This Ask Us Anything event with MatterHackers was such a good event and we had so many great questions we couldn’t fit it all into one episode. This is part 2 from our MatterHackers Meet Up event where we had a panel with Lars Brubaker, the CEO of MatterHackers, and Taylor Landry who is in charge of all the tech, testing, customer service – he wears a lot of hats there.
We just want to urge you to go to events like this because you are just going to meet people who can help you. People like Taylor and Lars who want to help you become successful when you’re 3D printing.
Listen to the podcast here:
Ask Us Anything – MatterHackers Event Part 2
Does it matter which slicer I use?
Lars: The slicers are different or they are very, very similar depending on what you want. The 80% case of just slicing a very simple thing, they all can do quite well. Then as we step up into more and more complex parts, it gets more intricate what you’re trying to do if you need support material, bridges, there’s like a thousand technical descriptions on what the aspects of it are. We’ve developed a slicing program. I’m a programmer, I work on it and I can describe its merits at length. But I think really it’s about getting the results that you want. We print with ours all the time, and we had lots of feedback, we partner with manufacturers. So I don’t really understand how to describe the nuance of it without getting really technical, but it does make a big difference.
Slicing engines can be very different, and we like ours the best. Not because we have some intrinsic preferences for it. In fact, our print guys could care less about our software – they only use it when it works, and when it doesn’t work they use something else and complain to us. So we have to fix it. It’s really really powerful for them to be able to come back, it’s the most annoying thing in the whole universe when someone walks into my office and says, “You know I printed this thing in some other slicer and it was working on layer 72 and yours doesn’t work.” I’m like, “Yours?! It’s us!” But it’s not us when it’s that situation. We work really hard to make sure we are doing a great job and delivering the best product that we can and we are always improving it.
Tomorrow morning [Friday, March 4th, 2016], we release the next version of MatterControl. It’s just dramatic the things that we have been putting into it the last two and a half years.
Taylor: I would add to that point, because I’m the one that goes in his office all the time, is that yeah, there’s super technical answers to far out test cases that no one really is actually going to slice. But the best answer is, like Lars said, is the one that gives you the results you want. Ideally that involves nothing but hitting one button that says print. That’s a barrier to the entry we talked about early on. When you get to the point where all of that is transparent, and that’s where we would like to be. But where we are now is you have the ability to have 70 different variables and options you can tweak and do this or do that, and you can get wildly different results from one slicer to the next, depending on the part.
Ultimately the question that matters is, does it print the way you want it to? Our slicer does, and other slicers can. The other question is how much time do you want to put into it to print out that result.
Tracy: One of the things that I know from having talked with Lars at great detail, and of course we have tried MatterControl before, but the idea that you have some of these slicers that have more of an easy print section and then a more complicated one so that it grows with you. That’s what I really like about yours, is that it grows with you so you can start when you have basic skills and you don’t really know how to use those advanced features. But as you get better at 3D printing, and what you’re making gets more complicated, you have the ability to go into it and you don’t have to learn some new software. That’s stressful and makes everything less productive.
Tom: I’m going to take a little different approach to answer this question and say yes, it absolutely does. It depends on if you’re a beginner. I’m going to speak from my experiences, cause at one point I was a beginner with a desktop 3D printer in our home office. I got lucky with the first printer I chose and the software that it had to slice because it really didn’t give me a lot of choices. It took a lot of complex things and made them really simple. I realized only after the fact. It was a MakerBot and they have their slicing software built in that is ultra simple where you don’t have a lot of choices as to what you can do. Which was really good for me because I didn’t really realize it until I bought my next printer which had, I believe, the MatterControl software and I used some other slicing software. When you have all those choices with all those variables, if you’re a beginner that can be way too complex.
I think if I had started with a more open source printer and a slicing software that had all these possibilities, I might have failed and I might have given up really early on. After I experienced that, I much more appreciated the much more simple slicing software. I know it’s great that MatterControl has gotten to the point where it’s much more simplified for people to start and then it can get more advanced if you want it to. I did get into the technical aspects of it and really appreciate and use advanced functions of these different slicing softwares, but if I started there it would have been really bad. So to me that’s where it does matter what slicing software you are using. When you are starting out you need something that has the complexities figured out for you so that you have a good experience and you can grow and learn and build from that.
