Desktop publishing is the established metaphor for desktop manufacturing: A 3D printer is like a paper printer, in that it takes digital information and makes it real. A 3D scanner is like a paper scanner in that it takes real information and makes it digital. From a mechanical perspective, neither a 3D printer nor a 3D scanner is much more complicated than its 2D analog. If, or most likely, when desktop manufacturing takes off among mainstream consumers, 3D printers and scanners may eventually be available at prices on par with paper printers and scanners today.
But we’re not there yet. Right now, if you want to get a 3D printer in your workshop for less than $5,000, you’ll be buying it, or the parts for it, from a relatively small company. To save money, you’ll probably be building some or all of the machine yourself, from parts supplied in a kit or sourced independently by you, based on open-source parts lists (though there is usually little to be gained by doing it in this way). Unless you are one of a few intrepid explorers, your hobby-class 3D printer will almost certainly be of the “fused deposition modeling” (FDM) type, in which parts are built up layer-by-layer from a thin bead of molten plastic extruded by a nozzle (or “hot end”) that is, in principle, very much like a hot glue gun.
If you’re planning on getting a 3D printer for yourself, the decisions about what to buy, and who buy from, can be daunting. If you’re trying to buy a gift for a 3D printing enthusiast, and don’t necessarily share his or her passion for the subject, the choices can be downright overwhelming, not to mention expensive. Fortunately, there are quality gift options short of buying a whole printer, and we’ve listed some great ones below, from lowest to highest price. On the other hand, if you’re ready to take the plunge and buy a whole printer, our preferred makes and models are listed at the end of the guide, again in order of increasing price.
Let’s get to it.
Custom color-printed robot
Even among experienced hands, color 3D printing is something of a novelty. The color printing process is a lot like a conventional inkjet printer, except the printhead moves over a bed of finely-divided powder, instead of a piece of paper. And instead of colored ink, it dispenses colored glue. The model is built up, one layer at a time, by gluing together very thin slices, tinted as necessary, where necessary, by a carefully controlled mixture of primary color binders.
The clever entrepreneurs at My Robot Nation have capitalized on that process in an entertaining way: Those with no experience in 3D printing will find their browser-based mix-and-match model creation process fun and easy, and those who know their way around 3D printing are still likely to appreciate getting a hands-on look at a relatively unusual technology. You can design the robot yourself, and give it as a gift, or buy a gift certificate so that special someone can design his or her own. For those willing to spend more, MRN offers three larger-sized figures in 1″ increments up to 6″ tall.
The next step above FDM printing, in terms of technical sophistication, is so-called “selective laser sintering” (SLS), a method in which models are built up, one layer at a time, by a laser beam scanning over a bed of very fine powder. The powder substrates are expensive and messy, and the equipment’s order-of-magnitude improvement in resolution is matched by an order-of-magnitude increase in cost. New cars are a fairly accurate point of comparison: “economy” models cost $10-$20,000, and “luxury” models can run well north of $100K.
Fortunately, contract SLS printing is quite accessible these days. The premier online 3D printing contractor is undoubtedly Shapeways, a Dutch firm (now relocated to New York) that has been shipping high-resolution 3D printed models to customers since 2007. Shapeways has a bustling online marketplace, where users can upload and print their own models, or browse and purchase printed copies of models designed by others. Shapeways users can set their own markups for models they design, above material costs and overhead, and skilled designers can make good money from these royalties.
Even someone who already has access to a RepRap, MakerBot, or other hobby 3D printer is likely to appreciate a Shapeways gift certificate, because Shapeways’ printers can do things that hobby-class printers cannot, such as printing at 0.2mm resolution and/or in exotic materials like ceramic, sterling silver, and stainless steel.
I’m not Jewish but if I were I would definitely have one of these LED Menorahs, available in the Maker Shed, on my desk. The Hanukkah Electronica (above) is an elegant, pre-assembled LED Menorah for celebrating the festival of lights. The simple, elegant design uses a 9v battery (included) as a stand. The push button on the back allows you to burn whichever lights you desire. The flickering of the LEDs gives the Menorah a memorizing, warm glow. It’s an easily transportable, pocket sized work of art that will have everyone wanting to celebrate Hanukkah.
The Deluxe LED Menorah Kit is an updated take on the traditional hanukkiyah, the nine-armed Hanukkah candelabrum. When you turn it on, it displays the correct configuration of LED “candles” for a given night of Hanukkah. Each time you press the button (or switch it off and back on), it displays one more light (unless it showed all nine last time, in which case it goes back to two). The LEDs are lit up in the traditional sequence, with a gentle fade. This kit is very easy to build, and includes a preprogrammed microcontroller, battery holder, nine ultrabright, 10mm LEDs, an alignment guide for the LEDs, and a laser-cut acrylic stand. Once you’ve built it you’ll have an elegant little LED menorah ready for the season.
