Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Stereo Microscope is My Friend

If there is a tool that I count on more than my stereo microscopes, then I sure can't think of one.  I find a low power microscope will tell me things that I just cannot validate any other way.

And, the performance and precision of a 3D printer is no exception.  So, for the first time, I was able to examine the prints from the cube under 10x to 40x and analyze the characteristics of printed surfaces.

My favorite test shape is an extruded triangle.  It has straight lines, flat surfaces and sharp edges.  It's perfect for analysis.  Most of you know that I already had a RepRap printer before purchasing the Cube.  And, I put its output under the same microscope a while back.  That's how I found out that that one of the rods that controls the up and down motion of the print bed on my RapMan was slightly bent.

Here's what it looked like at various powers from 10x to probably 40x.  This is an edge of a triangle.  Notice the regular pattern of hills and valleys.

Here is probably about 10x...

RepRap - Triangle Edge at about 10x

This is probably at about 20x...

RepRap - Triangle Edge at about 20x

This is most likely around 40x...

RepRap - Triangle Edge at about 40x

Now, in reality, to the naked eye, it is not as ragged as it appears under the microscope.  Remember, the layers are .25mm and that is VERY small.  You can feel it rather than see it.  And, I know that some RepRaps might not show this particular issue.  But, it is so common that it has a name.  It's called Z-Axis wobble.

So, now let's put the Cube print under the scope.

First, the same kind of triangle edge with the grain going the same way...

Cube - Vertical Triangle, Edge at 10x

Look at that smoothness!  That's remarkably flat.  So, what about other grain orientations in an extruded triangle?  The is the edge of a triangle with the grain in a slightly different orientation.  The first triangle was vertical and this one was lying on its side.

Cube - Horizontal Triangle, Edge at 10x

But, the really cool view is at the apex of the edge looking down on the extrusion.

Cubify - Vertical Triangle, Apex of Edge - 10x

What about analyzing other features?  Like a hole without support...

Cube - Hole in Wall, No Support - 10x

The bottom of the hole is on the left in the above picture.  So, now let's look at the same hole.  But, this time printed with support.

Cube - Hole in Wall with Support - 10x

This is very thin support.  But, I haven't tried to remove it.  So, I don't know how clean the hole ends up after the support is removed.

But, all of you know by now that I love the behaviour of Pentagon shaped holes.  They NEVER seem to need support!  And, look how clean they are at every apex!

Cube - Pentagonal Hole, No Support - 10x

Cube - Pentagonal Hole, No Support - 10x

And, let's begin to wrap it up with some up close and personal shots of the smoothness of the edge of a sphere.

Cube - Circumference of a Sphere - 10x

Look how smoothly that sphere's arc is.  That's beautiful.

And we will end our wrap up with a look at the edge of a thin-walled vertical column.

Cube - Wall of extruded Column - 10x

I don't know about you.  But, I think these images clearly demonstrate the capabilities of Cube to deliver precision prints  This is EXTREMELY important if the things you design require tight tolerances.  I plan several microscope to camera interfaces and it is amazing how precisely the center of the camera's lens must be aligned with the center of the microscope's lens.  There is no margin for inaccuracy.  I'm convinced that the Cube will finally allow me to achieve this goal consistently due to the straightness of the walls it prints.

I hope this is helpful and not confusing.  I really do this for myself because it allows me to work WITH what I have.  And, as it turns out, I have a lot with the Cube.  :)

But, there is a reason why I share it with you.  I want YOU to know that my enthusiasm for this little printer is based on cold hard facts and not just emotions.  People can be enthusiastic on no basis at all.  Admittedly, the initial enthusiasm that gave rise to the name of this blog was a gut level response based on years of dreaming what my perfect consumer 3D printer should be.  But, then it was deepened by my driving from the DC area to Rock Hill, SC to see one for myself.  I didn't have my microscope.  But, I could see that the objected printed out right in front of me was remarkably smooth and precise.  But, now I have the objective tools to validate or negate my gut feelings and, as you can see, my instincts seem right on target.  

