As your 3D printing business grows, you’ll likely be working with multiple projects at any given time, and with each project come a vast number of files that you have to work with. How can you organize them to make your work more efficient? Tom Hazzard and Tracy Hazzard share some of their best practices in organizing 3D printing files. Covering things like saving, file names, and database management, these practices can help you move forward in your creative process without having to fumble through your files all the time. Listen in and start doing things more methodically.
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How Do You Organize Your 3DP Files?
This Ask Us Anything segment.
I like this one because when it comes to our systems, we’re organized.
The question is, how do we organize our design files and our design process? That’s an excellent question for someone starting out. We’ve been doing this for years. We’ve done it wrong before and we’ve gotten to the most optimum simplified system with the most security. I don’t mean security from hacking security, it’s security in terms of you’re not going to lose a file and you’re not going to lose something important.
You know where to find things that you did months ago when you need them.
Lots of people organize things by date and I’m more of a project-based person. We do have a slightly different system in how we do it. Essentially, it’s still the same from a file organization standpoint.
It starts with some best practices when it comes to making your actual 3D model files that eventually you’re going to 3D print. Assuming you’re creating new original stuff and not downloading files. You create things, change them, and go through a lot of iterations. I subscribe to the best practice of save, save, and save some more. It’s also Save As.
We don’t save overwrite. We save as in the beginning until you get your basic structure done but once we’ve done one, and we go back into editing it, we usually save a new copy almost always. I can’t tell you how many times for clients, we’ve had to go back to the original. Just because a client asked for a change, it’s a whole new file.
There are a lot of sophisticated, expensive CAD programs out there that will save the history of things in one big file as they go but a lot of people don’t have that software. We don’t use that software. We like software that allows us to create more organic forms and shapes and they generally don’t do that. We keep saving multiple versions as we go. Usually, when we have a project and we’ll create a folder for that project.
Also, we have a general numbering system. We have an HZ for Hazz. It’s an HZ numbering system that we use for all our clients and early on, we made the mistake of only making it three numbers long or three spaces thinking, “999 designs. We won’t do more.”
It’s so far in the future. We couldn’t even contemplate that.
We probably outdid that in three years on one client. We outstrip that. That’s not a good model. Definitely give yourself plenty of numbers, especially if you’re going to save all the iterations like that. We don’t always do that. We usually do HZ1000-A, B, C, D. We usually save our iterations as letters or V1, V2, V3, depending on what type of file it is. If it’s an A, B, C, it’s usually in a presentation to a client. If it’s a V1, V2, V3, it’s usually internal.
It always seems to happen that in future projects, we realize, “I created a piece of geometry in this other project that would be helpful here. It could be the basis for something new here.” We want to go back and find it. If we hadn’t saved all those iterations, it might not be there.
I know a lot of designers who purge the stuff that the clients don’t like or purge the stuff that they discard before they even present it to the client. I can tell you that there’s a lot of design and thought process that goes into it and the creative process flows and sometimes stuff is junk. It happens. A lot of times there’s something there that your brain was starting. You were starting to draw it and there’s something there that you will pick up on. Your brain will have completed how to do what it is you wanted that didn’t work out and going back to that original saves you a lot of time.
I agree 100%. There are also components you use of a product that has many parts to it and you reuse a lot of those components. I highly recommend saving multiple copies of different iterations. When in doubt, save a new one.
A second part of the design organization is organizing the files that are going to the printer, what you’re printing and what you’re organizing. We’re detailed about it.
Especially for creative designers because we’re artists, we went to art school. You wouldn’t think of artists as being the most organized, detailed, or methodical about things like this. However, what we did with our system files we print I would highly recommend for anybody.
I created a database for us. What we do is, every time we do a print, we load the G-Code file to it. We reference the original STL file. We didn’t load it into it because it’s not different every time necessarily, but we reference the file name and we have a folder that has them. We also didn’t want this database to blow up and how much space it takes. Tom would input certain settings that were variables that we were trying out because we wanted to look at it as a design of the experiment. When things were successful, we would start to see patterns no matter which design we were doing things were working out. A lot of software does that nowadays. 3DPrinterOS is awesome because it would track all that for me.
