Who doesn’t want more control over their 3D Prints? Your 3D print success might just depend on having tools and slicing software that allows you to grow from beginner to expert with the “minimum set to be successful.” Hear about how to exert control throughout the design to print process from Lars Brubaker, CEO of MatterHackers–developers of MatterControl Touch. Tom and Tracy Hazzard discuss further with Lars some helpful user interface that can demystify the print settings and how you can un-tether your computer from the print process for productivity.
Listen to the podcast here:
3D Print Success Is A Matter Of Control With Lars Brubaker Of MatterHackers
We’re going to interview the CEO of MatterHackers.
We’ve been testing one of their products called MatterControl Touch.
It’s a little tablet that runs Matter Control, which is a slicing software. It attaches to your printer. Instead of connecting a computer directly to your printer, you use this tablet, which is a small computer. It not only allows you to control your printer, which is what I like it for the most, changing filaments, and doing certain kinds of calibration. It actually is a full slicing engine, either used in conjunction with your computer or it works in place of your computer.
Some of you may realize if you’ve already bought one of the less expensive printers, that you have this little LED screen that’s a couple of inches, if you’re lucky or a dial. There are a lot of confusing interfaces out there that are low tech, in a way. This helps you with an explanation of what those things are and making sure that you don’t have to figure out what the commands are. There are a lot of useful things to the interface.
I like it in the testing that I’ve done.
The other thing is that Tom doesn’t like to hook his computer up to the printer because he’s always designing and using it, so you don’t want to hook your computer up. We tend to print to file and stick it on a USB drive and into the printer. This way, it gives you a little more interface than just a USB drive to transfer your file.
You don’t need The USB interface anymore. In reality, you just send the file from the computer over the cloud to the MatterControl Touch. You can print it remotely or you can go to the printer and print it. We have a few detailed questions about it. We want to hear more about it from Lars.
Also, more about the future of where it’s going to go. Lars Brubaker is the CEO of MatterHackers. He is going to talk with us about all those details, their cooperative view of the 3D printing community, and how they’re helping manufacturers.
Lars, thanks for joining us.
Thank you, guys.
Lars, before we get into some specific questions about your product, the MatterControl Touch, can you give us a little background on yourself and MatterHackers for those of our readers who may not already know?
First off, I originally got started in a serious technical field doing video games. I worked at Interplay and then a small company called Logicware. I started my own company with a bunch of friends called Reflexive Entertainment. We ran that company for about eleven years. I was the CEO of that company and one of the developers. We sold that company to Amazon. I worked for Amazon for three years. After that, I left and went with one of my co-workers from that company and we started MatterHackers. I was into 3D printing. I built a cupcake, a Thing-O-Matic, a Pressure Mendel, and a Mendel90. I was into the movement. I was super excited about it. I was a software guy. Looking at the software, tool pathing, and the kind of interface there was, I thought there was a big opportunity. That’s how we decided to get into 3D printing. It’s the opportunity for developing software.
About what year was that?
That was around 2013. Kevin, one of my partners and I are both software developers. We got to work developing MatterControl.
Was that the first product, software to interface with 3D printers?
It was certainly where we started with the work that we were doing. The company’s first product was the online store selling filament. We started selling printed designs. We were one of the early people to print Rostock kits. We did a lot of printing, sold a lot of filament, and started to sell printers. That’s about the time we released MatterControl 1.0. It was an early and open source. We started to get feedback and developed working with manufacturers.
You sell filament, you sell 3D printers and accessories. Tell us a little bit about that market.
It’s been growing tremendously. Originally, it was only the three partners and we’re up to nineteen people. We have a nice big warehouse with several tons worth of plastic sitting there. It’s been exciting watching the market and the consumer space grow. These small companies, as you were saying, lots of engineers are getting printers on their desks and being able to do prototyping right there. Lots of hobbyists and tech enthusiasts, as they get into this, start to explore what’s possible.
Let’s explain for some of our readers. A lot of our audience is new to 3D printing. Not all 3D printers have WiFi. Not all 3D printers have an easy to understand and use user interface. Maybe we should talk a little bit about that.