Let's compare the green Cube output with the white RepRap output one more time...

RepRap (White) vs. Cube (Green)

The scope doesn't lie.  A picture really is worth a thousand words.

The Cube - Opening the Box and Setting Up

If you look at the steps contained in this video, you'll see that the time it takes to open up the Cube packaging and print out the first sample piece is WAY shorter than it takes to render the video to show it!!!

The process was not without some confusion.  And, I should have worn my glasses,  But, the fact that with a little effort I was able to actually read the LCD screen on the Cube is a bit of a miracle in and of itself..

I hope this video will be helpful to other new Cube owners.  I already knew the Cube was a great 3D Printer.  But, this was the first time I have seen the output from an actual production model and it is marvelously smooth and precise.  The detail is VERY good.

I love it!

As I probably said before... The size is perfect.  The weight is perfect.  And, the output is precise.  The person or persons that designed this 3D Printer are to be commended.

So... for better or worse... here is the video of what you may experience opening, setting up and printing with the Cube! 

Some notable things that immediately strike me.  I love that the print bed is easily removable.  That makes getting the part off a LOT easier than it might be otherwise and puts less stress on the printer, itself.  I love that changing cartridges and colors is SO easy.  I love that I can carry it around so easily.  I love that the print bed is heated.  Having that feature is well worth the additional wait time before the printing starts.

My only complaint is that the extra material that I ordered did not arrive with the printer.  I hope it arrives soon; because, I have a long list of things I want to print out on this little printer and I'd be crying if I ran out of material before I finished that list.  We shouldn't have to wait too long to find out just how many things can be printed from one cartridge.  This Cube is going to get a good workout.

While I hope that a whole new group of people will be attracted to 3D printing because of the Cube, I suspect that many early adopters will have already had a RepRap printer.  So, while I do plan to print "pretty" objects. the first objects I print will be designed to test and demonstrate the performance of the printer as I have promised.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Loading your first Cube Cartridge

The process of "Load Cartridge" can be a little confusing.

I actually believe that the instructions that you are given when you press "Load Cartridge" are actually for Re-Loading a cartridge... which is what we will be doing 99.9% of the time after we have our Cube up and running.

The "Load Cartridge" process seems to assume that your are CHANGING cartridges, which is the thing we will be doing after the first load.  It is actually describing the "Re-Load Cartridge" process.

Obviously, describing steps that do no apply for our initial setup can be confusing.  So, here is the process that is presented to you and some explanations as to whether or not it applies to the initial cartridge.

1) Cut the External Material, leaving 6" of material outside PrintJet  (Ignore)
This first instruction assumes that there is already material in the Printjet.  You can ignore this instruction when loading your first cartridge.
2) Pull Filament   (Ignore)
Again, this instruction only applies if filament is already in the PrintJet.  Ignore this instruction when loading your first cartridge.
3) Replace Cartridge  (Install New Cartridge)
They actually mean EXCHANGE the cartridge, which gives away the fact that the first steps were for Re-Loading and not for the initial cartridge.  This is actually the first step we need to care about.  First time users can simply put a new cartridge in the machine at this point. 
4) Insert Tube into PrintJet  
Steps 4 and 5 now apply to anyone needing to load material into the PrintJet.   The tube guides the filament from the cartridge to the PrintJet.  Without this guide, the filament may have a tendency to tangle since it has been wrapped around a spool.
5) Insert Material into Tube until it stops 
The filament is fed into the tube guide.  Feed it until it enters the PrintJet housing.  You will hear a whirring sound at this point.  That is the feed mechanism picking up the filament and pulling it into the extrusion head.
You may see some plastic emerge from the tip.  That would be filament used in the testing process in the factory.  You probably will not see your green filament being extruded until you actually print an object.

IT'S HERE! But, needed adjustment

My Cube arrived this afternoon and I quickly opened it, set it up and began testing it.

I videotaped the process just as it played out.  I'll be putting that video up this evening.


I had hoped that I could just insert the cartridge and start printing.  That was not to be the case.  However, the issue I ran into is common to ALL 3D printers and is an easy thing to address.

