Welcome to my first post about NFT’s and 3D Printing!
If you’re new to NFTs like me, I hope you find this interesting with a few little tips and tricks along the way. If I can say one thing about NFTs (aka. Non-Fungible Tokens), it’s that they’re difficult to wrap your head around. Even just a few months ago, I was telling people I didn’t have any interest in making them or buying them. But here I am, dipping my toes in the water, and enjoying the learning process. For me, I found that just jumping in, committing some time and money, and making some NFTs was the best way to figure it all out. You may also need to jump into cryptocurrencies as well, but let’s not fall down this rabbit hole now!
As for explaining the whole concept of NFTs, I’ll leave that to The Verge or Investopedia to describe much better than I can. What’s important to know is that it is essentially a way to buy and sell digital information, which might be an artwork or animation, or even a 3D model. It’s also a way to verify who actually owns the information, even if other people are using it.
This obviously presents some opportunities for 3D printing files. If you wander around my blog, you’ll find dozens of free files that I’ve shared on websites like Thingiverse and Printables (formerly PrusaPrinters). These are normally shared with a Creative Commons license like CC BY-NC-SA 4.0, allowing anyone to download, 3D print, remix, copy and share the design, as long as they don’t try and sell it. I’ve even sold some files under different license terms. However, what can be much harder to document is who actually owns the design if thousands of people have downloaded it. For example, the designs I share online all link back to my profile, and it’s relatively clear who created the original. As long as someone doesn’t re-upload the file under their own profile, which is unfortunately a common problem! But what if you really love a particular design, and don’t just want to download a copy of it like everyone else but own the rights to it? Typically this would require some contracts between the designer (e.g. me) and the buyer to formalise, including payment and royalty conditions. This is where the NFT system can work nicely, as it is set up to be a digital contract that documents this, and supports the transfer of payments and royalties.
This is what I wanted to learn more about. So, I’ve created my first NFT collection for 3D printing, which is called BITSnATOMS – 3D Typeset for 3D Printing. As the name suggests, it’s a collection of 44 numbers, letters and symbols that people can collect to represent their name, initials, brand, etc. Through 3D printing, they can exist in the digital and physical worlds at the same time, which is a bit beyond what most NFTs offer. The GIFs below give you an idea of the voronoi geometry used for the typeface, but if you check out the link to the collection you’ll be able to actually interact with the 3D models.
The design itself combines several of the things I’ve shown in tutorials on this blog before, for example my video showing how to lightweight a bike brake lever. I might write another article later about how I actually created these, but the short version goes something like:
- A basic 3D model was created in Solidworks and exported as a STL file.
- This mesh was then rebuilt in Rhinoceros to have a more random and controlled collection of faces.
- Next, it was imported into Meshmixer to create the voronoi lattice structure you see.
- Lastly, and this part is important for NFTs on OpenSea, I used Microsoft Paint 3D to convert the STL file into a GLB file.
A GLB file is used for virtual reality, and OpenSea can directly embed this within its listing of your NFT, making it interactive so people can properly view your design. At the time of writing, there was no support for other 3D file formats that might be used for 3D printing, and there was also no GLB export method in any of my CAD packages. The good news is that GLB files open in Cura, making them directly 3D printable, or they can be opened up again in Paint 3D and converted back to STL files. There are also plenty of free online converters.
The actual process of listing NFTs gets a bit more complex (at least for a newbie). Thankfully OpenSea provides really great tutorials on getting set up with an account, as well as creating and listing your first NFT. I followed these to the letter, and had no issues, opting for a MetaMask wallet to hold my cryptocurrencies. Again, I could write a whole article about this part of the process, and may do so in future.
The rest of the NFT process is much like listing any item for sale online: Uploading the actual NFT (or information about how it can be accessed after purchase), a description, price, listing duration and you’re done. Multiple items can form what’s called a “collection,” although I found that the process of uploading each item individually was a bit painful, there is currently no batch upload process. Most of the things you hear about NFTs are actually collections, sometimes many thousands of items, rather than one-off items, and some of the items in these collections are worth hundreds-of-thousands of dollars each! For example, the Bored Ape Yacht Club is probably the most famous collection, with 10,000 artworks. The cheapest of these is currently selling for 111 ETH (which is worth $395,000 USD, or $527,000 AUD)! So multiply this by 10,000 and there is some serious money involved in this collection.
But this would be the exception, rather than the rule, for NFT success.
The challenge now seems to be all about marketing – there are so many millions of NFTs available that it’s extremely difficult to stand out, especially as a newbie who has neither bought nor sold an NFT before. So stay tuned as I figure out this part! For now, if you check out my collection and could share it on your social media, that would be a fantastic start.
I hope this was a useful intro to NFTs for 3D printing, please comment with any questions or ideas, or let me know what you’d like me to cover in the next blog article.
– Posted by James Novak
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