Is it possible to embed a PCB into a 3D print protoype? i.e. a PCB base with a 3D printed top or lid (encased)
Taylor: Yes, and there’s a couple different ways to get that. You can design something that you print and pause, put a part in, then continue the print. It has to be designed in such a way so that when you’re placing the part, it doesn’t interfere with the printer movement or anything like that.
Now there’s even an option in a handful of printer I’ve seen pop up in the last month where 3D printers are designed for PCBs. At CES I saw a couple that were dual nozzle printers, one was typical FFF – melting plastic, and one had conductive trace materials so that you didn’t need a separate PCB up there, you could create it all within one part. So you are eliminating components basically and creating one cohesive unit. If you can think it, you can probably do it on a printer.
Is it possible to print an image onto a 3D printed model?
Lars: You can both make extrusions, so you can analyze that image. We have software built into MatterControl which will actually make an extrusion or a relief of that image and then you can add that to your model and print it that way. Or there’s other software that you can use that will create a kind of relief map, a topological map, of your image and that will be a way you can add or remove from your print. There are some pretty good techniques to achieve those results.
Tracy: You can always try them out with your printer at home, then send them off the service bureau to have them printed with the color map on them. The scans are done in an overlay, so the map of the color is actually separate from the underlying structural model.
Lars: So an example of what you can do right now is that I recently printed my girls light switch covers. The light switch cover, the base of it, is all just white PLA. For one of them I switched to a blue PLA, I paused and switched the filament. For the other I switched to a pink filament. I printed their names and some artwork in relief, specifically that they dug, and I used MatterControl and printed it out.
Tom: That’s what I was thinking, that you could take an image and I think what current people need to understand now with today’s technology is that you have to abstract that image, it wouldn’t be photographic, like silhouette for FFF. And then like Lars was saying, change the color and have it as an understandable, readable image of a character, words, or lettering. Certainly it would be more advanced to create a real relief out of it, and I know there are some plug-ins and CAD software that can interpret a 2D image into relief. It gets a little more complicated in modeling, not so much for printing.
Taylor: Just broader 3D printing, and it’s been around for awhile, is Mcor, which that can be full color.
Tracy: Yes, and that’s what you can do after if you’ve got the model. It’s working the model, shape looks good, and it’s just a matter of the color map. The machines would apply color pretty much the same way as an inkjet printer, even in terms of the way the color quality works where it has that faded paper quality.
Tom: Just to make sure everyone understands what the Mcor is, it instead of melting plastic, cuts very thin layers of paper and glue them onto each other, going up and up, to create a 3D model. It’s also an inkjet printer and it’s printing in color around the edge perimeter. You are printing in color and in 3D. It’s very expensive and more commercial machine – I don’t think it qualifies as a desktop.
Taylor: Well they did just announce one at CES, I think it’s $6,500 and about the size of an FFF machine. Not really sure if it’s for sale yet, but that’s kind of exciting since that wasn’t available unless you went to a firm and now you have one that’s kind of in the same ball park price range and accessibility wise.
For someone that’s just starting in 3D printing and doesn’t know much about it, or any kind of 3D modeling software, is there a specific kind of software you can recommend that is not so expensive for a beginner to kind of get involved with to try 3D modeling? Then after that, is there a specific printer or brand you can recommend for somebody just starting out that’s less expensive than some of the advanced options?
Taylor: Those are probably the two most common questions I get in customer service. We have an article online that goes through a dozen design softwares that are currently available. Most of them are free, some of them cost something, but you don’t have to spend tons of money to get one. It really depends on what you’re looking to do. If you’re making simple toys and baubles you don’t have a high demand on your modeling software. If you are coming at it from an engineering perspective, you parametric modeling software. There are free versions of all of those.
What about Blender?
Taylor: Blender is robust but it’s not a great solid modeling program. It’s meant for graphics in videos and things so it does not make the most 3D printable items. Starting with what you print is number one, which also ties into your second question of what printer is for me? Once you decide what you are going to print, then you can decide what printer is best for you. There is no best printer. I wish there was, and I wish there was a best material, and best software too. There is probably a specific printer, and specific software, and a specific material that would be ideal for your project.
