DIY Automated Printer Kerchunks Out Classic Embossed Labels

For our money, the best label for pretty much any purpose is one of those embossed Dymo-style stick-on labels, the kind with the raised white letters. There’s just something about them — the raised letters just beg to be touched, their legibility is outstanding, they lend an unmatched retro feel to a project, and the experience of creating one with one of those manual kerchunkers is oddly satisfying.

But alas, those manual label makers aren’t what they used to be, as [Andrei Speridião] discovered when his fell apart in his hands. Rather than complain, he automated his label maker and turned it into a computer peripheral.  Dubbed “E-TKT”, the DIY label printer takes the daisy-wheel embossing die from his defunct labeler and puts it under computer control. Rather than the ratchet mechanism of the original, a stepper motor advances the tape, another stepper rotates the wheel to the correct position, and a servo does the kerchunking duty. The process repeats until the label is complete and neatly cut off, ready to apply. An ESP32 runs the mechanism and serves up a web application to compose labels and control the printer. There’s also an OLED display and, of course, an embossed label. Video demo below.

We don’t care what [Bart Simpson] thinks, embossed labels are cool, and this makes them even cooler. And as [Andrei] points out, this is also a neat way around the nasty DRM trick that some companies are foisting on the label-making public. That alone is reason to cheer this project on — but we won’t complain about the beautiful photography and excellent documentation, either.

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Invisible 3D Printed Codes Make Objects Interactive

An interesting research project out of MIT shows that it’s possible to embed machine-readable labels into 3D printed objects using nothing more than an FDM printer and filament that is transparent to IR. The method is being called InfraredTags; by embedding something like a QR code or ArUco markers into an object’s structure, that label can be detected by a camera and interactive possibilities open up.

One simple proof of concept is a wireless router with its SSID embedded into the side of the device, and the password embedded into a different code on the bottom to ensure that physical access is required to obtain the password. Mundane objects can have metadata embedded into them, or provide markers for augmented reality functionality, like tracking the object in 3D.

How are the codes actually embedded? The process is straightforward with the right tools. The team used a specialty filament from vendor 3dk.berlin that looks nearly opaque in the visible spectrum, but transmits roughly 45% in IR.  The machine-readable label gets embedded within the walls of a printed object either by using a combination of IR PLA and air gaps to represent the geometry of the code, or by making a multi-material print using IR PLA and regular (non-IR transmitting) PLA. Both provide enough contrast for an IR-sensitive camera to detect the label, although the multi-material version works a little better overall. Sadly, the average mobile phone camera by itself isn’t sufficiently IR-sensitive to passively read these embedded tags, so the research used easily available cameras with no IR-blocking filters, like the Raspberry Pi NoIR.

The PDF has deeper details of the implementation for those of you who want to know more, and you can see a demonstration of a few different applications in the video, embedded below. Determining the provenance of 3D printed objects is a topic of some debate in the industry, and it’s not hard to see how technology like this could be used to covertly identify objects without compromising their appearance.

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Label Your Shtuff!

Joshua Vasquez wrote a piece a couple of weeks ago about how his open source machine benefits greatly from having part numbers integrated into all of the 3D printed parts. It lets people talk exactly about which widget, and which revision of that widget, they have in front of them.

Along the way, he mentions that it’s also a good idea to have labels as an integrated part of the machine anywhere you have signals or connectors. That way, you never have to ask yourself which side is positive, or how many volts this port is specced for. It’s the “knowledge in the head” versus “knowledge in the world” distinction — if you have to remember it, you’ll forget it, but if it’s printed on the very item, you’ll just read it.

I mention this because I was beaten twice in the last week by this phenomenon, once by my own hand costing an hour’s extra work, and once by the hand of others, releasing the magic smoke and sending me crawling back to eBay.

The first case is a 3D-printed data and power port, mounted on the underside of a converted hoverboard-transporter thing that I put together for last year’s Chaos Communication Congress. I was actually pretty proud of the design, until I wanted to reflash the firmware a year later.

I knew that I had broken out not just the serial lines and power rails (labelled!) but also the STM32 SWD programming headers and I2C. I vaguely remember having a mnemonic that explained how TX and RX were related to SCK and SDA, but I can’t remember it for the life of me. And the wires snake up under a heatsink where I can’t even trace them out to the chip. “Knowledge in the world”? I failed that, so I spent an hour looking for my build notes. (At least I had them.)

Then the smoke came out of an Arduino Mega that I was using with a RAMPS 1.4 board to drive a hot-wire cutting CNC machine. I’ve been playing around with this for a month now, and it was gratifying to see it all up and running, until something smelled funny, and took out a wall-wart power supply in addition to the Mega.

