Not your average files to 3D print or do 3D printer testing with, Natalie Mathis and Quincy Robinson of 3DKitbash have created amazing sculptural 3D printable toys off the back of their many successful Kickstarter projects. They have also created a unique set of tools to download to really test the capabilities of your 3D printer. This is a great case study of an innovative design business platform and a must listen to if you in an art related business.
Today we have a great interview. I am super excited about this. 3DKitbash has been around for quite a while, and they have done a lot of Kickstarters. We really love what Natalie Mathis and Bryan Quincy Robinson are doing. Quincy has a long history of inventing and digitally sculpting for the toy industry. These are fabulous toys. They are fun and interactive. They have a really great artistic bend, there is a story to each one of them. I love the way that they are sculpted. These are sculptural toys but they also have great function to them.
These are not your average files to 3D print by any means, these things are made to be completely original designs. It is very fun. They stretch what your printer could do. In addition to a lot of these toys and dolls that are Star Wars inspired, they have these test prints to help anybody really dial in their settings or test the capabilities of the 3D printer as a form of 3D printer testing. Natalie specializes in business strategy and development for art and design related businesses. That is really what some people ask us all the time. Business strategy for a design related business is a lot harder because you have to keep the creativity and innovation going. You cannot systematize that out of it. Promoting it is different because it got a big challenge.
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Comprehensive 3D Printer Testing with 3DKitbash
I can’t tell you how many times over the last couple years that I keep sending your 3D printer testing kits to Tom and say why are we not using this? So far, we haven’t done it yet. I think that maybe today, you can help me convince him that we should.
Tell us a little bit about how the two of you got started and working together?
We started this for years ago. Quincy was doing toy inventions and sculpting. He trained himself how to use the digital sculpting station that we bought. We really like the idea of having a business that we could create things and put them on an online store. We felt like Quincy did such a good job with developing toys. There was plenty of room in the space for things that were really neat and functional. It printed better than everything else. I was in the business world and I really have a focus on art and design. Quincy got the background in art and toys. Our strengths went well together.
There is some history that when we get started, at the time that we are brainstorming whether or not to come together and work on projects with this, this is also when Kickstarter was taking off. It was at the same time that Form 1+ was blowing up Kickstarter. It is crazy to think how long ago that was now. We realized that not only was 3D printing becoming a focus for people, but also crowd funding was becoming a focus for people. There was some discrepancy from what people were expecting from a 3D printer and what they were able to receive from their 3D printer.
That led us into the first Kickstarter campaign that we did which was the 3D printer Testing Kit. It helped people manage expectations. Natalie and I got together and we brainstormed out this 3D printer testing kit and all the different qualities that it could try to measure. Running off the success of the Form 1+, lead us to continue to do more Kickstarters, and so we completed our eleventh recently.
Wow, that’s really amazing that you’ve had so many backed Kickstarters! I do want to get back to the 3D printer testing kit, I think that is of really a great interest for us here. I think you hit on something that is really to the point, especially a couple of years ago when Form 1+ and all of those printers were hitting Kickstarter, is that choosing a printer based on what you want to print has different criteria about what qualities you need in that printer. Do you expect when somebody uses the 3D printer testing kit, that the printer should be able to do it all of those things well, or just be where they can do some of them well?
When we first came up with the very first 3D printer testing kit, the very first one is Generation One. Generation One was the only thing that we designed that was meant to be printed on different types of 3D printers. It was meant to not only test and calibrate your printer, but it was also meant for you to test the materials that you are printing in. It wasn’t a guarantee that you will be able to print anything in particular. It was what you brought to the table. You could make it work for you in different ways, the 3D printer testing kit provided you with renders that helped you understand what the true file looks like and what the slicing program is receiving.
From that point on, it is your interaction with the machine that helps you gauge expectations with what to expect from your machine, or what your capabilities are in working on it.
So there is an aspect in of one of your test prints that would show what that quality looks like. If you said that it is acceptable or not acceptable, then maybe this is not the right printer – that would be how you would judge the results of the 3D printer testing kit?
