Cocoon Create Model Maker Adventures

My two new Cocoon Create Model Maker 3D printers

My two new Cocoon Create Model Maker 3D printers. With LEGO Star Wars minifigs for scale and mystical protection. Bought from Aldi for AU$300 each. No dealing with deliverymen or postal services

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.

This small smiley face comes on the micro-SD card with the Cocoon Create Model Maker. It is printed on a raft – a thick but strangely flexible mass of plastic that sticks well to the print bed and makes bed-levelling less critical. Don’t use short bits of filament or you’ll run out part way through as I did here.

Second attempt. You can see that the top is porous – badly sliced. Sadly the folks who sliced the gcode also forgot to make the nozzle move away from the print when it finished extruding. That caused the mark that looks like he’s drooling from the corner of his mouth.

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

Parametric LEGO Duplo compatible block (underside). I was impressed with the quality of the bridging - the way the printer prints 'in mid air' between two fixed supports. There was no noticeable sagging.

Parametric LEGO Duplo compatible block (underside). I was impressed with the quality of the bridging – the way the printer prints ‘in mid air’ between two fixed supports. There was no noticeable sagging.

Parametric LEGO Duplo compatible block (top view)

Parametric LEGO Duplo compatible block (top view)

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

OpenForge 2x2 walled tile with LEGO goblin for scale.

OpenForge 2×2 walled tile with LEGO goblin for scale. Yes, I should have focussed on the bricks at the back rather than the minifig. Sorry.

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

Dutchmogul's ZoD tile system occupied by WOTC Star Wars Miniatures

Dutchmogul’s ZoD tile system occupied by WOTC Star Wars Miniatures

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

40mm Sci-Fi Terminal Objective at 0.2mm layer height (front).

40mm Sci-Fi Terminal Objective at 0.2mm layer height (front). I’d like to try again at 0.1mm

40mm Sci-Fi Terminal Objective at 0.2mm layer height (back)

40mm Sci-Fi Terminal Objective at 0.2mm layer height (back)

Dutchmogul's ZoD tile system occupied by WOTC Star Wars Miniatures - Mon Mothma phoning home

Dutchmogul’s ZoD tile system occupied by WOTC Star Wars Miniatures – Mon Mothma phoning home.

Thing 2552113 is a clever remix by mr_mich of  PabloNada‘s 1/72 Computer Console and some bits of buildings and other sci-fi ‘greeblies’ from jdteixeira

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)

Thing 2325713  by haratu

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.

River Song on cobble base, using computer terminal to send emails in a quiet moment.

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.



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6 Responses to Cocoon Create Model Maker Adventures

  1. talismancer says:

    Great article! I’ve been wondering about the quality from the model maker. Good to see you’re getting nice results. I’m also big into Openforge/ZOD/All the rest. Dont stop printing! Cheers…Talismancer

  2. Super Wanhao says:

    Could you please provide your current Cura settings? I’m using PLA and am having an etremely difficult time getting the prints to stick to the bed. The first layer always starts warping, I’ve tried hairspray and glue stick, still peeling off the bed. Thanks!

    • I’d be really surprised if your adhesion issues are caused by your Cura settings. They are nearly always caused by a combination of:-

      1: Bed not being clean enough – finger oils stop the plastic from sticking well so don’t touch the bed with your fingers. Folks use isopropyl alcohol or even metho to wipe down the surface, then let dry. I print on Blue Painter’s Tape from Bunnings, the 50mm wide version because it is easier to cover the bed with it and butt the edges so there are no high spots. I replace it whenever a print sticks so tightly that the tape tears when I take the object off the bed. That tends to happen if I clean with metho then print without waiting long enough for all the metho to dry off. Also, the tape is sacrificial, rather than scratching the print bed surface with the palette knife while removing prints.

      3: insufficiently level bed. You can tell this by printing a large rectangle, stopping after the first layer, and examining the thickness of the lines. They should be uniformly wide across the whole width of the bed – which will prove the bed is level.