As it came out of the box, the gap between the extrusion head and the print bed was probably more than 1mm.  That is far too large for prints to work correctly.  At that distance, the extruded plastic will curl as it comes into contact with the bed and if you see that, then you know you have the same issue with your Cube.


First, this does NOT mean your printer is defective.  It is simply a normal adjustment common to all 3D printers.  So, don't panic.  The fix is simple.

1)  Choose Set-up on the display screen.

2)  Press the right arrow until you see the Gap Adjustment selection.  Select it.

3)  When this option is selected the bed should raise until it is just under the extrusion head.

4)  There are two arrows.  One is to raise the bed and the other lowers it.  Raise the bed until it is about .25mm from the extrusion head.  You can use an index card or business card to gauge the gap.  Make sure the head is close to the bed; but, not touching it.  Having the head scrape the bed is NOT a good thing.  So, make sure there is a gap between the two.

5)  Once you have set the gap, press the check mark to accept that setting.  The bed should be at the proper height.

In talking with the 3D Systems support, I was told that simply using a piece of ordinary printer paper as your gauge will work.  Set the head so that you can feel some drag; but, the paper still slides easily.  Again, make sure that the head cannot touch the print bed.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Creating a Handle with Insert in Moment of Inspiration

Most of the items I will be uploading to the Cubify store have more than one purpose.  Of course, the primary purpose is to offer a useful item for Cube owners to download.  But, a very important secondary purpose is to provide an opportunity to introduce applications and techniques that are useful for those Cube owners that want to create their own objects.

The Nail Holder is no exception.  It is very useful to learn how a handle with a matching insert can be designed.  Well fitted inserts are going to be an important part of our design toolbox.

In this case, I've created a video that demonstrates the principles and techniques that were used to create the Nail Holder handle with the matching pentagonal insert.  I hope you find it useful.

Of course, other CAD and 3D applications can perform similarly.  So, we won't always just demonstrate using Moment of Inspiration.  There will be opportunities to introduce 3D programs for students, like TinkerCAD and Open Source 3D applications like Art of Illusion.

But, I have to tell you.  When it comes to easy and productive, I find Moment of Inspiration truly amazing.

Something Useful #1 - Nail or Screw Holder

One of the roadblocks all of us have encountered when we initially try to introduce 3D printing to people is the completely false idea that smaller 3D printers are only good for making plastic novelties and trinkets.

Some of that is our fault.  Most of the samples we see are little more than trinkets we can pick up in local stores for a few bucks.  And, at first glance, even the art objects that we show people have little value because they are printed in plastic... not silver.

However, as this blog moves forward, count on us showing how a plastic extruding 3D printer can become an artists favorite tool.  But, first, let's begin by showing that the Cube can make some seriously USEFUL items.


Just about everybody who has ever done any manual work has had an idea come to their mind of a tool that would be REALLY useful for this or that particular job.  I know that I certainly have.  But, most of the ideas I have come up with would never be commercially available either because the job it would do would be so specialized that demand would be too low for the mass market.  Or, there would be issues with potential breakage.

Both of these things are probably true of the item I am about to introduce.

But, that is the beauty of 3D printing and having a distribution system like Cubify.  I can design something for myself and simply upload it.  If there are only one or two other people with a need for that same item then fine.  It didn't cost me all that much to design and upload it.

But, it may be that hundreds or thousands of people have been longing for that same solution at something in the past or will in the future.  Frankly, when you hear the item I just uploaded, you'll understand why I hope that all those that love 3D printing have fat fingers or bad aim with a hammer just like I do.


I cannot tell you how many times I have hit a thumb or finger trying to aim at the head of a nail.  I have ALWAYS wished for a tool to hold the nail so that if damage is to be done it will NOT be done to my finger.  So, let me introduce my first candidate for being included in the USEFUL CUBE PRINTED ITEMS category.  Let's take a look at the design.

But, before I do, let me say this.  I designed it for ME.  I am NOT a professional product designer.  I make the design available.  But, PLEASE wear eye protection if you download and use this item.  And, realize that you do so at your own risk.

