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3D Printering: Speed Is So Hot Right Now

Speed in 3D printing hasn’t been super important to everyone. Certainly, users value speed. But some value quality even more highly, and if gaining quality means giving up speed, then so be it. That’s more or less how things stood for a while, but all things change.

The landscape of filament-based 3D printing over the past year or so has made one thing clear: the market’s gotten a taste of speed, and what was once the domain of enthusiasts installing and configuring custom firmware is now a baseline people will increasingly expect. After all, who doesn’t want faster prints if one doesn’t have to sacrifice quality in the process?

Speed vs. Quality: No Longer a Tradeoff

Historically, any meaningful increase in printing speed risked compromising quality. Increasing print speed can introduce artifacts like ringing or ghosting, as well as other issues. Printing faster can also highlight mechanical limitations or shortcomings that may not have been a problem at lower speeds. These issues can’t all be resolved by tightening some screws or following a calibration process.

The usual way to get into higher speed printing has been to install something like Klipper, and put the necessary work into configuring and calibrating for best results. Not everyone who prints wishes to go this route. In 3D printing there are always those more interested in the end result than in pushing the limits of the machine itself. For those folks, the benefits of speedy printing have generally come at too high a cost.

That’s no longer the case. One can now buy a printer that effectively self-calibrates, offers noticeably increased printing speeds over any earlier style machines, and does it at a reasonable price.

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G-code Goes Binary With Proposed New Format

G-code is effective, easily edited, and nearly ubiquitous when it comes to anything CNC. The format has many strengths, but space efficiency isn’t one of them. In fact, when it comes to 3D printing in particular file sizes can get awfully large. Partly to address this, Prusa have proposed a new .bgcode binary G-code format. You can read the specification of the new (and optional) format here.

The newest version of PrusaSlicer has support for .bgcode, and a utility to convert ASCII G-code to binary (and back) is in the File menu. Want to code an interface of your own? The libbgcode repository provides everything needed to flip .gcode to .bgcode (with a huge file size savings in the process) and vice versa in a way that preserves all aspects of the data. Need to hand-edit a binary G-code file? Convert it to ASCII G-code, make your changes, then flip it right back.

Prusa are not the only ones to notice that the space inefficiency of the G-code file format is not ideal in all situations. Heatshrink and MeatPack are two other solutions in this space with their own strong points. Handily, the command-line tool in libgcode can optionally apply Heatshrink compression or MeatPack encoding in the conversion process.

In a way, G-code is the assembly language of 3D printers. G-code files are normally created when slicing software processes a 3D model, but there are some interesting tricks to be done when G-code is created directly.

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Make Better 3D Printed Molds, For Thermoforming Plastics

Thermoforming — which includes vacuum-forming — has its place in a well-rounded workshop, and Mayku (makers of desktop thermoforming machines) have a short list of tips for getting the best results when 3D printing molds on filament-based printers.

A mold is put into direct, prolonged contact with a hot sheet of semi-molten plastic. If one needs a mold to work more than once, there are a few considerations to take into account. The good news is that a few simple guidelines will help get excellent results. Here are the biggest ones:

  1. The smoother the vertical surfaces, the better. Since thermoforming sucks (or pushes) plastic onto and into a mold like a second skin, keeping layer heights between 0.1 mm and 0.2 mm will make de-molding considerably easier.
  2. Generous draft angles. Aim for a 5 degree draft angle. Draft angles of 1-2 degrees are common in injection molding, but a more aggressive one is appropriate due to layer lines giving FDM prints an inherently non-smooth surface.
  3. Thick perimeters and top layers for added strength. The outside of a mold is in contact with the most heat for the longest time. Mayku suggests walls and top layer between 3 mm to 5 mm thick. Don’t forget vent holes!
  4. Use a high infill to better resist stress. Molds need to stand up to mechanical stress as well as heat. Aim for a 50% or higher infill to make a robust part that helps resist deformation.
  5. Ensure your printer can do the job. 3D printing big pieces with high infill can sometimes lift or warp during printing. Use enclosures or draft shields as needed, depending on your printer and material.
  6. Make the mold out of the right material. Mayku recommends that production molds be printed in nylon, which stands up best to the heat and stress a thermoforming mold will be put under. That being said, other materials will work for prototyping. In my experience, even a PLA mold (which deforms readily under thermoforming heat) is good for at least one molding.

Thermoforming open doors for an enterprising hacker, and 3D printing molds is a great complement. If you’re happy being limited to small parts, small “dental” formers like the one pictured here are available from every discount overseas retailer.  And of course, thermoforming is great for costumes and props. If you want to get more unusual with your application, how about forming your very own custom-shaped mirrors by thermoforming laminated polystyrene?

