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!

New Year 3D Printer Repairs


After something like 150 hours of 3D printing leading up to Christmas it’s no wonder that my Cocoon Create decided to extend its holiday with some down time to kick off 2017. There have been 2 problems to do with extrusion that I’ve come across, and thought they might be handy to know how to fix for others with this printer, or indeed any of the many derivatives of the original RepRep Prusa i3 which this printer is based off.

The top image shows the first problem which I noticed after some jamming and issues swapping out filaments – basically a build-up of filament “powder” over time from the gear grinding it when it’s been jammed. This one’s a nice easy fix, just a cleanup and a reminder to open up the extruder occasionally to keep things clean. If you’ve never opened the extruder before it’s nothing scary, just 2 bolts on the left where the fan is mounted to the heat-sink which opens the whole thing up as shown above. You might be surprised how simple the whole mechanism is.


After fixing this problem and doing a couple of prints, I then noticed the filament was getting jammed again and I couldn’t push filament through the nozzle no matter what I did. Opening the extruder (same process as before except now removing the small screw on the right of the metal block to release the actual nozzle) the problem was pretty clear – a clog in the PTFE tube which you can see above. A lot of people are surprised to open their extruder and find a plastic tube inside, and this is the first time I’ve really had a problem with it. This tube is made from PTFE, basically Teflon like in your non-stick frypan, and seems to serve a couple of functions from what I’ve read online:

  1. it stops heat from the nozzle climbing too high into the extruder and prematurely melting the filament, which would cause serious clogs.
  2. being non-stick, it helps the filament keep sliding smoothly down to the nozzle without sticking as it gets warm.

A very cheap, simple part that has a lot of responsibility. Mine must’ve gotten worn out or slightly dislodged during my last attempt at fixing the extruder. Thankfully my printer came with 1 replacement, which I cut to size (make sure both ends are nice and square so that there are no gaps for filament to get caught in) and now I’m up and printing again with no problems. Also I’ve jumped onto Ebay and ordered a 2m length of PTFE tube (inside diameter 2mm, outside diameter 4mm) from China for $2.50 – I recommend anyone who has a 3D printer with this part order some PTFE tube as backup, it’s very cheap but if you need to buy something locally in a 3D printing emergency, prices look at least 10 times higher. For a couple of dollars it might just help keep you sane.

Some good forums discussing PTFE tube issues:

I’ve previously written about another type of clog where filament breaks off inside the extrusion tube as you’re retracting it, and you can’t force a new piece in – check out the post here if this sounds like what you’re experiencing.

Happy 3D printing, happy new year.

– Posted by James Novak

Repairing 3D Prints with a 3D Pen


It’s been a while since I last played with my 3Doodler Pen to repair a broken 3D print – the results were pretty cool, although it takes some practice to get reasonable results. Check out the post and images here. Some people make pretty amazing sculptures with the pen, however I find the real value in using the pen to fill gaps created by warped 3D prints and fix other cosmetic problems.

One of my latest projects is assembled from 16 separate pieces printed on my Cocoon Create 3D printer (60 hours worth of printing!), and inevitably with such large pieces printed using desktop FDM technology, there are some gaps caused by print warping. Most of them are reasonably small, but some like the ones shown above and below are quite large. Unfortunately the 3Doodler uses 3mm filament, meaning that I couldn’t use the same 1.75mm filament used to print the parts to begin with, but given that this project doesn’t need to be cosmetically pretty (prototype only), a different shade of yellow that came in the box will do.


The first step is of course to use the pen to extrude material into the cavity, ensuring to move slowly and use the hot nozzle to bond the new plastic with the original. It can get a bit messy and smelly (do it in a well ventilated area – I had a fan blowing to keep a lot of the fumes moving away, but there were times my eyes were stinging), and as shown in image 2 above, might look a bit rough, but that’s OK. You can go back over some of the rough patches using the side of the hot nozzle to try and smooth them out, not extruding any material but using the nozzle like a hot rolling pin. This technique is also great for blending some of the sharp edges or smaller gaps that don’t really need to be filled. The final step is to use a metal file to clean things up, giving a much smoother finish.

Admittedly this process wasn’t all smooth sailing, my 3Doodler kept getting clogged despite me taking it apart and cleaning it out – I have a feeling it might be the material quality and/or the temperature of the nozzle not being quite as hot as it needs to be, so a lot of time was wasted trying to manually push the filament through the pen and get a steady flow. I did notice that when I pushed the hot nozzle into my original print (the darker yellow plastic) it melted much quicker than the 3Doodler filament, despite them both being ABS. So material quality is likely the cause. But the final result is worth the pain, gaps are cleaned up nicely and the surface is nice and smooth. Time for some testing!

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printing Workshops Galore


University and school might be winding down for the year, but I’ve been as busy as ever running workshops on 3D printing and attending conferences – the silly season indeed!

