Relive The Dot Matrix Glory Days With Your 3D Printer

With the cost of 3D printers dropping rapidly, we’ve started to see a trend of hackers re-purposing them for various tasks. It makes perfect sense; with the hotend and extruder turned off (or removed entirely), you’ve got a machine that can move a tool around in two or three dimensions with exceptional accuracy. Printers modified to carry lasers, markers, and even the occasional rotary tool, are becoming a common sight in our tip line.

Last year [Matthew Rayfield] attached a marker to his 3D printer and had it sketch out some pictures, but recently he decided to revisit the idea and try to put a unique spin on it. The end result is a throwback to the classic dot matrix printers of yore utilizing decidedly modern hardware and software. There’s something undeniably appealing about the low-fi nature of dot matrix printing, and when fed the appropriate images this setup is capable of producing something which we’ve got to admit is dangerously close to being art.

To create these images, [Matthew] has created “Pixels-to-Gcode”, an online service that anyone can use to turn an arbitrary image into GCode they can feed their 3D printer. There’s a number of options available for you to play with so you can dial in the specific effect you’re looking for. Pointillist images can be created using a tight spacing of dots, but widen them up, and your final image becomes increasingly abstract.

The hardware side of this project is left largely as an exercise for the reader. [Matthew] has attached a fine-point pen to his printer’s head using a rubber band, but admits that it’s far from ideal. A more robust approach would be some kind of 3D printed device that allows you to quickly attach your pen or marker so the printer can be easily switched between 2D and 3D modes. We’d also be interested in seeing what this would look like if you used a laser mounted on the printer to burn the dots.

Back in the ancient days of 2012, we saw somebody put together a very similar project using parts from floppy and optical drives. The differences between these two projects, not only in relative difficulty level but end result, is an excellent example of how the hacker community is benefiting from the widespread availability of cheap 3D motion platforms.

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3D Print Springs With Hacked GCode

If you’ve used a desktop 3D printer in the past, you’re almost certainly done battle with “strings”. These are the wispy bits of filament that harden in the air, usually as the printer’s nozzle moves quickly between points in open air. Depending on the severity and the material you’re printing with, these stringy interlopers can range from being an unsightly annoyance to triggering a heartbreaking failed print. But where most see an annoying reality of pushing melted plastic around, [Adam Kumpf] of Makefast Workshop sees inspiration.

Noticing that the nozzle of their printer left strings behind, [Adam] wondered if it would be possible to induce these mid-air printing artifacts on demand. Even better, would it be possible to tame them into producing a useful object? As it turns out it is, and now we’ve got the web-based tool to prove it.

As [Adam] explains, you can’t just load up a 3D model of a spring in your normal slicer and expect your printer to churn out a useful object. The software will, as it’s designed to do, recognize the object can’t be printed without extensive support material. Now you could in theory go ahead and print such a spring, but good luck getting the support material out.

The trick is to throw away the traditional slicer entirely, as the layer-by-layer approach simply won’t work here. By manually creating GCode using carefully tuned parameters, [Adam] found it was possible to get the printer to extrude plastic at the precise rate at which the part cooling fan would instantly solidify it. Then it was just a matter of taking that concept and applying it to a slow spiral motion. The end result are functional, albeit not very strong, helical compression springs.

But you don’t have to take their word for it. This research has lead to the creation of an online tool that allows you to plug in the variables for your desired spring (pitch, radius, revolutions, etc), as well as details about your printer such as nozzle diameter and temperature. The result is a custom GCode that (hopefully) will produce the desired spring when loaded up on your printer. We’d love to hear if any readers manage to replicate the effect on their own printers, but we should mention fiddling with your printer’s GCode directly isn’t without its risks: from skipping steps to stripped filament to head crashes.

The results remind us somewhat of the 3D lattice printer we featured a couple of years back, but even that machine didn’t use standard FDM technology. It will be interesting to see what other applications could be found for this particular technique.

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Failed 3D Print Saved With Manual Coding

Toast falls face down. Your car always breaks after the warranty period. A 3D print only fails after it is has been printing for 12 hours. Those things might not always be true, but they are true often enough. Another pessimistic adage is “no good deed goes unpunished.” [Shippey123] did a good deed. He agreed to make a 3D printed mask for his friend to give as a gift. It was his first print he attempted for someone else after about four months’ experience printing at all. After 20 hours of printing, he noticed the head was moving around in the air doing nothing — a feeling most of us are all too familiar with. But he decided not to give up, but to recover the print.

