The Meshmixer Mashup: Mashup-Rex!

Tutorial Meshmixer Mashup

The mashup is a favourite technique in the music world that combines two or more songs together into a single song. They might be from completely different eras or genres and when cleverly mashed together, they create a new smash hit. But did you know that creating a 3D printable mashup is just as easy as creating a musical one? Take a bit of File A, mix it with File B, and you now have your own creative design.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been putting together a new tutorial for my friends at Pinshape, which includes my first video tutorial as well as the usual step-by-step process to follow along with. Click here to learn how to mashup STL files in only 10 easy steps using the freely available software Autodesk Meshmixer.

The mashup is often called a Remix in the 3D printing world, and is a great way to build upon other designs and add your own creative touch, or re-purpose a design for a new application. The video tutorial is a real-time look at the process, which with a bit of practice, will have you remixing new designs in a matter of minutes. If you want to follow along, you just need to install Meshmixer on your computer, and download the 2 T-Rex files used in this tutorial which are free on Pinshape:

  1. Low Poly T-Rex by steven_dakh
  2. The T-Rex Skull by harry (we are only using the head piece, not the jaw)

Mashup-Rex

Alongside the tutorial is my latest design, the Mashup-Rex. I have made this available for free on Pinshape, just click here to download the file. Maybe you you will create your own remix of my remix? If you do, or you just 3D print the Mashup-Rex for yourself, please share it on Pinshape to add to the community and see how far the design can go! In the version pictured above I simply used a coffee stain to “age” the skull, similar to my previous print of the Star Wars Deathtrooper. I’m enjoying this simple technique at the moment, although you may like to use a 2-tone print, or go all out with some painted effects.

Happy mixing!

– Posted by James Novak

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From Sketch to 3D Print

Sketch to 3D Print

Designing your own 3D printable object can be daunting if you’ve never used a 3D CAD program before. This is a challenge that one of my university classes is facing, with most of the students new to 3D design, but eager to begin experimenting with 3D printing. So this week we explored a workflow that allows them to take their hand-drawn sketches through a couple of simple processes, resulting in a 3D printable file, without having to model in 3D from scratch. So here it is just for you – follow along and let me know how you go.

Step 1: The Sketch

biro sketches

This is the easy part! Find a sketch that you’d like to turn 3D. It’s best if it’s drawn clearly in pen, so if your sketches are in pencil just trace over them on a fresh sheet of paper. For this example I’m borrowing a sketch from online. You must then digitise your sketch – best using a flatbed scanner, or take a photo in good lighting conditions so you get good contrast between your linework and paper.

Step 2: Vectorising

Illustrator Tracing

We are going to use Adobe Illustrator to automatically trace the outlines of our sketch. Place your sketch into a new document, and you will see a “Live Trace” or “Image Trace” button appear (depending on your version of Illustrator) near the top menu. You may find that one of the preset options will give you an accurate tracing, or you will need to get into the options and start tweaking the settings. I have an older version of Illustrator, but the settings that work for me are shown above. What you are looking to achieve is a good level of detail, and nice closed lines. Once you have a good result, you can use the “Expand” button to turn the result into individual lines that can be selected. You can also go to the menu and select Object>Ungroup so that your linework is no longer all grouped together as a single item.

Step 3: Exporting

Illustrator SVG

If you have a collection of sketches like this example, you will want to now Save your file (so you can come back to it and make changes later on), and then delete everything from the file that you don’t want to turn 3D. For this example, I have just left the flower tracing that was in the top-right corner. Go to File>Save As and save this drawing as a SVG file. This is a 2D drawing format that will be recognised by our 3D software.

Step 4: Going 3D

For this example we are going to use the freely available 3D software Tinkercad – one of the best features being that it runs from your internet browser, no need to download and install anything. I recommend it as a great place to start your 3D modelling journey, however if you’re already using a more advanced 3D CAD program you can still follow along with this tutorial – the process will be quite similar.

Tinkercad Import SVG

Create a new Tinkercad file, and at the top right of the workspace is the “Import” button – select your SVG file and it will automatically be turned into a 3D object as shown above. Depending on your sketch and requirements, this might be all you need to do and you can jump straight ahead to Step 7: Exporting. However I want to make some modifications to this design now that I have a good starting point in 3D.

Step 5: Modification

Tinkercad Cut

For my needs this object is too thick – I only want it to be 2mm tall. In the right panel of objects is a translucent box – this box is like a cutting tool, anywhere it touches my 3D object it can be used to cut away at it. Place a box in the middle of your 3D model, and use the Length and Width sliders to fully enclose your 3D model. Lastly, rotate your model to a side view and you will see an arrow pointing up or down – click-and-drag on this to move the box up 2mm above the workplane.