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PrusaSlicer Now Imports STEP Files, Here’s Why That’s A Big Deal

PrusaSlicer has a new feature: the ability to import a CAD model for 3D printing. Starting in version 2.5.0-beta1, PrusaSlicer can import STEP format 3D models. An imported STEP file is converted to a triangle mesh on import (making it much like a typical .stl or .3mf file) which means that slicing all happens as one would normally expect. This is pretty exciting news, because one is not normally able to drop a CAD format 3D model directly into a slicer. With this change, one can now drag .stp or .step files directly into PrusaSlicer for printing.

First, a brief recap. In the world of 3D models there are two basic kinds: meshes and CAD models. The two work very differently, especially when it comes to editing. 3D printing has a long history of using .stl files (which are meshes) but making engineering-type changes to such files is difficult. Altering the size of a thread or changing mounting holes in a CAD model is easy. On an STL, it is not. This leads to awkward workarounds when engineering-type changes are needed on STLs. STEP, on the other hand, is a format widely supported by CAD programs, and can now be understood by PrusaSlicer directly. Continue reading “PrusaSlicer Now Imports STEP Files, Here’s Why That’s A Big Deal”

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3D Printering: Today’s Resins Can Meet Your Needs

Filament-based 3D printers spent a long time at the developmental forefront for hobbyists, but resin-based printers have absolutely done a lot of catching up, and so have the resins they use. It used to be broadly true that resin prints looked great but were brittle, but that’s really not the case anymore.

A bigger variety of resins and properties are available to hobbyists than ever before, so if that’s what’s been keeping you away, it’s maybe time for another look. There are tough resins, there are stiff resins, there are heat-resistant resins, and more. Some make casting easy, and some are even flexible. If your part or application needs a particular property, there is probably a resin for it out there.

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REMOTICON 2021 // Jay Doscher Proves Tinkercad Isn’t Just For Kids

We invited [Jay Doscher] to give us a view into his process designing 3D printed parts for the impressive array of cyberdecks we’ve covered since 2019.

[Jay] got his start as a maker through woodworking in high school, getting satisfaction from bringing something from idea to reality. After a more recent class in blacksmithing and ax-making showed him what he could do when really focused, his hardware hacking really took off and his line of cyberdecks and other portable computers was born.

If you’ve heard of Tinkercad, you probably think it’s just for kids. While designed as an educational tool, [Jay] found that Autodesk’s younger sibling to the professionally powered (and priced) Fusion 360 had everything needed for making cyberdecks. If you’re willing to work around a few limitations, at the low-low price of free, Tinkercad might be right for you too.

What limitations? To start, Tinkercad is only available in a browser and online. There’s also no guarantee that it will remain free, but [Jay] notes that with its educational focus that is likely to remain the case. There is no library of common components to import while modeling. And, when your model is complete the options for exporting are limited to 2D SVGs and 3D STL, OBJ, and gaming-focused GBL formats. [Jay] has converted those to other formats for laser cutting and the STEP file a machine shop is expecting but admits that it’s something that adds complexity and is an annoyance.


In the talk, [Jay] discusses moving from his initial “cringy” explorations with Tinkercad, to his first cyberdeck, a little history on that term, and the evolution of his craft. It’s mostly a hands-on demo of how to work with Tinkercad, full of tips and tricks for the software itself and implications for 3D printing yourself, assembly, and machining by others.

While quite limited, Tinkercad still allows for boolean operations to join two volumes or the subtraction of one from another. [Jay] does a wonderful job of unpeeling the layers of operations, showing how combinations of “solids” and “holes” generated a complex assembly with pockets, stepped holes for fasteners, and multiple aligned parts for his next cyberdeck. Even if you already have a favorite CAD tool, another approach could expand your mind just like writing software in Strange Programming Languages can.

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Ask Hackaday: Are Extruders The Only Feasible Tools For Toolchanging?

Toolchanging in 3D printers is no longer something from the bleeding edge; it’s going mainstream. E3D has a high-quality kit for a toolchanger and motion system, our own Joshua Vasquez has shared details about the open-source toolchanging Jubilee design, and just recently Prusa3D formally announced the Prusa XL, which promises toolchanging with up to five different extruders.

A toolchange in progress

It’s safe to say toolchanging on 3D printers has stepped to the front, but what comes next? What kind of tools other than extruders make sense on a 3D printer?

First, let’s explain what makes separate extruders such fantastic tools. Being able to change extruders on-demand during a print enables things like true multi-material printing. Printing in more than one color or material will no longer be done by pushing different filaments through a single nozzle, which limits a print to materials that extrude under similar conditions and temperatures. Toolchanging means truly being able to print in multiple materials, even if they have different requirements, because each material has its own extruder. That’s a clear benefit, but what about tools other than extruders?

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