I was a mentor at an event called GLO@Logan, a 3-day startup style workshop for teams of year 9 students from high school’s around the Logan area of Queensland. The project briefs looked at the future of health care, and how technology can be used to better enable people suffering from debilitating disease or age-related problems. A huge congratulations to the team from Loganlea State High School (top right image) who won first prize for their mobile app (which they actually created using MIT App Inventor) which was designed for people in wheelchairs to plan their route to restaurants, bringing in Google Street View images and reviews to help them plan their trip and locate wheelchair friendly restaurants. I was very impressed to see that within a couple of hours of the day 2 practical workshop they already had a rough prototype working on a tablet and had divided tasks nicely within their team. It’s very rare to see a group work so well or efficiently at university, so well done!

For some students like those from Flagstone State Community College, this was also their first opportunity to see a 3D printer in action – and they embraced the technology immediately. You can see their prototype in the top middle image which combines 3D printed pieces, Lego Mindstorms EV3 and a mobile phone, the idea being a robotic dog to act as a companion for elderly people including the capacity to make emergency calls should the person fall and injure themselves. Congratulations on winning second place.

I really hope to see some of these students come through the design courses at university, the ideas and prototypes of all groups were as good, if not better, than many I see from university students.


We also ran a 3D printing workshop at the CILECT Congress 2016 (the International Association of Film and Television Schools Congress), and what really amazed me is that none of the people who attended the session had ever seen or used a 3D printer before! I really thought film and 3D printing went hand-in-hand these days, particularly when you see the work of Legacy Effects in major movies like Iron Man and Robocop which rely heavily on 3D printing. But from the feedback I think the workshop definitely opened everyone’s mind to the potential of the technology, and need for it to be brought into the education of future film makers.


Most recently Createworld offered the opportunity to meet with educators and practitioners at the intersection of design and technology over 2 days of presentations and workshops, and this was also the first showing of the InMoov robot hand I’ve been building over the last few months (click here to check out the full development of this project). It now has a plywood stand which is great for hiding all the raw electronics. I also used my Wiiduino project from last year to showcase ideas like gamification, visual programming languages and customisation for 3D printing, alongside a few students from my Human Machine Interfaces class and fellow PhD researchers. I look forward to this event growing even bigger next year, it’s early days for this conference but the ideas and projects are very high quality.


Lastly a sneak peek inside the new 3D printing facility at Deakin University Waurn Ponds campus, where they have everything from desktop through to metal 3D printers and everything in between. The top left image is overlooking just some of the 3D printing facility, with more equipment in other rooms including a Virtual Reality room and labs for building robotics. I was there for the DESTECH conference and was blown away by the facilities, like a kid in a toy store! There are plenty of high-profile research projects coming out of here already so watch this space.

Looking at my calendar over the last month it has been a whirlwind of events, and it’s finally time to sit back, unwind and process it all over a few (or more!) drinks in the lead up to Christmas. 2016 has shown that 3D printing continues to grow and inspire, and I’m finally seeing some positive steps within schools, although there is still a long way to go. My printer has been running pretty constantly between these events so stay tuned for some project updates very soon.

– Posted by James Novak

Cocoon Create Goes the Distance


This week I’ve spent 48 hours printing 14 segments of my latest PhD project on my Cocoon Create 3D printer, and despite the usual hiccups like print warp and delamination of layers (they are some large pieces using ABS so it’s no surprise – stay tuned for a post on using a 3D print pen to fill gaps), the printer itself performed beautifully. With another 59 hours of printing left to go, I thought it was time to write a little update on the printer and why I think it’s probably the best value printer out there.

Firstly some clarification – the Cocoon Create is based on the open source RepRap Prusa i3, one of the most popular 3D printer designs ever. Many derivatives exist out there that all look identical, including the Wanhao Duplicator i3 Plus which I’ve seen marketed quite a lot on Ebay. The benefit of this is that there are endless supplies of spare parts and forums offering tweaks and suggestions, you just need to look further afield then the “Cocoon Create” since this is the branding for the printers sold at Aldi in Australia only as part of the promotion this year. So there’s not much of a community out there specifically for this printer. But for the general type of printer, the numbers are huge.

As you can see from the top photo, I’ve nearly printed 1km worth of filament with this printer, which I only bought in February this year during Aldi’s promotion. You can read about my first impressions here. For many years I’ve enjoyed successes with the UP range of printers (including the UP Plus 2 and UP Mini), but with the Cocoon Create proving to be just as reliable, and only 1/3 of the price of the UP Plus 2 ($499 AUD), the Cocoon Create is definitely proving to be better value for money. If you do the maths, this printer has so far cost me only $2.90 per hour of printing (+ materials and electricity of course).  In particular the positives I really enjoy are:

  • Rugged steel design means that there is no movement in the printer – I never have to adjust the level of the print bed. Just click print and it works every time.
  • Good print plate that the filament adheres to quite well – no need for glues or tape. I also really like using the Brim setting in Cura to help hold the prints onto the bed and really minimise warping on large prints. I wrote a post about that previously with photos showing with and without the brim setting.
  • Decent sized build platform, twice the size of the UP printers 🙂 (200 x 200 x 180mm)
  • Open in every way – software and hardware. Unlike many of the printers on the market, you can see and access all of the main features of the printer. Great if anything happens and you need to replace a part. Also you can use just about any software you like for slicing models and saving out G Code. I’ve just stuck with the recommended Cura so far, it has all the settings I need. The great thing about this is that you can get right into the details of the print settings, tweaking until you get your print just right – many printers come with proprietary software, which is normally good for simple plug-n-play prints, but won’t give you full access to settings.