Talk a little bit about the design criteria for how you developed MatterControl and MatterControl Touch for these types of printers that are out there.
There are a number of good solutions for printing, getting your printer connected, and succeeding at getting your designs or things that you download onto your printer and print it. When we originally started MaterControl, there was limited stuff. Let’s describe what a user would have to do at that time, and is still somewhat true today. You would go into your design software, make your part, and export that part to one format, which may not be compatible with your printer.
You may have to have another tool that either repair that to make it so it’s printable or it converts it to the model format that the next piece of software can then consume. You load that design into a piece of software that could generate the tool pathing, the instructions to tell the machine how to create that part, where to move around, and put down plastic. You’d often take that design into another piece of software that could transmit that to the printer. What we wanted to do and what we’re working still to do, ultimately, is to combine all of those into one product. You could design, directly connect to your printer and print it. There’s little friction to get that thing from your mind into a physical reality.
Is it still a slicing software and then a control software or can you actually design parts in it?
There is limited design in it. Specifically, we have a tool called the Image Converter, which can take a black and white image, make an extrusion of it, and put a base on it. We have another tool called the Text Converter, which allows you to type text in. You can take that text and print it directly out. Those plugins are something that we intend to expand greatly in the future. You can also take a model and rotate it, scale it, or position it on the bed. Those aren’t exactly editing software but it is a step in that direction.
I was fascinated when I first saw your MatterControl Touch at one of the trade shows. I was excited to learn more about it. One of my frustrations with an open-source 3D printer was the interface on the machine. You couldn’t do everything you needed to do. Was that the idea behind MatterControl Touch?
It was the idea behind MatterControl, always. The first prototypes that we made were web-based little interface mock-ups and they work for a tablet. MatterControl Desktop was the stepping stone to creating the tablet, to creating the touch and getting an embedded controller on a printer. We like to think of it as giving the printer a brain. When that printer is fully capable, like when you can connect to the internet, control it remotely, print directly on it, and slice on it, the printer is a complete machine. Without that, as you and lots of people have experienced, it’s hard to get a printer to work well, particularly to get it configured, set up, and have a good experience. It was always the plan. We built MatterControl Desktop to be in one half of that connection so that you can easily get things onto the printer and control it. Also, to prove out and test the software as we develop it before we could launch it on a tablet.
Let me ask you about that text plugin. That sounds interesting. We’ve been working a lot with text ourselves. We’ve talked a little bit about it on our show already. Does that plugin help make fonts more printable than they would be otherwise? Does it still allow you to make mistakes where areas of a font like a thin serif would be too thin to print, for instance?
Those mistakes where a serif could be too thin to print or a part of the print could still be too thin to print does exist. It does not automatically correct that stuff. If you were going to print out fonts from some random programs like Photoshop, GIMP, or something like that, the image converter would be a better tool. You could take that black and white image that you save of whatever text and some other icons that you wanted to print and it will directly make an extrusion. That extrusion is highly printable. The text creator that we have is a relatively primitive tool. It has one font built-in. We intend to extend that out in the future but it’s not a sophisticated tool. It’s mostly used for demonstrations when we go to elementary schools. We can type in a kid’s name and print it right out. It’s exciting for them to see the printer moving and have an experience.
That’s important. You need to get young students interested in it. They’ll be your future customers. I hope, in the future, you find that it’s worth your time to continue to develop that text tool. When we talk to people who are getting new to 3D printing and they want to put their name, spouse’s name, or child’s name into an object, dealing with fonts is not as easy as they think it will be.
We find that a lot of people who we talk to do a lot of buying of files. If you’re able to take that bot file, bring it into your program, do some minor editing like the scaling, and add those names and fonts to personalize it, that’s an ideal subset of design. It’s as opposed to somebody like Tom, who does it completely in Rhino from scratch. That’s a subset of design that makes it useful and personal.
That’s our goal. I like to call it constrained designs. For instance, if you were going to make a cover plate for your light switches, you can customize it by putting fonts, images, or other models on it. It’s a constrained design space to let people succeed in designing as opposed to Blender, 3D Studio Max, or Maya with this unconstrained space where you have to actually be an artist.
