My First NFT Collection for 3D Printing

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

3D Printed Outdoor Lights in PETG

It’s official – my entire house now uses 3D printed light covers!

If you follow this blog you may have seen some of my previous indoor light covers, featuring a 3D scanned sea urchin shell and a pineapple. Of course, I couldn’t stop with indoor lights, especially since the outdoor wall-mounted lights on my house looked like the cheapest fittings available. They were desperately in need of an upgrade.

Luckily the fitting includes a piece that is easily unscrewed to accommodate standard DIY light covers. A few simple measurements, including the diameter of the fitting and distance of the protruding light bulb, meant that I had everything needed to create my own design in CAD. For this one I decided to use Fusion 360, just to keep my skills up as I’ve done a few projects in Solidworks recently. The only other limitation was the size of the Prusa MK3S+ build volume (250 x 210 x 210mm), as I wanted the light cover to be 3D printable in a single piece.

Putting all of this information in Fusion 360 gave me a starting point, and of course I began experimenting with a few simple ideas. The one that stuck was this collection of lofts that twist in different directions. Not overly complex, just a clean design that is easy to clean (a complex lattice would just invite spiders!) and protects the lightbulb from sun/rain. Because these are mounted quite high on the walls, what I really wanted was a cool effect when you are looking directly up at the light from below – see the top right image.

Something else I experimented with for the first time with this design was 3D printing using PETG filament – specifically, PETG from eSun. Why? Mainly because PETG has good UV stability so should last while out in the elements and sunshine. But what I’ve really enjoyed is how easy it is to print with – no warping, good adhesion to the build platform and no smelly fumes while printing. Happy days! I actually used the default PETG settings in PrusaSlicer and they seem to be dialled in nicely (no surprises really, thanks Prusa). The material also has a translucency, so the light shade has a bit of a glow when the light is on as you can see in the photos. If you’re looking for more details about the material properties and slicing settings for PETG, this article is a good starting point.

And of course, I’m giving this design away for FREE! Download from your favourite 3D file marketplace: Thingiverse, Pinshape, Cults, MyMiniFactory or PrusaPrinters.

Happy 3D printing.

– Posted by James Novak

Meshmixer Tutorial: Brake Lever Lattice

Recently I was asked to put together a Meshmixer tutorial for students studying additive manufacturing at Deakin University. The result: a 20min demo project to show you how to turn a pretty standard brake lever into something really cool for 3D printing. If you scroll through the tutorial section of this blog you will find many other demos of how to use Meshmixer, it really is one of my regular go-to tools.

Even if you’re not interested in the brake lever, through the tutorial you will learn to divide a single part into multiple segments, modify mesh quality, convert a part into a lattice structure, and join multiple parts together into a single part ready for 3D printing. You can apply any of these tools to your own project.


– Posted by James Novak

Customising Surf Fins for 3D Printing

Early followers of this blog may be familiar with several projects to 3D print kiteboard and stand up paddle (SUP) board fins, including some fins you can freely download if you’re into kitesurfing. It’s been a little while between posts on this topic, however, I have been busy in the background producing a system to help people with no CAD experience design and customise their own fins ready for 3D printing. The full details have just been published in the Computer-Aided Design and Applications Journal.

Quite a few people have used 3D printing to produce surf fins – after all, it’s very cheap and means you can produce just about any geometry you like. Researchers have looked at the strength of different materials and 3D printing technologies for this application, as well as the performance (fluid dynamics) of different geometries. However, if you are not a relatively advanced CAD user, it is unlikely you will be able to design the fin of your dreams, no matter how awesome the research suggests 3D printing can be! This is what I was interested in solving.

Using Rhinoceros and Grasshopper, the complexity of a fin was condensed down to a series of limited controls that allowed for freeform experimentation. The above image is the interface that allows surfers to customise a fin design in real-time. It is based on a handful of common fin properties such as the fin system, fin position on the board, cant, fin depth, sweep, base length, base foil profile, tip sharpness and tip thickness, all of which can be modified using some simple sliders or dropdown menus. Feedback is also provided in the form of overall dimensions and volume. From the image at the top of the page, you can get a sense for the wide variation in designs possible from this simple interface.

Once you’re happy with the design it can be exported ready for 3D printing. I’ve 3D printed a couple of different designs for testing on my SUP board, the smaller white fin in the image above being 3D printed using FDM, while the larger fin was 3D printed using selective laser sintering (SLS). Both worked well in flat water paddling, although I’m sure some carbon fibre would give me a bit more confidence heading into the surf.

