3D Printed Mounting Brackets

Brackets are pretty boring, I know, but being able to 3D print exactly what you need, for just a few cents, just makes good sense (see what I did there?).

I wanted to mount a LED strip underneath my kitchen bench top, but also wanted it to run off batteries so I didn’t have chunky cords to plug in for power. The set that I ended up buying had a battery pack which needed to be mounted along with the strip, as well as a remote. One option would be to use double sided tape, however, this would make accessing and changing the batteries painful. So, a simple bracket was needed. While doing this, I also decided to mount the remote so it wouldn’t get lost.

Like many of the projects on this blog, the entire process from CAD to finished 3D printed parts only took a few hours. Solidworks was used for the CAD modelling, while the brackets were printed on a Wanhao Duplicator i3 Plus in PLA. A couple of screws up into the bench top and job done. Secure and out of the way, but easy to remove the remote and battery pack when needed.

If you’re interested in more quick projects like this, check out my special friction hooks or hex business card holder tiles.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Pineapple Light

3D printing light covers and lamps are always fun projects, you can’t really go wrong.

Continuing from a previous post where I outlined the process of designing sea urchin light covers for my house, I’ve still been wanting to design another light cover to mix things up so each room isn’t the same. Enter the pineapple light! 🍍

Unlike the previous process of designing the sea urchin light from scratch using a 3D scan, this time I was able to find something on Thingiverse that was almost perfect – this model of a pineapple. The bottom part had a really nice geometric pattern that saved me hours of mucking around in CAD and designing the same thing from scratch. This is one of the things I love about the 3D printing community – the open sharing of 3D models to be remixed (also known as a mashup) just like a song or video into something new and creative. You can read more about remixing in one of my previous tutorials.

Similar to the sea urchin light, all the pineapple needed was to be scaled to the right size, hollowed, given a thickness, and have a neck piece added to connect with the light fitting. This neck piece was directly imported from my previous project in Meshmixer (free CAD software), and both pieces were joined together. Nice and easy!

Just like the sea urchin light, these pineapples were 3D printed on a Prusa i3 MK3S in a natural PLA from eSun – it’s a translucent material which I found from previous experiments to work really well for light covers when given a very light dusting of white spray paint. The painted exterior still allows the light to shine through nicely, but just helps define the form better than the natural finish on its own. If you want to see exactly how this compares to the natural filament on its own, or a pure white PLA, check out my sea urchin light post. This design can also be 3D printed without any support material.

Best of all, you can download my pineapple light cover completely free from Thingiverse, Pinshape, Cults and MyMiniFactory! Just like the original design of the pineapple which helped me in this project, I hope this remix will help you in your own project – even if you don’t have the same size light fitting as me, with a bit of editing in Meshmixer or another CAD program, you can easily modify this design to suit your own needs. Enjoy.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Face Shields vs. Masks

As the graphic above shows, 3D printing a face shield is twice as fast as 3D printing a face mask. How do I know?

In my latest journal article called A quantitative analysis of 3D printed face shields and masks during COVID-19, I documented 37 face shields and 31 face masks suitable for fused filament fabrication (FFF, or FDM). The graphic provides the average data for all the different designs, including a range of qualities including the amount of filament required, number of 3D printed parts, total volume of all parts, and the dimensions of the largest part for each design (so you know if it will fit within your 3D printer’s build volume). If you’re interested in all of the specific details for each of the individual designs, all of the data is free to access here. You might also want to start with my first article analysing 91 3D printing projects at the start of the pandemic.

Why is this important? Well, if you look at the graph above, you can see that the print time and amount of filament for each individual design varies significantly. For face shields, the shortest print time was 46mins to produce a single part with 12g of material for the Version 1 face shield from MSD Robotics Lab. The longest print time for a face shield was 4h 34min (274min) and required 63g of filament, also only a single part from MITRE Corporation. This means that for each MITRE Corporation face shield you could 3D print almost 6 MSD Robotics Lab face shields. This is a big difference if you’re trying to maximise the quantity you produce for your local hospital or health centre. Below you can visually see how different they are, and why there is such a difference in print time and filament use.