Tracy: One other thing to also think about is something we really considered carefully when trying to decide what to start our daughter on. We started with something that was really basic and capable for her to figure out intuitively how use the menus and everything, I mean she was still learning how to read at the time so that was difficult. When we recommended it slightly older children that were 12-14 years old, we really thought carefully if they really liked this. If they really loved 3D design and that they wanted to go further with this.
We wanted to make sure that we directed them towards a software that was going to grow with them so they wouldn’t have to go find a whole new one and start over with a whole new menu structure or just a whole new thing. Some of these companies, like Autodesk, has a slightly stepped down beginner version and then the more advanced version. They are tied together, kind of like Photoshop lite and Photoshop, they are still the same program and if you learn the lite version you can still use the full version without learning a whole new software program. You just have more functions than you have before. That’s one of the things to consider when you try to buy it for an older aged student, or even for yourself if you intend to go into some more advanced uses. Pick something you can grow with.
Taylor: There’s also the solid modeling programs that are for engineers and that level, Solidworks and AutoCAD are solid modeling softwares. Then there’s the graphics modeling programs like Blender and 3D Studio Max. So if you pick Solidworks and then you decide later that you are going to change, it’s not like you have to throw out the stuff that you’ve learned. The icons and things are going to look different, but the basics are all the same. You just need to decide where you are going to come at it from. So if you are more the artistic graphical type, then probably a graphics modeling program is probably what you’re looking for. If you’re more into engineering and functional type things then the solid modeling programs are for you. But you don’t have to make the decision and feel like you are locked in.
Is there any kind of YouTube channels or anything online you recommend to learn 3D print design and modeling?
Everyone: Yes, tons!
Taylor: Whatever program you check out, or maybe you just want to look at some of them now, if you just go to that article and look up YouTube videos for whatever you are looking at and see that the video looks like it makes it easy enough for me to start. I mean they are all free, so you can just download it and watch a couple videos before you decide, oh that one makes sense, or no I’m going to find another one. For as many software programs as there are, there are dozens more of YouTube tutorials and walk thrus to teach you how to do whatever you want to do.
Following up on the PCB question, I have something in mind that I want to design and it’s integrated in my head but I want to be able to do that with the 3D printer so I can get a prototype.
Taylor: So my CAD background was zero when I started, and we’ve talk about a couple of different questions the what part, like “What should I print?” or “What can I print?” And that question really changes when you ask, “What can’t I print?” or “What can’t I do with it?” To answer that you really just have to dive in and start printing because it really does just change the way you think about it. From the design side, I can’t answer that without knowing more details except to say that if you the idea it doesn’t have to take really long because the barrier to entry is really low and the design tools are out there that you can just start. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, cause it’s in your head – it doesn’t exist yet. You know what it will take, so you just have to start.
Find one of the free design tools. TinkerCAD is basic shapes and making toys. There’s also full on, business level CAD stuff like On Shape, which is as robust as $5,000 software suites that engineering firms will buy. So you can find you entry point, where ever that is, but it doesn’t take very long to do one or two and print them and say, “Oh that doesn’t work, but now I know how to make it better or make it closer. The iteration process will go so much faster and it will change the way that you are thinking about it because of the process in general. It doesn’t take long to go from what you’ve got in your head to having a functional prototype in your hand.
I do have the design on the computer, and what it’s supposed to look like and know how it all fits together, but my worry was that with the 3D printer, you are injecting stuff, so how do you avoid damaging the PCB?
Taylor: Sure, and understanding that problem is understanding the process, like how the printer is working. When you aren’t familiar with something you worry if you can break it. We get questions from businesses about what are the wear parts and what they are going to have to replace, and all those things are legitimate concerns, but once you get a printer and see it, they’re really not scary. They are really basic when you break them down, there are only 4 or 5 super simple components that all of them pretty much have. Motors, stepper motors, some belts, some bearings, and a hot end that melts the plastic. That’s pretty much it. Once you understand how it works, how it moves, and how it prints, then you know that you can’t really break it. The part will either work or it won’t. You get your design in 3D space and you print it and it either doesn’t work or not. And if it doesn’t, you throw the $1.50 of plastic in the trash and you hit print again once you’ve made your changes.
