Turning a 3D Printer into a Plotter


My last couple of posts have been about the Robot Picasso Kickstarter I’m currently running, a project that developed after the failure of the Solidoodle Press 3D printer. It’s attracted some media attention from 3dprint.com and Digital Trends who have followed up the saga of Solidoodle, the company going bankrupt because of the failings of this one printer.

Given the success of the Kickstarter, which is over 300% funded with a few days still to go, I thought it was about time to show the special 3D printed part that has converted the 3D printer into a 2D plotter. I developed the part in Solidworks using just a few key measurements, in particular the 2 front screw holes and the distance needed for the tip of the pen to lightly touch the plate where paper would be stuck. It sure beats using rubber bands and sticky tape which is how the initial experiments began! You can check out the 3D model below.

This is something that you could create for any 3D printer since most extruders have some sort of screw holes that you could take advantage of (for example you can see them in my Cocoon Create printer in this previous post), or perhaps you could design a clever snap-fitting system similar to the tutorial I wrote for Formlabs last year which shows the step-by-step process to designing a snap-fit enclosure. As long as you can create a secure fit, you will be able to get consistent results using your 3D printer as a 2D printer (plotter). If you want to see the process of drawing with this attachment, just check out the Kickstarter video I put together showing the full process of Robot Picasso. It’s a fun way to add a whole new function to your existing 3D printer if you can turn a 2D drawing into simple G-code commands.

– Posted by James Novak

Robot Picasso Kickstarter Final Week!

The final week of my very first Kickstarter campaign is now here, and to celebrate I’ve put together a brand new video demonstration of what Robot Picasso can do. This time, rather than using the Solidoodle 3D printer to draw on paper as in the first video, this demonstration shows how you can collaborate with Robot Picasso and use the digital DXF file of your custom artwork to import into software like Adobe Illustrator. From there anything’s possible, including using the design to laser cut into any material!


It’s been an exciting roller coaster so far, and the hard work is yet to begin making and shipping all the artworks. It’s been challenging being overseas for nearly 2 weeks on a pre-booked holiday – I haven’t been able to spend as much time as I wanted promoting and creating regular updates for the campaign. However it was also quite eye-opening to realise just how much can be done with a laptop and internet connection – the video demonstration was completely created from my hotel in Hawaii, giving you an idea of how versatile Robot Picasso really is. You can receive your own custom DXF file for just $15 AUD, and have it included in the eBook compilation which all backers receive. Great if you are digital savvy and have access to some cool toys like plotters, laser cutters, routers etc.

Please help me to share this campaign on social media, it would be awesome to reach 50 backers over this final week (currently at 32) and increase the amount of artwork in the eBook. If you’re not into getting a custom drawing, you can buy the eBook for just $8 AUD and have it emailed to you after all drawings have been produced. See if you can figure out what each drawing is!

– Posted by James Novak

My First Kickstarter Goes Live!

I don’t normally use my blog to promote or sell anything, but I figure for the launch of my first Kickstarter campaign I can make a small exception! Besides, it’s actually developed from some of my previous posts where I hacked my useless Solidoodle Press 3D printer to draw images and had some fun using a Wii Nunchuck controller to manually move the extruder.

Through the month of January Kickstarter are running the Make 100 Challenge, and I was inspired to set something up quickly that would be a bit of fun for both myself and potential backers. The idea of the challenge is to get something off the ground that is limited to 100 editions, so it’s inspiring to see a lot of new projects that might not normally launch on Kickstarter, many of them quite creative and artistic. That’s where I’ve pitched my Kickstarter – something a bit unusual and creative, yet fitting in with my interests of customization, hacking, digital manufacturing, algorithms, coding, parametric design, CAD… All the fun stuff.

On paper the idea is relatively simple – send me a photograph, I use some software to generate a Picasso-like line drawing, and that drawing gets sent to my hacked Solidoodle Press to be drawn on paper. But hopefully the video shows that the process is a little more complex than that, and quite interesting to watch.

I would love you to take a look, share the link, or if you’re really interested help get this project off the ground with funding levels starting at only $8 for the final eBook compilation. Whatever happens it’s been a great experience to put this campaign together.

– Posted by James Novak

22/1/2017 UPDATE: To thank everyone for your support and reaching the 200% funding milestone, here’s a new short video showing what happens when Robot Picasso draws a cliff-top building.

Robot Picasso also has a new Facebook Page you can follow to keep up to date with the latest developments. Let’s keep the momentum of this campaign and try and get 100 unique drawings!

Abstract Portrait Drawing Machine

Earlier in the year I gave a little demo of controlling a 3D printer with a Wii Nunchuk controller. Well I can finally show you where that project went since it ended up in the ACM SIGCHI Designing Interactive Systems conference which happened this week in Brisbane, Australia. The easiest way to explain what it does is to watch the video – but in simple terms it is a process of automatically drawing abstract portraits from a webcam in real-time, using a hacked 3D printer to draw this artwork on paper. Perhaps the machine version of Picasso?

For those of you who follow my blog you would no doubt be familiar with my frustrations with the failed Solidoodle Press 3D printer, which was so bad that it actually caused Solidoodle to close down only a few months ago. Well this project has stemmed from a need to find some useful function for the machine rather than simply throw it away, so now it is more of a 2D printer and it finally seems to be useful.

20160606_Hacked 3D Printer

The photos above are from the DIS experience night where conference attendees were able to come and get a free portrait drawn in about 10 minutes, taking home a cool souvenir and a unique, one-of-a-kind artwork produced entirely by algorithms and a machine. I was just the guy loading paper and pressing a few buttons on and off (a slave to the machines!). But it drew (pardon the pun) a really good crowd for 3 hours with some fun group portraits, some posts on social media, plenty of suggestions to play with different drawing tools and materials, and a pile of portraits with no technical failures during the event – amazing considering my experiences with the Solidoodle printer!

This is something anyone could do with their 3D printer (or indeed any CNC machine) since it is all controlled by standard G-code, it just requires a way to hold a pen on the extrusion nozzle (in my case a custom 3D printed attachment) and a way to convert any linework into G-code – in this case using the Grasshopper plugin for Rhino. I wish I had something like this while I was an Architecture student, it would’ve been fantastic to cheat with my drawings and use it to create quick pencil sketches of my designs from a CAD model! Haha perhaps there is more to this project yet.

To access the published paper that accompanies this work, click here for the link to the ACM Digital Library.

– Posted by James Novak