Print times vary even more for face masks, with the shortest print time being 2h 14min (134mins) requiring 32g of filament for a 3-part design from Collective Shield (v.0.354). This design is 3D printed in a flat form only 0.6mm thick and then folded into a 3D face mask, often referred to as a “2.5D print.” In contrast, the longest print time for a face mask was 10h 32mins (632mins) with 130g of filament required to print 26 separate parts, forming a respirator style mask called Respirator V2 from Maker Mask. Both of these different designs can be seen below.

Assuming a price for PETG filament of $30/Kg, the cost of 3D printed components for face shields can be calculated to range from $0.33–1.95, while the range of face masks was $0.96–3.90. For one-off products these differences may not be critical to makers, yet when multiplied by hundreds of thousands or even millions (e.g. the IC3D Budmen face shield has been 3D printed over 3 million times!), the potential investment by makers, organisations, charities and businesses may vary significantly based on the selection of one design over another, or one version of a design over another.

If you want to find more of the data and read the detailed analysis, please read the full article here. I look forward to continuing to bring you new analysis of 3D printing during COVID-19.

– 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

Mannequin Head Remix

3D Print Mannequin Head

Close but no cigar.

Sometimes you find something close to what you want on Thingiverse, Pinshape or other 3D printing platforms, but it’s just not quite right. Well, there is often something you can do about it, and it won’t cost a cent.

I’ve written several tutorials about using free software Meshmixer to make various modifications, for example creating a mashup of 2 different files or adding some text to a design. On this occasion I found a 3D scan of a styrofoam mannequin head on Thingiverse, which included all of the messy details you’d expect from a foam model (smaller head in the image above right). Great if you’re after realism, but not great when you want nice smooth surfaces for 3D printing. The model was also not at the correct scale, and I wanted a mannequin head to use as a model.

The scale was an easy fix, and of course could be done in your slicing software.  Cleaning up the surfaces was also quite simple using the ‘Sculpt’ tool and choosing one of the smoothing brushes. This essentially irons out all the rough details, smoothing out the model as you brush over it. A few minutes of work and a rough model is now clean and ready for 3D printing – which of course I’ve uploaded as a remix on Thingiverse so you can download it for yourself.

The above left image shows the 3D printed result from a Creality CR-10 S5, a very cheap, very large FDM machine with a build volume measuring 500x500x500mm. Obviously my settings weren’t great, the seam is in the worst possible position, and because I wanted a quick result I used only a single wall thickness and almost no infill, which split apart at the top. However, it’s fine for my purposes, and the surface quality on most of the model is fantastic.

Happy smoothing!

– Posted by James Novak

Fingerprint Stool 3D Printed on a BigRep ONE

Fingerprint Stool BigRep ONE

Size matters!

I’ve been throwing out teasers about this project on social media for over a year, and with my research just published in the Rapid Prototyping Journal, it is very exciting to finally be at the finish line and able to share it – all of it! So what exactly is it?

Well, it’s a 3D printed stool. But more than that, it’s the outcome of a design for additive manufacturing case study using the new BigRep ONE 3D printers, housed in the ProtoSpace facility at the University of Technology Sydney. The BigRep ONE is essentially a desktop FDM 3D printer on steroids, with a build volume measuring 1005 x 1005 x 1005mm, that’s over 1 cubic meter of space to 3D print! And much like a desktop FDM printer it uses filaments like PLA, PETG, TPU and realistically just about any other filament material, as well as using a Simplify3D profile for slicing, so designing for the printer and operating it is identical to many common desktop 3D printers.

edfGiven the newness of these machines when they were installed in ProtoSpace in early 2018, my job was to test the capabilities of them whilst developing a showcase product to highlight how they can be used to develop new types of products, and with such a large build volume, furniture was an obvious choice. However, my budget was not unlimited ($1500 AUD) and nor was the time I was allowed to run the printer, which was capped at 5 days so that it was not taken out of commission for other users for more than one working week. Sounds like a generous timeframe unless you’re familiar with just how slow FDM printing is even at the desktop scale, and while this printer is bigger, it is certainly not any faster. And when you are printing for 5 days, this machine will really chew through filament, so that $1500 budget quickly runs out.

