Good Penmanship With A 3D Printer

Writing with a 3D printer

[Chris Mitchell] was going to make his own plotter for doing cursive writing for cards but realized he might be able to use his 3D printer to do the writing instead. But then he couldn’t find any suitable software so he did what you’re supposed to do in this situation, he wrote his own called 3DWriter. He even 3D printed a holder so he could attach a pen to the side of the extruder. When not in use as a plotter he simply retracts the pen tip.

The software is written in C# for Windows and is available on GitHub along with a detailed write-up. He clearly put a lot of thought into what features the software offers. After selecting the font, you type in whatever you want printed and then preview it to make sure it looks good. There’s also a bunch of G-Code settings you can fill in such as bed size, the horizontal and vertical offsets of the pen tip from the extruder tip, drawing speed and so on. There’s even an option to do a dry run with the pen raised so you can make sure it’ll draw on the bed where you expect it to.

The code itself is quite clean and easy to understand. If you’re curious like we were at what information is in the font files and how it’s translated into G-Code then download the source from the GitHub page and have a look. [Chris] settled on a font set called Hershey fonts since they’re primarily stroke based fonts as opposed to outline fonts which are what other programs he’d looked at used.

This makes us think of all those 3D printers with busted extruders we’ve seen collecting dust on hackerspace shelves or simply ones considered obsolete. Using them as a plotter gives them new life — even if just as a fun way to learn about writing code for CNC machines. It makes us wonder what other 2D uses they can be put to… cutting vinyl? laser printing? Ideas anyone?

In any case, have a look at the video below to see it in action as a 2D plotter. As a bonus, you’ll also see line art it drew using an Inkscape plugin.

[Chris]’s hack reminds us of other custom G-Code writing software we’ve seen for 2D. There’s one that gives you a simple drawing program for making your 2D image, and then produces G-Code so that your 3D printer can extrude the drawing as a single plastic layer. Then there’s one that takes an image of a kid’s drawing using a webcam and converts it to G-Code for etching with a laser printer.

42 thoughts on “Good Penmanship With A 3D Printer

    1. For most it may not be a matter of skills but a matter of time. Do I want to take the time to hand write 20+ custom christmas cards (lossing 2-3 cards due to a hand slips, pen issues, etc) or do I want to type them out in word/gDocs, correct errors. Now I can send the cards to my 3d printer and make the results feel more personal than Times New Roman or Wingdings.

      Also, by “I” I really mean “my wife” since I would just printer out a generic card and slap my signature in or near the right spot if I was incharge of christmas cards.

      1. Yes but you see whatever charm is implied by using cursive is THAT one took the time to write by hand is it not? And the fact that manually producing a score of xmas cards is seen as a chore fraught with potential error is itself an indication of how far we have fallen in handwriting. The fact is that what once was considered a basic skill is now seen as an arcane art and that is a bit sad in my opinion.

        1. Hey, if you have good penmanship, then vaya con dios, buddy. But some of us have all the fine muscle control of an 80 year old with Parkinson’s, and no amount of practice or otherwise is going to change that.

          1. I know it isn’t your fault. I’m in my mid-sixties and I was taught penmanship by the Sisters who were firm believers in drill. Teaching handwriting seems to have gone out out style in primary schools these days, although for the life of me, I can’t see that they replaced it with anything more meaningful.

          2. Yes, but even basic penmanship is going out the window these days. I know this because people have complemented me on my handwriting, which to my eye looks rather untidy.

            There are some examples of my handwriting among my projects, e.g.
   (schematics below the photo). The helmet project has some examples too.

            My two nieces, one just starting high school this year (or perhaps their kids if they have any) will probably be one of the last generations that will know how to use a pen and paper, with schools surging ahead with tablet computers in the classroom. (What a great idea, put something both fragile AND expensive in a kid’s school bag!)

          3. Same here. My penmanship is actually pretty good, IMO. I print (as opposed to cursive) because cursive is ugly and inefficient, and my print is clearer and faster than most people’s cursive.

            Still, when I have to write something important like a card, I stress because I can’t erase and if I make a mistake I’m screwed.