Now select both the 3D model and the box (either click-and-drag a selection box around the workplane or hold the Shift button and select both objects) and you will notice at the top right the Group icon becomes available. Click on this and Tinkercad will subtract the box from the 3D model, leaving just a 2mm thick object.

Step 6: Patterning

Tinkercad Pattern Duplicate

Rather than just printing one of this design, I want to create a more complex pattern. Firstly I need to scale the design down so that it’s a bit smaller. Do this by clicking on the object, holding the Shift button and using the corner handles to click-and-drag the object down in size – mine is about 40x40mm.

With my object selected, at the top left of the window are the standard Copy and Paste actions, as well as the Duplicate option – this is the option I use to make copies. It may copy the object in the exact same position as the original, so when you click Duplicate just click-and-drag this copy out into a new position. Repeat as many times as you like to create a pattern.

When you’re happy with the design, you will need to join all of these individual elements together into a single object. Similar to step 5, select all the objects together and the Group button will become active – however because all of these objects are solids, the Group function will join them together rather than cutting away.

Step 7: Exporting

When your design is complete, use the Export function at the top right of the window to download the object to your computer. The STL option is most likely what you will want for 3D printing. The STL format is the standard file type for all 3D printers.

Step 8: 3D Printing

Up Plus 2 Pattern

Finally you can load your STL into your 3D printing or slicing software and 3D print! If the print doesn’t give you the result you want you can either go back to the Tinkercad file and make some more modifications in 3D, or take a step further back to Illustrator and modify the original linework.

The process is not perfect or overly accurate, however for designs like fashion or simple experiments, this can be a good workflow to try if you’re better/faster at drawing by hand than modelling directly in 3D software. If anyone has some different workflows they enjoy using, please feel free to share them in the comments section 🙂

– Posted by James Novak

When Layer Orientation Matters

20160819_Meshmixer Plane Cut

Often when you are 3D printing the main thing you think about is how much support material your print will have, and you orient your print to minimise this – reducing material waste, print time and any manual post-processing to clean up the print. However sometimes the best print orientation for these reasons is not the best for mechanical strength, and I’ve just discovered this with one of the parts for the InMoov robotic arm I’m currently building (see the first collection of 3D prints in my previous post).

The “RobServoBedV6” part is where the 5 servo’s connect that control the individual finger movements, using screws to fix them in place. However some of the stands are splitting as I screw into them as shown in the photo above due to the layer orientation. Yes I could use super glue to fix them, but the split will just happen  somewhere else. So I’m going to completely cut the stands away from the part, and re-print just these stands in a different orientation to improve their strength. This is where the free program Meshmixer comes in very handy, and I’ve previously published a few examples of how to use it for my friends at Pinshape – just click here to find out more.

In the top right image you can see the first step of using Meshmixer to edit the STL file. I have used the Plane Cut tool to slice away the bottom plate, and then repeat the process to remove the other 2 segments which seem to be strong enough for the screws at the moment. This leaves me with the 2 stands that I’m having issues with. These can now be exported as STL’s ready to 3D print (orientation is not important here, this will be set in my 3D print software).

Cura from Meshmixer

I’m printing these parts as we speak on my Cocoon Create 3D printer, and have used Cura to prepare the parts and get the G-code. As you can see to the left, I have oriented the parts so that the layers are perpendicular to the original orientation, meaning that when I screw into them, the force from the screw will not pull the layers apart. Super glue will hold these replacements onto the original part really well as they are printed in ABS.

If you are designing your own parts from scratch in CAD and intend to screw directly into them, keep this issue in mind. However if you’re downloading a STL where modification isn’t as easy, knowing this simple trick in Meshmixer can really help you repair and improve a part rather than trying to re-print it from scratch and potentially use a lot of support material in a different orientation.

– Posted by James Novak

The 3D Printing Design Guide

20160216 Pinshape Design Guide

Are you new to 3D printing? Looking for a free complete guide to take your idea from concept through to sale? My friends at Pinshape have been working hard to put together the complete guide, full of the most up-to-date information, and I have been lucky enough to be involved in contributing to it. Just click here to read it. The chapters include:

  1. Design 3D Models People Want
  2. Choose the Best 3D Modeling Software
  3. Apply Design Principles for 3D Printing
  4. Prepare your File for 3D Printing
  5. Price your 3D Models
  6. Choose Where to Sell your 3D Models
  7. Use Marketing Tips to Sell your 3D Designs!
  8. Choose your 3D Design Hardware

This is a really great resource, so please share it around! If you’re looking for more specific tutorials, you can also check out some previous blog articles I’ve written for Pinshape including How to Repair STL Files and How to Modify STL Files: A Beginner’s Guide.

