As you can see from the date on the previous post, it has been over a year and a half since I last wrote a new post on this blog. Despite this, Brazen Artifice has been getting steady hits all this time, so I hope my ramblings have been useful to folks. But I’m ready to branch out. Please let me explain.
My 3D prints are not smooth enough
There are two major reasons why I haven’t been so obsessed with my 3D printer lately:
- 3D modelling with open source software is hard to learn. That is only overcome with lots of practice. And I haven’t practiced enough because I lack motivation. And I lack motivation because …
- the surface finish of extruded-plastic 3D printers is … um … characteristic. It is bumpy and ridged, like a topographic map cut out in layers. There is not much I can do to improve that without post-processing the prints – coating them with paint and texture compound and other messy manual things which are not easily repeatable.
So I’ve been looking for a way of crafting cool exotic-looking artefacts that requires less mess. I think I’ve found it. And I think it’ll integrate well with my 3D printer output.
Paper craft and manual die-cutting machines
Recently I met Chrissie, a lovely lady who is setting up a Steampunk-inspired clothing store in a town near me. I love steampunk and goth fashion and gadgetry. I love the brazen, happy I’m not mundane creative vibe. Chrissie asked me to 3D print some gear wheels for decorating her cool steampunk hats, which was no problem. She’s quite happy to do the messy paint application bit. In fact, she happily paints on people with an airbrush, so messy paint-on-fingers is second nature for her. She’s setting up a website to support her work, and I’ll add her to my blogroll when she’s ready.
When she saw the gears I printed for her, she had another request. She has a manual paper die-cutting machine, a Sizzix Big Shot. It uses a variety of dies and texture plates to cut or emboss flat things ranging from tissue paper to heavy card to thin metal like aluminium flashing. The results are really cool. She wondered if I could 3D print an embossing plate for her, with her business name printed small enough to fit on merchandise tags.
So I said “Sure, I’ll have a go at that!”
Off to teh interwebz, to find out what would work on her machine. Lots of watching YouTube videos of scrapbooking crafters using die-cutters. I’m a tool junkie. I could see the potential, but also the limitations of template based machines – you can only cut shapes you have bought templates for. One particular packet of templates in my local Spotlight store was over $150. Expensive. (No link because Spotlight’s web site is pathetic). Which is why Chrissie asked me to 3D print something that would have worked much better as a commercial template, except that no such template existed or ever would exist.
But wait there’s more (as the evil American-made infomercial YouTube videos would say. Grr. Not all internet research is fun.) I discovered an alternative to manual die-cutters.
There are electronic cutting machines.
Basically like an extrusion 3D printer, but in 2D and with a very small, very sharp knife instead of a nozzle. Computer-Numerically-Controlled Cartesian robots dedicated to cutting out shapes from flat surfaces. Astonishingly precise.
Sign writers use them all the time for cutting vinyl lettering and logos for signs. Advanced scrapbookers and card makers use them for cutting shapes for their saccharine-sweet photo displays. Some tabletop wargamers use them to automatically cut out the print-and-fold scenery and buildings for their miniature figures to fight around. Paper engineers use them for prototyping their popup card designs. OK, now I’m getting seriously interested.
At the high end of the market, these things can be huge and have seriously industrial-machinery prices.
Down at the bottom end of the market, things are getting really sophisticated, and cheap, and easily available.
Brother’s Scan-N-Cut Electronic Cutter
Cutting to the chase, I bought this machine over the counter from my local big-box craft and sewing store, Spotlight. Recommended retail price is $600 Australian, but the man who was showing it to me pointed out that as a member of their VIP Club loyalty program I was entitled to a coupon for 40% off the price of any one item. So the price to me was $360. Sold! (I think the coupon deal expires in 12 days.)
It was only released late last year, and already the interwebz is awash with videos and blog posts about it. It is marketed at scrapbookers and quilters, who want to cut out very precise shapes from paper, card, and fabric.
But it has much more potential than that.
- It has a built in scanner, so you can scan your own hand-drawn designs, folding templates for packaging, clip art from books like Dover’s public-domain collections, paper dolls, or things you’ve printed off on a regular 2D printer. Then it’ll detect the edges and cut out the shapes.
- You can design things in any software that can output vector graphics in SVG format (like my favourite, the open-source Inkscape). Then use Brother’s free-by-registration browser-based web-service ScanNCut Canvas to convert them to the proprietary format cutting files for the machine.
WTF? Yeah, it sucks that the cutting file format is proprietary. And that you can’t do the conversions on your own PC. And it really sucks that the web service won’t work in Firefox. I mean, how is that even possible! Firefox can do anything! I’ve had to install Chrome (from Google, the New Evil Empire) just to use this one feature. And you have to agree to Terms of Service to use this feature that should have come with the machine!.
I’m hoping Brother will see the light and realise that they can’t expect to be – and don’t want to be – the gatekeepers of what can be cut on my personal cutting machine. The smart move would be to make it as easy as possible for people to make and distribute cutting files, to build unstoppable community momentum.
What if their lawyers decide they need to implement some sort of Digital Rights Management system. Error 666: The submitted cutting outline is similar to a [Dalek | Transformer | Disney Character | Marvel Character | Weapon | Unlawful Sexual Act]. You have violated your Terms of Service Agreement. The Copyright Police of your Country of Record have been informed. Have a Nice Day.
The product manual has a small section titled Unlawful Use of Scanning Equipment, with a short “non-exhaustive” list of things which it may be unlawful to produce copies of. Like Immigration Papers and Currency!. I’ve never seen a scanner manual give a warning like that before. Just how stupid do they think their target demographic is?]
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So this is why I’m expanding the focus of this blog
As I said, I’ve never been happy with the visual texture of my 3D printed pieces from my RepRap printer. But I love the texture and appearance of paper cut-outs. Childhood memories of Asterix The Gaul cut-out villages probably had some influence here. And I love the smooth glossiness of photographic paper. So I’ll combine them all.
Imagine 3D automata – gear wheels and camshafts and conrods powered by hand cranks or electric motors or servo-motors or the wind – roughly painted in grungy metallic acrylics, with perfectly 2D printed cut-out decorative plates of Victorian clipart glued or bolted to the moving parts. The mechanical skeleton made of plastic, the skin of paper or transparent plastic or even fabric. Sounds like fun to me.
Now I love the name of this blog. I’ve used Brazen Artifice as my identity all over the web. I always like names to have multiple layers of meaning, and Brazen Artifice is all about creating boldly, and building fantasy, regardless of the opinions of others. I’m not going to give up using the name just so I can keep it exclusively for 3D printing.
So from now on, this blog is officially about the processes of creating stuff, no matter how I do it or what tools I use.
And if you subscribed to my blog feed because you are fanatically obsessed with desktop 3D printing, I hope you’ll still find useful ideas now and then. Because my 3D printer is one of my favorite tools. But honestly, since I hadn’t posted in 18 months, you can’t be any worse off than you were yesterday!