In terms of the fingerprint concept, the stool was designed when I was newly engaged and uses a fingerprint from my (now wife’s) ring finger, and my own. Awwwwe… There are few features more unique to each human than a fingerprint, so this concept was also chosen as a truly unique feature that highlights the capacity for 3D printing to be used for one-off personalised products.

The above video helps explain the design and printing process, which essentially involved:

  1. Ink used to take impressions of fingerprints on paper.
  2. Fingerprints digitised using a flatbed scanner.
  3. Fingerprints vectorised in Adobe Illustrator. Exported as DXF files.
  4. DXF files imported into Solidworks CAD software and oriented 420mm apart for the height of the stool.
  5. Manual creation of the 3D geometry.
  6. Export to STL.
  7. Slice in Simplify3D.
  8. 3D print on the BigRep ONE [1mm nozzle diameter, 0.5mm layer height, 5% infill, 2 walls, 3000mm/min print speed]

Sounds nice and straight forward. However, I must admit things did not go this smoothly: Firstly, designing to fit a specific budget and print time required several iterations, with an early version of the design twice as large as the design pictured here. This meant initial cost estimates were in the range of $2194-3882 and print times 117.5-216.1hours – talk about variation! All of this variation is due to experimenting with process parameters like layer height and nozzle diameter for the same design, and was an important learning process that could be taken back into later iterations of the design, which ultimately became smaller.

Fingerprint Stool BigRep Adhesion

Secondly, another obstacle we struggled with was bed adhesion. This is a common problem with desktop machines, however, not normally when printing with PLA. We quickly found that during the first layers, a slight warp or piece of material sticking up would get knocked by the extruder, causing a knock-on effect as the extruder and any material it had collected quickly cause all of the individual sections of the fingerprint to dislodge. Pictured above on the left is the largest section that printed before some material snapped off and somehow caused the nozzle to become entombed in PLA, pictured above on the right. That was an expensive error, new nozzles for the BigRep ONE do not come cheap!

Given the design was intended to print without any need for support material, we eventually had to concede defeat and add a raft. This had the effect of linking all of the initially individual sections of fingerprint together during the first layers, and provided a strong adhesion to the bed. While we could’ve tried all sorts of glues, tapes and other hacks, we didn’t want to resort to these on such a new machine until we had more time to test settings and work with BigRep on a solution. The good news: the raft worked and after 113 hours, and at a cost of $1634 (only slightly over budget), the Fingerprint Stool was complete. The raft did take 1 hour to remove with a hammer and chisel (with a 1mm nozzle there is so much material it cannot be removed by hand), and the surface finish is quite rough – but in my mind this is the charm of FDM, just like a piece of timber has grain and knots that are simply part of the material.

Overall the BigRep ONE is an exciting technology, you just need to keep in mind that due to the scale, all of the small issues you can experience on a cheap desktop machine are also magnified. However, it is great for producing large-scale functional parts like furniture, or any of the other examples you may have seen from BigRep in 3D printing news over recent months.

This is a brief overview of the project, there is much more technical information and analysis in my paper in the Rapid Prototyping Journal, including metrology data of the final design compared with the 3D file, as well as surface roughness data. I’d love to hear your feedback on the project or your own experiences with the printer if you’ve been lucky enough to use one. And keep an eye out for updates about the stool appearing in an exhibition later in the year 😉

UPDATE: Thank you to BigRep for taking an interest in this project and writing their own story about it here, and to 3D Printing Industry for also sharing this story.

– Posted by James Novak

3D printing is cool, but have you tried 2.5D printing?

20190617 2-5D Print Thin Wall 3D

Over the last 18 months or so I’ve been stripping back FDM 3D printing to its basics, experimenting with a variety of materials, composites and patterns designed to be printed flat and assembled into more complex 3D forms. Why?

