain aspects of 3D printing. She has a machine that is a little more hands-on and high-maintenance, so you get more technical faster. When you use a plug-and-play machine, you get used to it.
We are getting positive feedback, so we will continue to bring you more technical subjects on Tuesdays. This is our new format. Today we are going to talk about advancements in support because we have learned of some new ones lately. There are different support capabilities from different slicing softwares.
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Advancements in Support
Most recently, we learned the latest version of MatterControl has a new feature in support. One of the things that I have been frustrated with support material, and why I try to avoid using it if at all possible… Actually wait let’s talk about that for a minute.
If we use too much support material, it makes it more of a mess to clean up. We don’t want what we call flashing or mars on your plastic, and that comes from having support marks, which comes from the injection molds and other processing. You have to sand them down or paint them over or rub them out and polish them. Having to do that defeats the purpose of 3D printing to me. To me, it should come off the machine and be ready to use.
We try to design things that don’t need support material because we’d rather not deal with it. The reality is there are a lot of geometric structures and products where it’s unavoidable, including projects we’ve done, too.
Back to the advancements. One of the things I am so frustrated with support materials is yes, it is breakaway, but no matter how cleanly it breaks away, there is inevitably plastic I have to scrape off of the part or file off that is not what you want to be a final part of your part.
MatterHackers through MatterControl has created some new code and features to address this particular issue. What they have done is similar to what you do when you make a raft for a print. They lay down a raft, and then they have an air gap layer. They change the height for the next layer on top of the raft so it’s just barely touching it. It makes it easier to snap off, but it’s enough to hold the part in place while it’s printing. You have the best of both worlds: stability when printing and then the ability to snap it off fairly easily.
They have now done the same thing at the top of the support between your support and your good part, which is how you designed it when you did the tie. That’s actually how you designed it. I made it so they snapped off easily, but I didn’t use an air gap layer. I made the support barely touch it. It truly was one model.
They have really addressed this issue so that the support material that is there does its job: it lets you do overhangs or big bridges around unsupported areas. It supports that good plastic on top of it, but it’s not so fused to it that you have this major amount of clean-up.
That is really exciting, and it’s been out for maybe two weeks. It’s free. You can download MatterControl from matterhackers.com and try it yourself.
Didn’t they say to us that instead of putting rafts under the whole thing, you could choose to put it under particular parts or specific areas? Yes, I think so. That’s not technically support. It’s a raft; it’s the base function, but yes, they did say that. You could create feet/rafts where you need it, but not everywhere necessarily. They give you more control and more options now with doing that.
Another one I want to talk about that Simplify 3D users may know about, but if you’re not Simplify 3D, you may not. Simplify 3D gives you the capability to put support only where you want it selectively. It was the first slicing software that I have seen that gives you the freedom to put support only under one portion of your object if that’s where you need it and not have it be a switch that you flip that puts support everywhere or nowhere. That’s how some of the more simplified ones like MakerBot Desktop works. The support is either on or off, and they define a certain level of overhang that if your geometry has it, it will put support there whether you want it or not.
I actually find a lot of times that especially with the open source softwares like MatterControl and Simplify 3D, to all put their support on at a certain point, when you have a certain overhang or angle, that function does not change necessarily based on what printer you have. Some printers can do steeper angles of overhang and don’t need support until a certain point. You’re turning it on or off, and that may not be ideal at times. I like that Simplify 3D gives you that kind of control to put it only where you want it.
Another feature—and I think MatterControl also has this—is base support. You have designed a part, and it has a very small point of contact on the build plate. You need a raft, and then you need some support because you want to keep the thing from tipping over.
Let’s say it was an egg shape. You will have a very fine point at the bottom, and then it will build up to be bigger. When it gets to half the size of the egg, that nozzle moves around the entire diameter of the egg, and that fine point where it’s touching at the bottom can wobble. I have seen it happen where an extruder can knock a part over right off of its raft and its attachment to the build plate. They have base support that can give you support over a larger raft area up to give the whole thing a lot more stability as it gets bigger so it won’t wobble and topple. Some of the software creates this big box around it so you would end up with it from the widest point that was overhanging all the way to where you have a whole ton of structure you don’t want to be scraping off. Yes, that’s true.
But let’s say you have a big donut shape. You didn’t want any support material in that empty middle of the donut. On a lot of programs, if you turn support on, it will go everywhere it thinks it needs it, and it will usually put a big tower in the middle of that negative space of the donut. Then you are scraping out stuff from the inside of that as well. A lot of times, printers can form that inside circle without needing any support. The base support puts it just underneath and not up within any voids in the part. That’s another great feature that can help you do that.