          4. My cursive’s okay, if I slow down, but I switched to print the instant I sat down to write-up my first project in university. I figured I’d go easy on the profs and haven’t written in cursive since — except for my signature but that’s really bad writing.
            Side story… Since I switched to print after many years of not doing it, and since I switched from cursive, I print my letters starting from the bottom (as opposed to from the top as we were taught in kindergarten). I hadn’t realized I was starting from the bottom until students in different classes started pointing it out to me while I was writing on the whiteboard. It gave them something to snicker about.

    2. There is a commercial XY plotter called AxiDraw which has a tag line “High Performance Personal Writing and Drawing Machine”. It can even use a fountain pen to make beautiful calligraphy.

      So it’s not uncommon to think about a mechanical writer.

      1. Oh yes they have been around in one form or another for some time, cam-driven signature machines have been in use for decades. Nevertheless, being able to write legibly on paper is a useful skill that has served me well in spite of the fact that I worked in industries that had steno pools were early adopters of electronic messaging. Furthermore, I don’t see that the primary school syllabus is so full of other, equally useful topics of instruction, that penmanship had to be dropped.

  1. Its not that they have fallen to the wayside its that maybe he had to make some invitations.I wouldn’t want to write more than 10 or by hand.And considering half things of the things on here,Any time you can get a machine to do something for you i consider it an accomplishment.

  2. Those Hershey fonts are interesting. I have read about them some time ago and wondered if it might possible to create own Hershey fonts from ttf fonts. Problem is the outline/inline/midline thingie. Anyone got a hidden git on that?

    1. They also can’t read Old English, but then again you probably can’t either.
      I know I can’t read Cuneiform.

      Cursive is inefficient, ugly, and leads to nothing but confusion. Calligraphy as an art has its place, but it definitely isn’t in communications.

      1. Cursive is niether inefficient or ugly, only poorly created. It was , after all developed as a faster way to write over block. Anyone can be taught the skill, if started young enough. Beyond just being able to communicate with pen and paper, practicing it develops fine motor control that is transferable to other domains, and does much to improve spelling – another skill being lost and other language arts.

        1. Right tight. Go ahead and spend the extra time marking up schematics and other documents in cursive. I’m sure your coworkers will appreciate having to bring everything back to you for translation.

          Everyone where I work can read/write cursive, but nobody does except the CEO. He likes to leave notes in people’s offices too, but nobody can make heads or tails of his very elegant, loopy lettering, so they have to bring the notes back to him and ask what he actually wants.

          Calligraphy is a great art form. It has no place in communications, though. It’s like writing out the content of a document using ASCII art.

          1. The fact that you are confounding cursive with calligraphy is telling in itself, and I assure you no one ever had any trouble reading anything I wrote with a pen. However one selects what forms you use and where, and even back in my day there was a requirement for block lettering on engineering drawings.

            At any rate if you are asserting that even the ability to read cursive is being lost, it suggests that the very device under discussion here is somewhat absurd. I find it ironic that on a website filled with people that value arcane skills, and old technology some would dismiss good handwriting as pointless.

  3. 1. I don’t have a 3D printer.
    2. I don’t really want one – I just want to print [like this article].

    Under those starting conditions, what hardware should I look for? A broken 3D printer? A printer with limited [A4, foolscap, etc] printing area? And what price should I be expecting to pay?

    1. [In this article] i use a 3D Printer.
      1. You should get one
      2. You should want one :)

      But in all seriousness, there is a level of hardware you need to do something like this.
      A 3D Printer just happens to have everything you need.
      You could pick up an old plotter on ebay/craigslist but i wouldn’t know what software you would need.
      Here in Australia you can pick up a new 3D Printer called a Print-Rite for $263, pretty cheap if you ask me. That will give you a 200x200mm writing surface (170mm build height too).
      If you remove the extruder then your writing area becomes larger with that printer.
      Alternatively you can google “Personal Writing and Drawing Machine” and see what pops up.
      If you want to have a crack at building one yourself then look in to a controller called RAMPS and buy some Nema17 stepper motors and some linear rails or GT2 belts etc…that’s a long road but a rewarding one.

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