Tiko Down and Out?


Unfortunately it looks like this image of the Tiko 3D Printer is as close as I’ll ever get to one – after months of speculation by fellow Kickstarter supporters, and a recent article by 3dprint.com which explained some of the problems that have plagued the company since their massive Kickstarter success in 2015, the Tiko team have sent an email update to backers that sounds ominous:

“Basically, the company is now on standby while we pursue ways to get back on track… We made countless mistakes, and we are now in a tough place, but it doesn’t mean that everything we built is suddenly worthless.”

It sounds like there may still be a glimmer of hope that investors may see the potential in Tiko and jump in to save the day, but given my previous experience with the failure of Solidoodle after the Press 3D printer, I’m not holding my breath. A few batches of Tiko’s did make it to the US and Canada, however online reports seem to suggest that the hardware and software hasn’t really lived up to expectations, being released out of desperation to get some products out there without being fully tested. A real shame, this was a Kickstarter campaign I was really excited about and the journey started off so well.

Maybe I’m just cursed? This is now the second printer/company that I’ve supported that has hit major troubles. Which means that I think I’m throwing in the towel with crowdfunding 3D printers – there are just too many risks and challenges, and there are so many options already available and sitting on shelves that the risk hardly seems worth it to save a few dollars with a startup. Given how well my Cocoon Create 3D printer has been going over the past year, bought for only $399 AUD from Aldi, I really can’t see the point. In the time Tiko has been struggling to produce 1 printer, Cocoon Create has supplied 1 very successful printer (read my review here), and looks poised to release the next generation machine any day.

That’s the other problem with these sorts of crowdfunded technologies – in the time that it takes to develop and manufacture them, the more established companies and new startups have already brought out ever newer machines that are superior to the technology a year or two ago, even superior to technology only a matter of months ago. The pace of change in 3D printing is extremely quick, and if you get caught for too long in development, what you’re developing will likely be out of date before it even leaves the factory.

Obviously I’m a huge fan of crowdfunding, having just wrapped up a successful Kickstarter project using the old Solidoodle Press as a plotter, but I now have a very big question mark about funding anything as complex as a 3D printer. I really do hope the Tiko team can negotiate their little hearts out and find some sort of a way to move forward. I would love nothing more than to one day have a Tiko on my workbench, and be running it side-by-side with my other printers and writing some reviews for you all. I’m just not holding my breath…

– Posted by James Novak


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!

Abstract Portrait Drawing Machine

Earlier in the year I gave a little demo of controlling a 3D printer with a Wii Nunchuk controller. Well I can finally show you where that project went since it ended up in the ACM SIGCHI Designing Interactive Systems conference which happened this week in Brisbane, Australia. The easiest way to explain what it does is to watch the video – but in simple terms it is a process of automatically drawing abstract portraits from a webcam in real-time, using a hacked 3D printer to draw this artwork on paper. Perhaps the machine version of Picasso?

For those of you who follow my blog you would no doubt be familiar with my frustrations with the failed Solidoodle Press 3D printer, which was so bad that it actually caused Solidoodle to close down only a few months ago. Well this project has stemmed from a need to find some useful function for the machine rather than simply throw it away, so now it is more of a 2D printer and it finally seems to be useful.

20160606_Hacked 3D Printer

The photos above are from the DIS experience night where conference attendees were able to come and get a free portrait drawn in about 10 minutes, taking home a cool souvenir and a unique, one-of-a-kind artwork produced entirely by algorithms and a machine. I was just the guy loading paper and pressing a few buttons on and off (a slave to the machines!). But it drew (pardon the pun) a really good crowd for 3 hours with some fun group portraits, some posts on social media, plenty of suggestions to play with different drawing tools and materials, and a pile of portraits with no technical failures during the event – amazing considering my experiences with the Solidoodle printer!

This is something anyone could do with their 3D printer (or indeed any CNC machine) since it is all controlled by standard G-code, it just requires a way to hold a pen on the extrusion nozzle (in my case a custom 3D printed attachment) and a way to convert any linework into G-code – in this case using the Grasshopper plugin for Rhino. I wish I had something like this while I was an Architecture student, it would’ve been fantastic to cheat with my drawings and use it to create quick pencil sketches of my designs from a CAD model! Haha perhaps there is more to this project yet.

To access the published paper that accompanies this work, click here for the link to the ACM Digital Library.

– Posted by James Novak

What’s Happening to Consumer 3D Printing?

20160330_Solidoodle Pinshape Close

As these 2 snippets show, both Pinshape and Solidoodle have closed their doors this week, begging the question what’s happening to consumer 3D printing?

I have been involved in both companies, although from completely different perspectives, and posted about the impending closure of Solidoodle a couple of weeks ago when it was first hinted at on 3dprintingindustry.com. No surprise after the failure of the Solidoodle Press (which I purchased at the end of 2014), but a shame to see a leading manufacturer fall after one failed product. You can read the full announcement from Solidoodle by clicking here.