Yeah, I guess a great example of how this was working for me in the real world is, I was working in a toy sculpting studio. We did rapid prototypes all the time. We do a number of monsters or regular superheroes. They have these sharp bones or fangs that are sticking off of them. Depending on the 3D printing process whether it is SLA, SLA, or an FDM printer, you are retaining those sharp features at varying degrees of success. Take for instance the spike test chip that focuses on spikes and sharp points. That was meant to calibrate to retain those sharp edges.
What you have done here with these 3D printer testing kids, is what we have been saying for years: You have to tie what you want to accomplish with the right printer and materials. You give everyone a tool to be able to check that and check it before you buy a printer or before it is too late.
Our 10th Kickstarter campaign was revisiting the 3D printing testing kit. Whenever Natalie and I first got started, we did not understand hashtags. Hashtags are a brilliant tool for being able to catalog people’s results on something. At least in the theory of the Kickstarter is that as people print out these chips and they use the hashtag along with those chips when posting the results from using the 3D printing testing kit, we could have a database of what printer or going to receive and what you can expect from each one.
Have there been any companies, in terms of 3D printer manufacturers, that are standardizing on using your test kits to help evaluate the performance of their printers?
I can’t think any off the top of my head, mostly it is individuals and hobbyists. They want to calibrate their printer because they are so different, even when you get one out of the box. We made the first 3D printer testing kit before MakerBot even got bigger. Before anybody can be considered out of the box, there was so much variations in 3D printers. The hobbyists mostly use it. They can change their infill or their temperature based on the results of the 3D printer testing of just one chip. They can calibrate it in some way before they go too far on a job and waste time and filament.
We did come across one company at a Makerfaire in San Francisco. They showed us pictures of barrels and barrels of their printer testing kit. They used the spike. They were testing different materials that had tags showing the different chemical make ups of the different materials. They also used the voids chip to test the first layer of an SLA. They were testing out their Form 1+.
The 3D printer testing kit version 2 is utilitarian. We made another one between number one and two called Graphica. Graphica is all about seeing how your printer handles mechanical print in place parts. Quincy designed into each one of them a mechanical moving part that prints in one piece and works right off your printer bed. People wanted to see how their printers could really accomplish that in the first place or whether or not they would bridge and lock those pieces into place. Before you get into the bigger thing, you can test that chip. The Graphica chips are just really cool and fun like toys themselves. They are good examples for people or kids what additive manufacturing can accomplish.
This is a problem that we find all the time, there are a lot of printer companies who will not run a test print for you. For me, I want to see if they can print my WHAT before I buy a printer. At minimum, they should be using these 3D printer testing kits and showing off the results from that because I would want to see that. If I see that the voids are perfect and working well, then I can say that it would do what I want to do, and I will be more likely to buy it.
I can understand how some people, enthusiasts, or hobbyists, or anybody who is using a Simplify3D type of program, I could see how these prints could also help them learn how to adjust their settings properly. Maybe their printers are capable, but are their settings right? That is another variable. It is very interesting to have the idea of having these common prints that you can use cross different situations.
3D printing companies all too often engineer their machine to a high level of precision, but they leave it up to the users to figure out how to print different geometric structures and how to figure out the settings for that. If they spent the time using the same type of prints as they develop, they could prove out ahead of time that their printer is capable of lots of these fine details. I am impressed with this whole 3D printer testing kit.
I really like your website and your presentation of them. This is impressive stuff and I think we need to buy them. We could be using this, we review printers every month. I like the idea of using some of these just as a baseline print to see what the printer is made of. It is very cool.
Lots of us are being able to do this as a full time job, thanks to the crowd funding community. If it wasn’t for things like Kickstarter being available now, it would be very hard. Kickstarter is a unique way to hit a large audience.
What do you guys attribute your success with Kickstarter in, aside from running off the enthusiasm about Form 1+?
Natalie and I are always focused on manageable goals. Our Kickstarters are small. 3D printer test kits have a goal of $1500 which is tiny. Some of the 3D printers out there are just such massive projects. We have a very low overhead cost. We could just have a very low threshold for us to succeed on Kickstarter. We managed to get in about $4,000 on that one, which funded the projects. Doing projects like we do, our typical supporter base is about 200 backers. We have to plan for that. 200 backers is about what we are able to do. We have a great community that continues to support us, it is alot of repeat support.