A few things that are still a bit annoying, because hey, it’s still only a cheap printer and can’t be perfect:

  • The print plate can’t be removed from the printer (well not easily – you would need to re-level the plate each time), meaning that you need to scrape prints off in situ. I do prefer the ability to swap plates and remove a print when I can get at it easily with some tools.
  • The user interface is extremely old-fashioned, possible a relic from the 80’s – a single dial is used to scroll through menus and make selections, and it gets a bit painful.
  • Emergency stopping a print when something goes wrong requires either cycling through a few menus (see point above), or cutting power all together which is never a great solution. Perhaps a nice red emergency stop button would fit in with the 80’s styling?
  • Running back and forth between computer and printer with a SD card can be painful – with the cheap cost of WiFi chips these days, hopefully the next version can stream directly from the computer. However most printers still suffer from some sort of physical connection or SD card. Maybe it’s just because I keep my printer in a separate room to avoid the fumes…

Those are some of the main things on my mind as I reach the halfway point of this big session of printing on the Cocoon Create – keep your eyes out in 2017 for a return of the printer to Aldi, I have it on good authority that it will be making a comeback 😉 Follow my blog (bottom of the page) or twitter if you’re interested as I will definitely be posting the news as soon as I have details.

– Posted by James Novak

InMoov Comes to Life

Look! It’s moving. It’s alive. It’s alive… It’s alive, it’s moving, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, IT’S ALIVE! – Frankenstein.

Yes finally the InMoov robot arm I’ve been slowly printing and assembling is complete and functioning with only the occasional little hiccup. I thought I was really close in my last post where I had assembled all the 3D prints and electronics, but it is definitely the last 10% that takes the most work.

Tensioning the braided lines just right and tying them to the servo’s is a painstaking task, especially in the heatwave we’ve been having in Australia, where you’re trying to resist the urge to wipe sweat from your face while you tie the knot just right… I felt a bit like a surgeon out in a humid jungle performing emergency surgery. A few little broken bits along the way as well from prints splitting or glue not holding, so it’s a relief to finally iron out all the kinks and start playing with the controls.

As you’ll see in the video, I’m using Grasshopper (plugin for Rhino) with the addition of Firefly to control the hand movements at the moment – if you’ve followed my blog for a while you’ve seen multiple demo’s of this software and why I think it’s so good, so I won’t bore you here (if you’re interested check out my project which was displayed at Design Philadelphia 2015). But it basically means I can manually adjust the servo’s in real-time using a simple slider for each finger, or connect fingers to the one slider to control them all at once and create a fist for example. It really makes those final tweaks to the servos easy.

I hope you enjoy seeing this arm come to life – it’s quite inspiring when you see it in real life, especially if you’re familiar with 3D printing and the time it takes just to print all of these parts. Now I can finally start modifying this project and experimenting with the controls, the build is only just the beginning for this robot.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Action Camera Floaty


Most people when they get an action camera head straight out and start filming crazy things – not me!

I’ve just bought a Garmin Virb X action camera, choosing to avoid the popular GoPro’s for a number of reasons (I’ll spare you the details!) – suffice to say that the Garmin not only records great video, but has a range of built-in sensors allowing you to overlay data on top of video. If you’re curious to see what I mean, check out their promo video.

Since many of my interests are on the water (Kitesurfing and Stand Up Paddling) I needed to add the floaty  – I lost a GoPro a few years ago in Hawaii by not having one, expensive mistake! Sure I could fork out the $27 for the Garmin floaty, but I already had a GoPro floaty as part of a kit, so why not make my own attachment?

The design of the Garmin Virb X has a range of great little details to snap on to, which is how the USB clips onto the side for charging and data transfer. So I’ve simply used these to create a 3D printed bracket, to which the GoPro floaty can stick. As you can see from the images above, 2 prongs hook around one side, while the snap comes around to the front and secures the bracket around the camera. And gee it makes a good snap sound when is attached! Very secure.

Print orientation is really important for this one, the bracket is printed standing up much like the pictures (you can see the layers in the left image). This means that when force is applied to flex and snap around the camera, the whole thing doesn’t break apart. Also a bit of filing or sanding is needed on the back face to give the floaty sticker a good surface area to stick on to. Otherwise it’s good to go straight off the printer, which took about 100 minutes to print on my Cocoon Create 3D printer. Solid infill, 0.2mm layer height, brim adhere to the platform and a small amount of support material.

If you need this part, it’s all yours for free – just download from your favourite site Thingiverse, Pinshape, 3D File Market or Cults.  Be sure to post a picture when you’re done, I hope it helps you get those awesome videos on or in the water.

– Posted by James Novak