We have been interested in 3D printing for years, eager for the day when it was available to consumers for a reasonable price. The cost of a 3D Printer can vary from hundreds to thousands and we often found high price did not equal quality — the industry was in its infant stage, the technology just wasn’t there yet to warrant spending the big bucks.

So we did what we do and waited…and researched…and waited for a deal we could not refuse. Even though the plan was to buy a printer “sometime in the future”, we just could not pass on a Super Duper One-Day Sale Event (they had us at “$150.00 Instant Discount!!”), so early last year we purchased our 3D Printer!

Now what do we do…..

We were aware of the limitations working with ABS plastic, it is not like casting in resin (those are the high end printers) it is more like working with a very fine hot glue gun that extrudes plastic. The pieces produced have rings with slight ridges (higher resolution = tighter rings) that can be removed with acetone vapor, but because the acetone slightly melts the surface of the printed piece it also removes details, causing more work. Since the 3D prints are very strong the solution is to use them as parts of the interior structure, or as a sculpting armature.

In the real (non-digital) world, Chris uses epoxy clay to sculpt the heads for our figures. She begins with a Styrofoam egg and shapes it to resemble a skull. While the Styrofoam egg approach has suited us well, having a 3D printed master skull would be ideal, plus epoxy clay requires a rough surface to adhere to so the printed ridges work for this purpose. The benefit of using a 3D Printer is once the master file has been created, it is a matter of deciding the size required, and sending the digital file to the Printer to output. Different sizes of the same file can be printed at the same time, plus we can choose to have a hollow shell, semi- or solid piece.


All I need is one more thing…

And that would be a 3D Scanner! In order to create custom 3D Prints you now need to learn about 3D Modeling and the world of open source models. While Chris is tech savvy when it comes to computer programs, she found it easier to alter a scanned model rather than building it from scratch in a 3D modeling program. Existing 3D models from various open source sites (ie. Thingiverse) can be downloaded for free but often there is more work to customize another person’s design.

High quality, precision 3D Scanners are expensive and the low cost versions do not produce the best image captures resulting in more work to clean up the 3D model. So our go-to solution (as always) is to build our own high resolution 3D scanner.

The video below shows the 3D scanner build in progress. The steps in creating a good quality 3D Model is to shoot a series of about 20 sequential photos around the object (ie. head) at different angles — middle, top, bottom — capturing as much detail as possible. The images are then uploaded to 123D Catch, an online app by Autodesk that creates the 3D model.

But wait, there’s more!

In a perfect world all it takes is a push of a button and your job is done, but 123D Catch is not a do-it-all-for-you service. Once it has stitched all the photos together, the real work begins — time for you to clean up the mesh in Meshmixer!
To be continued……

Created with the Support of Creative Pinellas and the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners;
the City of St. Petersburg Office of Cultural Affairs and the St. Petersburg Art Alliance.