All of the parts on the RAMPS board are good to 36 V or so, so it shouldn’t have been a problem, and the power input is only labelled “5 A” and “GND”, so you’d figure it wasn’t voltage-sensitive and 18 V would be just fine. Of course, you can read online the tales of woe as people smoke their Mega boards, which have a voltage regulator that’s only good to 12 V and is powered for some reason through the RAMPS board even though it’s connected via USB to a computer. To be honest, if the power input were labelled 12 V, I still might have chanced it with 18 V, but at least I would have only myself to blame.

Part numbers are a great idea, and I’ll put that on my list of New Year’s resolutions for 2021. But better labels, on the device in question, for any connections, isn’t even going to wait the couple weeks until January. I’m changing that right now.

An Automatic Label Dispenser For Quicker Stickers

If you have any kind of business, chances are it involves stickers at some point in the process. More accurately it involves you peeling the backs off of sticker after sticker, slowly wasting time and working your way toward a repetitive stress injury. Why do that to yourself when you could have a machine do it for you?

That’s exactly the thinking behind [Mr Innovative]’s automatic label dispensing machine. All he has to do is load up the roll of labels, dial in the length of each label, and away the machine goes, advancing and dispensing and taking up the empty paper all at once. In fact, that’s how it works: the take-up reel is on the shaft of a NEMA-17 stepper motor, which gets its instructions from an Arduino Nano and an A4988 motor driver. Our favorite part is the IR sensor located underneath the sticker that’s ready to take — the machine doesn’t feed another until it senses that you’ve taken the previous sticker. We stuck the demo and build video after the break.

Our other favorite thing about this build is that [Mr Innovative] seems to have used the same PCB as his freaky fast bobbin winder.

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3D Printable Nameplates From Your Web Browser

It’s an unwritten rule that all proper pieces of shop equipment need a nameplate. Otherwise, how are you going to know what name to use when you curse it under your breath? In the old days these would have been made out of something fancy such as brass, but for the modern hacker that doesn’t stand on tradition, you can now easily outfit all your gear with custom 3D printed nameplates using this online tool.

Granted, it wouldn’t be very difficult to throw one of these together in whatever CAD package you happen to have access to. But with the tool [Tobias Weber] has developed, you don’t have to. Simply pick the font, the shape of the border, and fill in a few variables to fine tune things such as padding and base thickness.

Finally, enter your text and marvel at the real-time 3D preview that’s rendered thanks to the magic of modern web technologies. In seconds, you’ll have an STL file that’s ready for the warm liquid goo phase.

The huge collection of fonts are a particularly nice touch, ranging from delicate scripts to military style stencils. Depending on your CAD software, getting arbitrary fonts imported and extruded into a three dimensional shape can be tricky for new players. If we do have one complaint though, it’s that there doesn’t seem to be a clear indicator of how big the nameplate is going to be when exported. First time around, it spit out an STL that would have been 300 mm long if we hadn’t scaled it down in the slicer.

This project is very reminiscent of another web-based tool we featured recently. That one allowed you to make 3D printed QR codes which would whatever entomb in plastic whatever data your cold hacker heart desired.

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Print Your Own Heat Shrink Labels For Factory-Chic Wire Naming

Heat shrink tubing is great for insulating wires. Labeling wires in a bundle is always useful, too. [Voltlog] has a cheap Brother label printer and discovered he can buy knock off label cassettes for a lot less from China. However, he also found something else: cassettes with heat shrink tubing in them made for the same kind of printer. Could he use the heat shrink cassettes to make neat wire labels? In his first video the answer was sort of, but not really. However, he later had a breakthrough and made a second video explaining how to do it. You can see both videos, below.

At first, the printer didn’t even want to recognize the cassette. It seems like Brother doesn’t want you using exotic tapes with cheap printers. No worry, this isn’t sophisticated DRM, just a sense hole that you need to cover with tape. This discovery was made using the extremely scientific trick of covering all the holes that were not on a regular cassette.

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Enclosure Needs Labels? Make The 3D Printer Do It

Tool changing on 3D printers is hot right now, and it’s going to be really interesting to see the ideas that reliable tool changing lets people try out. One such idea is having the 3D printer use a marker to label the enclosure and buttons it just 3D printed.

The 3D print shown is an enclosure for a Pocket Operator by Teenage Engineering. [Marc Schömann] made the enclosure on Blackbox, a tool-changing 3D printer that he designed. The video below shows a pen holder drawing the labels directly onto the printed object. Pocket Operators may look like calculators, but they are clever electronic musical devices capable of producing real music. (The best way to learn about what they are and what they can do is to watch a tutorial video or two.)

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