One Inkscape Plugin Collection To Rule Them All

Inkscape is an amazing piece of open source software, a vector graphics application that’s a million times more lightweight than comparable commercial offerings while coming in at the low, low price of free. The software also has plenty of extensions floating around on the Internet, though until now, they haven’t been organised particularly well. The MightyScape project aims to solve that, putting a bunch of Inkscape plugins into one useful release.

The current MightyScape release has a whole bunch of useful stuff inside, for tasks as varied as laser cutting, 3D printing, vinyl cutting, as well as improvements on areas where Inkscape is a bit weak out of the box – like CAD, geometry and patterning. The extensions are maintained and working, albeit with some bugs, and are intended for use with Inkscape 1.0 and above.

The aim is that by creating an overarching collection, the MightyScape project will help inspire the community to come together and actively maintain Inkscape plugins rather than allowing them to wither and die when forgotten by their original creators. That’s the benefit of open-source, after all – you can do whatever you want with the software when you have the code to do so!

Open Source: It’s The Little Things

I use open source software almost exclusively; at least on the desktop — the phone is another matter, sadly. And I do a lot of stuff with and on computers. Folks outside of the free software scene are still a little surprised when small programs are free to use and modify, but they’re downright skeptical when it comes to the big works of professional software. It’s one thing to write xeyes, but how about something to rival Photoshop, or Altium?

Of course, we all know the answer — mostly. None of the “big” software packages work exactly the same as their closed-source counterparts, often missing a few features here and gaining a few there, or following a different workflow. That’s OK, different closed-source programs work differently as well. I’m not here to argue that GIMP is better than Photoshop, but rather to point out what I really love about open software: it caters to the little guys and gals, the niche users, and the specialists. Or rather, it lets them cater to themselves.

I just started learning FreeCAD for a CNC milling project, and it’s awesome. I’ve used Fusion 360, and although FreeCAD isn’t “the same” as Fusion 360, it has most of the features that I need. But it’s the quirky features that set it apart.

The central workflow is to pick a “workbench” where specific tasks are carried out, and then you take your part to each bench, operate on it, and then move to the next one you need. But the critical bit here is that a good number of the workbenches are contributed to the open project by people who have had particular niche needs. For me, for instance, I’ve done most of my 3D modelling for 3D printing using OpenSCAD, which is kinda niche, but also the language that underpins Thingiverse’s customizer functionality. Does Fusion 360 seamlessly import my OpenSCAD work? Nope. Does FreeCAD? Yup, because some other nerd was in my shoes.

And then I started thinking of the other big free projects. Inkscape has plugins that let you create Gcode to drive CNC mills or strange plotters. Why? Because nerds love eggbots. GIMP has plugins for every imaginable image transformation — things that 99% of graphic artists will never use, and so Adobe has no incentive to incorporate.

Open source lets you scratch your own itch, and share your solution with others. The features of for-pay, closed-source software are driven by the masses: “is this a feature that enough of our customers want?” The features of open-source software are driven by the freaky ideas of nerds just like me. Vive la différence!

The Jolly Cart-Pushing Robot

[Lance] loves making simple robots with his laser cutter. He finds great satisfaction from watching his robots operate using fairly simple mechanisms and designs a whole slew of them inspired by different animals, including a dinosaur and a dragon. His latest build is a jolly cart-pushing robot.

He cut each piece of his robot on his laser cutter, and in order to get the pieces to fit snugly together he made each tab a little bigger than its corresponding slot, ensuring the piece wouldn’t fall out. This also helps account for the loss in the material due to kerf, which is the bit of each piece of material that gets lost in the cut end of the laser cutter.

Making his robot walk was mostly as easy as attaching each leg to a simple DC motor such that the motor would rotate each leg in succession, pushing the robot along. From time to time, [Lance] also had to grease the robot’s moving parts using a bit of wax to help reduce friction. He even used a little rubber band to give the robot some traction.

[Lance] did a pretty good job detailing the build in his video. He also linked to a few other fun little robot designs that could entertain you as well. Pretty easy hack, but we thought you might find the results as satisfying as we did.

Robot companions may be here to stay. Time will tell.

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CNC Hot-Wire Cutter Gives Form To Foam

Rapid prototyping tools are sometimes the difference between a project getting off the ground and one that stays strictly on paper. A lightweight, easy-to-form material is often all that’s needed to visualize a design and make a quick judgment on how to proceed. Polymeric foams excel in such applications, and a CNC hot-wire foam cutter is a tool that makes dealing with them quick and easy.

We’re used to seeing CNC machines where a lot of time and expense are put into making the frame as strong and rigid as possible. But [HowToMechatronics] knew that the polystyrene foam blocks he’d be using would easily yield to a hot nichrome wire, minimizing the cutting forces and the need for a stout frame. But the aluminum extrusions, 3D-printed connectors. and linear bearings he used still make for a frame stiff enough to give clean, accurate cuts. The addition of a turntable to the bed is a nice touch, turning the tool into a 2.5D machine. The video below details the construction and goes into depth on the toolchain [HowToMechatronics] used to go from design to G-code, including the tricks he used for making a continuous path, as well as integrating the turntable to make three-dimensional designs.

