(Re)Learning how to 3D Print…

There was a time when I knew how to do all this stuff….

But things have moved on. And every School seems to have a different piece of kit and to have bought different bits of software (and avoided paying for different things like training its staff how to use the equipment.). So after committing myself to building a model of the University of Sheffield’s Arts Tower for the upcoming Heritage Day,  I’m finding I have to relearn everything I thought I knew…

More about Heritage Day here.


Lesson 1 – Build model from scratch. Dont attempt to use an inheritted model in an attempt to save time. I was lucky enough that HLM Architects have recently completed a refurbishment of the Tower, and have constructed a detailed Sketchup model to accompany it, also generously making it available via Google’s 3D Warehouse. However, there are 2 issues; a) modelled at 1:1, there is simply too much detail for the 3D printer to handle at 1:200; and b) the process of constructing a digital model in Sketchup often results in shapes crashing into other shapes, and faces and the geometry ending up inside other pieces of model. This sends the 3D printer into meltdown.

Good tutorial help available here.

I could (and probably should) be using Vectorworks or Rhino to create a ‘cleaner’ 3D model to print from…

Lesson 2 – Our particular process is this: Sketchup > Sketchup Plugin (Convert to DXF or STL) > Check in Meshlabs > 3D Printer proprietory software > Print! This is a ‘beta’ method, as the Sketchup plugin frequently has problems. We’re using a Z-Corporation ‘Z-Printer 350’. So my current workflow is;

1/    Take detailed sketchup model (inherritted) at 1:1.

2/    Rationalise into components to be 3D printed by deleting unnecessary detail / tectonic elements and ‘tracing’ over the orginal model (locked).

3/    Copy clean, rationalised components into their own sketchup file (still at 1:1)

4/    Scale (by factor 0.005) to get 1:200 model. Locate with one of the verticies on origin.

5/    Run rubyscript plugin ‘Convert to DXF of STL’.

6/    Find file. Rename with file extension .stl.

7/    Open in Meshlabs to check that .stl export (and file extension trick) has worked.

8/    Email to James at the print unit to check on the machine’s proprietary software, ZEdit Pro.

9/ …and it works!

To be continued…


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