This Thermal Printer has Serious Game

[Dhole], like the fox, isn’t the first to connect his computer to a Game Boy printer but he has done a remarkable job of documenting the process so well that anyone can follow. The operation is described well enough that it isn’t necessary to scrutinize his code, so don’t be put off if C and Rust are not your first choices. The whole thing is written like a story in three chapters.

The first chapter is about hacking a link cable between two Game Boys. First, he explains the necessity and process of setting the speed of his microcontroller, a NUCLEO-F411RE development board by STMicroelectronics. Once the rate is set, he builds a sniffer by observing the traffic on the cable and listens in on two Game Boys playing Tetris in competition mode. We can’t help but think that some 8-bit cheating would be possible if Tetris thought your opponent instantly had a screen overflowing with tetrominoes. Spying on a couple of Game Boys meant that no undue stress was put on the printer.

Chapter two built on the first chapter by using the protocol to understand how the printer expects to be spoken to. There is plenty of documentation about this already, and it is thoughtfully referenced. It becomes possible to convince a Game Boy that the connected microcontroller is a printer so it will oblige by sending an image. Since there isn’t a reason to wait for printing hardware, the transfer is nearly instantaneous. In the image above, you can see a picture of [Dhole] taken by a Game Boy camera.

The final chapter, now that all the protocols are understood, is also the climax where the computer and microcontroller convince the printer they are a Game Boy that wants to print an image. In the finale, we get another lesson about measuring controller frequency without an oscilloscope. If you are looking for the hack, there it is. There is a handful of success in the form of old receipts with superimposed grayscale images since virgin thermal printer paper by Nintendo costs as much as a used printer.

This story had a happy ending but grab your reading glasses for the smallest Game Boy and here’s someone who wrote their own Game Boy color game.

Trio of Tips for a Cetus Printer

Thanks to the holiday gifting cycle, many homes are newly adorned with 3D printers. Some noobs are clearly in the “plug and play” camp, looking for a user experience no more complicated than installing a new 2D printer. But most of us quickly learn that adding a dimension increases the level of difficulty substantially, and tinkering ensues.

One such tinkerer, [Marco Reps], has been taking his new Cetus 3D printer to new places, and his latest video offers a trio of tips to enhance the user experience of this bare-bones but capable printer. First tip: adding a heated bed. While the company offers a heated aluminum bed for ABS and PETG printing at a very reasonable price, [Marco] rolled his own. He bolted some power resistors to the aluminum platen, built a simple controller, and used the oversized stock power supply to run everything.

To contain the heat, tip two is an enclosure for the printer. Nothing revolutionary here — [Marco] just built a quick cover from aluminum profiles and acrylic.

But the clear case allows for tip number three, the gem of this video: synchronized time-lapse photography. Unhappy with the jerky time-lapse sequences that are standard fare, he wrote a Python program that uses OpenCV to compare webcam frames and save those that are similar to the last saved frame. This results in super smooth time-lapse sequences that make it look like the print is being extruded as a unit. Pretty neat stuff.

Did you find a 3D printer under your Festivus Pole, and now you’re wondering what’s next? Check out [Tom Nardi]’s guide for 3D newbies for more tips.

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Heavily Hacked Printer for DIY PCBs

Sometimes we get tips that only leave us guessing as to how — and sometimes why — a project was built. Such is the case with this PCB printer; in this case, the build specifics are the only thing in question, because it puts out some pretty impressive PCBs.

All we have to go on is the video after the break, which despite an exhaustive minutes-long search appears to be the only documentation [Androkavo] did for this build. The captions tell us that the printer is built around the guts from an Epson Stylus Photo 1390 printer. There’s no evidence of that from the outside, as every bit of the printer has been built into a custom enclosure. The paper handling gear has been replaced by an A3-sized heated flatbed, adjustable in the Z-axis to accommodate varying board thicknesses. The bed runs on linear rails that appear custom-made. Under the hood, the ink cartridges have been replaced with outboard ink bottles in any color you want as long as it’s black. The video shows some test prints down to 0.1 mm traces with 0.1 mm pitch — those were a little dodgy, but at a 0.2 mm pitch, the finest traces came out great. The boards were etched in the usual way with great results; we wonder if the printer could be modified to print resist and silkscreens too.

