Modelling > Tips, Tools & Techniques

3D Printers

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Hi folks,

Has anyone looked into desktop 3D printers as an adjunct to modeling?  I am interested in them and would keen to hear others thoughts.



I've used a 3D printing service and have seen others' similar projects, and I have to say: with the right choice of material and a good quality 3D drawing, it can be a very useful thing! I've contemplated using it to make conversion parts for an AltCan CF-108 and for other projects, even for complete "kits"... just a matter of drawing the 3D to be printed.

If you want to do 3D printing as a hobby in itself,  then sure - there are very low end machines that you can make or buy for around $1K, but the parts are not model ready. For about $2K you can make a better UV curing poly machine.

 If what you want is to design a part in a 3D program and produce a model part without worrying about the minutiae of the steps in between, then 3D printing is absolutely not something you want to do at home. It's expensive, time consuming and requires a fair amount of tweaking and experience to get a good result.
If you want a model part, the cheapest fastest and least frustrating method is to send it off to a printing bureau like Shapeways. Their high end Frosted Detail and Frosted Ultra Detail is the way to go. The printed parts will still have some steps in them, but in most cases they'll be nearly invisible under a coat of paint or easily dealt with with some light sanding and polishing.
Their detail material also works, but the results will require a fair amount of sanding to remove the printing steps.

The 1/350 Bonestell Moonrocket I posted over on the Whatif forum was made using their clear detail material.
This 1/350 scale UFO from the "Invaders" TV series was also done in their clear detail material; you can clearly see the steps. Some of the fine details are obscured by the printing artifacts. The saucer is about 65mm in dia.:

I haven't printed this in the Frosted detail yet, but it'll probably be ready to go out of the printer.
In the US, another company that does small printing orders for modelers is PCS Engineering. They have a printer with an even higher resolution than the best Shapeways has to offer. Their parts are ready to go right off the printer. When I made the clear engines for the Leif Ericson, I printed out a copy at PCS for Round 2 to use in their display model.
This is the original kit's engine above my copy, which is in the new re-issue:

Obviously this is styrene, but the PCS parts were almost as smooth as this.


This is the type of system I have been looking at:

Add in a 3D scanner and you have some interesting possibilities...

Greg, Those printers are not going to get adequate for model work, unless you're making very simple parts for very large scale models. The resolution is just too low.
Even the lowest resolution printers at Shapeways are far better than the RepRap or equivalent hobbyist printers.

To get reasonable model parts, you'd need something like a Projet or Objet printer. The UFO above was printed on an Objet printer at high speed (lower resolution) at the lower speed/higher resolution, the steps were still there, just not as bad.

We're talking $15000 printers. Plus the material (expensive).


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