Plenty of hot-wire foam cutters have graced our pages before, everything from tiny hand-held cutters to a hot-wire “table saw” for foam. We like the effort put into this one, though, and the possibilities it opens up.

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Laser Cutting Wooden Pogo Pin Test Jigs

Now as far as problems go, selling so many products on Tindie that you need to come up with a faster way to test them is a pretty good one to have. But it’s still a problem that needs solving. For [Eric Gunnerson] the solution involved finding a quick and easy way to produce wooden pogo test jigs on his laser cutter, and we have a feeling he’s not the only one who’ll benefit from it.

The first step was exporting the PCB design from KiCad into an SVG, which [Eric] then brought into Inkscape for editing. He deleted all of the traces that he wasn’t interested in, leaving behind just the ones he wanted to ultimately tap into with the pogo pins. He then used the Circle tool to put a 0.85 mm red dot in the center of each pad.

You’re probably wondering where those specific parameters came from. The color is easy enough to explain: his GlowForge laser cutter allows him to select by color, so [Eric] can easily tell the machine to cut out anything that’s red. As for the size, he did a test run on a scrap of wood and found that 0.85 mm was the perfect dimensions to hold onto a pogo pin with friction.

[Eric] ran off three identical pieces of birch plywood, plus one spacer. The pogo pins are inserted into the first piece, the wires get soldered around the back, and finally secured with the spacer. The whole thing is then capped off with the two remaining pieces, and wrapped up in tape to keep it together.

Whether you 3D print one of your own design or even modify a popular development board to do your bidding, the test jig is invaluable when you make the leap to small scale production.

Put That DLP Printer To Use Making PCBs

Now that these DLP printers are cheaper and more widely available, we’re starting to see hackers poking around the edge of the envelope to see what else the machines are capable of. [Electronoobs] recently got his hands on a couple of these printers, and thought he would do some experiments with using them for PCB production.

Rather than extruding molten plastic, these printers use light to cure resin layer-by-layer. In theory if the printer is good enough to cure the light-activated resin for a high resolution print, it should be able to do much the same thing with photosensitive PCBs.

Unfortunately, getting an STL out of a PCB design program takes a few intermediary steps. In the video after the break, [Electronoobs] shows his workflow that takes his design from EasyADA and turning it into a three dimensional object the DLP printer will understand. He does this with Blender and it looks pretty straightforward, but in the past we’ve seen people do similar tricks with Inkscape if that’s more your style.

Once you’ve grafted another dimension onto your PCB design, you may need to scale it to the appropriate size. [Electronoobs] notes that his STL for a 60 mm wide PCB came out of Blender as less than 2 mm wide, so you might need to break out the dreaded mathematics to find the appropriate scale value. Once the dimensions look good, you can load this file up into the printer as you would any normal print.

On the printer side of things, [Electronoobs] manually laminates UV photoresist film onto some copper clad boards with an iron, but you could skip this step and buy pre-sensitized boards as well. In any event, you drop the board where the UV resin normally goes, press the print button, and wait about ten minutes. That should give it enough time to expose the board, and you then proceed with the normal washing and acid bath process that hackers have been doing since time immemorial.

As [Electronoobs] shows, the results are quite impressive. While this still won’t make it any easier for you to do double-sided PCBs in the home lab, it looks like a very compelling method for producing even SMD boards with relative ease. This isn’t the first time somebody has tried using a DLP printer to run off some PCBs, but now that the technology has matured a bit it looks like it’s finally becoming practical.

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Knock Your 3D Printer Down To 2D

Hackers love 3D printers. In fact, they might love them a little too much. We hope know we aren’t be the only ones who couldn’t turn down a good deal on an overseas printer (or two). But when you’re not pumping out plastic boats and other PLA dust collectors, what are you supposed to do with them?

Well if you’re like [Uri Shaked] you could hand them a pen and tell them to get writing. The holidays are coming up quick, and somebody’s gotta sign all these cards. In his detailed write-up, he shows how he was able to add a pen to his Creality CR-10 printer to turn it into a lean mean letter-writing machine without making any permanent changes to the printer.

The physical aspect of this hack is about as simple as they come: just come up with some way to hold the pen a bit below the printer’s hotend. The positioning here is a bit critical, as you don’t want to crash the nozzle into the bed while writing out a missive. [Uri] got fancy and designed a little bracket that clamps onto the CR-10 and even has a M3 screw to hold the pen in place, but you could get away with zip ties if you just want to experiment a bit.

[Uri] goes into much greater detail on the software side of things, which is good, as it does take a bit of Inkscape trickery to get the printer to perform the specific dance moves required. He goes through step by step (with screen shots) explaining how to set up Orientation Points and configure the tool parameters for optimal performance. Even if you aren’t looking to put a 3D printer to work autographing your 8x10s before the next hackerspace meet, this is an excellent guide on producing GCode with Inkscape which can be helpful for tasks such as making PCBs.

The general process here is very similar to adding a laser module to your 3D printer, but with considerably lower risk of your eyeballs doing their best Death Star impression.

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