An embarrassment of riches: 3D printing filament options multiply

One of the aspects of being on the leading edge – or as I like to refer to it, the bleeding edge – of a huge movement is watching what you did become history.

That is certainly true about 3D printing.

Liberator 3D printed gunAs important and world-changing as the Internet has been, 3D printing may exceed the Internet’s importance because of the number of industries it has infiltrated.

Part of that has been because the concept of 3D printing – building a three-dimensional object by simply “stacking” 2 dimensional layers on top of one another – has implications for medical, scientific, fashion and other fields as well as art.

We’ve all heard about the gun that was 3D printed, but most people didn’t get beyond the fact that a 3D-printed gun isn’t really practical. (Besides, I’m really tired of hearing about that damn gun!)

Yes, people are already 3D printing in metal, biomaterials and other specialty filaments – heck, even I have printed in bronze – but we seem to have moved into a new era ….

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3D printing contributes to evolution of form

Limoncello Prima, a 3D printed fine art sculpture - Kevin Caron

Sometimes I just start creating, as I am doing with a metal sculpture in my studio right now.

Sometimes I design in CAD (which is how I got into 3D printing in the first place!) and then create the form in metal or resin.

And sometimes a sculpture evolves as it is created. That’s exactly what happened with a recent artwork, 50 Years of Limoncello.

Well, it really began with a call for an art show in New York. The show, “The HeART of Italy,” celebrates the spirit, history, people and places of that romantic land, where I spent time a couple of years ago.

Thinking about my time in Italy, I decided to use some of that luscious translucent yellow PLA filament to create a sculpture to submit to the show.

What I didn’t anticipate – but surely embraced – was how the artwork evolved. But then, that’s part of the beauty of creating art ….

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Using a 3D printer to refine a design

Creating isn’t always a one-shot process.

When I first conceived my 3D filament sizing set up, the bent piece of metal through which the filament ran to ensure there were no lumps that could jam the 3D printer seemed a simple yet elegant solution.

After using it for a while – and catching my coat on it, as you’ll hear about in the video – I realized there was a better way ….

This video explains what I came up with and how I used my 3D printer to create, then refine the design:

‘Novelty’ 3D-printing filament has real applications

3D-printing ColorFabb ngen_flex-rubber filamentNot everything I create on my 3D printers is artwork. I’ve written before about using my CAD software and 3D printing other things – it’s super handy for making parts as well as other items simply for fun.

That includes the cool design I came up with for a Farkle board.

As with most things, after I used the farkle board, I began to see some ways to improve the design. PLA resin creates a hard, stiff surface, so I added a padded bed to the first boards I printed.

That helped, but I wondered if I could eliminate the need for the padding while still getting a quiet, controlled throw of the dice by printing the design in rubber.

Fortunately, the Dutch filament maker ColorFabb offers a rubber filament called NGen_FLEX (usually called “Ninjaflex”) in 3 millimeter, perfect for my 8-foot-tall Gigante 3D printer ….

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Surprises selling 3D-printed sculpture

Three of my large format 3D-printed sculptures at Vision Gallery - Kevin CaronI got great news this week when a check arrived from one of my retailers, Vision Gallery in Chandler, Arizona.

Vision has been carrying my work for a while, and for the past many months they have displayed the largest collection of my 3D-printed sculpture outside of a special show I did this past February. With glass walls on three exposures, the gallery is the perfect place for 3D-printed sculpture, especially light-hungry translucent pieces.

I wasn’t surprised that the sculpture they sold this month was Lemon Drop (shown on next page), a particularly luscious piece printed in translucent yellow PLA filament. Of all the translucents I’ve used thus far, the yellow is by far the most beautiful. It seems to capture and reflect the light.

The blue translucent is downright cold, although still beautiful, while the red tends to glow. The purple is more subtle, as evidenced in Josephine, a sculpture I recently completed that is on display at Vision Gallery. I love the emails I get from the gallery manager, who keeps snapping and sending photos of the sculptures as the light moves across the sky. She’ll write such reports as “Miss Josephine looks particularly sultry today.” That’s music to my ears: it means the art is as alive for her as it is for me.

What has surprised me, though, is who is buying my 3D-printed sculptures ….