That being said, let me explain how I designed this to keep me from crushing my own fingers and to be the most versatile at doing so.

Nail Holder System
As you can see, the components consist of a handle and two types of tips for holding different sizes of nails or screws.  I will be creating a video that shows how the handle and inserts were created using Moment of Inspiration.

Nail Holder - Top View
The above top view shows that I purposely designed that handle hole and the inserts in a pentagonal shape.  I have found that the 5-sided shape significantly reduces the need for support materials.  When I first designed and printed the handle it was oriented on its side and the pentagonal hole didn't need support even in that orientation.  But, the outside of the handle did.  I reduced that need for support by the present vertical orientation of the handle.

Nail Holder - Side view of the Insert able Tip

The inserts that actually hold the nails are designed to lay flat on the surface in which the nail is to be drive.  The insert end is offset for finger clearance.  This means, of course, that some support is needed under the insert end of the tip.  But, it's minimal and easily removed. 

Nail Holder Minimal Support Requirements

But, the most useful view, as usual, is the 3D View that allows us to see all the critical design elements at one time. The slots in the front allow us to slide that holder off of the nail once it has been driven enough to be stable on its own.

Nail Holder and 2 Tips for Different Sizes.

The combo STL file has been uploaded to the Cubify Store at this Location.  Again, as with all my designs, it is available at $3 or Cubify's lowest allowable cost.   I tried to also upload a zip file that contains an STL for each component so that you would not have to print out all the pieces should one need to be replaced.  I have NO clue where that ended up????

But, I will find a way to add that so that you don't have to pay for an STL for each of the individual components.  The handle should be useful for new things that you design.  Because it is tapered, there is no need to be exactly the right size for an insert to work.

I hope this proves that the Cube and 3D printers CAN create items that are useful in our everyday lives and make those lives just a little bit better.  I know that days

Using Moment of Inspiration to Create the Counter-Rotating Stars

I thought it might be fun to show you how I created the counter-rotating stars in the test STL that I introduced earlier.

My primary 3D application is called "Moment of Inspiration".  It can be found at

I have long searched for a program that was simple enough for me to use; yet, powerful enough to do something useful.  I needed something that was a cross between a traditional CAD program and an organic 3D application.  I found what I was looking for in MOI 3D.

I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to form the counter-rotating star objects.

Now, between 1969 and the early 1980's I was in the business of creating well-scripted professional videos with slick sound tracks.  It would be hard to prove that to a person that sees one of my current video tutorials.

I could try to pass it off as a deliberate "Stream of Consciousness" technique.  But, I'm not sure that would fly.  It's closer to "Stream of Unconsciousness"!!!

But, I hope that the videos are useful even with my struggling to find the right words!  At least it's BOUND to be more entertaining!

What can I say?  I'm old.    LOL!!

For better or worse, here's how I did it using Moment of Inspiration.

Pretty slick, isn't it?

An STL to Test the Cube - Part 2

After the first version of the STL designed to test the Cube printer when it arrives, I had this feeling that I was treating it like I did my students on the first day of school when I was teaching.  The bulk of the years that I taught was with the 7th - 9th grades.  And, one had to be a bit creative to survive a full year.

I found, as many teachers can attest, that it helps if, on the first day of school, the students come to think their new teacher just might be on the ragged edge of being so deranged that there was always the possibility that something might tip him right over the edge into the mass murderer category!   Pity the poor new teacher that says to their class, "I want to be your friend!"  Count on that person to end most days in utter chaos and bitter tears.  Only by being tough on the first day of school can you ever hope to be able to have real fun with your students over the rest of the year.  It's about clearly establishing limits first.

But, I digress....


The point is that I felt I was being a little TOO hard on the Cube.  The poor Cube didn't have a chance because I'd made a bit of error in trying to create a tough file for it to render.  My measurement was taken at the wrong place. Here is a video that explains....

I want to be tough; but, not downright brutal!!

