New (mis)Use For Lithophanes: Miniature Diorama Backgrounds

What’s better than a well-lit photo of a 3D-printed miniature? A photo of the miniature in a mini diorama, of course. [OrionDeHunter] shows off a clever technique that has something in common with old-timey photo stages and painted backgrounds, and (mis)uses 3D-printed lithophanes to pull it off. What [OrionDeHunter] does is use a curved and painted lithophane as a stand-in for a background, and the results look great!

Lithophanes are intended to be illuminated from behind to show an image, with thin areas showing as lighter and thicker areas darker, but when it comes to high contrast patterned images like brick walls, the same things that make a good lithophane just happen to also make a pretty good 3D model in the normal sense. No 3D scanning or photogrammetry required.

Here is the basic process: instead of creating a 3D model of a brick wall from scratch, [OrionDeHunter] simply converted an image of a brick wall (or stairs) into a curved lithophane with an online tool. The STL model of the lithophane is then 3D printed, painted, and used as a swappable background. When macro shots of the miniatures are taken, the curved background looks just right and allows for some controlled lighting. It’s a neat trick, and well applied in this project. Some sample images demonstrating how it works are just under the break.

Lithophanes were originally made using marble or thin porcelain, but a modern spin has been put on the technique with 3D printing. Enterprising hackers have even discovered ways to add color, too.

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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Generate 3D Printable QR Codes With This Web Tool

Since most people are carrying a camera-equipped computer in their pockets these days, QR codes can be a great way to easily share short snippets of information. You can put one on your business card so people can quickly access your contact information, or on your living room wall with your network’s SSID and encryption key. The design of QR codes also make them well suited to 3D printing, and thanks to a new web-based tool, you can generate your own custom STL in seconds.

Created by [Felix Stein], the website provides an easy to use interface for the many options possible with QR codes. Obviously you have full control over the actual content of the code, be it a simple URL or a something more specific like a pre-formatted SMS message. But you can also tweak physical parameters like size and thickness.

Once you’re happy with the 3D preview, you can have the website generate an STL for either single or multi-extrusion printers. For those of us who are puttering along with single extruder machines, you’ll need to swap the filament color at the appropriate layer manually. With so many variables involved, you’ll also need figure out which layer the swap should happen on your own.

Incidentally, this is an excellent example of where STL leaves something to be desired. When using a format like 3MF, color and material information could be baked right into the model. Once opened in a sufficiently modern slicer, all the tricky bits would automatically sorted out. Or at least, that’s what Prusa Research is hoping for.

Project Egress: [Fran] Makes A Latch

[Fran Blanche] is on the team of elite hackers that has been offered a chance to contribute to [Adam Savage]’s Project Egress, a celebration of the engineering that got humanity to the Moon 50 years ago this month. By the luck of the draw, she landed a great assignment: building a replica of one of the fifteen latches that kept the Apollo Command Module hatch dogged down against the vacuum of space, and she’s doing a great job documenting her build with some interesting videos.

The first video below is mostly her talking through her design process, materials choices, and ideas about fabricating the somewhat intricate pieces of the latch. All 44 makers involved in the project get to choose what materials and methods they’ll use to make their parts, and [Fran] decided to use wood. Her first inclination was to use oak and brass, a nice combination with an 80s vibe, but in the second video, which covers more of the initial fabrication, she explains her switch to walnut. Unfortunately, the only CNC option she has is a Shaper Origin, which presents some difficulties; the handheld tool requires some complicated fixturing to safely machine the small parts needed, and its inability to read STL files means that [Fran] is stuck with a complicated software toolchain to drive the tool.

There are more videos to come as [Fran] gets further into the build, and we’re looking forward to seeing how her part and the rest of the makers’ builds come out.

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3D Printering: The Past And Future Of Prusa’s Slicer

If you own a desktop 3D printer, you’re almost certainly familiar with Slic3r. Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell, there’s an excellent chance that a program you’ve used to convert STLs into the G-code your printer can understand was using Slic3r behind the scenes in some capacity. While there have been the occasional challengers, Slic3r has remained one of the most widely used open source slicers for the better part of a decade. While some might argue that proprietary slicers have pulled ahead in some respects, it’s hard to beat free.