The way that I have worked with 3D printers, it was difficult for me for where I put my printer to have my computer hooked up to it all the time. I would typically print to file and then bring it to the machine. I was frustrated as I’m working with different materials. It’s not just plastics but also some of the more exotics. I need to double-check how quickly they are flowing through the extruder and things like this. The controls on most of these open source printers don’t let you have that kind of control. When I saw MatterControl Touch, I’m like, “This is great. This is a tiny little screen and hooks right to the printer. Now, I can have control.”
I love that my printer sits in the garage and that I can send anything I want to it. I can go out to the garage and control it. Previously, my laptop had to sit out there with it. That is a huge inconvenience.
To me, that’s the primary value, I think of the product. I’m still working with it. I’m still new to it. I’m still working with how much I am going to do on the tablet. I’m sure there’ll be more and more as time goes on. The difficult little interface that some of these printers have with a little click wheel and an old LED type of interface makes it hard to understand what those commands are for.
Particularly when that’s an important part of the calibration of the printer, which can be remarkably challenging to figure out. How do I home it? I have to move it down, save this to some state, and then reset it. Whereas we have a big enough screen that we can walk you through a lot of setups. We’re working with manufacturers to make wizards specific to their printers. We can walk you through the complete configuration and have enough text on the screen to describe what needs to be done. One of our goals is that the tablet is completely capable even if you don’t have the internet available. We are also a web-centric company. All of that stuff, ultimately, will be stored in the cloud and on your device so that you can sync it back and forth whenever you need to. That way, in the settings in the cloud, we can have all of your STL, settings, and history. You can pull it down whenever you need it.
This is what we talk about a lot. There’s a lot of languages that’s 3D printing centric. There’s a lot of people coming in from various backgrounds, especially in design, that don’t speak that same language. Understanding what those settings do and what the results are, how are you sort of educating your customers who are buying the MatterControl and MatterControl Touch?
We write a lot of articles and this has been an active area. One of our lead tech guys has been developing a manual and building it out. We have a large number of resources already on our website where you can find things on MatterControl.com. We have embedded help in the actual system. You can turn on help in the slice settings and read a brief description of what each of the settings does and what its intent is. On our website, we have a larger view of that same content. We’re always working on a new release. You guys have probably seen how often the Touch gets updated. We’re working on a new update that even simplifies the settings more. We’re always trying to step people from beginner to expert, and we stopped them at whatever level they actually want to use.
We try to make MatterControl work out of the box with a given printer profile. As you become more sophisticated and want to customize things about the print, we step you up to the next level. We still try to hide the highly technical things that are things manufacturers would want to be dealing with. That’s been a big area of research for us. We’re trying to fine-tune that and make sure that we’re presenting the minimum set of features for people to be successful at each level.
That’s great because sometimes too much information is overwhelming in this market.
That’s absolutely true. Manufacturers often are surprised by the things you bring to them, it’s because it is so broad. There is this almost infinite landscape of how their printer can be working and they can’t have time to test all of it. It is about the cooperation and the collaboration that we can get with the users, manufacturers, and software developers to figure out how best to make this process and experience to give people good results. We don’t make it simple. We just want them to work.
We just want our designs to print. We always talk about it because we’re all about the what here. That’s our side of things. What do you want to print? What are you going to use? Sometimes that what isn’t always the what of the manufacturer. Even though you want to use their printer to make your what doesn’t mean that that is going to be successful on that particular printer or via that particular software. Trying to dial that in and figure that out for yourself is challenging. We don’t want people to give up along the way. We want them to stick with it and see if we can help them figure that out.
We’re here interviewing you and doing this because we believe that this industry is growing tremendously. We want to help it grow. Users, so far, are still tech-based. If we’re going to go mainstream, a lot more women get into it and people from other backgrounds. We met a graphic designer at a meetup who was interested in getting into 3D printing but has no background in three-dimensional design or CAD software of any kind. If people like those who have a natural interest in it are going to get involved in it, there has to be a level that is simpler for them to understand and fewer barriers for them to enter it. It’s pretty exciting.
