This project has been a little while in the making and it’s exciting to finally be writing about it. About a year ago I posted about 3D scanning some shells, and as part of the scanning I captured a sea urchin shell. At the time I didn’t know what I’d do with it, but fast forward a year and I’ve found a perfect application; turning the sea urchin shell into ceiling light covers in my house.
In this post I’ll go over the main processes and experiments I went through to get the finished product, but in case you’re just here for the big finale, here’s the link so you can download the final Sea Urchin Light exclusively from my Pinshape account and 3D print as many as you like!
As explained in further detail in my previous post, I used an EinScan Pro 2X Plus 3D scanner, which included a turntable to automatically capture all angles of the sea urchin shell. This resulted in a full-colour, highly detailed model of the shell, as shown to the right. However, as anyone familiar with 3D scanning will know, this model is just a skin with no thickness or solid geometry, and was just the starting point for the design process.
If you don’t have access to expensive CAD programs, good news; this project was completely designed in free software! I’ve used Autodesk Meshmixer for many of my tutorials and posts, it’s a surprisingly powerful tool and a must for anyone involved in 3D printing. Additionally, it’s quite useful when you are working with 3D scan files, which are typically a mesh like a STL or OBJ. The process took a little time, but has been outlined in 6 basic steps below:
- Fill any holes and errors in the 3D scanned sea urchin shell. In Meshmixer, this simply involves using the “Inspector” tool under the “Analysis” menu.
- Scale up the shell to the appropriate size, then use the “Extrusion” tool to thicken the skin into a solid shell. So that the shell would allow a lot of light through, I used a 0.7mm thickness for the overall design.
- I wanted to create an interesting pattern when the light was turned on, so separated several areas of a copy of the original mesh to be used to create thicker sections. This was a slow process of using the brush selection tool to remove areas, before repeating step 2 with slightly thicker geometry. For this design I ended up with 3 different thicknesses around the shell.
- To allow the light fitting within the shell, a larger opening was needed at the top. A cylinder was added from the “Meshmix” menu and placed in the centre.
- By selecting both the shell and the cylinder together, the “Boolean Difference” command became available, subtracting the cylinder section from the shell.
- Lastly, a neck section measured off the original light fitting was added. I cheated slightly and modelled this in Autodesk Fusion 360 (also free if you’re a student), but you could use Meshmixer – it would just take a bit longer to get accurate measurements. Then the separate parts are joined together using Boolean Union, and the design is finished.
As well as the new design needing to fit the geometry of the existing light fixture, it also needed to fit the build volume of the 3D printer – in this case a Prusa i3 MK3S. As you can see below, the shell is only slightly smaller in the X and Y dimensions than the build plate.
In terms of print settings, I stuck with some pretty typical settings for PLA, including a 0.2mm layer height. Support material is necessary with the light printed with the neck down – this is the best orientation in terms of ensuring the surfaces visible when standing below the light (remember, it is ceiling mounted) are the best. Where support material is removed is always going to be messy, and you wouldn’t want to have these surfaces being the most visible. Overall, this meant that each light took ~32 hours to print.
Material & Finishing
One of the steps that took a bit of experimentation was choosing the right material in order to look good when the light was both on and off. Each of these lights are the main, or only, sources of light in the spaces they are installed, so they need to provide a good amount of light.
As shown above, 3 different materials/finishes were trialled. Initially I began with a Natural PLA from eSUN, which is a bit like frosted glass when printed. While this allowed all the light to escape and illuminate the room, most of the detail was difficult to see in both the on and off settings. It was just like a random glowing blob. I then tried pure white PLA, hoping that the print would be thin enough to allow a reasonable amount of light out. Unfortunately very little light escaped, however, the shadows from the different thicknesses looked excellent, and when the lights was off, it was very clear this was a sea urchin shell. Perhaps this would be a good option for a decorative lamp, but not so good for lighting a whole room.
So the “Goldilocks” solution ended up being in the middle – I 3D printed the shells in the translucent Natural PLA, and then very lightly spray painted the exterior with a matt white paint. Just enough to clearly see that it is a sea urchin shell when the light is off, and translucent enough to allow a lot of light out. Perhaps there is a material/colour of filament that would achieve this with needing to paint, but I didn’t want to have to buy rolls and rolls in order to find it. PETG would be interesting to try, and if you have any other suggestions, please leave them in the comments section.
To the right are the dimensions of the ceiling light fixture within which the sea urchin light comfortably fits. The light itself is a standard B22 fitting, so the sea urchin can comfortably fit most standard interior lights. However, if you have a different sized fitting, or want to fit it over an existing lamp, you can easily scale the design up or down to suit your needs. I’ve already fitted one of the early small test prints over an old Ikea lamp, it just sits over the top of the existing frame. In total I’ve now installed 5 of the large ceiling light covers in my house, and am planning a new design to replace some of the others (my house is full of this terrible cheap fitting!).
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I have made this design exclusively available on Pinshape – it’s just a few dollars to download the file, and then you can print as many as you like! If you 3D print one, please share a photo back onto Pinshape, I love seeing where my designs end up and what people do with them.
– Posted by James Novak