Well there are many reasons why you might want to use a 3D printer to create relatively flat forms: firstly, as anyone who has used a 3D printer would know, the process is extremely slow. The less vertical height you need to print the faster your part will be completed (generally). Secondly, most accessible 3D printers have a very small build volume, and often you want to 3D print something huge. By 3D printing a lot of smaller, flat parts and assembling them later, you can create a large 3D printed object on a small machine (for example check out the full length inBloom Dress by XYZ Workshop which was assembled out of 191 smaller panels).

This type of 3D printing has actually been called 2.5D printing, since it is essentially the production of 2D geometry that is extruded in a single direction. No fancy lattice structures or compound curves here! Below are some examples I’ve printed over the years, and while some of them like the mesostructure (centre) may look complex, the geometry can be described by a single 2D drawing and extrusion (Z) dimension.

20190617 2-5D Print Examples

What I’ve learned is that when you are 2.5D printing often thin geometries, optimising the dimensions of the geometry for the specific capabilities of your FDM machine are critical. In fact, just a 0.1mm change in the thickness of a wall can reduce your print time by ~50%, which is a huge time saving. Knowing what these “magic” wall thickness settings are is powerful, and also very simple when you understand the logic.

This information has now been published in a book chapter titled “Designing Thin 2.5D Parts Optimized for Fused Deposition Modeling,” and provides several equations you can use to quickly calculate the optimum dimensions you should use if you want to 2.5D print (or even 3D print) as quickly as possible with maximum accuracy. Below is a visual graph that can be used to select the optimum wall thickness settings when 3D printing with a 0.4mm nozzle, and also shows the effect STL resolution can have. Full details about this graph can be found in the book, however the short version is that you want to be designing thin wall features using dimensions that fall inside the black boxed (or dashed) regions. So, for example if you will be using a 0.8mm printed wall thickness (representing 2×0.4mm extrusions in your slicer), the optimum dimensions to design with in CAD are 0.5-0.8mm, 1.3-1.6mm, or 2.0-2.3mm. Anything outside of these dimensions will require some level of infill structure which takes longer to print, and can result in a more messy part.

20190617 3D Print Thin Wall

For a part similar to the mesostructure earlier, we calculated that simply adding 0.1mm of thickness to the design from 1.2mmm up to 1.3mm would decrease print time by 38% – yes, it sounds counter-intuitive, but adding material can actually reduce print time!

Designing for additive manufacturing (DfAM) is a very important research area, and it is knowledge like this that I hope can be implemented by designers, manufacturers and others involved in 3D printing. If you want to learn more about 2.5D printing, and the equations you can use to calculate the “optimized zones” for your own 3D printer, please check out my chapter which can be purchased with a 40% discount using my author code “IGI40,” or if you are at a university you may find you already have access through your library subscriptions.

Happy 2.5D printing.

– Posted by James Novak

#3DBenchy, the Most Downloaded 3D Print


If you are involved in 3D printing there’s no doubt you’ve at least heard of #3DBenchy, if not printed one, or two, or even more. What is #3DBenchy? Well, it’s a tug boat of course! But more than that, #3DBenchy has become like the “Hello World!” from coding, the go to 3D model to test out a new printer or setting. Why a tug boat? That’s a very good question, and the only real explanation is that it includes a number of features that challenge a printer including overhangs (e.g. roof) and a variety of angled surfaces. Also, it’s a little more interesting than a basic calibration cube or set of test prints.

#3DBenchy was developed by a company called Creative Tools, initially as an in-house calibration test for their own printers. On April 9th 2015, Creative Tools uploaded the design to Thingiverse for anyone to download for free, and the rest, as they say, is history. Since then the file has been downloaded over 600,000 times from Thingiverse alone, and can be found on pretty much any other 3D file sharing website. #3DBenchy even has its own website, Instagram profile, and Twitter account – talk about a famous 3D print!

I’ve never seen any need to jump on board the #3DBenchy bandwagon, however, I was recently writing up some research that required me to photograph a #3DBenchy, and I’m always up for an excuse to print something new. So here we are, #3DBenchy in hand, and given I used some relatively fast settings to get it printed in about 1 hour, I think the result is quite good. This one is the original #3DBenchy at full scale, printed without support. And of course my photos have been fed back onto Thingiverse as one of the 2788 makes of #3DBenchy, and one of 2961 posts on Instagram… and counting. Vive la révolution!

