Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Closed systems

When I was mentioning some 3D printing issues I had, some people replied with links to YouTube videos on how to improve your 3D prints. Thank you very much. Unfortunately the advice in those videos mostly didn't apply. It turns out that most people who use a 3D printer buy it as a sort of a kit, which has to be assembled before use. That is probably the cheapest way to get a 3D printer. However the quality of the print then depends on the stability of the printer you built and your skill in assembling it; thus the videos on YouTube how to improve your printer, for example by adding self-printed parts to stabilize it.

The XYZ da Vinci Jr. 1.0w printer that I bought is not a kit. It comes already assembled and in an enclosure. I only needed to remove various bits and pieces of styrofoam that were in there for transport, and the printer was ready to go. As a consumer product, that has obvious advantages. Imagine that if you bought a inkjet or laser printer, you would have to assemble it from a kit and tinker with the mechanics to get your prints clean. For tinkerers it has obvious disadvantages. It is like buying an Apple computer or tablet: Pretty, works from the get go, but a pain to modify or try to use other than for its intended uses. 

I don't think I will be adding bits and pieces to my 3D printer. It clearly has been built to work as is, no assembly required. And the closed system structure would make it very hard to modify. Which then just leaves the question whether the printer as is does a good job of printing 3D objects. For that I tried out printing the 3D benchmark boat from #3DBenchy. And the result was remarkably good. There was not much difference between the boat I printed on my $500 printer and a boat I printed on a $2,500 Makerbot printer. Of course the more expensive printer allows for larger prints, but in quality there wasn't a noticeable difference.

So where did the issues with my printed miniatures come from? In one word: Size. The benchmark boat is 60 mm long and 48 mm high, which overall makes it a far more voluminous item than a miniature which tends to be only 28 mm high, and slim. The walls of the boat are always at least 2 mm thick, and my miniatures run into problems when I print parts that are less than 1 mm thick. So for example I printed some rather pretty hellhounds whose models were based on greyhounds. The bodies came out perfectly, but the legs were very thin and fragile.

The solution is to use models that don't have too many thin parts. I found a software called DesktopHero that allowed me to retroactively back their crowd funding for $25 to get the beta version. The software allows me to create human fantasy characters with a variety of outfits and weapons. The choice isn't enormous, but it is a good start. And as you can pose the figurine as you like by rotating connections, you can print for example a thief that holds his dagger to his chest instead of outwards. And then it prints fine. Another solution is to take a 28 mm model, make it first bigger in all dimensions, and then just reduce the Z-dimension back to 28 mm to create a thick version of the model. Although not so anatomically accurate, the result works surprisingly well for a tabletop miniature.

Another strange solution I found is printing in 2.5 D. Some software like Cura can take a 2D image and transform it into a flat items of which the height is determined by the colors. For example I couldn't find a decent 3D model of a stirge, and the small size with thin wings, limbs, and proboscis would make it nearly impossible to print at scale. But it was easy enough to find a picture of one that had a clear silhouette, and I could print a bunch of flat stirges with no problem.

I used the same solution for a different miniature problem: Mounts, especially flying mounts. How do you place a miniature of a rider on a mount in a way that you can later unmount and have both rider and mount involve in combat? The solution was to find a silhouette of the mount, create a flat 3D object from it, and modify that: While the general height of the flat mini is 10 mm, there is a 5 mm deep, 25 mm wide, round hole on to of it. Fits the base of a typical 28 mm rider perfectly, so you can move them together as a unit, but easily separate them. Of course the mount mini is more symbolic and not as pretty as a full 3D version, but as my previous photo of the dragon showed, wings aren't easy to print.

3D printing isn't a mass market for consumers yet. I don't know if it will ever grow to the same level of household penetration as regular paper printers. But I do believe that a lot of growth in the future will be from readily assembled printers rather than from self-built kits. The number of people who are able to assemble a machine is naturally limited, and there are a lot more possible customers for a "unpack and go" 3D printer. My tabletop miniatures application is probably very niche, but the low-cost home printers do work better for medium-sized decorative objects and toys anyway.


Tobold why don't you showcase your experience? Add some photos to your blog posts, they help a lot and make the posts far more interesting instead of just a written description. I am very curious about your 2.5D stuff for example. Come on, don't be shy!
The main problem with that idea is that my photographic skills aren't very good.
Btw, what do you think about copyright infringement regarding 3d prints?

If you wanted to put a Stirge on your blog I'm sure you'd have searched for a public domain picture. Did you do the same for your 2.5d print?

Not that anyone would care as long as you don't sell it. But still, I don't think Blizzard for instance would be happy to see you print your WoW chars when they sell them via FigurePrints.
I think that copyright is a very tricky question, regardless of the number of dimensions, as long as you are talking non-commercial home use. If you went through children's rooms all over the world, how many images of Pokemon or Star Wars or whatever else is popular would you find which are legally speaking copyright infringements?

If you search for any of these popular terms on sites like Thingiverse, you will find lots of models. Often used in ways other than intended by the copyright holder, for example you can find buddha statues with the heads of Yoda, Darth Vader, the Minions, or Donald Trump (who probably doesn't have a copyright to his image).
Even a simple smartphone picture would do the trick. This 3D printing stuff is super interesting but it really needs some images to get a better picture of your words, in my opinion.
I would also be very interested to see some pictures regarding the 3D printed models. And all D&D-related material you create, for that matter (maps, tokens, random card decks etc.). Thanks for all the great posts!
+1 to wanting pictures. I'd be perfectly fine with them being cellphone pictures even.
I love the 3D printing content, and often wished there would be more pics in the posts.
Right now it's a niche thing, but could rapidly grow depending on cost and availability of feed stock and the availability of patterns. My mechanic friend across the street loves his for making vehicle parts, like sunscreen tabs and the like. When a small chunk of plastic costs $10 plus $5 shipping and will take a week or more to get to you, having the ability to make your own in less than an hour is very nice.
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