3DPinterOs is a database based system and certainly, it has the history of all the settings you used on any print you do through them. It has that to a large extent. For our purposes, we test a lot of different printers. We started doing it before 3DPrinterOS existed.
Before we knew they existed.
We wanted to make sure that as we’re trying out different settings on these different printers, if something works well, we wanted to document it.
For engineers out there, we treat it as a design of the experiment.
We wanted to know more, but more importantly, if things didn’t go well or you made a change, we thought it was going to improve it and it didn’t, you wanted to go back and look, “What was it that worked 2 or 3 prints ago? What worked well?” By saving all those key settings, we can see and there are notes in there as well.Learn from the best practices in file organization and be the most efficient you can be in your business. Click To Tweet
We would save a picture of the file or the print so you would know how it turned out if there was something you needed to see in it.
Even several detailed pictures that we’ve made so we could put in there. Maybe it’s a little extreme that you have the ability from a lot of experience a long time ago creating databases in the computer that you could make a custom database for us, maybe there’s another way we can do that. I’ve heard even of 3D printer companies doing this and recording all the details on a spreadsheet. You can do it in a simpler way.
I like my database because you can search and sort in any way and also because you can treat it image-based where you can pull all the images up in one view and take a look at them. You can’t do that in Excel, where the image is dumb and it ignores it.
The other thing we did with the database is, in every different G-Code file or printer file and not all are G-Code files depending on the printer. They are in essence, G-Code, but they’re not called that but for every one, we give a unique name. We started ours with 3DP for 3D Print and a 4 or 5-digit number after that so when you’re printing a file, we know which print is which exam a reference for it.
Sometimes you make some setting changes, it shifts and you can’t go backward and undo the settings. Sometimes it doesn’t always work. You don’t remember what you were doing so it’s a lot easier to go back up and pick up from that other file and make the one change you wanted to make again.
I don’t know if you remember because I use the database all the time. You don’t use it but you created it a long time ago. In addition to saving the print file or the G-Code file, we save the settings file from the slicing software. For Simplify3D, it’s a factory file and for MakerBot, it’s a thing file. We save those files in it so we have all that information. If we want to recreate something or start from that point, we don’t have to recreate that file all over again.
We hope that talking through our design organization helps you think about how you might want to start because starting with good practices is going to make it a whole lot easier for you as you go forward. The other thing that we do carefully with it is we try to keep our information and our images together. There are reasons for that and it’s because we’re visual people and we like that. It’s not only that. There are reasons for that because you get lost up if you stick all of your photos in a photo library. It becomes inaccessible at some point and unmanageable because your library blows up. If you keep everything separated by projects or by types, it helps you.
That’s how the database helps you. Think about the Excel spreadsheet model. If you stick a lot of photos in a spreadsheet, that file gets huge and hard to manage. If you have photos of a print and they have some name or you’re going through a folder of photos and say, “That one. Which print was that one?” You’ve got to go to an Excel spreadsheet and reference that to figure out which print that photo belongs to. In the database, it’s all there in one place. That’s a product in itself. You can probably sell that database, Tracy.
I don’t know. It’s not my day job. The second part of this discussion and we’re running long here. We should put it to part two and do part two in the next episode. It’s backing up and you need to talk about making sure you have extra copies of all your files and everything.
Sounds good. We’ll do that.
If you have a question about design, 3D printing, or anything related to the world of 3D printing in an ancillary way, get in touch with us. You can find us on social media anywhere @HazzDesign or you can find us on our new websites.
I want to apologize for our websites. We keep telling you to go to them. You probably have and half the time they’re on and off. We’ve been hacked twice. I don’t know what’s going on and why we’re so popular.
Our web developers have thousands of websites that they manage and they’ve never seen a single site get hacked twice so soon within such a short period of time and hack to this level. It’s weird because we’re not selling anything on our website. They’re trying to hack it because we’re trying to find credit card numbers, but there are none on our site.
We don’t even keep our email addresses there. If you have entered your email address, don’t worry they’re on MailChimp or something like that somewhere. They’re not even housed on the website either. Thank you for your patience on our website is what I’m saying.
It’ll only get better and better from here.
Until next time.
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