If you’re like me, you have an interest in 3D printing but haven’t gotten around to actually geeting your hands dirty and creating a 3D print yourself. Joe Larson’s “3D Printing Blueprints” is a great way to get started. The book is available at Packt here. You don’t even need to own a 3D printer, just a computer with the free, open source Blender installed, and you’re ready to go.
Blender can be a daunting piece of software and it does take some time to get used to its quirky interface. Fortunately Joe Larson provides a gentle introduction to newbies so you can get started right away. The book is written in the “blueprints” style where each chapter is a 3D print project ranging from beginner to advanced, from a mug to a teddy bear figurine.
Once your 3D model is created and ready for printing you can send it to one of the many service companies for printing, or you can print it yourself if you own a 3D printer. The cost of making small prints really depends on the size of the print and the materials used in printing, but you can get started for under $2 if you shop around. As they used to say (I’m showing my age here) your milage may vary.
I do have an ulterior motive in reviewing this book. My company is in the midst of developing the next Gubble game, and as it so happens we’re using Blender for all of our 3D modeling. So it’s only natural that I’d want to take some of the Gubble 3D models from Gubble and try to print them with a 3D printer.
The most important part of the book for beginners like me is a very clear and well-illustrated section on how 3D printing works and what it can and can’t do. You’ll have to read the first chapter yourself for all the details, but basically, to quote the book from page 8: “When designing for supportless printing the rules are simple: Y prints, H prints okay, T does not print well.” The basic reason for this is this: 3D prints are deposited from the ground up, so you can’t just create something floating in space and expect it to stay there.
Armed with this new-found knowledge I selected the gear from the Gubble character models and decided to use it as a first test. Amazingly, all I had to do is take the 3D blender model, scale it up by a sufficiently large amount, and then export it to .stl format.
Then came the fun part. I found a local and inexpensive printer using 3dprintingpricecheck.com. All I had to do is upload the stl file and I instantly got dozens of price quotes, some of them quite reasonable. Here is a photo of the result:
As you can see, it’s pretty basic, just one color, and small. But it’s a great start and quite a fun experience to see my very own creation from 1996 printed in real plastic some seventeen years later.
The blueprint chapters in the book are very well written and are easy to follow. Just do the steps and pretty soon you’ll have a 3d model ready for printing. Then, you can get creative and make your own modifications very easily in Blender.
The Face Illusion Vase in chapter 3 is particularly fun. You can take a photo of yourself or a loved one and create an ordinary looking vase. But, it’s far from ordinary because if you look carefully at the vase from the side you’ll recognize the outline of the face baked into the shape. This chapter teaches how to use a reference image to model a unique 3D mesh, ideal for 3D printing.
“3D Printing Blueprints” is a great all-around introduction to 3D printing and serves both as a series of tutorials for creating your own 3D prints and as a useful reference to have on hand for your future 3D printing projects.