Hopefully some more to come soon as spring and summer approach.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Knits

191115 3D Print Knit

Did you know it’s possible to knit using a desktop 3D printer?

This has been some work I’ve been doing in the background for a little while now and combines all the benefits of digital design with craft-based hand assembly. OK, so you can’t print with soft yarn (yet), but by printing thin geometry you can create some relatively soft and flexible knits that are unlike the typical chainmail assemblies often used in 3D printed fashion/textiles.

The trick to this is to simplify the knit into individual pieces, which can be 3D printed flat on the build plate. This makes printing extremely fast, also known as a 2.5D print which I’ve written about in a previous blog post. While one of the benefits often discussed about 3D printing is the ability to produce complex assemblies as a single part, in the case of a knit, this will result in significant amounts of support material, and the need for quite bulky geometry to ensure the knit geometry is strong enough. However, by printing separate components, these problems are avoided, and you can have some fun manually connecting the loops together while you wait for the next print.

Additionally, the new opportunity of 3D printed knits is to create completely new patterns and geometries in CAD software. This has been the focus of my newly published paper called A Boolean Method to Model Knit Geometries with Conditional Logic for Additive Manufacturing (free to access). In it I detail how to set up an algorithm in Rhino with  Grasshopper that will allow customisation of loop and float structures for a knit, the sort shown in the top picture. If you have some experience with the software, you can follow the process outlined in the paper to set up a similar system, and begin modifying parameters and geometry to create completely new knits that would not be possible using traditional knitting techniques.

191115 Grasshopper 3D Knit

As shown above, the Grasshopper code gets quite complex so is not for the feint of heart, but if you understand boolean logic, and have used Grasshopper, I’m sure you can build this! And if not, have a go at modelling some knit geometry in your favourite CAD package and print it out – you can keep printing on repeat to extend the size of your “knitted” textile, this is how some of my early tests were done. If you start by modelling some rows of circles, then connect them together, this will get you close to a knit structure.

Happy 3D knitting.

– Posted by James Novak

Shim the 3D printed shim

IMG_20190226_3D Print Shim Doorstop

We’ve all experienced that wobbly table at a cafe and struggled to wedge coasters and napkins under the legs to balance it out. This is where you need a shim, a small wedge that can fill the gap and ensure your drinks don’t go flying. Shim is also fun to say, quick to 3D print, and a good test of your print settings due to the top surface exhibiting the stair-stepped effect.

There are many designs available on popular 3D printing file websites, but I just wanted one that was a useful size (easy to carry with you in a small bag) and that said what it was. So here it is, Shim the shim! You can download it for free on Thingiverse, Pinshape, Cults or MyMiniFactory. Alternatively you can follow the basic outline of the design process below to make your own from scratch in your favourite CAD software. It’s similar to some of my previous designs including an “edditive” desk logo which might give you some inspiration for different ways to use text in 3D.

IMG_20190226_Solidworks TextShim was designed in Solidworks by using the text tool on the top sketch plane. The key is to squish all of the text together so that the letters intersect, meaning they will 3D print together as a single object (in Solidworks you can simply change the spacing of text within the text tool). The text was then extruded 10mm, creating solid geometry. All you need to do to create the wedge shape is then slice a triangular portion off the top, which in Solidworks uses the extruded cut tool. Save to STL and 3D print, it couldn’t be much simpler!

This is a nice quick 3D print and could easily be used as a keyring or give-away item, especially if you design your own. Enjoy, share and print!

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Medal and Trophy

IMG_20181024 3D Printed Trophy Medal

As a product designer focused on 3D printing in my job at the University of Technology Sydney, it was no surprise that I found myself being asked to design some 3D printed awards for the end of year 2018 Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Research Excellence. And while not receiving an award (yet!), I think it’s even more fun to get to be designing them – besides, now I can print them out for myself!

I was asked to design 2 different awards which you can see pictured above. The first were a set of 3 medals, and my only brief was to have them 3D printed in metal, and for them be approximately the size of previous medals given out for the awards. I based my design on a spinner concept which I’ve previously printed, with an important feature being the cone-like details which hold this assembly together when printed as a single part. There is no support material required, with one of my goals being to highlight through the design the capabilities of 3D printing in metal. For recipients, my goal was to create something playful and engaging, rather than most medals which are kept in a case and quickly forgotten. Thanks to my friend Olaf Diegel at Lund University for printing these in aluminium and sending them to us in time!