[Androkavo] seems to have quite a few interesting projects in his YouTube channel, one of which — this wooden digital clock — we featured recently. We’d love to learn more about this printer build, though. Hopefully [Androkavo] will see this and comment below.

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2.5D Printing?

Casio — the company famous for calculators, watches, and calculator watches — is touting a 2.5D printer. We aren’t sure we are impressed with the marketing hype name, but it is an interesting innovation for people prototyping new designs. The printer can create material that appears to be leather, fabric, and other materials. With some additional work, the printer can even mimic hard materials like stone or wood. You can see a video about the machine below.

The Mofrel printer uses special “digital sheets” that appear to be thick paper or PET plastic, but are really a sandwich of different materials. When you heat an area of the sheet, particles inside the sandwich expand allowing the printer to apply a texture.

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Mini-Banners for Small Occasions

Do you often find yourself needing to make small signs? Perhaps you’re trying to put a notice on the office fridge, but you’re just not in the mood for the usual Comic Sans-on-A4 staple today. A banner of some sort would do the trick, but… a small one, right? [Mike Ingle] has the answer – making mini-banners on old receipt printers.

[Mike] was a fan of Paint Shop in the 1980s, which among other things, enabled the printing of long banners on the popular dot matrix printers of the era. Realising that receipt printers have a similar ability to print on a long continuous strip of paper, he decided to see if it was possible to create small banners using the hardware.

The hack is simple – ImageMagick is used to generate a one-bit black & white bitmap that is then processed with some custom C code to generate something the printer can understand. It’s then a simple matter of hacking up the original RS-232 cable to fit a DB-9 (aka DE-9) connector, and spitting out the instructions over serial.

The mini-banners are cool, and we could imagine having some fun with such a project, using it to print out tweets or putting it into service as a stock ticker. It’s a great example of cleanly interfacing with existing hardware to create something outside of the original design intentions. Such printers are fertile ground for hacks – like this printer that can spit out the US Constitution in 6 seconds flat.

Poetry in Motion with a Sand-Dispensing Dot Matrix Printer

Hackaday gets results! Reader [John] saw our recent Fail of the Week post about a “sand matrix printer” and decided to share his own version, a sand-dispensing dot matrix printer he built last year.

Granted, [John]’s version is almost the exact opposite of [Vjie Miller]’s failed build, which sought to make depressions in the sand to print characters. [John]’s Sandscript takes a hopper full of dry, clean sand and dispenses small piles from six small servo-controlled nozzles. The hopper is mounted on a wheeled frame, and an optical encoder on one wheel senses forward motion to determine when to open each nozzle. As [John] slowly walks behind and to the side of the cart, a line of verse is slowly drizzled out onto the pavement. See it in action in the video below.

More performance art piece than anything else, we can see how this would be really engaging, with people following along like kids after the [Pied Piper], waiting to find out what the full message is. There’s probably a statement in there about the impermanence of art and the fleeting nature of existence, but we just think it’s a really cool build.

We’ve featured other sand writers before, like this high-resolution draw bot that also dispenses sandy verses, or this literal beach-combing art bot. Guess there’s just something about sand that inspires artists and hackers alike.

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Vintage Plotter Handles Chaos With Ease

No lab in almost any discipline was complete in the 70s and 80s without an X-Y plotter. The height of data acquisition chic, these simple devices were connected to almost anything that produced an analog output worth saving. Digital data acquisition pushed these devices to the curb, but they’re easily found, cheap, and it’s worth a look under the hood to see what made these things tick.

The HP-7044A that [Kerry Wong] scored off eBay is in remarkably good shape four decades after leaving the factory. While the accessory pack that came with it shows its age with dried up pens and disintegrating foam, the plotter betrays itself only by the yellowish cast to its original beige case. Inside, the plotter looks pristine. Completely analog with the only chips being some op-amps in TO-5 cans, everything is in great shape, even the high-voltage power supply used to electrostatically hold the paper to the plotter’s bed. Anyone hoping for at least a re-capping will be disappointed; H-P built things to last back in the day.

[Kerry] puts the plotter through its paces by programming an Arduino to generate a Lorenz attractor, a set of differential equations with chaotic solutions that’s perfect for an X-Y plotter. The video below shows the mesmerizing butterfly taking shape. Given the plotter’s similarity to an oscilloscope, we wonder if some SDR-based Lissajous patterns might be a fun test as well, or how it would handle musical mushrooms.

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