However the sudden closure of Pinshape is a real surprise, as I’ve been a guest writer for them over the past year and have been impressed with the community they have grown with frequent tutorials, news, competitions and more posted on their website to educate the public about the amazing opportunities of 3D printing. I didn’t see this coming at all! Ultimately their announcement, which can be read in full by clicking here, blames a downturn in investment and lack of opportunities to make a profit as a company within this consumer 3D printing space, citing figures from 2 of the big players, 3D Systems and Stratasys that parallel their own experience.

It seems that some of the excitement and interest in 3D printing, at least for consumer-level products, may be leveling out as the market becomes saturated with cheap options from China, and the people like myself who have the skills and interest in using a 3D printer at home have already bought into the market. With no genuine consumer-friendly (plug-‘n’-play) machines out there, the industry is yet to tap into the large general public market, and may never successfully do this due to all the complexities of not only running and maintaining a 3D printer, but learning the software to control it and design 3D objects. It’s not for the feint of heart!

Of course these aren’t the first companies to fall in the 3D printing space, but to have 2 well-known brands fall in the same week may certainly be a bit of an omen. Only time will tell. All I can say to Pinshape is thank you for putting together a great community of people passionate about 3D printing, it’s been a pleasure to work with you and participate in educating people about 3D printing. I have now posted PDF copies of the tutorials I’ve written for Pinshape with the appropriate posts in my Tutorials section of this website, so you can still read the tutorials, follow along and improve your skills.

– Posted by James Novak

UPDATE 1: it’s been less than 24 hours since the news about Pinshape was released, and I’ve already had 3 competing companies contact me to move my 3D files to their platforms – all with a similar speel about having the best community, expanding markets worldwide, making money by selling files etc etc… I’m curious to know what other Pinshapers will do, I’ve always maintained my Thingiverse account but it does have its limitations.

UPDATE 2: Pinshape lives to fight another day! It seems a huge swell of community support, along with some investors may have saved Pinshape just in the nick of time.

Solidoodle No More?

Rarely do I use my blog to discuss 3D printing news, you can find more than enough websites doing it really well already. However the latest post on 3dprintingindustry.com really grabbed my attention, and provides some inside information about the note currently featured on Solidoodle’s homepage which reads

Solidoodle Bankrupt

Of course the reason this has encouraged me to mention something here is that one of the big reasons I started this blog initially was to document my experiences of buying, setting up and comparing a new 3D printer from, you guessed it, Solidoodle! And boy wasn’t that a failure! The printer in question is the Solidoodle Press, and while my first impressions of the machine were positive, I should’ve taken the months of delays getting the machine in the first place as a bit of an omen.

I have barely had 1 useful print off this machine despite spending hours fixing hardware issues, and even leaving the machine for 10 months before coming back to it in the hope of updated software and support to get the machine running. This of course was wishful thinking. Getting back to the article on 3dprintingindustry.com, inside information from a former employee has revealed that failures like the Solidoodle Press have sent the company bankrupt, with unknowing customers still purchasing printers from the website and not receiving them. An official announcement will likely be made very soon.

It’s amazing to see a company with a once reputable name fall apart so quickly, and perhaps indicates the effect of such a competitive, saturated market of affordable 3D printers. It only takes 1 bad product for people to turn elsewhere, and as I experienced recently with buying a great 3D printer from Aldi (yes I literally walked into my supermarket to buy a 3D printer!) you certainly don’t have to turn far.

– Posted by James Novak

Aldi 3D Printer -First Impressions

20160217_Cocoon Create

Yes that’s right, Aldi are selling a 3D printer! For those of you not familiar with Aldi, they are essentially a global supermarket chain, and here in Australia, they also sell “special buys” each week which could be anything from power tools to clothing and everything in between. This weeks special: the Cocoon Create 3D printer for $499AUD, a bit of a bargain when you look at its’ specs. Although of course I had been skeptical, being burned by my last 3D printer purchase from Solidoodle (which you can read more about here) which I have now hacked to do other things, and still waiting for the Tiko that I funded on Kickstarter last year I had to have one… It might be sad by I actually can’t live without a 3D printer anymore with all the work I’m doing.

