This Old Mouse Keeps Track of Filament Usage

Keeping track of your 3D-printer filament use can be both eye-opening and depressing. Knowing exactly how much material goes into a project can help you make build-versus-buy decisions, but it can also prove gut-wrenching when you see how much you just spent on that failed print. Stock filament counters aren’t always very accurate, but you can roll your own filament counter from an old mouse.

[Bin Sun]’s build is based around an old ball-type PS/2 mouse, the kind with the nice optical encoders. Mice of this vintage are getting harder to come by these days, but chances are you’ve got one lying around in a junk bin or can scrounge one up from a thrift store. Stripped down to its guts and held in place by a 3D-printed bracket, the roller that used to sense ball rotation bears on the filament on its way to the extruder. An Arduino keeps track of the pulses and totalizes the amount of filament used; the counter handily subtracts from the totals when the filament is retracted.

Simple, useful, and cheap — the very definition of a hack. And even if you don’t have a 3D-printer to keep track of, harvesting encoders from old mice is a nice trick to file away for a rainy day. Or you might prefer to just build your own encoders for your next project.

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Finding A Use For Surplus Filament Spools

If you’re a heavy user of a 3D printer, or a welder, you’ll know the problem of empty spools. You’ve used up all the filament or the welding wire, and you’re left with a substantial plastic spool. It’s got to be useful for something, you think, and thus it’s Too Good To Throw Away. Before you know it you have a huge pile of the things all looking for a use that you know one day you’ll find.

If you follow the example of [Chuck Hellebuyck], you could use them as wheels for a small go-kart (YouTube link). He 3D-printed some hub adapters for the spools to use skate bearings, mounted them of threaded axles to a classic wooden go-kart frame, and set off downhill wearing his stock-car racing helmet.

Of course, [Chuck]’s go-kart is a bit of fun, but it’s probably fair to say that 3D printer spools are not the ideal wheel. Those rims aren’t particularly durable, and with no tires he’s in for a bumpy ride. Perhaps a tire could be found to fit and a tube placed within it, but that would start to sound expensive against those cheap off-the-shelf wheelbarrow items.

But the project does raise the interesting question: what exactly do you do with your empty spools? There have to be some awesome uses for them, so please share yours in the comments. Meanwhile follow Chuck’s go-kart adventures in the video below the break.

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Colored Filament From a Can

On the last day of MRRF, the guys from Lulzbot were printing a vase with some clear Taulman t-glase on their TAZ 6 prototype. It was probably the third or fourth one they had printed, but I was compelled to go over there because they were painting the filament with a blue Sharpie right before it went into the extruder.

It immediately made me think of this video that hit our tips line last fall and fell through the cracks—a short one from [Angus] at Maker’s Muse about creating your own colored filament by spraying clear PLA with cheap spray paint. This is a neat alternative to painting a finished print because the color isn’t going to rub off. The pigment fuses with the PLA in the hot end, providing consistent coloring.

Disclaimer time: [Angus] ran his spray-painted PLA through a WANHAO i3, which is a cheap, modified Prusa that actually has pretty good reviews. The point is, he doesn’t care if the nozzle gets clogged. But the nozzle didn’t clog. Nothing bad happened at all, and the prints turned out great. As you can see in the video after the break, he tried silver and blue separately on short lengths of filament, and then alternated the colors to make the striped Marvin in the main image. [Angus]’ main concern is that the paint probably affects the strength of the print.

Have you tried spray painting filament? How did it go? Let us know in the comments. If you long to print in any color on the cheap but don’t want to seriously risk clogging your hot end, there’s always the drilled-out Sharpie method.

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Hacking Chipped 3D Printer Filament On The Da Vinci Printer

XYZ Printing has been selling 3D printers for years now with one very special feature not found in more mainstream printers. They’re using a chipped filament cartridge with a small chip inside each of their proprietary filament cartridges, meaning you can only use their filament. It’s the Gillette and ink jet model – sell the printer cheap, and make their money back on filament cartridges.

Last week at CES, XYZ Printing introduced their cheapest printer yet. It’s called the da Vinci Mini, a printer with a 15x15x15 cm build volume that costs only $269. Needless to say, a lot of these will be sold. A lot of people will also be disappointed with chipped filament cartridges in the coming months, so here’s how you defeat the latest version of chipped filament.

A little bit of research showed [WB6CQA] the latest versions of XYZ Printing’s filament uses an NFC chip. Just like the earlier EEPROM version, the latest spools of filament just store a value in memory without any encryption. [WB6CQA] pulled a board from the printer, connected it up to a logic analyzer, and checked out the data sheet for the NFC chip, giving him access to the data on the filament chip.

