by Drew Martin
I have been hogging the new Da Vinci 3D printer that made its way into our home as a recent Christmas gift. My seven-year-old, who planted the seed last year by requesting one, now says it's boring, my middle kid likes what it spits out but is not too interested in the process, and my 16-year-old daughter does not like the smell it creates (burning plastic), nor do I. None the less, I am totally fascinated by it.
I first printed a demo key ring from the printer's memory, and then did a few tests with downloads from MakerBot's out of this world Thingiverse. I think it is magical that you can print something from that site and have it in your hands but the real beauty is going through the whole process yourself.
For my first design test I decided to make a sign for my Art Lab. I used the text tool in Google's SketchUp (first time using SU) and drew a simple rectangle behind the letters. Then I extruded that base away from the letters and individually extruded each letter away from the base so there are height differences, which gives the sign a nice effect. I had to install a plugin to export the sign as a .stl file, which I needed for my XYZware software for the the Da Vinci printer. I imported the file, sent it to print, and when I came back from my run with my daughter it was ready.
View the file and post on Thingiverse: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:611884
One of the really cool things about Thingiverse is that it creates a Thingiview of your uploaded file, which is a professional looking 3D model viewer in which you can rotate your object. (Pictured top in blue on the grid)
My reason for choosing the Da Vinci printer was purely cost. In all honesty, I would rather have a MakerBot, but the Da Vinci is fine for starters.
Two days into using the printer I have quickly realized what works and what does not work, and what should be 3D printed and what should be made some other way, by hand with metal, clay, plywood, or sewn with thread and fabric. That being said, the 3D printer is an essential tool for everyone. It is great for designers and artists but it is really meant for everyone. My daughter's chemistry teacher has one in her classroom and prints out chemical models. As a homeowner, I plan to print out an electrical outlet plate later today to replace a broken one, instead of jumping in the car and driving to Home Depot several miles away.
On-Demanding People: From 3D-Printing Revolution to 4D-Printing Evolution