However what really grabbed me is that being Aldi, this printer would come with a warranty (1 year) and be easily returned if it was a dud (a real challenge when most printers are bought online and can be difficult to return), and also this printer is based on the RepRap Prusa i3 which means any replacement parts and tweaks will be easy to obtain. With some nice upgrades, particularly the metal frame (as opposed to most RepRap’s which use acrylic or plywood and can therefore be quite flexible) this really looks like a promising machine . Like anyone else serious about getting their hands on these limited weekly specials, I joined the 2 or 3 other nerds outside my local Aldi before they opened, and made the mad dash inside like a kid in a candy store! As you can see, I was successful 🙂

20160217_Cocoon Create Unbox

In the above photos you can see some of the initial finds from the package, which included a thorough manual designed to guide someone with little to no experience of setting up a 3D printer and using Cura to slice STL files through the process, a spare pad for the print bed, some tools, a small roll of PLA and a SD card to use for transferring the G-code from Cura onto the machine (there is also a USB connection, but I like the SD card which means I can have my printer in another room where the fumes can be ventilated). Setup was very quick with just a few screws to join the pieces together, and then the leveling of the bed. Let me summarise some of my initial observations and thoughts after doing a few small prints so far:

  • The navigation through the menus is a little bit old-school (reminds me of DOS!), and could benefit from a touch screen. However there are a lot of controls available in the menu, allowing you to really tweak the performance of the machine without connecting to a computer. The beeping sound as you scroll through each option is a little annoying.
  • The home screen of the printer (shown at the top) is awesome and shows some really useful information such as temperatures of both the nozzle and bed, and how much of the print has been completed.
  • Leveling of the bed is manual and easy to do with the 4 corner wingnuts. Many printers now come with auto-leveling which can be quick, but also doesn’t always seem to work as well as just leveling it out yourself.
  • At one point I wanted to stop a print part way through as it was lifting off the bed – you have to navigate through the menu to find this option, and the only other way is to switch off the power. An extra button just to pause or stop a print would be really handy for those emergency situations!
  • To remove a print you have to pry it off while fixed to the printer – you can’t just un-clip the bed and really get at it with a scraper. This may cause some problems down the line, every other printer I’ve ever used allows the bed to be removed.

These are just a few things I’m noticing right off the bat, but overall I’m really really impressed with this machine – the very first print I did worked flawlessly which you can see below.

20160217_Aldi 3D Printer

This SUP paddle clip (which you can read more about here) was 3D printed with the same settings I’ve used on the Up! Plus 2 printer, specifically a 0.2mm layer height and minimal support, and printed in about the same 50 minutes. I can honestly not tell the difference in quality, which is extremely clean and accurate. As I write this a second one has been printed to the same high quality. For $499 this is a much better finish than I expected!

Funnily enough a significant reason I started this blog in the first place was to share what I thought would be an enjoyable experience with the Solidoodle Press, and begin comapring it to other printers I’ve used and hopefully benefit others looking to get into 3D printing – it’s nice to finally come full circle back to writing about my experience with this (so far) promising 3D printer. Stay tuned for more frequent 3D prints, designs and discussion of how this printer performs.

– Posted by James Novak

Wii Nunchuk Controls 3D Printer

Yes it’s as simple as the title says; I can now control the movements of my useless Solidoodle Press (and probably almost any other 3D printer) using a Wii Nunchuk!

Don’t ask me why. It’s more of a personal challenge to see if it could be done, and now that it can, I have a few fun ideas for this. The whole thing was surprisingly simple, and builds upon some previous work where I used Wii Nunchuk’s to customise a 3D CAD model, and of course my work using Rhino CAD software combined with the Grasshopper and Firefly plug-ins. In simple terms, I’ve managed to convert the X and Y signals from the Wii Nunchuk’s joystick into the X and Y G-code commands used by most 3D printers. It’s a little clunky, but at the same time it’s pretty cool to directly control this machine.

With a couple of buttons on the front of the Wii Nunchuk it won’t be hard to add some extra functionality to this, although my intention is certainly not to try printing plastic using this controller, there’s just no real reason to. You will just have to check back in later to see where this experiment goes!

– Posted by James Novak

Prototype or Fail

20160120_TTD Prototypes

These 5 different concepts continue from my last attempt to test a new design for a research project I’m working on – however these have been done on the ever-reliable Up! Plus 2 3D printers, not my useless Solidoodle Press! What a difference it makes…

Without going into specific details (the hush hush clause!) it was a great example of how important it is to test your ideas in the real world, you can’t rely on just what you see on screen and in your imagination. Each concept attempts to solve “the problem” in a slightly different way, and in fact the solutions we thought would work best didn’t, and the obscure ones that we didn’t really think would work very well have proven to be the best and are now evolving into the next stage of development. Without testing these we would never know, and could’ve invested a lot of time and money into something that wouldn’t have worked at all. So as the title says, prototype or fail.

Thanks to 3D printing it is very cheap and quick to test ideas, something that not so long ago may have taken a lot of time, skill and effort to make by hand, and thus limited the extent to which an idea could be explored. Having experienced these situations in professional practice where only a select couple of concepts could be squeezed into the budget (with plenty of kicking and screaming from clients), it’s amazing to now experience just how quick numerous ideas can be tested, with the above prototypes printed in an afternoon and analysed the next day in a 1 hour meeting. Done. We can move onto the next stage very quickly and with a lot of confidence in our direction.

– Posted by James Novak