We talk to people who remember our very first 3D printer test kit on Kickstarter. Some people are very proud that they backed it or have backed every single Kickstarter of ours. We need a lot of these people to be successful on Kickstarter. So many 3D printers start on Kickstarter, so that audience is there. They are looking for things that are new and interesting to print. We have a lot of people who write us up and say that the quality is just really good. We are just happy to print it. That was our goal. We just continued to want to deliver that, but we do need funding in order to bridge from one project to the next. Kickstarter has helped us develop new products. That is really amazing. We do get a lot more traffic when we are on Kickstarter, which is nice. We were constantly meeting new people there. They tend to stick around.
That’s great you’ve been able to do that. Many people who are new to it think that the community has a lot of organic growth and it really doesn’t have it within its community this organic growth. That very first Kickstarter is the most critical and you need to drive that from your own traffic initially to get enough visibility to find the organic growth
The 3D printing media has been amazing. They have supported us in every Kickstarter we had as well. If 3Dprint.com would publish something and they talk about how exciting this thing is, then we get a lot more visibility that way too. We’ve gotten to know all of the people in 3D printing media, we appreciate all their support as well.
I work with a toy industry standard program that is called Freeform. It is a program from 3D Systems. It is basically a CAD program where you work with a haptic device. You are not just working on the X and Y axis, but you are also able to interact with the Z axis. This means that you can push into objects and work from the inside out. You can do really nice organic shapes. I also use ZBrush and Keyshot
I met Geomagics at CES. He was showing me that, and feel that haptic device, and I found that fascinating. ZBrush and Keyshot is used for presentations. Freeform is a professional high grade one.
I think it is $800 now, which is an entry level. You need $10,000 if you need to get a Freeform setup. You can get refurbished systems from 3D Systems. You got call them up and talk to them and do some negotiating.
We were trying to do reviews of a different CAD program every other week, but it was really overwhelming so we are spacing it out more. You can’t dive in to a CAD program and really get enough information in a week of testing. We extended the time to review them till end of the year.
They need time.
It is impossible to become as real proficient expert in all of them. It was really funny. We reviewed it and we recorded an episode about Google SketchUp and I thought it was a typo when I saw that the blog went up as Trimble SketchUp. We did not realize they had got bought out a year ago when we recorded the podcast. The names of these CAD programs changes from time to time.
How is the sharing going? That is the other thing that I want to talk about. Do you see a lot of comments, results, and sharing happening? Or is it just happening within that community of Kickstarter?
We would like to see more sharing of the hashtags. We have people who use them. We envision to put the hashtag in and just to have hundreds of them come up so that people are saying what they are using and their settings for each chip. You have a range of samples from really great to crazy fails. That is our vision. Right now it is steady. We would like to see people utilize it more.
If I don’t have the printer yet, that would be really useful information for me as I am thinking about buying one. If I can see the picture of it and look at the hashtag, or if I could look at that hashtag for my 3D printer to help learn if people share their settings from what succeeded on that printer. The hashtag thing is a brilliant idea to help make it really searchable on the internet.
We motivate people to use the hashtag.
When you download this kit, just use the hashtags. When you are posting a photo about it or any kind of post, you can go in Instagram and search on the hashtag, then you can find what everyone is talking about. That is a great idea and I like how it is prominently featured on your website with each of the things. That is the way to do it. It is very cool.
Using any of these hashtags is a cool way to do it. If you go to Google images and put in the hashtag, it is just a solid wall of the different thing people have made, and it is very encouraging. It is a real surreal to see people play with stuff that we are making.
That keeps you going and that is great. Let’s talk a little bit about what you guys are working on at that you are excited about? What is going to be next for you?
Right now, we are finishing out our Star Wars inspired skulls for Bone Head Series 3. That was the last Kickstarter we made. We have raised over $20,000 in Kickstarter. It will be very reminiscent of characters from Star Wars. We are finishing that out right now, and we are beginning test printing very soon. We are a small company which is why we are very nimble. Right now, we are looking at new variations for our Quin Doll and Niq figure. We are also considering some large sea creatures that are 3D printable. We are both big fans of humpback whales.