As promised, I have uploaded the STL file to the Cubify site at the minimum (I believe) allowable cost.  Here is a link to the STL on the Cubify Store.


I've also loaded another STL that you might find interesting,  Knowing a 3D printer's behaviour with both corners and walls at various thicknesses is a good thing to know when we're designing our own objects.  This second STL includes twisted hexagon shapes having wall thicknesses of .25mm, .50mm, .75mm and 1.00mm. 

Twisted Hexagons with varying wall thicknesses

I'm guessing, based on the behaviour of my RepRap that each of these objects may have different levels of smoothness on both the sides and, in particular, at the corners.  Knowing how the Cube behaves should help us design smoother objects in the future simply based on wall thickness.

In addition there is a larger object that demonstrates another interesting behaviour of 3D printers as wall distance narrows.  It is actually two counter rotated shapes with one rotating inside the other creating a single complex object.

Twisted Hexagons with Counter-rotating Stars

Besides being one of those shapes that only a 3D printer can produce in one piece, the inside object will help us test to see how the Cube performs as walls converge.  The inner 4-point star tapers to a modest point.  The outer 4-pointed star also tapers to a modest point.  

Counter-rotating 4-pointed Stars creating a single object.

Each of the star shapes requires both an outline for the wall and a pattern for the fill for each printed layer and a different pattern for the final top layers.  

In my current 3D printer there is a difference in the printer's ability to completely fill the boundary inside the wall contours as the taper becomes thinner.  So, the outer 4-Star shape, having  a relatively wide taper is completely filled and entirely smooth.  However, a completely different behaviour is exhibited when printing the inside star with the narrow taper. At some point, the fill and the contours of the walls fail to meet, creating a gap.

This STL can also be found in the Cubify store.  Again, it's at the lowest cost I think is allowable.  If that drops below $3.00, I will certainly update the price.  

Twisted Hexagon and Star Test on Cubify Store

I want these files to be affordable to everyone because I think they are very, very useful.


How your particular printer handles these issues is important to know as you design your own objects.  That is why I have concentrated on primitives as the first objects I will be printing when my Cube arrives and why they are the first objects that I have uploaded.  Cube materials might be affordable; but, they certainly aren't cheap and we can waste a lot of material if we are not designing FOR and WITH our particular 3D printer's behaviour and characteristics. 

I'll update this entry with images of all of these objects after I've had a chance to print them on my Cube.   And, hopefully, that will be sooner rather than later!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Tomorrow is Today!

Well.  It's finally come.  The tomorrow that we have been anticipating.  It's no longer a day away.  It's here.

The official announcement has been posted on the Cubify Blog!

There is no telling when all of us that pre-ordered the Cube will find one on their doorstep.  But, at least those close to the shipping point should see them start showing up by early next week.

I also note that some are going to be hand delivered.  I suspect that service is most likely for those employees inside of 3D Systems that pre-ordered one.   You see, even though the employees of the Rock Hill headquarters have at least some access to the Cubes in the office,  I personally know that some want their own personal Cube.  Just like us, they are plunking down their own personal cash for one.  They think it's that good.

One of the comments I heard from a 3D Systems employee in describing why they wanted one is that it is the first 3D printer they'd seen where you can just take it out of the box and start printing!

All the previous offerings required a good bit of setup and calibrating before one could print the first piece.  I hope they are right.  Because, that is EXACTLY what I have been waiting for since at least 2007 when I started my original 3D Printer Users blog.

Like you, I don't expect mine to be hand-delivered.  So, I won't be waiting at the door just yet.  I'll enjoy my holiday weekend and THEN wait at the door!  :)

Let us know when yours arrives!  We're anxious to hear how the distribution is going!  And, I will certainly let you know when I've put my own Cube, when it arrives, through the STL torture test that completely confounded my RepRap!

Wow.  Friday.  On the verge of a nice long weekend.  And, the Cube is shipping.

It is DEFINITELY a very nice day!


I don't know, as yet, how the process will work.  But, I'm told that we will have to ACTIVATE our Cube 3D printers before we can start printing.  I suspect this means that we will have to have direct internet access.  But, I could be wrong.  If anyone has some more definitive news on this, please post a comment here and let us know how that is intended to work. 

