3D Printed Brains, Hairspray and Lithophanes

by Jason King on January 11, 2015

3D Print HQ LogoWelcome to the first blog post I’ve written in 2015.

Although I published five blog posts in December, my posts updating you on what I’ve achieved, failed at and discovered with my own MakerBot Replicator 2 have been thin on the ground.

Does this mean I’ve been slacking off? Hell no and here’s why. A few activities which have taken a good amount of my spare time recently have been:

Reading and reviewing the 2nd edition of 3D Printing by Christopher Barnatt. Researching and writing my biggest, most in depth and most popular blog post to date about the True Costs of 3D Printing at Home. Designing, making, marketing and creating a sales page for 3D Printed Custom Lithophanes.

This is as well as designing and 3D printing lots of new cool stuff, like my own logo, at the top of this post. Some of these things I’ve published on Facebook and Twitter, some I’ll detail here and the rest I’ll have to miss out as I don’t have time to mention them all. Yes, there really is that much.

Also, since buying a new Glass Build Plate a while ago I’ve been itching to ditch the blue painter tape I’ve been using and try hairspray instead. I finally took the plunge and tried that.

So I have been really busy in the 3D printing world and for the first time I need to be selective about what I detail here because it would take forever to describe everything.

Here are more details of the things I’ve been working on for the last month, which I think you’ll find the most interesting and most useful.

The True Cost of 3D Printing at Home

Although I justify my reasoning for writing this post in the Blog Post Itself, I’ll summarise it here.

The single most common question I’m asked about 3D printing is:

“How much did that cost to make?”

My answer usually involves explaining why I don’t know, because regardless of the cost (within reason) I’m going to make stuff anyway.

I took the time to do a little research about the costs of 3D printing and was quite disappointed with what I found. Basically, there is currently very little detail about the true costs. For example:

  • Filament costs
  • Equipment depreciation
  • Consumables items
  • Electricity use
  • Repairs and upgrades
  • Software
  • Your own time
  • Cost of failures

As a result, I decided to write my own post about it. In my post I consider all of these and if you’ve read it, you’ll notice I went into some detail and created a spreadsheet to run though a complete and realistic example. I even then used the spreadsheet calculations to create an online Cost Calculator that anyone can use, by tweaking my default values to suit their own situation.

It ended up being my most detailed and most popular post to date, proof that good content is worth it’s weight in gold.

In 2015 I intend to create much more useful and detailed content like this and am currently working on vastly improving my 3D Printing Glossary in the hope that it can achieve similar success.

3D Printing a Human Brain

3D Printed BrainA work colleague of mine once asked me if I could 3D print him a human brain. He’s interested in evolution, psychology and all that stuff so I added it to my ‘to do’ list and thought very little of it for a while.

Well, when I last did my regular Thingiverse browse/search I decided to have a look for one and found something which looked pretty impressive. It was both halves of a 35 year old male brain. I guess this means it was taken from a real CT scan or something similar.

What I didn’t bank of was the time and material it would take to print. Due to the intricate detail and even at only 10% infill it was impossible to avoid using lots of material.

To be honest I didn’t note down the time it took to print but after 9 hours I remember Tweeting That it Was 66% Complete , so I guess about 12 hours to print.

3D Printing BrainIt also weighed 265 grams including Supports and Rafts so used a lot of material for it’s size. Using my own cost calculator I mentioned above I worked out that it cost me around £17.50 to make. That’s well over $20!

Is it a cool thing to print? Yes I suppose.
Was it a nightmare to remove the supports? Yes.
Did it cost a small fortune? Yes.
Would I recommend you print it? All things considered, No.

The reason I say I wouldn’t recommend it is that for 1/3 of that cost and much less time and effort there are many more impressive things you can print. This cool 3D Printed White Matter Brain Model for example.

I’m still glad I did it because that’s why I’m doing this after all, so you can learn from my own failures and successes.

