Development Tools of the Prop-Making World

We’ve seen them before. The pixel-perfect Portal 2 replica, the Iron Man Arc Reactor, the Jedi Lightsaber. With the rise of shared knowledge via the internet, we can finally take a peek into a world hidden behind garage doors, basements, and commandeered coffee tables strewn with nuts, bolts, and other scraps. That world is prop-making. As fab equipment like 3D printers and laser cutters start to spill into the hands of more people, fellow DIY enthusiasts have developed effective workflows and corresponding software tools to lighten their loads. I figured I’d take a brief look at a few software tools that can open the possibilities for folks at home to don the respirator and goggles and start churning out props.

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Fitting 3D Prints On Eagle Boards

One of the hardest things you’ll ever do is mesh your electronic design with a mechanical design. Getting holes for switches in the right place is a pain, and if you do it enough, you’ll realize the beauty of panel mount jacks. This is especially true when using Eagle to design a PCB, but with a few tricks, it’s possible to build 3D printable pieces directly from Eagle designs.

[Tyler] built a clock with a bunch of LEDs. While the clock worked great, there was a lot of light leakage around the segments of his custom seven-segment numbers. The solution is a light mask, and [Tyler] figured out how to make one in Eagle.

The first step is to draw a new layer on the Eagle board that defines the light mask. This is exported as an EPS file in the CAM processor that gives him a 2D drawing. At least it’s to scale.

The next step is to install Inkscape and install paths2openscad. This turns the two-dimensional drawing into a 2D object that can be rendered in OpenSCAD and exported as a 3D printable STL file.

Does the project work? The results are great – the entire light mask is a single-wall print, and since this light mask doesn’t need any mechanical strength, it should hold up well. The clock looks much better than before, and [Tyler] has a new technique for making 3D objects for his 2D PCBs.

3D Printing with 2D Inkscape Projections

If you had a formal drafting class, you probably learned about making orthographic projections–engineering drawings with multiple views (for example, top, front, and right). Even if you didn’t take the class, you’ve probably seen drawings like this where you view a 3D object as a series of 2D views from different angles.

These days, you are more likely to create a 3D model of an object, especially if you are going to 3D print it. After all, the 3D printer software is going to expect a model. When [Nightshade] wanted a laptop stand for his workbench, he started trying to do a 3D model. His final product though, was made by creating two views in Inkscape. They aren’t exactly orthographic projections of the final product, but the idea is similar.

Inkscape is a vector graphics program and generally creates SVG files, although it can also save EPS files. [Nightshade] used pstoedit to convert the EPS output to DXF format. DXF files are still two dimensional, but OpenSCAD can extrude DXF files into 3D shapes.

Just having a 3D shape of one view isn’t sufficient, though. The OpenSCAD script rotates the objects to the correct orientation and intersects them to form the final object. This is different from the usual cases of using Inkscape to trace a scan or generate simple text.

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Hackaday Links: March 29, 2015

Every once in a while, the Hackaday Overlords have a Hardware Developers Didactic Galactic in San Francisco. Last week was #06 featuring [Mike Estee] from Othermill and Hackaday writer [Joshua Vasquez] talking about synthesizing an SPI slave in an FPGA. Video here.

It’s no secret that [Fran] is building a DSKY – the part of the Apollo guidance computer that was on-screen in Apollo 13. It’s time for a project update, and here’s where she stands: if anyone has a source of JAN-spec Teledyne 420 or 422-series magnetic latching relays (they’re in a TO-5 package), contact [Fran]. The backplane connector has been identified; it’s a Teradyne I/O 100 series connector with a 120mil spacing. Contact [Fran] if you know where to get them.

Let’s say you want a carbon fiber quadcopter frame. What’s the most reasonable thing you can do? 3D print a CNC machine, obviously. That’s a 200mm FPV racer cut from 1mm and 3mm carbon fiber sheets, but the real story here is the CNC machine. It’s a PortalCyclone, and even the cable chains are 3D printed.

What does an AMOLED display look like up close? Pretty cool, actually. That’s 20x magnification, and it’s not a Bayer filter. Can anyone fill us in on the reason for that?

Laser cutters are tricky if you want to do grayscale or half tones. [oni305] made an Inkscape extension to generate better GCode for engraving with a laser cutter.

19″ racks have no dimensions that are actually 19″. Also 2x4s aren’t 2 inches by four inches. Somehow, a 2×4 server rack works.

Designing a Front Panel for a DIY Project

DIY Front Panel


When building a one-off DIY project, appearances tend to be the least of our priorities. We just want to get the device working, and crammed into some project case. For those that like to build nicer looking prototypes [JumperOne] came up with a slick method of building a custom front panel for your DIY project.

The first step is to get the dimensions correct. You CAD tool will generate these from your design. [JumperOne] took these measurements into Inkscape, an open source vector graphics tool. Once it’s in Inkscape, the panel can be designed around the controls. This gets printed out and aligned on a plastic enclosure, which allows the holes to be marked and drilled.

With the electronics in place, the front panel gets printed again on a general purpose adhesive sheet. Next up is a piece of cold laminating film, which protects the label. Finally, holes are cut for the controls. Note that the display and LEDs are left covered, which allows the film to diffuse the light. The final result looks good, and can provide all the needed instructions directly on the panel.

[Thanks to Ryan for the tip]

Delta Laser Engraver Uses Inkscape for G-Code


[Z LeHericy] has a SeeMe CNC Rostock Max 3D printer, and a 2W WickedLasers Spyder Artic blue laser. Naturally, he had to try strapping them together.

Most of our homemade laser engravers featured here use recycled DVD burner diodes, and while they certainly work, they leave a bit to be desired… Well, if you want more power, let us introduce the Class 4 Artic Spyder 2W blue laser from WickedLasers — a company that sells super high-powered lasers to anyone who can afford them — because that’s a great idea!

Safety concerns aside — wear your darn laser goggles! This pair can etch wood and leather quite well. He’s been using it to etch celtic knots onto pieces of leather. To do this he’s used Inkscape to convert a .BMP of the knot into a vector image, and then using the G-Code tools included with Inkscape he can create a tool path for the printer.

The finished leather looks awesome — Stick around after the break to see the laser in action!

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Software Advice for Anyone Thinking About a CNC Router

Excellent results can come from a small CNC router, but don’t forget the software!

CNC tools, whatever their flavor, can greatly enhance your “making” or DIY ability. My current tool of choice is a CNC router. Being familiar with a manual milling machine, the concept seemed similar, and the price of these is quite reasonable when compared to some other tools. As described in this post, my machine is a Zen Toolworks model, but there are certainly other options to visit like this Probotix V90 model noted recently in this post.

Although any number of CNC router models look great in videos and pictures, rest assured that even the best machines require some patience to get one running satisfactorily. Setting up the machine can be a challenge, as well as figuring out what your machine is capable of, but one thing that might slip peoples’ minds is the software involved. Read on to find out all you need to know the basics of what goes on behind the scenes to “magically” produce interesting parts. Continue reading “Software Advice for Anyone Thinking About a CNC Router”