VID_20181023_095036 GIF

For those familiar with metal 3D printing (Direct Metal Laser Sintering to be specific), you can probably guess there was a lot of manual post-processing of these medals to remove the base supports and polish the surfaces. Below you can see the medal as it comes out of the printer on the left (once cut from the build plate), and the final polished version on the right. All of the base support material you can see in the raw version had to be filed away while held in a vice, before going through a lengthy process of polishing. Slow, painful work, but you haven’t truly 3D printed in metal until you’ve gone through this process, it makes peeling away plastic support material from FDM prints seem like child’s play!


The second award was a trophy which also continued with the 3D printed assembly concept. My only brief for this design was for it to be printed on our own HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer, which is very similar to SLS printing. Many of us have seen the “ball in a ball in a ball” type of prints which are often shown at 3D printing expos and events, and I built off this to incorporate a lattice frame to contain the balls. The basic design was done in Solidworks, however, the balls were just solid spheres at this stage. I then exported them into Meshmixer in order to apply a lattice structure to them, using 2 different geometries. All parts were then imported into Meshmixer in order to export them as a final fully assembled file ready for printing.

VID_20181024_134222 GIF

A little bit of laser cutting and timber work by a colleague really helped bring the design to life, and again, the trophy encourages interaction and play. Congratulations to the winners and finalists, I hope you enjoy your awards as much as I did creating them. With any luck I might get to design them again in 2 years and bring one home myself for real! 😉

– Posted by James Novak

A 3D Printing Workflow with Free Software

Solid Hollow Lattice

One of the challenges for designers (beginner and advanced) creating objects for 3D printing is finding software capable of doing the complex things we enjoy seeing in 3D printing news and exhibitions. There really doesn’t seem to be one program capable of doing it all, and this has been re-emphasised to me during my recent studies at MIT and a visit to Autodesk. However, there is some good news: if you’re able to quickly learn software, you can find an increasing number of freebies that seem to be specialising in small aspects of the workflow, which you can move between to create complex designs.

Form 2 Print Lattice

This tutorial will show you how I used completely free software to create a complex object during my time in the MIT course “Additive Manufacturing: From 3D Printing to the Factory Floor” as part of a group project, and is actually very quick once you become familiar with the programs. This particular design combines a hollow object with an internal lattice structure suitable for SLA printing on a printer like the Form 2 from Formlabs, which is what was used for the translucent version in the photo above. The white version in the background is a cross-section view of what is going on within the SLA print.

Step 1: The Overall Form

Clip 01 - 01

There are loads of free programs to use for creating 3D models – Tinkercad, Sketchup, Openscad, Sculptris, Fusion 360 (if you’re linked to an educational institution)… there are many more and you can certainly use your favourite. For this project, I actually used Onshape for the first time, which runs completely in the cloud (so no software downloading or limitations on computer operating systems/specifications). If you are at a school or university, you can get a free license. It works very similar to Solidworks or other high-end CAD packages, so if you are familiar with sketches and features, you will pick it up very quickly.

Basically, whichever CAD software you use, you want to create the overall shape of your object. In this case, I created an organic tear-drop shape using a “loft,” and cut a section out of the back so that it would clip onto a desk and act as a bag hook (part of the MIT design challenge).

Step 2: Make it Hollow

Many CAD programs will allow you to “shell” your design, making it hollow inside. However, if you can’t find the tool, or aren’t getting good results, we can do this in the next piece of software. But first, export your solid file as a STL (and if you managed to shell it in this step, export a STL of the hollow version as well and skip the rest of this step. You will still need a solid version for the lattice process).

Meshmixer Hollow

The next free program, which I think is a must for anyone with a 3D printer, is Meshmixer. It allows you to edit the normally un-editable STL file format, and I have previously written tutorials about how to do download files from Thingiverse and combine them in creative ways or add your name to a downloaded part.

If you weren’t able to hollow out your design previously, click on Edit>Hollow and set your wall thickness. Just like that, your solid object is now hollow, and can be exported as a STL.

A note for SLA printing:

Meshmixer Drainage Holes

When using the Form 2 3D printer for the first time, I was surprised to learn that the PreForm software doesn’t allow for the user to specify infill patterns in the same way that is commonly done with FDM printing. That is what created the need for this custom lattice infill, and this tutorial. So, being a liquid resin printer, the final important step is to add drainage holes so that the form doesn’t end up completely full of liquid, and errors don’t occur during printing.

Meshmixer again has this function built in. While in the Hollow tool, you will have the option to “Generate Holes” and manipulate their location. This is really important, as you won’t be able to do it again later once your hollow and lattice are combined (unless you’re familiar with the boolean commands in Meshmixer and manually add a cylinder from the Meshmixer menu to use as a cutting tool).