I plan to carry my Cube around a bit and use it with different computers.  So, I hope it's a one time process and not a requirement to register every machine/printer combination.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Getting Ready with some Tough Love!

Based on what I have seen from afar... and, for a few minutes up close... I am a Cubify Fan.

But, that does not mean that I am not going to make my Cube earn its keep.  It is going to have to perform well to earn my full respect.  So, I'm getting ready for its debut with a little bit of tough love in the form of a tortuous STL file designed to let the Cube show me its stuff.

Actually, I may have to modify the ST:L a bit before uploading it to because the love might be a little TOO tough.

It turned out that while I was making the above video I was also printing out the STL on my RepRap printer and it REALLY had a hard time with parts of the file.

RepRap: First the good news...

The RepRap printed out the vertically extruded triangle, the cylinder and the twisted star fairly well.  The Twisted star and cylinder were essentially flawless.  And, all but one corner edge on the vertical triangle printed better than expected.  The half sphere was surprisingly smooth and even.

RepRap: The Bad News...

The horizontal triangle was completely lost in support material.  I could not even find it.  Nor could either of the holes be identified.  The box was simply engulfed in support materials the point that the support could not be distinguished from the box itself.

This may be because I did not join the sphere, box and horizontally extruded triangle as one object.  I went back and did that and will reprint the STL tomorrow.

It could be that I simply went beyond reasonable in terms of wall thickness and blew poor Axon2's brains out.  We'll see.

But it does point out that I am no sissy when it comes to testing and evaluating.  In fact, as it turns out, I could be a bit of a bully based on my first result from my poor RapMan!

But, even if I end up easing up on a subsequent STL test file, I am keeping this one to run on the Cube.  Hmmmm... I wonder if that indicates I have a bit of a mean streak???  LOL!

Pictures and 10x-40x microscope images to follow when I do the final comparisons.

Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow...

"Tomorrow" has played a significant role in so many dramatic productions, from Shakespeare to "Annie".  But, today it's playing a significant role in the drama that is unfolding as the first true consumer focused 3D printer is released.  Tomorrow is the day that the Cube 3D printer is finally leaving the warehouses and being shipped to consumers all over the world.

So, what will be receiving when the delivery truck shows up at our doors?

First, we will be receiving one of the most precise and well designed 3D printers in the under $2,000 category... the new Cube 3D Printer.  This printer has something that most RepRap printers do NOT have... a heated bed!  This heated bed, along with something else that will be in the box, "Magic Glue", allows us to use tough ABS plastic instead of the PLA I've been using.  ABS has qualities that PLA just cannot match.

Cube 3D Printer

Secondly, we'll be getting the Cube software that turns any STL file into a printable CUBE "p-code" file that the printer understands.  It not only does the conversion. It allows you to re-size and re-orient the print object.  But, for me, the best news is that I understand that it also allows YOU to choose to print or not print raft and support.   That is a HUGE deal for me.

Cube 3D Printer Software
Thirdly, we will be getting a Wireless Interface built into our Cube that allows us to communicate from our computer without a wired connection.

Cube Wireless Connection
Fourthly, we receive an EZ load Cartridge, containing the ABS plastic filament needed to print your 3D objects.  I've already got a backup of items that I want to print, so in addition to the cartridge that comes with the printer I ordered a 3-Pack of additional cartridges in 3 different colors.

Cube EZ Load Cartridge

Fifthly, we will be getting a USB flash drive holding at least 4 printable objects so that we can begin using our Cube immediately after activating it!  But, that is not all.  Additionally, we will be receiving either files or links to 21 more print files.  I assume that these will be made available to us via the Cubify web site.  

And, of course, all the necessary power cables will be there for us to plug our new Cube in, turn it on, activate it and start printing!