– Posted by James Novak

UPDATE 30/03/2016: With the sad news that Pinshape has closed down (read more here), you can now read my contribution to this guide in the PDF below. Sections include:

  1. Free 3D Design Software
  2. Free 3D Scanning Tools
  3. Free .stl File Checking Software
  4. 3D File Conversion Software

Click here to open the PDF

How to Repair STL Files

blog-header-repair-stls

My first blog article for the new year for my friends at Pinshape is now available, and walks step-by-step through a number of common repairs you may need to make to your files prior to 3D printing – just click this link to read all about it and follow along. The main things covered are:

  1. How to repair holes and gaps in surfaces
  2. How to delete or trim unwanted surfaces, particularly useful for 3D scan data
  3. How to add thickness to surface geometry, turning it into a solid
  4. How to reduce file size

All of the tutorials use the freely available software Meshmixer from Autodesk, as it’s by far been the most user friendly tool I’ve found for working with .stl files, however you should have similar success using other free software like MeshLab or netfabb Basic. This tutorial builds upon another similar tutorial I wrote for Pinshape in 2015 called How to Modify an STL File: A Beginner’s Guide which shows you how to take a downloaded .stl (or one of your own) and begin customising it for your own needs, for example adding text onto the design.

I hope it helps improve your designs and your 3D printing success rate 🙂

– Posted by James Novak

1/2/2016 UPDATE: A new version of Meshmixer has just been released – Makezine has just posted a really good summary of some of the exciting new features http://makezine.com/2016/01/30/autodesk-releases-meshmixer-3/

UPDATE 30/03/2016: With the sad news that Pinshape has closed down (read more here), you can now read this article in the PDF below.

Click here to open the PDF

10 Steps to STL File Modification: A Beginner’s Guide

Pinshape STL Article

Have you ever wanted to modify a .stl file that you’ve downloaded from a website like Pinshape or Thingiverse? While .stl’s are tricky to work with (similar to a really low resolution image), there is free software out there that will let you both modify and repair files to your hearts content!

My first tutorial as a guest writer for Pinshape has just been published, showing you how to modify a .stl file in 10 easy steps – just click the link to check it out. It’s very exciting to be writing for them, and I hope it helps give you the confidence to start customising your 3D prints, as this is really one of the great advantages of 3D printing in the first place.

You can also look back to some of my own past tutorials that I’ve created whilst working on particular projects, including using MeshLab to add text to a .stl, or turning a 3D form into a low-poly model. I must admit that I’ve now discovered Meshmixer (as featured in the Pinshape tutorial), and think it is a far easier tool to use than MeshLab. Both are free so check them out and see what suits you.

– Posted by James Novak (aka. edditive)

UPDATE 30/03/2016: With the sad news that Pinshape has closed down (read more here), you can now read this article in the PDF below.

Click here to open the PDF

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

Merging STL Files

150102 NintendoOnce again I’m finding MeshLab to be a must-have tool for manipulating STL files (read my previous post about using it to reduce file sizes by clicking here).

I’ve just downloaded the files for a Raspberry Pi B+ enclosure from Thingiverse (click here to get the free files) which I’ve started printing on my ‘Up! Plus 2‘ 3D Printer. However I wanted the Nintendo logo on the lid part rather than a blank surface. Enter MeshLab.

I started with extruding the text in Solidworks (image 1), and exporting this as an STL. Any CAD package should do this for you. Both files can then be opened within MeshLab ready to combine (something that can’t be done in Solidworks). The problem with MeshLab is that there is no simple way to align multiple files, unlike Solidworks parts where you would simply ‘mate’ surfaces together. Instead you must manually rotate and move the parts into the orientations desired. Not a big problem for simple parts like this where position and alignment don’t need to be perfect, it’s just for looks (image 2). Once in position, you can right-click in the layers panel, and use the ‘Flatten Visible Layers‘ tool to combine the STL’s into a single solid. Export this new file as a STL and you’re ready to print!

Stay tuned for some photos and details as I print this part out, along with the full enclosure.

– Posted by James Novak

Simple Facets in CAD

141229 FacetsAs I sit here in a food-coma following Xmas, the most I can manage is a bit of CAD experimentation since I don’t need to move! Continuing on from a previous post about using MeshLab (free software to manipulate STL files), I’m creating some basic forms in Solidworks (where I can perfectly control dimensions), exporting them as STL files, then turning them into faceted/low-poly 3D models within MeshLab.

While this won’t give perfect geometric control of the final shape, it can give a very quick faceted form relatively close to the original dimensions. Within MeshLab the above example is using the ‘Clustering Decimation’ tool (from the top menu go to Filters>Remeshing, Simplification and Reconstruction>Clustering Decimation). Within this setting, the ‘World Unit’ used for the image above was 15, resulting in 48 faces.

I’ve also had some success using this particular tool to reduce the overall STL file size of some complex forms, just takes some experimentation. However if you want to really control your faceted 3D model within Solidworks, check out an earlier tutorial I’ve written by clicking here.

– Posted by James Novak