Annotate PDFs On Linux With PDFrankenstein

On Windows and Mac machines, it’s not too troublesome to add text or drawings (such as signatures) to PDF files, but [Mansour Behabadi] found that on Linux machines, there didn’t seem to be a satisfying way or a simple tool. Being an enterprising hacker, [Mansour] set out to fill that gap, and the way it works under the hood is delightfully hacky, indeed.

The main thing standing in the way of creating such a tool is that the PDF format is a complex and twisty thing. Making a general-purpose PDF editing tool capable of inserting hyperlinks, notes, images, or drawings isn’t exactly a weekend project. But [Mansour] didn’t let that stop him; he leveraged the fact that tools already exist on Linux that can read and create PDF files, and tied them all together into what was at one point “a horrific patchwork of tools” which inspired the name pdfrankenstein.

The tool is a GUI that uses Inkscape and qpdf to convert a PDF page to an SVG file, set it as a locked background, then let the user add any annotations they desire, using Inkscape as the editor. After changes are made, the program removes the background, overlays the annotations back onto the originals, and exports a final file. Annotations can therefore be anything that can be done in Inkscape.

Curious about these and other tools for handling PDFs? We’ve shared some programs and tricks when we previously covered dealing with the PDF format in Linux.

Quick Hacks: Countersinking Screw Heads With 3D Laser Engraving

Here’s a fun quick hack from [Timo Birnschein] about using the 3D laser engraving (or ‘stamp’ engraving) mode of certain laser cutter toolchains to create a handy countersink shape in a laser-cut and engraved workpiece. Since [Timo] uses a small laser cutter to cut out and mark project boards for their electronics builds, having an extra messy, manual countersinking operation with subsequent clean-up seemed like a waste of time and effort, if the cutter could be persuaded to do it for them.

Designs are prepared in Inkscape, with an additional ‘3D engraving’ layer holding the extra processing step. [Timo] used the Inkscape feathering tools to create a circular grayscale gradient, leading up to the central cut hole (cuts are in a separate layer) which was then fed into Visicut in order to drive the GRBL-based machine, However, you could do it with practically any toolchain that supports laser power control during a rastering operation. The results look perfectly fine for regions of the workpiece not on show, at least, but if you’re only interested in the idea from a functional point of view, then we reckon this is another great trick for the big bag of laser hacks.

There have been a great number of laser cutting hacks here over the years, since these tools are so darn useful. The snapmaker machine can be a 3D printer, a CNC cutter and a laser cutter all in one, albeit not too perfect at any of those tasks, but the idea is nice. If you own a perfectly fine 3D printer, but fancy a spot of laser engraving (and you have good eye protection!), then you could just strap a 5W blue diode laser to it and get your fix.

3D Printed Printing Plates Made Using Modern Tools

It’s widely accepted that the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in the 15th Century was the event that essentially enabled the development of the modern world, allowing access to knowledge beyond anything that came before, even if the Chinese got in on the bookmaking act some 500 years previously. Fast-forward a few centuries more and we’ve got the ability to design electronics from our arm chairs, we can print 3D objects from a machine on the coffee table, and 3D modeling can be done by your kids on a tablet computer. What a time to be alive! So we think it’s perfectly fine that [Kris Slyka] has gone full circle and used all these tools to make printing plates for a small press, in order to produce cards for her Etsy business.

Now before you scoff, yes she admits quite quickly that KiCAD wasn’t the best choice for designing the images to print, since she needed to do a lot of post-processing in Inkscape, she could have just dropped the first step and started in Inkscape anyway. You live and learn. Once the desired image was fully vectorised, it was popped into OpenSCAD in order to extrude it into 3D, thickening the contact to the base to improve the strength a little.

[Kris] demonstrates using the registration marks to align the front and rear side plates, and even (mostly) manages adding a second colour infill for a bit more pizzazz. The results look a little bit wonky and imperfect, exactly what you want for something supposed to be handmade. We think it’s a nice result, even if designing it in KiCAD was a bit bonkers.

For those interested in the OpenSCAD code, have a butchers at this gist. This project is not the first 3D-printed printing press we’ve covered, checkout the Hi-Bred for an example, and here’s the Open Press Project if you’re still interested.

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A Promising Start For The Doritos Space Program

Rocketry is tricky stuff, but as long as you’re not trying to get into space, the whole idea can basically be boiled down into a simple concept: if you put enough thrust behind it, anything can fly. At least, for awhile. It’s this basic premise that allows what hobbyists sometimes refer to as “Odd-Rocs” fly; these unusual objects might not be ideal rockets, but put a big enough motor in there, and it’ll get off the pad.

Recently, [concretedog] thought he’d try putting together his own oddball rocket, and set out to modify a Doritos STAX tube for powered flight. There’s plenty of precedent for turning Pringles tubes into rockets, but of course, that’s hardly surprising. After all, what’s a rocket if not a strong and lightweight cylinder? But the rounded triangular shape of the STAX tube promised to be an interesting change of pace. Plus it looked cool, so there’s that.

Turning the snack container into a rocket was actually pretty straightforward. To start with, [concretedog] sketched around the outside of the tube on a piece of paper, and then took a picture of that with his phone. That image was then brought into Inkscape, and turned into a vector file that he could fiddle around with in CAD.

Between the thin plywood cut on his laser and PETG loaded into his 3D printer, he was able to come up with a strong enough motor mount to take an Estes D12-5. He then created some fins to glue on the side, and a triangular nosecone. A simple recovery system was installed, and the whole thing was finished off with a Doritos-appropriate orange and black color scheme.

The unusual shape of the rocket meant simulating its flight characteristics on the computer wouldn’t work without custom software, so [concretedog] had to use the old school method of checking stability by swinging it around in a circle on a string. After trimming it out so it would orient itself properly on the tether, he was fairly sure it would fly straight under power. Sure enough, the video below shows the nacho cheese flavored rocket streaking skyward with impressive speed and stability.

It’s far from the most advanced model rocket we’ve seen recently, but we really appreciate the simplicity of this build. It’s a great reminder that fun doesn’t have to be high-tech, and that by following some basic construction principles, you can knock out a safe park flier rocket on a weekend.

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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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