So when Josef Prusa announced his team’s fork of Slic3r back in 2016, it wasn’t exactly a shock. The company wanted to offer a slicer optimized for their line of 3D printers, and being big proponents of open source, it made sense they would lean heavily on what was already available in the community. The result was the aptly named “Slic3r Prusa Edition”, or as it came to be known, Slic3r PE.

Ostensibly the fork enabled Prusa to fine tune print parameters for their particular machines and implement support for products such as their Multi-Material Upgrade, but it didn’t take long for Prusa’s developers to start fixing and improving core Slic3r functionality. As both projects were released under the GNU Affero General Public License v3.0, any and all of these improvements could be backported to the original Slic3r; but doing so would take considerable time and effort, something that’s always in short supply with community developed projects.

Since Slic3r PE still produced standard G-code that any 3D printer could use, soon people started using it with their non-Prusa printers simply because it had more features. But this served only to further blur the line between the two projects, especially for new users. When issues arose, it could be hard to determine who should take responsibility for it. All the while, the gap between the two projects continued to widen.

With a new release on the horizon that promised to bring massive changes to Slic3r PE, Josef Prusa decided things had reached a tipping point. In a recent blog post, he announced that as of version 2.0, their slicer would henceforth be known as PrusaSlicer. Let’s take a look at this new slicer, and find out what it took to finally separate these two projects.

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When Unfolding An STL In Software, Math Isn’t The Tricky Part

Some time ago, [Trammell Hudson] took a shot at creating a tool that unfolds 3D models in STL format and outputs a color-coded 2D pattern that can be cut out using a laser cutter. With a little bending and gluing, the 3D model can be re-created out of paper or cardboard.

There are of course other and more full-featured tools for unfolding 3D models: Pepakura is used by many, but is not free and is Windows only. There is also a Blender extension called Paper Model that exists to export 3D shapes as paper models.

What’s interesting about [Trammell]’s project are the things he discovered while making it. The process of unfolding an STL may be conceptually simple, but the actual implementation is a bit tricky in ways that have little to do with number crunching.

For example, in a logical sense it doesn’t matter much where the software chooses to start the unfolding process, but in practice some start points yield much tighter groups of shapes that are easier to work with. Also, his software doesn’t optimize folding patterns, so sometimes the software will split a shape along a perfectly logical (but non-intuitive to a human) line and it can be difficult to figure out which pieces are supposed to attach where. The software remains in beta, but those who are interested can find it hosted on GitHub. It turns out that it’s actually quite challenging to turn a 3D model into an unfolded shape that still carries visual cues or resemblances to the original. Adding things like glue tabs in sensible places isn’t trivial, either.

Tools to unfold 3D models feature prominently in the prop-making world, and it’s only one of the several reasons an economical desktop cutter might be a useful addition to one’s workshop.

Tiny Drone Racing Gates Use Up Those Filament Scraps

Drone racing comes in different shapes and sizes, and some multirotor racers can be very small indeed. Racing means having gates to fly though, and here’s a clever DIY design by [Qgel] that uses a small 3D printed part and a segment of printer filament as the components for small-scale drone racing gates.

The base is 3D printed as a single piece and is not fussy about tolerances, meanwhile the gate itself is formed from a segment of printer filament. Size is easily adjusted, they disassemble readily, are cheap to produce, and take up very little space. In short, perfect for its intended purpose.

Races benefit from being able to measure lap time, and that led to DIY drone racing transponders, complete with a desktop client for managing the data. Not all flying is about racing, but pilots with racing skills were key to getting results in this Star Wars fan film that used drones. Finally, those who still feel that using the word “drone” to include even palm-sized racers is too broad of a use may be interested in [Brian Benchoff]’s research into the surprisingly long history of the word “drone” and its historically broad definition.