Printing the Future … In 3D
As soon as I learned there’d be a panel on 3D printing at GeekGirlCon ‘14, I knew I had to attend it. This is the future! I’ve thought every time the machines come up in conversation. They’re an endless source of fascination for me, yet I’d never seen one in person before. Many attendees must’ve felt the same way, because the room was absolutely packed for the panel.
Presenter Breanna Anderson kicked off the discussion with an impassioned demonstration of 3D computer software. A software innovator and platform builder for over three decades, she used a wireless stylus to quickly design a chair that looked perfect for a dollhouse. Her hand was so adept at “drawing” the object—adjusting angles here, lengthening its legs there—“oohs” and “ahs” were uttered throughout the crowd several times. So cool to see someone perform their life’s work live. Even though the program was obviously extremely advanced, it made me want to jump right in and try it.
Not only did I have no idea there are so many online services for creating awesome 3D projects—I would’ve never guessed how many of them are free to use. Audience members were given a handout listing seven different modeling software sites (provided at the end of this article). The fact that these high-quality programs are available at no cost is honestly beautiful to me (similar to how Wikipedia’s values can make me weepy). Printing the products is another story, of course, as the materials and machinery require money, but it’s great that people can familiarize themselves with the software for free.
Once an object has been crafted virtually, Anderson shared, there are three options for having it printed. People can visit and utilize local printers, send it to an online company for printing, or purchase their own 3D printers. I was thrilled to learn about several Seattle-based printing options, including FATHOM Studio, located in the Fremont/Wallingford area, and Mirrim 3D Portraits, of which Anderson is the president. FATHOM sells printers and offers high-end printing services, while Mirrim offers creative items like personalized wedding cake toppers and cosplay accoutrements.
Next, presenter Ericka M. Johnson shared her expansive insight. As a designer of printed equipment for her genetics lab, she also unleashed a flurry of 3D printer facts. She taught that the three most common materials for the machines are polyamide, ABS plastic, and ceramics, and dove into their pros and cons. Polyamide, for example, is strong, slightly flexible, and inexpensive, but when used for large flat panels, it has a tendency to warp. ABS, on the other hand, is durable, recyclable, and UV-resistant, but slightly more expensive.
Finally, ceramics involve the binding of different layers of powdered clay, resulting in potentially “amazing glazes”. However, because of the nature of clay, it has to be at least three centimeters thick, and the bigger the piece, the thicker the walls need to be. Also, before the piece has cooled, if gravity is acting on areas of it that are not properly supported, it will have a more difficult time standing up, increasing the risk of damaging the entire final product.
For those interested in owning personal 3D printers, Johnson outlined three go-to options. First, Printrbot’s Simple Maker’s Kit is a steal at just $300. The easiest one to use, though, is the UP Plus 2, which acts like a “plug ‘n play” system, ready to go almost instantly. For those looking to invest a bit more, the coolest choices in Johnson’s opinion are the Ultimaker 2 (~$2,565) and the Makerbot Replicator 2 (~$2,199).
The speedy delivery of all this info (just fifty minutes to share it all!) by Anderson and Johnson indicated just how much more there is to learn. Whether you’re brand new to it or consider yourself an expert in the field, you’re welcome to check out the Seattle 3D Printing MeetUp group, as well as the other resources listed below.
I’m excited to see what else these seemingly-magical machines will make possible for humankind. In-depth articles already suggest that, thanks to them, the creation of prosthetics and even internal body parts will be easier and more affordable down the road. Designing and printing a 3D object is now on my short-term bucket list (because yes, I am a geek with both long-term and near-future lists); I just have to decide what I want to make first!
Want to learn more about the panels at GeekGirlCon ’14, or contribute your own great ideas to GeekGirlCon ’15? Follow us on Twitter to find out when programming calls open, and pick up your passes for next year’s Con today!
Local Seattle printers:
SketchUp (free or $590 Pro)
123D Design (free)
Online 3D printing resources:
Online resources and forums:
Supplies and advanced resources:
Digital caliper (a must-have for 3D printers)
Mastering 3D Printing by Joan Horvath
Make: Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing edited by Mark Frauenfelder
Make: 3D Printing: The Essential Guide to 3D Printers edited by Anna Kaziunas France
Breanna Anderson is a software innovator creating solutions and building platforms that help others solve problems and she’s been doing it for over 30 years. She helped launch the era of commercial Internet publishing as a technical founder of MSNBC Interactive. While at Microsoft in 1995, she created one of the first enterprise-scale, general purpose Web CMS systems, InterPress, with the vision of democratizing publishing through the web. She founded venture-backed SchemaLogic Inc., in 2001 to create a “techno-social collaboration platform” to facilitate better information sharing through consensus-based information standardization. She is now bootstrapping a new venture: Mirrim 3D. It merges her diverse interests to combine computer vision and modeling with 3D printing to offer a new dimension in personal portraits: super-realistic, full color 3-dimensional mini-portraits.
Ericka M. Johnson is addicted to projects. From creating the Steampunk Exhibition Ball, to designing and 3D printing new equipment for her genetics lab, to leading the board of Seattle Atheists, she just can’t stay idle. And now that 3D printing technology has advanced so far and become more affordable to tinkerers, she’s itching to share what she’s learned on this new maker frontier.