I have three daughters. Can we see some mermaids please? Their tales move and I think you’re the guys that can do it.
Okay, we’d be all about that.
We have a two year old and our seven year old managed to get the two year old to only want to watch mermaid shows.
We cannot believe how big a deal mermaids are in West Palm. A lot of times people do engagement photos where the girls are dressed as mermaids and the guy has found her on the beach. That is a real thing here.
You need to create a mermaid and merman wedding cake topper! One more thing I’m curious about, how big of a test lab do you guys have to print these things out and refine them?
We have two test printers down here, we have a MakerBot Replicator 2x and a Replicator 2. Replicators are tractors. We don’t really experiment with printers too much. We just stick with what we have in the moment and make sure that things print out the right way. We try to size everything down. The frame has a 100 mm square.
Aside from the two printers, we have a ton of filament. No matter what, after you run your machine for 800 hours, you have wire crimping issues, but everything is easy to fix. You got 800 hours in and you get one thing to fix. It is not too bad.
Thank you for joining us today. We really appreciate you joining us. We hope that our audience starts hashtagging for you.
Thank you so much, thanks for having us.
3D Printer Testing Kits – Final Thoughts
You hear 3D printer testing kits and it sounds boring, but these are not boring. The test kits are really cool looking and they are also so useful. They really are. I really want to give them props for not only coming up with very useful test kits from a functional point of view, but also because of how they are very clever looking in size. They created this iconographic element to them. It is a series of prints, while each of them is different and really gives you different feedback and information about your printer or your settings and materials that you test, there is a recognizable quality across all of them.
You are going to know that it is a 3DKitbash test print. It has a format. It is like a signature. That is the sign of an artist. That is what I like these two, Natalie and Quincy, they have a great stylistic integrity that shows through everything they do. They know what qualifies as a 3DKitbash product and I like that. That meets with what I expect with a company and from an individual who is working in this industry. It is a great job.
I am so impressed with their models. We are going to get a few of them. They have this Quin doll and we are going to have Lannea (7) print out. We are going to start using some of their test prints in our 3D printer reviews. I think that will be a really good addition to the depth of our reviews. We are going to do that.
Now, we will get to the fun. Natalie and Quincy have offered up a great promo for you guys to get the kit. For the 3D print test kit version 2.0, it is going to be a promo kit. Go to order it and click on the Add to Cart. In the checkout process, put in WTFFF Models. This is only good until August 1, 2016. You can get the 20% discount for just being a WTFFF?! listener. It is only under $20. You are going to use this every time you have problems with your printer or when you test out a new printer. There is going to be lots of use for this. If you have an idea to print something and you wonder if your printer can do for that kind of performance, then try the new ones. I just think that it is a very reasonable price for what these are.
It is not just in the planning, but also the conceiving of all these different structures while modelling and designing them in the way that they did to be recognizable. There are a lot that goes into it. Once you use that and test them out and try them on your printer, to hashtag them, #3DKitbash, and they have a number for this specific type of print. If it is spike it is number 02. Please hashtag them and us #3DStartPoint. Let us know what printer you used it on or settings and materials that you use. Give us information because that will be fabulous for us to share with each other.
- 3DKitbash on Kickstarter
- 3D Printer Test Kit 2.0
- Keyshot CAD software
- Geomagic Formfree CAD software
Toy Guru with over 10 years of Award Winning Product Development & Inventing for the Toy Industry. Currently my 3DKitbash.com comrades and I are helping define the potentials of the rapidly evolving world of 3d printing and having a great time doing so. We design and develop everything from 3d printer test kits to 3d-printable fashion dolls and actions figures. I have been inventing and digitally sculpting for the toy industry for more than a decade.
Natalie specializes in development for art-related business. She’s spent much of the past decade in toy invention and digital sculpting studios, traveling to toy conventions, and visiting toy aisles nationwide. She just finished work as Director of Advancement (development, fundraising, and marketing) for a fine art museum with a world-class collection in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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