NOTE: This is a review of Simplify3D, the program I use for 3D printing slicing.
By Spencer Haggard
If you are involved
in the 3D printing world, it’s likely you’ve heard of Simplify3D. If you have
no personal experience with the program, it can be hard to know what it is and
what makes it different from other slicing programs, or even what a slicing program
is if you are new to the printing world.
A slicing program reads 3D model files and prepares them for 3D printing. It does this by “slicing” the 3D models into thin layers much like an MRI machine does in medicine.
There are many slicers on the market, and some of the most popular ones such as Cura and Slic3r are free. Simplify3D breaks this mold as a paid program. At $149, it isn’t out of range of most consumers, but it isn’t cheap either. Many makers and engineers swear by it, and it has earned quite a name for itself in the 3D printing world. So what makes Simplify3D so different? …
As Steve Graber, who built this monster, has said, whatever this printer does, it does spectacularly. That definitely includes surprises like the “slubs” on my sculpture Love and Marriage, which are explainable, and recent moments like the time the print head decided to print a foot to the left of the print bed.
The most recent and as-yet-unexplainable oddity – or, as it’s called in the art world, “artifact” – is what it did to a print I just finished …. Read More →
It starts out so innocently …. Doesn’t it always, especially with 3D printing!
I wanted to print something using NGen_FLEX (usually called “Ninjaflex”) rubber filament on my 8-foot-tall Cerberus 3D Gigante printer when I got a “Runaway temperature warning” (right), and the printer shut down.
I checked the graph in Simplify 3D, the combination host and slicer program I was using, and saw the temperature spiking instead of its usual gradual climb.
I shut off the 3D printer, let it cool, and tried it again. Same problem.
I printed the same file with regular PLA and had no problem.
Sometimes you just have to get away. (Well, I do.) When I’m at home, I tend to work a lot, and that can lead to burn out. Getting away helps me clear my head, and often brings me new, fresh ideas I would never have had otherwise.
That’s one reason my lovely assistant (AKA The Voice, to those of you who watch my videos on YouTube, and wife of 25 years) headed to Australia recently.
We started out in Sydney, then drove the Princes Highway, which runs along the southern coast of Australia, to Melbourne.
Since I became a full-time artist in 2006, I’ve purchased and used a lot of tools. A lot of tools. If you took the recent video tour of my studio, you see many of them, and yes, I use them all. Using the right tool for the job can mean the difference between a job well done and one that turns out just OK, and the difference between spending hours and committing days to a single task.
Recently, I “moved up” in the world of metal working with a purchase of a Dynatorch Super B 4×4 Plasma CNC table(right). This tool allows me do jobs in an hour that would have taken me days, and does them better. It cuts out the metal accurately and cleanly – no more cutting close, then trimming or grinding to size!
The CNC table is a game changer for me, much like my 3D printers have been.
Interestingly enough, my experience with 3D printing helped me get up to speed on the Super B a lot faster than I would have otherwise ….
Although the buzz about 3D printing isn’t as red hot as it was, people are understandably still jazzed about this transformational process.
I see the reactions all the time, whether it’s at a gathering focused on how the process works, how I use it in my practice as a sculptor, or just a bunch of people who are fascinated by 3D printing. What I almost also invariably see is disappointment.
The dirty little secret about 3D printing is that you must have a file that you can print.
That’s easy enough if you are satisfied printing other people’s files, such as ones downloaded from Thingiverse. But what if you want to create something yourself?
Well, at this point in the evolution of 3D printing, you’d better know CAD (Computer Aided Design) software, or know someone who does. That’s what most people don’t realize: 3D printing itself is the culmination of a longer 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:
Working 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…
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.
Yeah, they do sometimes, but especially in these early days of 3D printing, there are so many variables and things change so quickly that it seems there are myriad things that can and do go wrong.
Lately I’ve been battling a problem with both of my deltabot 3D printers, and I still haven’t figured out what is causing it.
The result is ugly: they just stop printing. For no apparent reason. Everything is going well, and then the hotend just stops moving.
I can’t just give up – it isn’t in my nature.
So I’ve been doing what I always do when troubleshooting any problem ….
I work through a process of elimination, testing and ruling out various possibilities.
Here’s what I’ve done thus far:
Confirmed that it isn’t on just one 3D printer. It seems that I’m having the same problem with both deltabots.
Confirmed that it isn’t Windows 10. That’s because it’s also happening on a computer that is running Windows 7. If it were just Windows 10, that’d be one thing, but the other computer hasn’t had an update in years and ran just fine.
Confirmed that it isn’t the host program. I’m having the problem with both Repetier – two different versions of it – and Simplify. I’ve checked Simplify’s log and see it says the firmware is unresponsive, which brought me to my latest hunch (below).
Removed the host program from the equation altogether. I put the file directly into the Gigante (yes, I used a ladder to do it). Same problem.
Confirmed that it isn’t a power problem. One of the computers is plugged directly into the wall, while the other runs through an uninterrupted power supply.
Ruled out the file itself. This has happened with several files, so it isn’t the design.
Made sure it isn’t a filament bulge problem. It’s happened with various filaments, including two different diameters (3 millimeter and 1.75).
Noted that it has happened shortly after the print started and just before it finished. If it were related to the file length, you’d think that would be more consistent.
At this point, I’m thinking it might be the controller board. I believe both 3D printers have Smoothie boards, so that might be it.
So I’ll just keep poking around on forums, talking to people, consulting my expert, and eliminating problems, hoping that one of them is the solution that gets me back up and 3D printing again.
And if this is just a test of my patience, I hope I have already passed!