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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A Neat Pen POV build

We’ve seen a lot of persistence of vision (POV) builds on bike wheels, sticks, and many other holders, but this one puts it on something new: a pen. [Befinitiv] was looking for a new way to add some smarts to everyday devices, and the result is a neat POV display that fits over a pen. At 128 by 64 pixels, it is not high definition, but this build uses a number of interesting techniques.

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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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The Smart Pen

“Ugh. You mean I have to press down on the pen’s button to open it? Gross.” In this day-and-age when we can swipe on our phones and do voice recognition, there seems no reason we should have to press a button. How antiquated. So [Marek Baczynski] modernized his pen for swiping and voice control. It’s also sure to get all the kids back to working on their penmanship.

Seriously though, not all hacks have to be serious. [Marek] and [Ghlargh] added a servo to activate the button, and then [Marek] added Bluetooth to control the servo. After writing a phone app, he was able to swipe down to open it and down again to close it. Then, after some prompting from Redditers he added voice control from his laptop. We think he could have done a more professional job with the way he attached the pen to the laptop, perhaps he could have 3D printed something instead of just using tape, or maybe made something using CNC or a laser cutter. An important hack such as this deserves as much. Now he need only say “Computer. Open pen.” and the tedious task is taken care of. Seeing is believing so check it out in the video below.

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Arduino Makerbeam Live Plotter Controlled By HTML5 Canvas and Java Website

We’ve never seen someone build a plotter out of buzzwords, but [roxen] did a really good job of it. The idea is simple, place the plotter over a sheet of paper, open a website, draw, and watch the plotter go. Check out the video below the break.

The user draws in an HTML5 Canvas object which is read by a Java Web Server. From there it gets converted to serial commands for an Arduino which controls the steppers with two EasyDrivers.

The build itself is really nice. It perfectly meets the mechanical requirements of a pen plotter without a lot of fluff. The overall frame is T-shaped, for the x- and y-axis. The movements are produced by two steppers and acetal rack and pinion sets. The pen is lifted up and down by a hobby servo.

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Mouse Pen from Old Parts

No offense to [Douglas Engelbart] but the computer mouse has always seemed a bit of a hack to us (and not in the good sense of the word). Sure we’ve all gotten used to them, but unlike a computer keyboard, there is no pre-computer analog to a mouse. There are plenty of alternatives, of course, like touchpads and trackballs, but they never seem to catch on to the extent that the plain old mouse has.

One interesting variation is the pen mouse. These do rely on a pre-computer analog: a pen or pencil. You can buy them already made (and they are surprisingly inexpensive), but what fun is that? [MikB] wanted one and decided to build it instead of buying it.

The main parts of the pen mouse include a cheap mouse with a failing scroll wheel, a bingo pen, and the base from an old web camera. There’s also a normal-sized pen to act as the handpiece. The project is mostly mechanical rather than electrical. [MikB] took the mouse apart and cut the PCB to fit inside the base. The rest of the build is a construction project.

The result appears to work well. [MikB] includes instructions for installing the mouse correctly in Linux. The net effect is like a tablet but doesn’t’ require much space on your desk. We’ve seen plenty of mouse projects in the past, of course. We’ve even seen hacks for a head mouse if that’s your thing.

3D Printing Pen and CNC Machine Yields Cheap 3D Printer

3D printers are ubiquitous now, but they’re still prohibitively expensive for some people. Some printers cost thousands, but even more inexpensive options aren’t exactly cheap. [Daniel] decided that this was unacceptable, and set out to make a basic 3D printer for under $100 by including only the bare essentials needed for creating anything out of melted plastic.

3D printers are essentially four parts: a bed, filament, and a hot end and extruder. In a previous project, [Daniel] used parts from old CD drives to create a three-axis CNC machine which he uses for the bed. To take care of the hot end and extruder, he is using a 3D printing pen which he mounts to the CNC machine and voila: a 3D printer!

It’s not quite as simple as just strapping a 3D printing pen to a CNC machine, though. The pen and the CNC machine have to communicate with each other so that the pen knows when to place filament and the CNC machine knows when to move. For that, [Daniel] went with a trusty Arduino in order to switch the pen on and off. Once it’s working, it’s time to start printing!

[Daniel] does note that this is a design that’s relatively limited in terms of print size and resolution, but for the price it can’t be beat. If you’re interested in getting started with 3D printing, a setup like this would be perfect. 3D pens are a pretty new idea too, and it’s interesting to see them used in different ways like this.