Last week, the Aldi supermarket chain in Australia sold 3D printers. They’ve done it before, with a bigger and more expensive printer, but I missed out then. This time they were selling the Cocoon Create Model Maker for AU$300. I bought two. And 4 reels of slate grey filament.
The Model Maker is an Australian rebadging of the Wanhao Duplicator i3 mini. It has a smaller build volume than the earlier Cocoon Create printers, or my old Prusa Mendel kit. It comes with a specially set up version of the open source ‘Cura’ slicing software with all the settings carefully entered to make life easier for beginners. Using the latest and greatest Cura version, or any other slicing software of your choice, is just a matter of copying the configuration details across.
Model Makers don’t have a heated bed, but the small print area makes that less important than on a larger machine where warping is more of an issue.
The biggest thing is that they just work! Build quality is good – as in they feel like proper machines rather than a jury-rigged pile of plumbing parts and bits of old cars. Once I got the bed covered in blue painters tape and properly levelled, I really haven’t had to do much more than watch that the first layer went down securely. Then I just leave them to do their thing til I hear the distinctive sound of the print head retiring out of the way when the print is completed.
I’ve got to the point where if both printers aren’t printing, I feel like I’m wasting machine time! While I was walking out of Aldi with two printers and 4 boxes of 1kg reels of printing filament in my arms – wishing I’d grabbed a trolley on the way in – I wondered if I was wasting my money buying two printers. Given how constantly I’m running both printers at once, it was a great decision.
First I printed a ‘smiley face’ from the micro-SD card supplied with the printer. Then I installed the supplied version of Cura. Then I used Cura to slice one of my old calibration cube STL files and printed the resulting gcode. Baby steps to prove things were working properly and to finesse the bed height and level. Then I went straight for fun things from thingiverse.
Parametric Lego Duplo
Thing 1778 by Domonoky is a LEGO Duplo compatible brick generator. You pick the number of studs you want on top, and the software designs an STL file for you. I generated, sliced and printed a 2×2 Duplo-like brick. No Z-Axis Wobble! Yay! I couldn’t test the fit because I don’t own any LEGO duplo blocks. Never mind – onward!
OpenForge Stone Dungeon Edge Walls
Thing 204629 by devonjones. This is more like it! I play tabletop games regularly with a club in town. Lots of the members hand-make and paint amazing terrain for their various wargames. Some of them buy and assemble laser-cut wooden building models. I wanted to make modular terrain for roleplaying games and tabletop skirmish games. Games like Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, 7TV – inch-high Spy-Fi, BattleStations, Robert E. Howard’s Conan, and the new Star Trek Adventures RPG.
Devonjones’ OpenForge terrain prints easily, looks great, and is really solid. Perhaps too solid. The pieces are designed to be compatible with the commercial Dwarven Forge terrain, which is gorgeous but expensive and heavy, and sits on thick bases. It is correspondingly difficult to store and transport. This also means that the OpenForge bases are thicker than I really need. Having the walls and floor permanently connected also means that I’d need a lot of storage space to hold a useful quantity of parts.
Z-Axis Optimized Dominion Terrain Tiles
Thing 2528937 by dutchmogul. Dutchmogul provides some of the best gaming-related 3D-printable models on thingiverse. Brilliant sculpts of 28mm miniatures, creatures, buildings, vehicles, you name it. And several modular terrain systems.
The system I settled on was his Z-Axis Optimised Dimensions for 28mm miniatures. Walls, floors, and doorways all interlock together. Working out room and corridor designs is a fun puzzle, like designing with LEGO only much faster. It isn’t as solid in play as the OpenForge system – the walls can be a little unstable if your printer’s tolerances are a bit off – but it is much easier to store, faster to print, and more fun to set up. I reckon I can get a decent amount of terrain stored in a wooden Twinings Tea box I picked up at a flea market and haven’t had a use for yet.
40mm Scifi Terminal Objective
To make the terrain look interesting, I needed furniture and people for a sense of scale. My first set of photos uses some sadly out-of-production Star Wars Miniatures from Wizards of the Coast, which I picked up second-hand from Jesse at the Lismore House of M some years ago.
Cobble Base for LEGO minifigs (25mm)
I have a small collection of the also sadly out-of-production Character Building Doctor Who miniatures. They come with inconveniently shaped bases. When I took them off their bases and posed them in my little diorama, they fell over if I bumped anything. I’m clumsy, so they fell over a lot. The little guys have feet that are mostly compatible with LEGO minifigs. Mostly. If you’ve ever played with any of the LEGO-like toys on the market, you’ll know that only LEGO can build to LEGO tolerances. Everyone else can’t quite get the fit, and the material quality, and the ‘click’ that real LEGO gives.
So when I decided to make some printed bases to stop my Doctor Who minis falling over, I knew I’d have to do some test prints to get the feet to fit solidly. The default dimensions of haratu’s cobble base printed a little too loose. If I picked up the mini by the head, the base would fall off. So I scaled it up to 105% in Cura and printed another one. That fitted, but was too tight. I didn’t want to stretch the plastic in the feet, so 105% was probably pushing it too far. I test printed at 101%, 102%, 103%, and 104% scale factors.
102% was just right, on both the Character Building figures and my real Lego minifigs. On a different printer, maybe one of the others scale factors would have been better. I then laid out a grid of 9 of the 102% scaled bases in Cura, sliced them as a job lot, and printed them in one go. A single base takes my printer 23 minutes to print at the settings I’m using. Printing nine at a time takes 3 hours 20 minutes – basically nine times as long. But I don’t have to stop what I’m doing every 23 minutes to take the finished base off and restart the printer. So my time is much more efficiently used by batch printing.
Now my little people can stand up, and the bases are the same colour as the rest of the diorama’s terrain pieces.
Dutchmogul has released printable STL files for miniature bases – Z.O.D. Starship Theme Bases (28mm/Heroic scale) – that exactly match the terrain in his ZoD tiles. I really should learn how to modify them to have LEGO compatible studs. That’d look even better than the bases I’m using now.