After running a few prints and comparing the data before and after, [WB6CQA] found a few values that changed. These values could be written back to their previous values, effectively resetting the chip in the filament and allowing third party filament to be used in this printer. It’s a kludge, but it works. More effort will be needed to remove the need to capture data with logic analyzers, but we’re well on our way to chipless filament on da Vinci printers.

Hackaday Links: November 1, 2015

It seems almost compulsory that we start off with a dose of Star Wars. Here’s an epic AT-ST build that motorizes the iconic walker.

That two-legger isn’t going to be lonely. It bigger-slower brother, the AT-AT got a bit of motorized love as well.

What? You were expecting a BB8 build? We have one of those too. [DrYerzinia] has begun a design that hides a quadcopter inside of the BB8. The four 17″ DJI propellers fold up when not in use, extending through hatches in the outer shell when it’s time to take flight. This retains the rolling design you’ve already come to love in the BB8 and we’re going to keep our eyes on it!

Do you have a Teensy and some extra WS2812 strips hanging out on your bench? [etix] put his to use with an ambilight clone. This works really well: simple hardware which connects via USB to communicate with VLC. We applaud [etix’s] choice of Kung Fury as a demo video… a truly bizarre and entertaining short movie. +1000 for its use of VHS tape artifacts.

We just missed Halloween, but this set of wings is far too great of a build to be reserved for that one day. Alas, there is only the demo video but seeing the huge feathered structures fold and unfold is really impressive!

[Truebass] added an artistic accent to one of the walls in his home. He had several cellphone chargers from old phones in his junk bin. These were used to regulate power for some white LEDs. The finished sconces are made from chip-board covered in cherry veneer, all leftover from previous projects.

Want to drink your beer out of beer-byproducts? How about your coffee out of coffee-byproducts. It sounds strange, but 3DOM is marketing it that way, encouraging you to print your beer stein with this beer-byproduct-based 3D printer filament. They also offer coffee filament and have plans for future oddball building materials. Printer inception?

We ran a post about the secret computer of the New York subway system. There wasn’t a ton of information there, but that could change. The New York Historical Society is running a Kickstarter to expand their Computing History made in NY.

Hackaday Links: October 25, 2015

There are dozens of different 3D printable cases out there for the Raspberry Pi, but the BeagleBone Black, as useful as it is, doesn’t have as many options. The folks at 3D hubs thought they could solve this with a portable electronics lab for the BBB. It opens like a book, fits a half-size breadboard inside, and looks very cool.

The guy who 3D printed his lawnmower has a very, very large 3D printer. He now added a hammock to it, just so he could hang out during the very long prints.

There’s a box somewhere in your attic, basement, or garage filled with IDE cables. Wouldn’t they be useful for projects? Yep, only not all the wires work; some are grounds tied together, some are not wired straight through, and some are missing. [esot.eric] has the definitive guide for 80-wire IDE cables.

Like case mods? Here’s a golden apple, made out of walnut. Yes, there are better woods he could have used. It’s a wooden replica of a Mac 128 with a Mac Mini and LCD stuffed inside. Want a video? Here you go.

If you have a 3D printer, you’re probably familiar with PEEK. It’s the plastic used as a thermal break in non-all-metal hotends. Now it’s a filament. An extraordinarily expensive filament at €900 per kilogram. Printing temperature is 370°C, so you’ll need an all-metal hotend.

It’s the Kickstarter that just keeps going and going and going. That’s not a bad thing, though: there really isn’t much of a market for new Amiga 1200 cases. We’ve featured this project before, but the last time was unsuccessful. Now, with seven days left and just over $14k to go, it might make it this time.

Coloring 3D Prints With Sharpies


Printing objects in full color easily is one of the paramount goals of the ‘squirting plastic’ 3D printer scene, and so far all experiments have relied on multiple colors of filament, and sometimes multiple extruders. This, of course, requires a stock of different colored filaments, but [Mathew Beebe] has a different idea: why not dye a natural colored filament just before it’s fed into a printer? Following his intuition, [Mathew] is doing some experiments with the common Sharpie marker, and the resulting prints look much better than you would expect.

The basic procedure or this technique is to drill a hole in the butt end of the Sharpie, pull out the felt in the tip, and feed a length of filament through the marker before it goes into the extruder. The filament is dyed with the Sharpie ink, and the resulting print retains the color of the marker.

Despite the simplicity of the technique, the results are astonishing. An off-white ‘natural’ filament is easily transformed into any one of the colors found in Sharpies.

Besides the common Sharpie, there’s a slightly more interesting application  of this technique of coloring 3D printer filament; as anyone who has ever been in a dorm room with a blacklight knows, you can use the dye inside a common highlighter to make some wicked cool UV-sensitive liquor bottles. Whether the ‘Sharpie technique’ works with highlighters or other markers is as yet unknown, but it does deserve at least a little experimentation.

Video below.

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