So, to paraphrase Annie's famous song... 
Tomorrow, Tomorrow.  
I love you Tomorrow.  
You're ONLY a day away!
OK... maybe FEW days away when we take into account the time it takes to reach us.  But, tomorrow, for many of us, it will mean our Cube will be on its way to us.  And, THAT is GREAT news.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

2D to 3D Print - Sparky the Fire Dog

I thought it would be helpful to show a second 3D print that originated as a series of standard photographic images.  This time I printed out Sparky the Fire Dog.

Sparky is a large remote control vehicle that fire departments use at events to help them teach children fire safety.  Here is one of the images that I took at the Montgomery County Fair (Maryland).

Sparky The Fire Dog R/C Vehicle

There are some interesting things about this subject.  For instance, aside from Sparky, himself, most of the features are relatively shallow.  Also, the crowd passing by means that the background scene changes, at least to some extent, in every image.  I was pleased that the 123D Catch engine seemed to be able to sort this out and find points with which to stitch the images together.  Finally, the light on the top of the car is semi-transparent and that DID give the 123D Catch engine a bit of trouble.

Here is the video that shows the resulting 3D object rotating in space of my first attempt to capture Sparky.  Only 6 images were successfully stitched in my first attempt.

Fortunately, I was able to go back to the fair and take another series of images.  This is the result of the second attempt.

As you can see, this one was MUCH better than the first.  And, it is this "Catch" that I used in my 3D Printer test.  Notice, however, that the light on the top still gave the engine some problems, creating some holes in the mesh.

Here is the final print done on my RapMan 3.2.  The Cube would produce a smoother outcome.  But, this is good enough to show you that it is possible to create and print a 3D model of real objects without having to draw a thing!

Sparky The Fire Dog - 3D Print
Considering the shallow features, the issues raised by the semi-transparent lights and the issues my current 3D printer has with the "Y" axis slipping, the result is quite remarkable.  And, it can only get better as the 123D Catch engine is improved, my expertise with clean-up improves and I get to use the Cube to create the final print.

Monday, May 14, 2012

From Point & Shoot Camera to Cube Printer

Some time ago, long before I knew about the Cube, I became interested in a program by Autodesk that purported to turn a series of 2D images into a 3D object.  When I began using it, the program was called PhotoFly.  They later folded the PhotoFly project into their 123D initiative, which is a suite of 3D programs designed to be easy for users.  It's now called 123D Catch.  Right now it can be downloaded as a beta.

In experiments, while the technology was a lot of fun, it turned out that the mesh that it created wasn't absolutely clean.  So, there was some question as to how useful it would be for the real application that I'd hoped to use it for... 3D printing.

Last week, the topic came up in the Bits From Bytes forums and I decided to give 123D Catch an opportunity to see if I could come up with a way to use it with a 3D printer.  This post is about that experiment. 

First, let me show you 123D Catch in action and explain how it works.  It starts with a series of photographs like this one...

And then we bring all of the photographs into 123D Catch.

123D Catch Application
At the bottom of the 123D Catch application you see the series of photos.  At the risk of further confirming to my neighbors that the guy next door is more than a little nuts, I set up a hairstyling manikin head on the rail of the porch of the back yard studio and shot a series of images while walking around the head.  (I know what you are thinking.  But, it's all innocent enough.  I used the head to perfect studio lighting techniques many years ago. LOL!)

Bringing the series of images into 123D Catch, the program calculated the position of the camera for each shot and then stitched together the images to create a 3D model.  From the front it looks like it did an excellent job.  But, that is only partly right.  As seen from this rotated view.

Holes in the 123D Catch Mesh
The problem is that 123D Catch has issues with dealing with hair.  It cannot seem to find stitching points because hair just does not give it enough differentiation.  This is a problem.  Here is a side view that shows the confusion.

The hair has confused 123D Catch so much that it maps grass onto the head!  Obviously, this is NOT going to do all that well in a 3D printer.  A 3D Printer needs a "Watertight" mesh to print well.

Fortunately. we have a solution.  We export the 123D Object into a format that can be read by a wonderful free program called NetFabb Studio Basic.  NetFabb's job is to find and fix problems with mesh and to export a clean STL file for printing.  When we bring it in, the offending holes are clearly visible.