There needs to be a level where you can be creative. Your goal on the text converter is to have the ability to do some moderate amount of design and all the things you can do in basic Photoshop. If you can have a small amount of that ability to personalize and make just about anything, you give somebody their ability to have an Etsy shop based around a 3D printer. When you give them that, it’s going to start to take off.
A belt buckle, earrings, and a necklace. These are all things that I make for my kids. My wife does shows and I’ve made so many props. It’s exciting to do that. I’ve made my kids Halloween costume pieces every year. They get earrings, necklaces, and things on their crowns and they paint them. It’s a creative, wonderful experience.
We have a daughter. Our next experiment is to try some of the new simple design software that have come out on the market. Especially some of the ones where you take a picture, extrude them and do some things with them. We’re going to see how she does. I’m excited to see it through her eyes because she’s been begging to print.
She sees the printers all the time and she’s like, “Can I do something?” or “Can you make something for me?” like you said your kids do. We’re going to throw her the pool and see if she can figure out how to swim.
My daughter is super into Transformers. In our image converter, you can just Google search for an image. She found a great Transformers silhouette, printed it out, and put it on the face of her laptop.
We appreciate your time. It’s been informative to me. I’ve seen this but I haven’t played with it as much as you have. I haven’t gotten as much background on where it’s going and what it’s doing.
I find it useful. It’s a good product. That’s why I want to talk to you about it. Thank you for coming on our show and taking the time.
Thank you, guys. Good luck to you and your show. It’s exciting. I love more interest and more advocacy for this whole field of what we’re doing.
Hopefully, we’ll talk to you again in the future about a different product, update, or service.
That’d be great. Thanks.
That was so great. I thought, “It’s just slicing software,” but there’s so much more to it. There’s so much more they have they’re building in. I’m interested in and intrigued by the idea of expanding the design side. I liked what Lars was saying about being able to go from a beginner to an expert on the software. That’s great because when you decide to go into 3D printing, there are so many new things you’ve got to deal with. Things like how to calibrate a printer, how the filament works, and how you load it in. There are so many new things to learn if you can keep your settings simple at the beginning. As you master the machine itself or the design, if you have to start from scratch completely, get more advanced in your design processes, you can step up to the next setting level. When you get better at that, you can step up to the more expert level. To be able to grow with, that is the ideal way. Another issue is that you and I know how busy you get. Learning a whole new software because you want to go to the next step is difficult. If you’ve already got an understanding of the software but you open up a new realm, that’s great.
I agree. I also like what Lars told us about how they expect and want their users to be from all different levels. As you were saying, you can start at this level, learn, and get better and better. You can also stop at any point that you’re comfortable with if you’re getting the results you want out of the printer. You don’t need to go and become a high-level tech to do the advanced stuff. They’ve got the right idea.
The minimum set to be successful, I like that.
That makes sense. It’s the path of least resistance to get your part made. We have high hopes for where they’re going with their software.
I like the design side. Growing that design side for them in the future is a real growth pattern for 3D printing, in general. Anyone who wants to enter into that and make that in one place and simpler, growing the ability to add text, being able to resize files, add some custom embossment or little icons and things on top of it. I love that idea. That expands things.
I liked it when he said that they’re designing their software so you can have plugins. They’ve got a couple of plugins now. Whenever I hear that, I think that is a great software that I want to keep eye on in the future. I use Rhinoceros for modeling and there are tons of plugins available for that depending on your specialty or your need.
You don’t overcomplicate the main software. You only add what you need. I think that’s great.
Whatever people need can be more easily added. Even though they’re developing it, it’s more difficult for the software if it’s closed and they have to develop everything. If it’s the plugins that other people can develop, it’ll go along faster.
Exactly. Of course, their priorities are not necessarily our priorities in terms of the design side. Maybe you’re a printer manufacturer and you want to get in touch with MatterHackers, you’ll be able to connect directly through to them. The other way is to make sure that you contact us. It’s HazzDesign.com.
On social media, we’re always @HazzDesign just about anywhere. Come to our website or contact us on social media. If you need to get in touch with MatterHackers or find out more about MatterControl Touch, you can go to their website or you can come to our website. We have those links all for you in one place.
Thanks again for joining us.
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