      4: bed level but too low. Once it is level, you can raise the bed towards the nozzle – by say a quarter turn on each corner wheel – and reprint the rectangle. Repeat til you just start to get ridges of PLA raising up between lines. This means you’ve gone too far, so back the bed down a little til you get a solid first layer without the ridges and bumps. This guarantees you are getting the best first layer, without too much space for air in the gaps between the lines of filament. Once you’ve got this right, the Model Maker holds its level pretty well, and you’ll only need to turn the wheels a little now and then if you find the brim looks wonky on your first layer.

      5: printing too fast on the first layer. Layer one needs to be printed slow or the tension on the PLA coming out of the nozzle tends to pull the freshly extruded filament away from the build plate, especially on corners. You can see if this is a problem just by watching the first layer print.

      6: temperature. Not so much the nozzle temperature, though you should experiment with how low a temperature you can print at with any given filament. The lower the temperature you print at, the more controllable it is, and the quicker the plastic will cool. Lifting of edges is caused by the contraction of the plastic as it cools. The contraction is unavoidable (because physics), but when it happens determines whether the overall lifting forces are high enough to break adhesion. The effect can be reduced in two ways. 1- Heated beds help by keeping the lower layers above the temperature of contraction. 2- Cooling fans aimed at the printed object get the hot plastic cooled down and contracted fast enough that the overall force doesn’t build up. Since the Model Maker doesn’t have a heated bed, I just aim a desk fan at the print bed to get the contraction over with as soon as possible.

      I hope this helps. I copied my cura settings – apart from retraction and temperature – over from the settings that came on the SD card. Retraction and temperature settings vary by filament type and variations in printers, so there’s no guarantee mine would work for you anyway. You just have to print some of the retraction tests and temperature towers off thingiverse. Though I found with the Slate Gray filament from Cocoon Create that temperature made very little difference from 180 to 210 degrees. So I print around 180.

  3. Francis says:

    Great article! I recently got a modelmaker too and I had intermittent base adhesion issues. I bought some Blue tape and to my dismay, first layer wouldn’t even stick. Do you prep your blue tape with rubbing alcohol/metho etc? Or just print as is?


    • Hi Francis, thanks for the compliment.
      The three most likely problems are:-

      1: You’ve got grease from your fingers on the blue tape as you stuck it down. In which case a gentle wipe with metho and letting it dry thoroughly will help. But might make the next print stick so well you’ll tear the tape off the print bed getting the object unstuck – been there done that. Tape is cheap, so try again and stick the tape down with a paper towel instead of your fingers. And make sure the tape is fully stuck down – no bubbles underneath, and no overlapping of layers of tape which will mess up your levels. Better to have a tiny gap between sections of tape than slight overlapping.

      2: More likely – You haven’t got your nozzle close enough to the print bed. Levelling is only half the job. Once you have the bed levelled, you need to adjust the height so the nozzle squishes the plastic down onto the bed.The plastic really needs to be squished down by the nozzle or it won’t stick reliably. I like to print a big flat single-layer rectangle – check that the layer lines are flat on the top. Adjust all 4 corners equally (say a quarter turn of the knobs) to slightly raise the print bed, and print again. Repeat until you start to get slight ridges along the edge of each printed line, which means you’ve gone too close. So back down slightly and you’ll have the perfect height for that first-layer thickness setting in your slicer. You’ll see that light reflecting off the flat first layer will have very little texture to it, because the flat base of the printer nozzle flattens the plastic out as it prints, like ironing a shirt.

      3: If neither of those help, you may be printing too fast on your first layer. Especially with rapid changes of direction, or if you don’t print with a brim, printing too fast will rip up the plastic before it gets a chance to cool and stick.

      Hope that helps!

      • Francis says:

        Thanks for your reply! I’ll certainly try to relevel and also apply the tape without my fingers, however failing that I’ve bought some rubbing alcohol as I heard it can be useful to remove that waxy anti stick layer at the top of the Scotch Blue. As for print speed, I tried with 15m/s and that was a little better, but still eventually resulted in adhesion issues.

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