3D Printing Support Gets Down To Tacks

If you use supports for FDM 3D printing, you might find that some designs are more amenable than others to automatically-generated supports. [Slant 3D] , for example, shows a cool-looking eagle with a downward-curved beak that comes to a point. Using traditional supports would allow the print to succeed, but didn’t allow the beak to form correctly. To combat this, he uses something called a “thumbtack” in the design. There are several flavors, as you can see in the video below, and it widens out the small part yet has a tiny contact with the actual part so you can easily remove it.

One of the thumbtacks looks more like a Hersey’s kiss to us. It makes sense. The point can touch the part to support and the fat base gives a nice target for the automatic support feature in your slicer to grab. There’s also a spherical base so you can rotate to odd angles. The final thumbtack looks like an alien spacecraft and provides multiple contact points.

This is one of those things that seems obvious once you see it. You’ve always been able to design your own supports into a model, of course. This is a bit different because it simply produces custom support to a target that also requires support, but allows the slicer to easily finish the job.

It looks like the STLs are only available if you join the channel through Patreon, but — honestly — once you get the idea, you can probably whip similar ones up in a few minutes. After all, none of it is going into the final object. You just need a small contact area attached to something that the slicer can grab. We’d be tempted to make it part of the model to start with.

This technique reminded us of how we put flanges around pieces we’ve cut in half, so they don’t need support and are easy to glue together. If you don’t want to use support, you could move your print bed. Or, go all in, and try ramen.

9 thoughts on “3D Printing Support Gets Down To Tacks

  1. They remind me of the kiln stilts that are used in low-fire ceramics so a fully or dipped glaze piece doesn’t stick to the kiln shelf. They have pointy teeth that barely leave witness marks. I think painters use little tripods of plastic for painting panels or cabinet doors. I’m just saying that pointy things that hold up other things have been a thing for a long time.

    1. This is the opposite… The beak point is a pointy thing that is difficult for sparse infill to properly support. This adds a blunt, wide object to it so sparse support can be automatically generated to support the wide bit, which in turn supports the tiny bit in a predictable way.

      To be honest, I don’t use support material often enough to know how great the advantages to this approach over just designing in a support column, but I welcome any original 3d printing trick and I’ll tuck this one away and hopefully I can remember it when the need arises.

  2. i love that there are so many different ways to interact with this stuff. i have been making objects since 2014 and i don’t think i’ve ever used removable support, certainly never automatically-generated. but my nephew just got a creality ender and i don’t think he’s printed a single thing that didn’t use automatically-generated support. i use openscad but he uses some gui thing. i’ve only used print-in-place moving joints a handful of times but they’re almost all he’s interested in. it’s like two totally different hobbies.

    i developed a whole set of habits for building crappy project boxes out of things you can find in the recycling bin (cardboard, little plastic boxes, etc), and basically the #1 thing i love about 3d printing is that my one-off boxes improved a bunch…but he’ll probably never once make a project box out of stacked sliced cardboard, won’t even realize the improvement.

    i love how the tools that we can take for granted define our ideas about what’s possible. and it’s progressing so much just in the brief time i am given to observe the world!

  3. I’m curious how it would turn out with the new Prusa slicer and its Organic Supports (or the similar in Cura slicer). Please, can someone compare results?
    I’ve printed a little so far, but when the time comes I’d like to print some sculptures, so I’m interested

    1. I am generally against the use of supports unless all other options have been exhausted. I model my own parts out and consider the challenge of making a supportless model a fun one. I attribute quite of my modeling prowess to meeting that challenge for nearly a decade now. Having said that, I think support material development and improvement is important. Imagine a world where supports consumed a negligible portion of plastic and print time, one where print quality and part integrity weren’t sacrificed by their use.

      Think of it as the “could’ve done that with a 555” argument. While it’s a fun design challenge, and while sometimes it really is the best way to accomplish something, I’m glad we have MCU’s at our disposal for next to no cost. Sure, there’s a part of me that sneers in a holier-than-thou way when I see an Arduino project that I could back-of-napkin design with a handful of discreet components, but that designer may just be on their way to designing things that would be a nightmare to do the old way.

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