Using Hairspray for the First Time in Years

Sometimes if you need the bottom surface (on the build plate) to be good quality, like in the Lithophanes I’ll describe next, you’ll realise that blue painter tape isn’t so great

Tape is great if you use a raft and it’s great if you don’t care about the bottom surface but if you want great quality you need to ditch it and use something else.

Aqua Net SprayAfter buying a glass build plate I have been meaning to try hairspray instead of tape and so the other day I gave it a go.

Incidentally, printing directly to glass gives an amazingly glass like smooth bottom surface to your prints. The problem is that most of the time they won’t stick to the glass and so you have yourself a Failed Print.

So, I tried some hairspray we had lying around in the house (not mine might I add, I have no hair). I also made the effort to remove the build plate before applying this liquid spray glue. You don’t want this stuff anywhere near your 3D printer, except on the build plate of course.

My first attempt failed as the hairspray wasn’t strong enough. Not giving up so easily I did a little research and found out that ‘Aqua Net’ was amongst some of the best to use. Now I’m not sure if this is only available in the shops in the US but I had to order it online in the UK because I couldn’t find it anywhere.

So far I’ve only used it a few times but I have found that with a good generous coating on the build plate and a little time for it to set, it works brilliantly.

Warping of square, flat prints was less than with blue tape and the bottom surface printed onto the hairspray was again almost as smooth as glass. So I’d consider it a success, but I haven’t been brave enough to ditch the blue tape completely yet.

More experiments with levelling the build plate, different prints and different amounts of spray will hopefully give me the confidence to ditch the tape altogether. I’ll keep you informed of how it goes and how brave I am.

3D Printed Custom Lithophanes

Lithophanes are great and I’ve been experimenting with them for a while now. Rather than describe them here I’ll point you to my sales page where I’ve now started to Design, Create and Sell Custom 3D Printed Lithophanes.

Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to buy one from me, it’s just that I’ve already written about what these are and how great they are on my sales page so feel free to take a look, then head back here.

The reason I’m asking you to head back here is because as a loyal 3D Print HQ reader I’m happy to tell you how they work and how to make these yourself, which I don’t do on the sales page.

Homemade LithophaneAssuming you’ve just had a read and know what they are, I’ll now elaborate on the technical details of how and why.

The PLA plastic I use is translucent so when you shine a light through it, depending on the thickness of the object, differing amounts of light make it though to the other side.

Given a sheet of PLA plastic with differing thicknesses in different places it’s possible to create patterns or even complete images when the sheet is lit from behind.

So really, given everything you already know about 3D printing that you’ve learned from this 3D Printing Beginner Series this should leave one question.

How do we create a printable lithophane file from a photograph?

There a few ways. The first is free, simple and unfortunately for me unreliable and inflexible. That’s to use the MakerBot Thingiverse Lithopane Generator .

You may have noticed that MakerBot call them Lithopanes (with a p) whereas the rest of the world seems to call them Lithophanes (with a ph). I have no idea why this is so feel free to enlighten me if you know.

The option I eventually chose was to buy some software which I’d trialed a free demo of. This is Photo To Mesh V5 and it works really well for me. There are certainly other free options but as it worked so well for me I didn’t mind paying a little for it.

You just need to tweak the settings for the best results. I basically use 1mm – 3mm thick to represent white – black and ensure I invert the mesh, otherwise the lithophane image appears as a negative of the original photo.

If you have a 3D printer you have to give these things ago. Of all the amazing 3D objects I’ve created, these nearly 2D objects are the most popular amongst friends and family.

A Last Word About Quality Content

Earlier on I mentioned my 3D printing costs post and the importance of quality information which people (like yourself) want to read.

My main goal is to create 3D printing related content which people find really interesting. The difficulty for me lies in finding out exactly what this is, because what I find most interesting may not be the same things you find most interesting.

To help resolve this, I’ve devised a Quick 3D Printing Survey  which will help me find out which areas of 3D printing you’re most interested in.

If you could take a minute to fill this in I’d really appreciate it and it would definately help us both.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to Like, Share and Comment on this post if you found it interesting.

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