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Assemblies

20180420_3D Print Moving Assembly

One of the most interesting features of 3D printing is that it’s possible to print multiple parts in their assembled state, reducing the need to bring together a whole range of different pieces and assemble them using screws, snaps, glue etc. While this is normally easier using the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) process, with a bit of experience and some clever design skills, it’s possible to 3D print moving assemblies on a basic desktop FDM machine.

Pictured above are 2 objects I’ve been wanting to 3D print for a long time as great examples of what can be done with an FDM machine. The first is called an Air Spinner and is free to download from Thingiverse. Due to the tolerances and angles between each part, no support material is needed, and you can literally start spinning each of the pieces straight off the printer, functioning like a gyroscope. A nice quick print, and a great demo piece. Below is a video I found of someone printing and spinning one so you can get the full effect.

The second print pictured to the right is a Planetary Gear Keychain, also free to download from Thingiverse. This one is much more of a test of your printer’s settings, the first time I printed it all of the pieces were completely fused together and impossible to free. Even this print required a knife to separate pieces that formed part of the first layer, with the squished plastic bonding them together as my nozzle was slightly too close to the print plate. This one is remixed from another design on Thingiverse which I recommend you check out for all the instructions to help get the best result, and read how other people achieved successful prints. Here’s a short video to see the planetary gears in action

If you’re looking for some fun prints to share with people, these 2 are very much recommended and relatively quick, although I’m still a very big fan of the Kobayashi fidget cube from one of my previous posts whichis another great assembled object. If you’ve got a favourite 3D printable assembly, leave me a comment/link below and I might add it to my list of things to make!

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Ninjaflex – First Test

20180406_Ninjaflex Wanhao

I’m sure if you’ve been 3D printing for even a short time, you’ve heard of Ninjaflex – a brand of flexible filament for your FDM printer that has rubber-like properties, rather than the usual rigid plastic parts that are more common with ABS or PLA filaments. While I’ve known about them for many years, I’ve never risked clogging my printer after hearing some bad experiences with these softer materials. Until this week!

I’m currently working with fashion postdoctoral researcher Mark Liu, who purchased a Wanhao Duplicator i3 v2.1 for some of our research – not coincidentally, it’s identical to my home Cocoon Create 3D printer. We decided to give the Ninjaflex a go to see if it would print, and if so, what sort of quality we could get since the printer and replacement parts are cheap if we really screwed up! Photographed above is one of our first successful prints, although the truth is we had quite a few failed attempts getting to this point as we experimented with settings and carefully watched each print. The primary settings we are using for these first tests (based off the recommended settings for Ninjaflex which are available in the Printing Guidelines) are:

  • Extruder Temperature: 230°C
  • Build Plate Temperature: 40°C
  • Print Speed: 15mm/s
  • Layer height: 0.2mm
  • Retraction: 5mm (I think this is too much and we will try 0mm or 1mm)

These may not be perfect yet, and I’m keen for anyone’s feedback on what’s led to more successful prints with these soft filaments. The main thing we’ve noticed is that the soft filament is challenging for the extruder to push down into the nozzle and force out the tip – it is quite common for the nozzle to clog and filament to keep feeding through until it comes out the back of the extruder. Luckily nothing has jammed up yet, you can pull the filament back up out of the extruder and try again. With a bit of a search online, it seems that some 3D printable parts may solve this problem, in particular this modified Extruder Drive Block available on Thingiverse which closes the opening where the filament likes to escape, and will hopefully better force it down through the nozzle. The video below from Wanhao USA helps highlight the problem, and how this 3D printed part can fix it.

It’s early days with this filament, and I know the stock extruder of the Duplicator i3 is really not optimised for this type of material. But it can be done, and I’m sure with some tweaking can be made more reliable. Stay tuned as I am currently printing the new block to install on the Duplicator in the coming days, and will report back with results.

– Posted by James Novak