Lars: When you start with imagining that you put the PCB in right now and you’re like, “Oh my god, the printer would have ripped it to pieces.” And then you’re to the point where you’re like, “Oh I’m just going to stick a piece of Styrofoam in there,” and see if it actually touches it. Just iterate your way until you finally feel comfortable in dropping your PCB in and say, “It worked!”
Taylor: So we just designed some PCBs for a project we are working on and we are sending them out to get rapid prototyping done by a PCB house. Before that we literally just printed the shape of the PCB with the components on it as they would be. It doesn’t work as a PCB but we can put it in what we are working on as a stand in to see if it fits in the enclosure. So you could print out the PCB, then print the enclosure, and then put the PCB in and see if it will work or won’t work.
Tracy: We actually just did this for a friend, it’s a friend from college who came and sat in our offices for 3 days and just worked through the iterative issues we were trying to create. He didn’t really need for it to work, he just wanted it to look like the working model, but everything still had to fit together.
Tom: Yeah it was like he was printing housing around the circuit board.
Tracy: What he discovered though, was that his design was actually flawed. So he would have gone to full prototype and tooling on that and found out it was flawed. And wouldn’t fit properly.
Taylor: If you go to Thingiverse or any other repository right now. Actually one of the most popular repositories in that realm is Raspberry Pi, I mean it’s in everything everywhere. There are thousands of cases for the Raspberry Pi PCB. Some of them are just snap fit afterwards, some of them are just encased or closed. For an example of types of things you can do or look at, you can find hundreds and hundreds of examples of that.
Tracy: Yes, it’s very doable.
What brand of printer do each of you have? Or what would you say is most reliable and worth the money?
Lars: So I’ve had lots of printers. When this first started up with the RepRap movement and there was just people tinkering with how do we make an extruder and how do we use high end printers to create the components for this reproducing, human assisted evolutionary device? Which was the original inspiration for 3D printing in the consumer space. I bought whatever I could get. So I started with the original thing, the Cupcake from MakerBot, then I bought the next one, then I built one and then another one.
The printer I have now, regrettably for that question, I work here so I just carry one home, usually whatever printer is currently working. I get to be very eclectic now and it’s way more fun, but if I had to get a printer I don’t even know which one I would get, there’s so many of them that are really interesting. I think I would still probably build my own because I really like the invention aspect of it but also the knowledge that you get out of seeing all the components together and understanding how it comes apart and where it goes together, where it’s defects and limitations are. That would be my suggestion is to find a kit that I was really interested in.
Tracy: We have a MakerBot 5th generation. We love ours and it works really well for us, but we’ve tried so many printers. We do love Polar3D even though it wouldn’t make what we had, because what we had was centered and Polar3D does the print on polar coordinates so it runs around in a circle. For our particular WHAT it didn’t work, but it was such a cute machine and totally safe with the kids around.
Tom: It was beautifully simple.
Tracy: Yes! And to go off of what Lars was saying, I’m almost glad that we didn’t ever build a printer and don’t have a RepRap background because we have a product design and development background. Tom and I have a really time seeing how we would design a printer and be completely different direction than the entire community has come from. I’m starting to get excited about the idea that maybe we might do that someday because it could just be so completely different and really focus more on what you want to make and less on how you make it.
Tom: And to add to what Tracy was saying, is yes, we have a MakerBot and we really appreciate it. It does a very good job at what it can do, but I hunger for more. It doesn’t do enough for what I want to do. We keep trying different printers, buying and returning or buying a reselling, because I want to make the 3D Wow Tie in multiple colors, at least two or three colors. I want to do it in blended colors across it. We’ve had a Leapfrog Creator HS which is a two color printer. We did a lot of work with that, trying to get it to do what we wanted it to do, and it’s not that it’s a bad printer, but for what we wanted it to do it was not the right fit.
I think the issue is is that it’s never whether it’s a good or bad printer, it’s what is the right fit for me. I mean there can be better printers than others, but we try not to bash printer. I think most of them are great for somebody and it’s just a matter of what they are doing.
Tracy: We also had an AirWolf at one point, and the thing is, is that they use the thicker filament and we had this issue because we like to go back and forth between two different machines and you can’t do that with two filaments because you can’t get the colors to match. That’s how that one didn’t fit what we wanted to print. It also didn’t do some of the more delicate items that we like to print.