Almost every time I attempt to shoot video with a handset I end up inadvertently covering up the microphone or lens, which can be a real drag when I go to view it later on. This has led me to develop a rather cumbersome grip that I use when I film something with my phone. This Collapsable iPhone Camera Handle from Chris Krueger over at TheNewHobbiest seems like the perfect remedy for this situation. [Thanks, Chris!]
Adafuit has a new product, a “magic smoke” badge for those of us who have fried a component — so basically, anyone who has tinkered with electronics.
Sometimes you need celebrate mistakes. Adafruit offers a fun and exciting “badges” of achievement for electronics, science and engineering. We believe everyone should be able to be rewarded for learning a useful skill, a badge is just one of the many ways to show and share.
This is the “I learned something, the magic blue smoke monster showed me” badge for use at classrooms, workshops, Maker Faires, TechShops and around the world to reward beginners on their skill building journey!
We covered Flickr user yamamo2′s (and his father’s) first high-performance double pendulum build back in 2009. The first version would swing for about 10 minutes, without added energy, after being started. The latest version swings for fully twice that, as the embedded video—all twenty-two minutes of it—thoroughly demonstrates. I haven’t seen any info about the design changes required to achieve this level of performance, unfortunately.
The CadSoft EAGLE development team is developing a new format for schematic, layout and parts libraries that is XML, this means every object and line will be written out in text description.
You won’t have to worry about binary file corruption, you will be able to hand-edit or generate schematics and layouts and of course the magic of version-control (such as github) will be easier than ever with real text ‘diff’s!
This will be a fully documented format and also of course a converter for old CadSoft EAGLE binary-type formats.
XML database structure redesign. Read, edit and parse the data outside of the EAGLE tool. The new XML database structure provides the ability to write scripts that manipulate designs in the EAGLE format which will give users huge productivity benefits. You can make design changes, import information from other designs, and even translate from other formats. EAGLE is one of the first Commercial CAD Programs that adopts a ASCII XML data structure as their native file. This makes EAGLE the most flexible, user friendly and productive PCB tool on the market.
I think we’ll see many open tools like KiCAD and gEDA (and more close source tools, including EAGLE) all supporting the importing and exporting of data for more sharing. I’m also looking forward to visual diffs as services like GitHub add more features for hardware.
Since 2003, the Cool Tools website has posted more than 2,000 reviews of tried and true stuff. In collaboration with Cool Tools, we’ve put together their first ebook compilation: Cool Tools in the Kitchen by Kevin Kelly and Steven Leckart. From Steven’s preface:
Broadly defined, a Cool Tool can be any book, gadget, software, video, map, hardware, material, or website that has proven utility. The reviews there are not the kind of comparative reviews you’ll find in magazines and other websites, which give pros and cons for each item. Rather, our reviews are outright rave recommendations submitted by readers who swear by the items, telling you why you should use them as well. Think of this book as a very knowledgeable best friend recommending the coolest stuff in no uncertain terms.
Unlike most O’Reilly Media ebooks, this book is available in only one format: ePUB (but like all O’Reilly Media ebooks, it’s DRM-free). That’s because the ePUB format has some unique strengths and capabilities, and we planned this project with Kevin from the beginning as an exploration of how far we could take ePUB to bring the Cool Tools experience to an ebook.
I asked Nellie McKesson, O’Reilly Media Production Specialist and ePub wrangler, to give us some background on how this book came to be.
Moritz Wolpert etched brass analog synth faceplate
This season brings attention not just to ornaments, but to the whole idea of ornamentation and why we like it (or don’t). Here’s a question I’d love to get some opinions on. You can share in the discussion below, or if you want to contribute to opinion statistics, here is a SurveyMonkey poll. I’ll summarize and share the results.
For the purposes of this survey, ornamentation is defined as any non-functional elements in a design that are included purely for appearance.
Q: How much (1-10 scale) do you like ornamentation in the things that you…
Binder clips are one of the office supplies that aren’t always appreciated for their mathematical possibilities. Where many people see little architectural potential, Zach Abel has been pushing forward the boundaries of binder clip assembly research and offers a number of novel constructions. Here are three. Start with this six-clip exercise in which the clips are positioned along the positive and negative XYZ axes and are each held open by the loops in the handles of their neighbors.
Next, consider this open ball featuring twelve five-pointed stars and twenty hexagons. Its shape derives from a soccer ball, but there are stars instead of pentagons. A total of 120 clips are used to construct this, but sixty of them (at the concave points of the stars) have only one handle.
And for a maximum density spherical packing, check out this sturdy little ball made from 132 clips. The handles of each clip wrap around the bodies of their neighbors to make a regular weaving pattern. At the triangular openings (corresponding to the eight corners of a sphere) the handles lock in a cycle, as a nice touch.