You reminded me of another thing when you talked about the support I created for our tie. That is another way to go is to create your own support. Support material can be very thin, which actually makes it harder to clean up sometimes. Yes, so when I made our own support, which is the equivalent of base support because our tie has this very fine point that touches the build plate and then it gets a lot wider and these pieces of the tie become so big, when I made some of the first test prints that did get knocked over, I didn’t know how to solve it. I didn’t want support throughout the whole tie, so I made my own. They are like the McDonald’s arches, and I put them out a half inch away from either side from the point of contact with the build plate and maybe a half inch up. It is stable enough to build until those arches reach the part.
Here is what I want to talk about. In creating that support, I did it in the CAD software. I put those arches barely touching the part, as close as I could to touching it without having any negative space. That is really all you need. You need to tack it on, which makes it easy to break away. I had to do a bullion operation, which means I essentially made our good part and the support part one solid model joining them together. That is frustrating, and if you didn’t join them, in our software with our printer, if you had two parts occupying the same space, it would do it, but it would try to lay plastic down twice in the same space, which gets to be a big, goopy mess. It eventually causes problems.
One of the new upgrades to MatterControl removes that possibility, which I thought was a really cool thing they added. It’s a fantastic feature, which is not directly support-related necessarily, but I think it’s worth mentioning again. Basically what they have done is if you were doing what I did in making your own support material, and you put your part in their software on the build platform and then you put your own support structures in there, you don’t necessarily have to worry about if they’re overlapping enough or too little. Their software, when you have two parts that are intersecting, interprets that as making one part, and they won’t put plastic down in the same place twice. It’s smart enough to help prevent you from making a situation more difficult than you want it to be and have it cost problems. I think that’s a good thing.
If you’re interested in some of these new support advancements, like the air gap layer in MatterControl or this feature of being able to put multiple parts on a build platform and join them without having to do complex bullion operations. If you have experience in CAD and have ever tried to do that, you know bullion operations can be sketchy. They don’t always work the way you want them to. They fail and you do it multiple times, or you have to move your geometry. They have taken care of this for you, and that’s a great thing.
You can download MatterControl for free at matterhackers.com. Simplify 3D is a paid program. It’s not terribly expensive; it’s a couple hundred dollars at most. A year ago, it was $199. Check the show notes on 3dstartpoint.com.
We’d also like to reach out to the listeners. If you guys have any particular slicing softwares that have good support features, please let us know about it, and we can highlight it in a future episode.
One last thing I want to mention. One thing that is frustrating to me is people get used to their slicing software. I want that feature that MatterControl has, but if I am a Simplify 3D guy, I don’t have that available to me. That is what is frustrating to me about this industry and market. I think it would be best if everybody had these features. I know these companies are competing in the same space, and they are all in business to make money and do not necessarily want to give all their stuff away, like how Elon Musk gives his battery away to other companies.
Here is a case where the industry needs to start thinking about cross-licensing and coughing up the money for it rather than reinventing the wheel every time. If they have a good thing, license it out, and you should want to pay for it. That’s on the wish list. It’s not user-friendly when you are isolating.
Back to Vicky Somma. She showed us how she inserts mirrors into one of her parts. We posted that video on a previous episode’s show notes. Simplify 3D allows you to do things in what they call processes. You have the bottom two thirds or any percentage of your print done in one process, and the rest of your part is done in a second process. You can print that first process and then pause, which is when she puts in the mirrors, and then you continue printing the rest of it. It seals the mirrors in there.
If she had support and wanted to have this air gap layer and Simplify 3D doesn’t have that, MatterControl doesn’t have the processes. While you could pause a print, and we have talked about how you can hack your G-code to do that, it’s not necessarily easy. So I can see how somebody like Vicky might say, “Wow, I would love to have that air gap with support material to make it easier to break away, but I’m not going to move away from Simplify 3D because of the processes in inserting my mirrors. It’s much easier to do. And I don’t have to hack the G-code to do it.” Pros and cons, right.
That’s what happens to all CAD softwares. You get really used to it because it takes you a while to learn it and get into the nuances of it. That’s where I’m urging the CAD and slicing guys to start cross-licensing because now is the time to make it user-friendly and universal. Or if not, keep up with each other, and try to make those features in all the softwares. That would be great. Unfortunately, they all have different priorities for what they are doing.
Maybe some of our listeners can pressure them. Tell us what you want to be your latest feature that you are dying for, and we will talk about it, and maybe we can put some pressure on the software manufacturers for you. I like that idea. Serve up some wish list requests for your slicing software or CAD. If you think there are specific CAD improvements, that’s great, too. We can push back on those companies, too.
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