Drivers for 3D Printers and Why We Need Them

Manufacturers of 3D printers have a lot to do before they catch up with makers of the cheapest 2D, paper-based printers. If you’ve ever taken an inkjet apart, you’ll most likely find some sort of closed-loop control on at least one of the axes. The 2D printer will tell you when you’re out of ink, when a 3D printer will go merrily along, printing in air without filament. File formats? Everything is Gcode on a 3D printer, and there are dozens, if not hundreds of page description languages for 2D printers.

The solution to some of these problems are drivers – software for a 3D printer that slowly consumes the slicing of an object, printer settings, and placing an object on the bed. It’s coming, and the people who are responsible for making your 2D printer work with your computer are busy at work messing up the toolchain for your 3D printer.

The latest version of CUPS (C Unix Printing System) adds support for 3D printers. This addition is based on meetings, white papers, and discussions in the Printer Working Group (PWG). There has already been a lot of talk about what is wrong with the current state of 3D printer toolchains, what can be improved, and what should be completely ignored. Let’s take a look at what all of this has accomplished.

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Color by Number 3D Printing Style

Remember paint-by-number kits? Your canvas has outlines with numbered regions that you paint with correspondingly numbered paints. When you are done, you’ve recreated the Mona Lisa. [KurtH3] uses a similar technique to coax multicolor prints from his 3D printer.

The technique isn’t general purpose, but it still is an interesting way to add some color to your usually monochrome prints. The idea is simple: You find a paint-by-number layout (apparently, you can find them with a Google search). Use your favorite method to get the outline into a CAD program. [KurtH3] doesn’t really get into the details about this, but some CAD programs will directly import images. Others will require you to trace in Inkscape (or a similar program) and convert to a vector format like DXF that the 3D CAD program can import.

Here’s the trick: instead of extruding the 2D image as one piece, you extrude the numeric regions to slightly different heights. Say you wanted to print a red, white, and blue flag to a thickness of about 5mm and you use 0.2mm layers. You could extrude the white part to 5mm, for example. Then the red parts could be extruded to 5.2mm (one layer higher) and the blue parts to 5.4mm. You could extend the idea to do multiple layers, although that will increase the surface roughness.

[KurtH3] pauses the print at the end of the layers to change filament, but we would probably edit the sliced G-Code to put pauses in the right places (for example, Repetier Host lets you put @pause in your file). You could also use software to split the G-Code as we’ve previously covered.  The resulting print, using our example, would be white from the bottom up but would have thin red and blue layers over the top in the right places. The few hundred microns difference from the white surface to the other colors means you won’t get a perfectly smooth surface, but a few hundred microns shouldn’t be too noticeable.

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Hacking an SD Slot for WiFi

Back in the 1990’s moving files via a floppy disk was known as “sneaker net.” While floppies are a thing of the past, SD Cards are the modern equivalent and they still lend themselves to sneaker net operations.

But why? WiFi is everywhere now. Wouldn’t it be great if you could hack those devices with SD slots to use WiFi? Apparently 3D printer [extrud3d] thought the same thing and found a way to reconfigure a Toshiba FlashAir card to put his 3D printer on the network.

The card is aimed at consumers, so by default it creates a hotspot and waits for a connection, a rudimentary web app allows you to move files back and forth over the network to the SD card which is then read by the host device. However, [extrud3d] shows how to modify a file on the SD card’s file system to allow the device to hook up to an existing wireless network and also provides a Python script to make the file transfer easier.

Although this hack is for a 3D printer, it ought to work with most devices that have a full sized SD slot (or can be adapted to take a full sized card). Since the hack is nothing more than changing a text file, it is a lot easier than some other SD hacks we’ve covered. Over on hackaday.io, [Chris Jones] has recently done some hacking on the FlashAir and has a list of its shell commands if you want to go beyond the text file hacks.

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Arduino Powered Rubber Band Sentry Turret Is Not a Lie

You know that guy in the next cube is sneaking in when you are away and swiping packs of astronaut ice cream out of your desk. Thanks to [Kevin Thomas], if you have an Arduino and a 3D printer, you can build a rubber band sentry gun to protect your geeky comestibles. You’ll also need some metric hardware, an Arduino Uno, and a handful of servo motors.

The video shows [Kevin] manually aiming the gun, but the software can operate the gun autonomously, if you add some sensors to the hardware.  The build details are a bit sparse, but there is a bill of material and that, combined with the 3D printing files and the videos, should allow you to figure it out.

We couldn’t help but wish for a first person view (FPV) camera and control via a cell phone, so you could snipe at those ice cream thieves while hiding in the broom closet. On the other hand, if you got the gun working, adding the remote wouldn’t be hard at all. You probably have a WiFi FPV camera on your quadcopter that finally came out of that tree and there’s lots of ways to do the controls via Bluetooth or WiFi.

Not that you don’t have options. But here at Hackaday HQ, we have lots of rubber bands and not so many green pigs. If you’d rather shoot paintballs, be careful you don’t accidentally repaint the insides of your cube.

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Blow 14,000 Bubbles Per Minute with this 3D Printed Contraption

Like bubbles? Then you’ll love this 3D printed bubble blowing machine. It’s capable of blowing approximately 14,000 bubbles… per minute.

Designed and released on Thingiverse, the array of bubble orifices are 3D printed, as well as the gears and chain that rotate the belt of bubbles. The only thing not 3D printed is the 5 gallon bucket, some aluminum extrusion for mounting it rigidly, and the 50RPM motor that spins it around.

Place the bucket in your driveway, hook up a big fan behind it, and Bob’s your uncle — you’ve got 14,000 bubbles a minute to play with. Is it bad we want to see someone set this up inside a house?

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Segway Build You Can Do Yourself

We’ve seen lots of Segway variants on Hackaday, but they don’t always have detailed instructions on how they made it… Well lucky for us, [Bob] from [Making Stuff] just finished his extensive Segway project with tons of videos of the build!

Inspired by other self-balancing scooter projects he had seen online, [Bob] wanted to try his hand at building one. So he took bits and pieces from designs he liked, and came up with his own solid looking Segway clone design. Using Google Sketchup he drew up the frame, and from there it was all hands on deck. A bit of TIG welding later and it was time for the components.

Some small slight mechanical hiccups aside, the longest part of the project was the electronics and software — getting it to work like a real Segway. After writing his own code he ran into a few roadblocks, but luckily he was able to get some help from someone at his local Maker meetup which saved a lot of troubleshooting on his end.

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Mechanical Pencil Hack Dispenses Wire

Looking for an easy way to manage wire when prototyping PCBs? Ever consider using a mechanical pencil to dispense it? Turns out, it works pretty well — and all you need is a 3D printed attachment!

[Proto G] is using a Papermate 0.5mm mechanical pencil, which means if you get 0.5mm wire (or solder) you can use it to dispense the wire without tangling your spool. In the demonstration, he uses 0.5mm magnet wire which has a thin enamel coating on it and melts away easily when you solder it.

The 3D printed wire-spool and guide snap onto the back of the mechanical pencil allowing you to load it up with a considerable amount of wire for prototyping. He has all the .STL files available on his Instructable in case you want to add this tool to your workshop.

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