Step 3: Creating a Lattice

Lattices and 3D printing are best friends. But creating a lattice in many CAD programs is close to impossible, usually requiring advanced skills and a computer that can handle very large patterning features. nTopology Element is a free program that will dramatically simplify the process for you – simply load a STL file, choose a lattice pattern, and boom! your object is now a lattice. But let’s go through it a little more slowly.

1. Import your solid STL file into nTopology Element.

2. On the top menu, click Lattice>Generate

3. In the pop-up, you can play with the lattice patterns (called “Rules”), the size of each lattice volume, and click Generate to get a preview. When you’re happy with the result, click on Apply.

nTopology Lattice Trim

4. You will notice that the result has the lattice coming outside of the original object. This is because only whole lattice volumes are used to fill the object, rather than automatically being trimmed to fit. So we must do this manually. In the top Edit menu, click on the Trim tool. A new pop-up will appear, asking you to select the Lattice geometry and the Trim Volume (original model), which you can select from the drop-down menu on the left. Click apply and the lattice will be trimmed to fit perfectly within your original design.

5. At this point, the lattice is made up of vectors – they have no volume. So the next step is to use the Thicken tool on the top menu to provide a diameter to your lattice.

nTopology Tutorial

6. Lastly, the thickened lattice needs to be turned into a single mesh that can be 3D printed. The Mesh button (where it says Interchange on the top menu) will join everything together and give you a single mesh. In the drop-down menu on the left, you can now right-click on the mesh, and click on export to get your STL file.

Step 4: Bringing it all Together

The free version of nTopology won’t let you stitch multiple files together, however the Pro version will if you ever end up with the need for a full license. So back to Meshmixer to bring it all together ready for 3D printing.

1. Import the hollow STL and lattice STL into Meshmixer (when you click on import for the second file, use the Append option).

2. You will notice that the ends of the lattice stick out from your object. There are 2 ways to correct this: Option 1 is to use the sculpt tool with the “Flatten” brush to go around and push the ends of the lattice inside of the object boundary – it’s just like pushing clay.

Meshmixer Sculpt Lattice

Option 2 is to ever so slightly reduce the scale of your lattice. With the lattice selected in the pop-up Object Browser window (on the right of my window), click on Edit>Transform and you can either manually manipulate the scale, or more accurately type in the reduction in the transform window (with the uniform scaling option ticked). You should only need a small reduction until the lattice fits just inside the outer skin of your object.

3. By turning off the hollow part in the Object Browser, but keeping it selected, you will get an X-Ray view into your object to check if the lattice and hollow part are intersecting. This can help with any final alignment. Remember; you want the lattice touching the solid shell, but not poking through so it’s visible, or loosely floating within the hollow.

Meshmixer Lattice View

4. In the Object Browser, [shift]+click to select both parts at the same time. A new window will appear that will allow you to Boolean Union or Combine both parts together, creating a single object.

5. Export the final STL and you are ready for 3D printing.

SLA Form 2 Print Fresh

Step 5: Getting Creative

Meshmixer Creative Lattice

Once you get a bit of experience with this process and some of the other tools in Meshmixer, your imagination is the limit! You can really begin to play with different combinations of solid and lattice structures depending on the result you want. Have some fun and feel free to share any of your own creations in the comments section.

– Posted by James Novak

Organic Models Grown in Grasshopper

During November 2017 I was lucky enough to be involved in a 2-day workshop run by Lionel Dean from Future Factories. Lionel has been working with 3D printing for many years, and his work is very inspirational – I’d recommend taking a look at his projects which all use algorithms to generate complex, one-off products often 3D printed in precious metals like gold. The projects really highlight the capabilities of 3D printing and push the boundaries of what is possible.

The workshop focused on using Grasshopper, which runs as a plugin for the 3D modelling software Rhino. If you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ve probably seen a few videos and demonstrations as I’ve been learning the program, including my successful Kickstarter earlier this year. The video above is the final simulation produced by the end of the workshop, which was an exploration of mimicking natural growth processes, similar to a sprouting seed. It’s not perfect, but definitely highlights the opportunities of using algorithms to design, as opposed to manually creating a singular static form. In Lionel’s work, he often uses these forms of growth to allow people to essentially pause the simulation and have the particular “frame” 3D printed as a custom object.

20171220 Grasshopper Code

For any fellow Grasshopper geeks, above you can get an idea of the code used to generate these sprouts. There is no starting model in Rhino, it is entirely built from this code. Hopefully this will influence some future projects…

– Posted by James Novak