Luckily, he’s a CNC machinist and is perfectly capable of reading G-code. The first thing he did was to shut everything down and clear the head. Then he rehomed the printer and used the head to determine what layer the printer had been working on when it failed. He did that by moving over a hidden part of the print and lowering the head by 100 microns. Then he’d move the head a few millimeters in the X direction to see if the head was touching.

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Neat 3D Printer Hack Makes Printing Multiples Possible

One of the promises of 3D printing is that you can mass produce objects at home, printing out multiple copies of whatever you want. Unfortunately, the reality is a bit different: once you have printed something out, you usually need to remove it manually from the print bed. Unless you are [Replayreb], that is: he’s come up with a neat hack to remove a print from the print bed by using a custom bit of G-code to move the print head to knock the print off, into a waiting box.

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3D Printer Time Lapse Videos Ditch The Blur

Example output of Octolapse with the print head absent from the images.

Most time-lapse videos of 3D prints show a steadily growing print with a crazy blur of machine movement everywhere else. This is because an image is captured at a regular time interval, regardless of what’s physically going on with the machine. But what if images were captured at consistent machine positions instead? [FormerLurker]’s Octolapse plugin for OctoPrint came out of beta recently and does exactly that, and the results are striking. Because OctoPrint knows where a 3D printer’s print head is at all times, it’s possible for a plugin to use this information to create time-lapse videos where the print head position is consistent instead of a crazy blur, or even have the print head absent from the shot altogether.

[FormerLurker] had originally created stabilized time lapses by hand editing G-code, which had great results but was inefficient and time-consuming. This plugin is the result of his work at automating and enhancing the process, and is also his first serious open source programming project. We’ve covered upgrading a 3D printer with OctoPrint before, and the plugins functionality of OctoPrint means features can be added independently from the core system, which itself largely remains a one-woman effort by creator and maintainer [Gina Häußge].

 

Guide: Why Etch A PCB When You Can Mill?

I recall the point I started taking electronics seriously, although excited, a sense of dread followed upon the thought of facing the two main obstacles faced by hobbyists and even professionals: Fabricating you own PCB’s and fiddling with the ever decreasing surface mount footprints. Any resistance to the latter proves futile, expensive, and frankly a bit silly in retrospect. Cheap SMD tools have made it extremely easy to store, place, and solder all things SMD.

Once you’ve restricted all your hobbyist designs/experiments to SMD, how do you go about producing the PCBs needed for prototyping? Personally, I dread the thought of etching my own boards. The process is laborious and involves messy chemicals and specially sensitized PCB’s — none of which interest me. I’ve only ever done it a few times, and have promised myself never to do it again. Professional but cheap PCB manufacturing is more like it board pooling services such as OSH park have made this both easy and affordable — if you can wait for the turnaround.

So what are the alternatives? If you are really serious about swift prototyping from your own Lab, I put forth the case of milling your own PCB’s. Read on as I take you through the typical workflow from design to prototype and convince you to put up with the relatively high start up cost of purchasing a PCB mill.

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We Can Now 3D Print Slinkys

A mark of a good 3D print — and a good 3D printer — is interlayer adhesion. If the layers of a 3D print are too far apart, you get a weak print that doesn’t look good. This print has no interlayer adhesion. It’s a 3D printed Slinky, the kind that rolls down stairs, alone or in pairs, and makes a slinkity sound. Conventional wisdom says you can’t print a Slinky, but that didn’t stop [mpclauser] from trying and succeeding.

This Slinky model was made using a few lines of JavaScript that output a Gcode file. There is no .STL file, and you can’t edit this CNC Slinky in any CAD tools. This is also exceptionally weird Gcode. According to [mpclauser], the printer, ‘zigzags’ between an inner and outer radius while constantly increasing the height. This is the toolpath you would expect from a 3D printed Slinky, but it also means the usual Gcode viewers throw a fit when trying to figure out how to display this thing.

All the code to generate your own 3D printable Slinky Gcode file is up on [mpclauser]’s Google Drive. The only way to see this print in action is to download the Gcode file and print it out. Get to it.