We do have this rule, if you’ve ever listened to our podcast, is that when we test a printer we always return it, and if they don’t want it returned we will then donate it to a school or a makerspace. If we want to keep it, we will pay for it. I was really tempted to do that with the Polar 3D, but we have yet to buy a printer we have reviewed. When we do do that, you all should get excited because that’s probably really telling that it has come a long way.
Taylor: My first printer was an AirWolf that I don’t think they make anymore. Back then, the only two options were to buy it or buy the kit. My personal printer now, the only one I own, is the Rostock Max. I’ve got over 5,000 machine hours on it over the last two years, and I know it like it’s my baby. I’ve upgraded it and modded it. I even have access to two dozen machines here and I have to test all the new ones that we sell and so I get to try them all out and the ones that we like for specific reasons we add to our print fleet. We have 10-15 machines that we run all the time and they are there for specific reasons like because it has a big build volume or this one has a dual print head or this one is more specialized and does ‘this’ better. I will say that it’s hard in general to know which to get. If you build a kit you’ll have a better printer long term than if you buy one that’s ready to go out of the box. It will give you more trouble up front, it takes some extra time to make that learning curve a little steeper, but if this is something you want to get into, I would look at some of the kit options which are becoming less and less common. People just want the buy it, open it, put it on your desktop, and hit print. As of right now though, it is still definitely more art than science so you can have people with a cheap $3,000 printer that is better than a $6,000 machine. If you understand how the printer works, and specifically how your printer works then you’ll be able to get better results because you’ll know what to adjust when it’s doing something wrong. Or to know that I can get better results for whatever you are printing.
Tracy: That assumes though, that you have a high frustration tolerance and or a lot of time on your hands. For us that’s why Tom says we are really lucky in that we bought that MakerBot. We are extremely busy with our business and we’ve got three kids, and then it still took six months for him to get it to print, and we didn’t really have to learn CAD on top of it all. If you have to put your time into places that are most critical, I would put my time in CAD. It’s going to make you a better designer for everything that you can do with it. I don’t disagree with you, Taylor, but I think that building a printer is a case by case basis to the person printing. I think it’s a good idea for your teenager who wants to get into 3D printing to build it.
Taylor: Right. The two main customers are the hobbyists that are tinkering in their garage who have all the time in the world cause it’s a hobby, and then there are businesses. I never ever recommend kits for businesses because they need it right away and they don’t need to know all that stuff they just need to know is it going to make that part that I need it to make. So if you are coming at it from there, where you need it to make something right away – don’t even look at a kit.
If you had one wish for 3D printing, so that tomorrow when you wake up, this thing would be done/handled/invented/created, what would it be?
Tracy: That’s easy for me. I want the filament to be right there, and be able to say, “This is the Pantone color I want.”
Lars: I want the atom printer. I want it to just have the periodic table backing it up, so I can just say “go” and it goes.
Taylor: On the practical level, just for the FFF world, it would be materials that actually talk to each other. Right now one of the limitations are that you are limited to different colors of the same material, or very small group of materials that will stick to each other while it’s printing. The next big leap I see is when you can have this hard rigid plastic and then you can print a soft grip on top of it. The ability to have a multi-material part.
Tom: So many things that I want… this is hard. I want one that can build physically what I want, but can then decorate it on the same machine after the fact with the colors and sheens and finishes. I don’t want it to just be making one material one way. I want it to produce more of the real qualities of the product that I want it to do, which is tough.
Lars: Well I’m actually trying to make what I want. I mean as a little kid I wanted to be an inventor, and here I am, that is the ambition here.
Tracy: Well thanks so much for joining us! Be sure to ask us, or MatterHackers anything!
- Ask Us Anything – MatterHackers Event Part 1
- MCor 3D printer
- Autodesk 3DS Max
- On Shape
- Raspberry Pi
- Polar 3D Printer review
- 3D Wow Tie
- Airwolf 3D printer
- Rostock Max 3D printer
Listen | Download | View
Hear the episode of the WTFFF?! Podcast by using the player above OR click to download any episode.
Help Us Help You!
Have some feedback? Leave a comment below. We will read and respond
Please also review us on iTunes and share via the social media of your choice.
- 3D Startpoint Facebook
- 3D Startpoint LinkedIn
- Hazz Design Twitter
- 3D Startpoint YouTube