Getting Started with 3D Printing – Day 2 – Files

After printing a couple samples off the SD card in the new Makerbot Replicator 2 at work, my next step was to download some things off the internet and print them.

Actually, the next thing I had tried was using the Makerbot Digitizer. I downloaded MakerWare for the Digitizer and scanned my Google Glass. The scan didn’t come out all that well, and I started to look around for ways to edit the scan.

This led me to GETTING STARTED WITH 3D DESIGN. The first thing that they suggested was choosing one out of around a dozen different tools. A couple of them I had worked with in the past, including SketchUp and Blender. I downloaded both, as well as a few other tools and looked for a quick start guide. I like SketchUp because it is easy to use. I like Blender because it is powerful. Yet I couldn’t find a good quick start, so I set them aside and started exploring Thingiverse.

Being an Ingress player, I found a nice Ingress Enlightened Faction badge. It seemed like downloading something from Thingiverse and printing it was the next best step to get better acquainted with 3D printing on the Makerbot.

The file I downloaded was in .stl format which stands for stereolithography or Standard Tessellation Language, depending on who you speak with. You can open an .STL file in MakerWare and, if your printer is connected to your computer via a USB cable, print the object on the printer.

When I opened the faction badge, I received a message saying the object was off the platform and asking if I wanted to reposition it. I moved it on to the platform and printed it. Unfortunately, partway through the printing, it hung. It may be that my PC had gone to sleep during the printing, or there may have been some other problem. It also printed an edge around the object that I didn’t want.

When you print, you have a lot of options to choose. Getting going, I took the defaults. One of which was Raft, which creates this edge. It is useful if you have an object that doesn’t quite fit together, but most of the time of no value or downright annoying. Unfortunately, it took me a little while to figure this out.

To get around the issue of my PC going to sleep while printing, I took to saving the image as a X3G file. This is, essentially, the compiled format of the object, ready to be printed. I could then copy it to the SD card for the printer and print from that. This worked much better for me.

Along the way, I also found a few other file formats there are important to the initial understanding of 3D printing on the Makerbot. The STL file is the first, and most important format. You need to get things into STL format, so you can load them into Makerware to either print or save to the SD care. STL format can be Ascii or Binary. So far, I’ve only used the Binary format.

STL files can be combined into a zip file, along with a manifest file. These thing files can be loaded into MakerWare to load several STL files at the same time. The only thing file I’ve worked with so far is the example nut and bolt file.

When you export a file from MakerWare, you can export it in X3G, S3G or gcode. So far, I’ve only used X3G format and will experiment with the others later.

Blender can read and write STL format files. SketchUp needs an addon to do this. In my next blog post, I’ll write about taking existing images and objects in other formats, like JPG, SVG and OBJ and converting them to STL files that can then be loaded in MakerWare and printed.

As always, any thoughts, questions or suggestions are encouraged.

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