New Dimensions - 3D Printing - Hardware

Combining 3D printed models into the world of 2D photography. 

Combining 3D printed models into the world of 2D photography. 

In an ever growing digital world, where few photographers even print their photos, I've taken an unexpected interest in 3D printing. Combining hardware to software in a shift from capturing pre-existing objects to conceiving and creating them from scratch is quite a process.  It's still in the exploratory phase, but my goal is to create more imagery combining objects I design and create, and integrate them into my existing style, as seen in the cover image below. But I quickly learned, its not as simple as clicking print. This blog will be home to my experiments, and this post will focus on hardware.

As with any new endeavor, I was hesitant about investing too heavily into technology I didn't quite understand. My thought process was to dip my toe in the proverbial 3D water and get a low cost all-in-one system to print a few objects. That printer purchase was the M3D Micro. At $250 it promised a simple way to get started, and I thought it looked cool in clear. It was advertised as auto-calibrating and "effortless plug & play"... Spoiler alert: Looks can be deceiving.

The first problem I faced was that the M3D Micro is not a standalone device. It needs a computer connected to it at all times to operate. I ended up doing a repair (battery replacement) on an older laptop so my main machine wouldn't be tethered to it. However just getting the software to run was only part of the hurdle. Upon receiving the printer, I realized there was a calibration error that I couldn't fix with the extruder not moving to cover the entire print bed, only half. Hours of troubleshooting later, I submitted for a warranty fix and delayed my printing experience. The replacement unit arrived a week later, but it wasn't the end of my woes. The print gantry now had skips, but hey: at least it covered the print bed this time. That 'effortless' calibration was a lie. Prints wouldn't stick: Z calibration and bed adhesion were the bane of my existence. Hours wasted calibrating, with little print success. I did managed get 3 successful prints before getting completely fed up with M3D amidst all the failures.  

It was around this time I decided my hope of combining 3D designs with my abstract photography was worth investing in better hardware. After more thorough research, the highest rated / best bang for the buck was the Original Prusa i3 MK2S, at four times the price of the Micro. So much for dipping my toe in the water. There was a big catch though: due to popular demand, it took over 9.5 weeks for delivery. Thankfully it was worth the wait. Bonus points the Prusa can fit the Micro into its print volume. 

At first glance the Prusa does not win any marks for fancy product design. It's primarily sold as an unassembled kit as part of the reprap community of 3D printing tinkerers. If you know me, spending a grand on a new product with a significant lack of polish is very unlike me. Admittedly I splurged for the pre-assembled model, and opted for the all black (orange isn't my thing). Having done my research though, this printer punches well above its price point. It features a massive build volume, heated build plate, auto-leveling calibration, standalone printing, broad material compatibility  and a massive community of users. It's as close to effortless printing as you can get. With the right settings, I've been able to create dozens of prints, which i'll showcase later.

DISCLAIMER: 3D printing is far from plug and play. I've had multiple failed prints with the Prusa. But I now know that was mostly user error as I was experimenting with 3D modeling my own prints. There's still a lot to learn for me and I look forward to sharing updates in my New Dimensions series. I plan to go over 3D printing, 3D modeling, finishing, applications and more... so please stay tuned!

One more thing: As someone who's gadget obsessed, I'm always looking for the latest and greatest. Having two printers under my wing, I will admit I'm looking at other hardware. The first is actually an upgrade to the Prusa. The multi-material package would allow for up to 4 colors/materials to be printed with automatically. It's currently waitlisted oil the fall. The second thing that's just a glimmer in my eye is the Form Labs Form2 It's an SLA printer, that uses a completely different method of printing for smaller high-detail prints. The chemist in me totally geeks out over UV-cured liquid resin, but its considerably more expensive.