NetFabb on Entry

A huge warning sign tells us that we have a problem that needs to be fixed.  Clicking on the "+" sign brings up a dialog that allows us some options for fixing the mesh.  Here is the resultant fix.

NetFabb Fix
As you can see, the hole in the back of the head has been filled.  It's not perfect.  But, at least it allows us to export an STL that we can print.  And, that is pretty remarkable considering how big those holes were!

So, how did it print?  Take a look.

Original Photo
RapMan 3.2 Print of 123D Catch Object
Frankly, I was skeptical so I first printed it very small to see if it was even usable.  I was astounded by the fact that it so closely resembled the original!  So, I printed it out much bigger and was even more impressed.

Frankly, I'm astounded by the result.  It even got the hair flip!  The nose probably could be a bit better.  But, who's complaining.

What this means is that we will be able to create 3D prints on our Cube 3D printers of our loved ones!  I plan to capture my grandchildren this weekend.  Because the 123D Catch engine has issues with hair, I will try to add something that gives the engine something to lock onto like a colorful hat or ribbons.  This is no small deal and it is capabilities like this that will go a long way to winning over the 3D printing skeptics!

I'm certainly a believer.  :)

NOTE:  I expect the Cube print to be noticeably cleaner than what you see in these images.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cubify Odyssey Tour - Meeting the People

In my first post about the Cubify Odyssey Tour coming to Washington, DC, I focused on what I learned new about the Cube.

In this post, we'll focus on people's reaction to seeing a home 3D printer.  Their reactions follow a common path.  First, confusion and then smiles as they finally get what a 3D printer can do.  It was fascinating to watch.

But, first I have a complaint.  I was looking forward to hanging out with the WHOLE team on the Mall.  But, it didn't work out that way.  I got to hang out with Boris and Adam while one special Cube got to hang out with Kelly and Aleya.  Where's the fairness in that????  See what I'm talking about on the Cubify Blog!

Fortunately, I got to hang out with Kelly and Aleya for dinner at the end of the day.  They are as vivacious and sharp as their video applications and blog posts indicate.  I can't think of four better people to represent the Cube and Cubify across the country.

So, how did the day go?

Well, if you have ever visited the Mall you know that it's miraculous that we found spots to park within a few cars of each other!  That's what I call a GREAT start.

The Cube Platform in the Cube Odyssey Tour Cube

The guys opened up the Nissan Cube and pulled out the platform holding the Cube printers in the shadow of the Washington Monument.

 The pimped-out Cube was pretty easy to spot and they soon attracted some curious Mall visitors.

Cube Drawing the Curious

Among the most popular items was "The Glove".

"The Glove" and the smile it always inspired

But, the curious were treated with a lot of other 3D printed items to explore.

Exploring Cube Printed items

Hundreds of school children came by and waved; but, when you are on a school field trip to Washing, DC you are on a tight schedule.

School Groups Admiring the Cool Cube
It's too bad that most groups introduction to Cubify was from across the street.  But, many took pictures of the Cubify Tour Cube and I'm certain they will remember this as the Cube starts shipping and schools become interested.

Fortunately, some teachers and students DID get a chance to explore the Cube in action.

Taking a closer look
All this was to be expected.  But, something began to happen that was completely unexpected.  Pedi-Cab drivers added the Cube to their tours!!  One Pedi-Cab driver after another stopped by with their passengers to take some time for the Cubify Experience!!


That was pretty astonishing!  The riders seemed to enjoy this new stop on their tour as demonstrated by the last image in the above series.

But, I also took some images of the Cube in action.  There is one, in particular that stands out to me because it demonstrates how even wide objects can successfully be printed on the Cube in ABS.  For those that have a 3D printer, it will also reveal a slightly different raft strategy.  This is good stuff!

However, at the end of the day, this next image really respresents what the DC stop was all about... being Cubified... which always seem to be accompanied by a great big smile!

To see all the images I shot of the Cubify Odyssey Tour's stop in DC, check out my Flickr site.