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26 March 201510:02AM3d-printing

It is an exceptionally weird feeling to watch a machine squeeze something you designed out through a nozzle layer by layer and then turn it over in your fingers as it cools. Weird, but very, very cool indeed.

Meet the party!

This is a bit of software called Tinkercad, and about half way through last night's D&D game (sorry James!) I fired it up and decided to make some miniatures. Because, quite frankly, there is no honour in being a Samurai who is represented solely by a folded up bit of paper with a stick figure drawn on it.

Tinkercad is awesome, for two reasons: 1. It's free. 2. It runs in a browser(!)

It can also, I found out, export files straight to STL, which is exactly what the Makerbots at work need. It's also incredibly simple to learn - I put these guys together in about half an hour. That's half an hour after typing 'Tinkercad' into Google, with no idea what it was other than that I'd read that word somewhere.

This is very impressive.

I started with something kind of like a chess pawn, and put some Order of the Stick inspired oval-shaped eyes on it. Fairly minimal, but it's the right scale and looks pretty cute, actually.

hardcore pawn

Given that I knew I was designing for a 3D printer, I tried to avoid too many overhangs, but I've seen it do some much more amazing stuff so I didn't think the head would be too much of a problem.

I duplicated this a couple of times, and then moved on to props. Myself first, obviously. Blue Fan's defining features are his samurai sword and his headband. The headband was easy, just a torus aligned with the head. The sword was a little bit more tricky - Tinkercad only lets you work with primitive shapes, so I ended up union-and-differencing a whole bunch of very flat cylinders to get roughly the shape I wanted.

It was at this point that I revealed my activities to the rest of the table, and over potato dinner I did a couple of the other players. From left to right: Azab, Haydn's Cleric, Morgan's multi-classed monk (with powerful fists), Blue Fan (yours truly, samurai) and Graham's magus - whose sole descriptor was "Kinda like the Blood Mage from Warcraft III".

the origin story

Then my laptop went flat, because it turns out running CAD software in a browser is hard work. I tried to concentrate on the rest of the game, I really did, but I pretty soon fell asleep on the sofa and awoke, at midnight, to some of James' impromptu sound effects of creepy whispering demon voices.

I spun these guys out into their own files this morning, and loaded them into Makerware on the train. Somehow, between coaxing 25 schoolkids around, I found time to do some test prints. They didn't quite work. Okay, they didn't work at all. They just turned into squiggly threads of filament spaghetti. I was halfway through tearing the printer apart to realign everything, when Rodney comes up to me and asks if I've checked the file, because he was having the same problem this morning.


I jump back into Tinkercad and eliminate the 0.5mm gap between the base and the model, and...

hello world!

...there was that weird feeling.

I worked my way through the rest of them - and through the rest of the day, even though I was meant to go home at half one - ironing out the kinks as I went. The samurai sword I redid from scratch and lay flat on the bed - it was tending to glitch out because the holes I was using to subtract were the same size as the actual oval. The wizard hat took a couple of tries as well, but didn't really need any modifications in the file - it was just our finnicky printers.

One by one, they emerged.




And now they're sitting on my desk. Four things, four characters, which before yesterday only existed on paper. Despite being a story about D&D and 3D printing, that to me is undeniably cool.

Go team!

You can play with the CAD files - I think - on my Tinkercad page? And grab printable versions from Thingiverse.

< Mars says hi! Transparency >