3D Printed Sea Urchin Light

IMG_20200301_Sea Urchin Light

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.

Sea Urchin GIFIn 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!

3D Scanning

ScanAs 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.

Design

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:

IMG_20200301_Sea Urchin Meshmixer Tutorial

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. By selecting both the shell and the cylinder together, the “Boolean Difference” command became available, subtracting the cylinder section from the shell.
  6. 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.

3D Printing

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.

IMG_20200130_Shell on Prusa i3 MK3S

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.

IMG_20200218_Sea Urchin Light Materials

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.

The Result

IMG_20200219_143458 Dimensions CropTo 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

Infinite Possibilities

20150904 3D Lights

These 6 3D prints are the end result of a few weeks of work gearing up for Design Philadelphia, where I will be exhibiting this work along with the interactive tools that created it in the Crane Arts Center. If you look back to the first post on this topic you can see the original renders after experimenting in Grasshopper, or check out the video showing how these models can be customised using 2 Wii Nunchuck controllers, as you will be able to do in the exhibition.

20150827 Fortus PrintsThese prints were produced on a Fortus 250mc 3D printer, and took 94 hours! Why so long? Well the software that drives this printer has limited options, in particular there is no option to modify anything to do with the support material – as a result, it just puts support everywhere! It’s a bit of a waste, but I guess with these commercial printers you trade a lot of flexibility and control for reliability and quality. You can see in this image how the objects are entombed within support, which is removed by dissolving in a special solution. For comparison you can look at the original design of my Shattered Faceted Lightbulb which printed with almost no support material in only 4 hours on my Up! Plus 2.

The other thing you’ll notice is that the final prints are red – this was done with a few light coats of spray paint since we only have one colour of filament for the Fortus 250mc, but I was asked for the prints to be done in red by the exhibition curator. Often painting 3D prints seems to highlight any flaws and make the layers seem more obvious, however this time because of the high quality of the printer this hasn’t happened. Phew! I don’t think most people would even know they’ve been painted rather than printed in red plastic.

I’ll post some photos of the installation next month when Design Philadelphia kicks off.

– Posted by James Novak

Parametric CAD Model with Arduino + Wii

As discussed in a recent post about generative design, I’ve been working on an interactive, generative CAD model to be exhibited at Design Philadelphia, in the Crane Arts Center. Well here is a preview of the [nearly] complete CAD model created using Grasshopper and Firefly within Rhino. Using 2 Wii Nunchuck controllers, 2 people can work together to customise the design of a 3D printable light cover in the form of a lightbulb – in essence, CAD modelling has been turned into a game that requires no instruction and is learned through play.

The biggest challenge with this has been getting the signal out of the Wii controllers. While Firefly has built-in Wii Nunchuck compatability, unfortunately I learned the hard way that it is only compatible with genuine Nintendo Wii Nunchuck’s – and I already bought 3rd party ones off Ebay for a fraction of the price. For some reason 3rd party controllers use a slightly different signal/code, and while the Wii console has no problems with this, the Arduino code is a little more particular. Thankfully after an entire day of messing around, ripping apart controllers, tweaking code and swearing, I managed to find a way in! I had to modify some Arduino code and also use the Serial Read tool in Firefly, running the Arduino IDE in the background and listening in to the readings.

As mentioned in the video I am 3D printing 6 examples of what these outputs look like in real life – this model is not just for fun, it is actually designed to create real products suitable for 3D printing, based off a previous design of mine for a Shattered Faceted Lightbulb which you can download for free on both Pinshape and Thingiverse.

Stay tuned for a look at these 6 prints, which have been printing for the last 94 hours on a Fortus 250mc 3D printer. Yes, 94 hours!

– Posted by James Novak

A Game of Generative Design

150824 Lightbulb

A few weeks ago I designed a 3D printable light cover (lampshade) inspired by a shattered lightbulb – you can read more about it and download the STL file for free by clicking here. I’ve been taking the concept a bit further using Grasshopper in Rhino to explore the ability to generatively create endless forms within the exact same bounds, meaning every iteration can be successfully 3D printed. Above are some of the outputs from this experimentation.

These are going to be 3D printed for an upcoming exhibition at Design Philadelphia, along with the complete interactive CAD model which will allow 2 people to work together to customise the lamp design using Wii game controllers, turning the design process into a game-like experience. There’s a bit of work left to go to get this interactive element right, but it will hopefully show how CAD may move from being a complex, time-consuming skill to learn into something much more tactile and interactive for the every-day consumer. There are already a handful of interesting apps surfacing such as the Shape Maker tool from Makerbot, or the 2D to 3D tool from Shapeways, which make creating 3D files as simple as drawing a sketch on paper and taking a photo. But generative tools like I’m working on may be the next generation, allowing far more intricate and complex forms.

What do you think would be useful for non-designers to create 3D CAD files?

– Posted by James Novak

Shattered Faceted Light

20150726 Faceted Light

As featured on Pinshape’s ‘Pick of the Week

You may have already seen, or even downloaded, my Lightbulb Lampshade which I created a while ago to give a new lease of life to an old Ikea lamp. Now I’ve create a new version to fit the competition criteria of the latest Pinshape Design Competition for a low-poly design. Of course this means you can also download the file for yourself completely free, just click here to download from Pinshape, or here for Thingiverse 🙂

20150726_143212The model was printed on an Up! Plus 2 3D printer, using the 0.2mm layer thickness and minimal support material. As you can see in the image to the left, there really was only a small amount of support material generated in the middle to support the top section, and this broke away very easily. You can also see a small break near the bottom where the printer must’ve bumped the model as it was printing, but thankfully it kept printing. Overall it took about 4 hours to print. If you’re planning on making one, the minimum diameter inside the design to fit over your light fixture and light-bulb is 31mm – if you need it larger, just scale up the design before printing.

Faceted Development

Above you can see the process of creating the 3D CAD model, this time challenging myself to use Rhino for the complete development rather than my usual Solidworks. This was to create the more complex form in a shorter amount of time. From left to right the process was:

  1. Use Revolve to create the light-bulb form.
  2. Convert this to a Mesh.
  3. Reduce Mesh to create the faceted effect.
  4. Use the Line tool to connect the points of the faceted mesh.
  5. Use the Pipe tool to add thickness to the lines.
  6. Add some solid sections to fill in some of the gaps, then Join all the pieces into a single mesh ready to export to STL.

If you make one please share your photos back on Pinshape or Thingiverse so I can check it out!

– Posted by James Novak

Let There Be Light

2015-01-26 Lightbulb LampMy first free giveaway for the new year! Click here to download the file ready to 3D print from Thingiverse.

I literally had an old Ikea lamp in my hands ready to throw away when I realised I could give it a whole new life with the help of 3D printing. My only real restriction was the volume of the Up! Plus 2 printer I’m using. You can see the original Ikea lamp in the images above, and process of transformation into something with (I think) much more personality. Projects like this are extremely satisfying as I hate to throw things away, and really demonstrates the opportunities to extend product longevity through 3D printing.

I’ve also taken some photos of the printing process so you can see the support material required. I knew this would be a bit painful and increase the print time, but while it looks like a lot the support is so thin that it really wasn’t too wasteful. I also have a feeling that there may be less support if I printed it upside down. If I need another one I’ll definitely try it out.

2015-01-26 Lamp TimelapseIf you make one I’d love to hear how it went and if you manage to print with less support. Just leave a comment here or through Thingiverse (along with photos). Happy printing!

– Posted by James Novak