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Stick this! Adhering a 3D print is key during printing

3d printing-lifted corner - Kevin CaronOne of the challenges of 3D printing that I think – knock on wood – I’ve finally worked through is adherence to the print tray.

There’s nothing more frustrating than having a 3D print come loose from the tray while a print is underway, and it’s something that’s happened to me far more times than I even like to think about.

The Cerberus 3D Gigante’s large format prints are particularly prone to this problem – I have a few large prints the corners of which have “flipped up” slightly because they cooled faster than the rest of the print. See an example to the right – fortunately in this case, it works with the concept and theme of the sculpture!

Sometimes, though, a lifted corner ruins the print altogether.

Other times, on any of my printers, a 3D print simply comes loose from the print tray – then it’s game over.

But I’ve learned a few things and updated some to improve my quality and finish rate ….

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What I don’t need to do when 3D printing

Artist Kevin Caron standing beside his Gigante 3D printerDuring my recent art show when I had my Cerberus 3D Gigante 3D printer running, several visitors asked whether I just pushed “go” and walked away while printing.

After I finished laughing, I’d explain that running this printer is like having a 3-year-old. You can never entirely take your eye off of it, and sometimes it requires extra care, other times it needs discipline. (I haven’t spanked yet, but I’ve sure thought about it.)

All of that is to say there is plenty to think about when a print is under way.

A few months ago, my business manager asked me if it would make sense to keep a log of my prints. For instance, she thought maybe I could note when I started the print, when I changed spools, etc. I could even track when I turned on the fan, what speed I was running at for how long, and other such details.

“That’s probably the last thing I want to do!” I replied ….

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Aesthetic tweaking with 3D-printed designs

Daisy Mae, a 3D printed fine art sculpture by Kevin CaronWorking with my 3D-printed sculptures requires a balance of aesthetic and technical considerations. In the big picture, that’s not all that unlike working with metal, but the way I do it is definitely different in each medium.

Take my latest 3D-printed sculpture, Daisy Mae (right).

As usual, I began playing with forms in CAD, this time in Rhino. It took a couple of tries to get it to print properly – there were some hiccups with adherence to the print tray (I really need to clean it better before trying to print!) – but it was a pretty painless 3D print, and boy, do I love this yellow translucent filament!

With the print came a couple of surprises, as is so often true. One surprise was great, one less than great – more on both of these in a moment.

So clearly, I need to make some tweaks to the design ….. Read More →

Test driving a new – old – host program on a big 3D print

Pronterface screen, 3D printing - Kevin Caron's 3D printing blogDealing with sudden, inexplicable fails got me to try some new things. I don’t know which, if any, are related to why my Cerberus 3D Gigante 3D printer just stopped cold without apparent reason, but it sent me back to play with a host program I’d only used once or twice before.

In fact, when my 3D printing guru suggested I use Pronterface instead of Repetier, which we thought might be the problem, I remembered I had a version of it. It was old, so the first thing I did was download the latest version of this venerable – well, for 3D printing! – host program.

Pronterface is apparently one of the most common interfaces used by 3D printer software. It can move and home all 3 axes independently, as well as offering a temperature graph, extrude and retract buttons, a window showing the current layer’s tool path, and a window to enter G-code. Some users complain that it’s too basic or don’t like the program’s look and feel, but it seems very clean and easy to use to me.

The big question is whether and how it works ….

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3D printing jewelry adds color – and complexity

BackFlip 3D printed earrings - Kevin CaronOne of the many things 3D printing has allowed me to do is make jewelry.

I’ve always loved jewelry – my wife likes to brag that I had her favorite jewelry store on my speed dial (which is true) – but I could never work that small in metal.

But suddenly, with 3D printing, I am able to create beautiful jewelry – and open a whole new side of my business.

Some of my designs are smaller reproductions of large sculptures – more on that in a moment – while others are original designs for the jewelry that I just may create in full-size metal sculptures someday.

Like most things, though, creating a jewelry line is not as simple as it may seem, and certainly not as simple as I thought it’d be!

For instance, none of my three 3D printers is able to print in small enough resolution to reproduce my designs as earrings or necklaces. There are other aspects of the learning curve to create jewelry, too ….

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