Tuesday, 22 May 2012

3d Printing

For christmas this year I recieved a £25 voucher from a good friend of mine for Quick Forge, a 3D printing company. An awesome gift that got me excited straight away.

For those of you that aren't familiar with the concept, 3d-printing allows you to create a 3 dimensional object from layers of plastic or resin that are printed out by a special 3d printer. It works a bit like those puzzles that were popular a few years ago where you would stack different flat shapes on top of each other to reveal an image of Elvis's head. 3D printing works in a similar way, in that you upload a 3d model and a special printer lays down successive layers of plastic or resin to create the 3D object.

I have dabbled in 3D design and CGI for years, most recently using DOGA L3, a very easy to use Japanese program that lets you assemble objects from a library of parts and primitives. It doesn't have any of the advanced modelling tools you might find in more complex programs like TrueSpace or 3D Studio, but for knocking up a quick spaceship, it's great.

My first design was based on an old Micro Machines model that I always wanted multiple copies of to use a freighters in Silent Death, the Numiri ship:

I created a simple 3d-model in Doga that looked like it - I wanted to capture the essence of the ship rather than a copyright-shattering clone:

I then had to convert this to a type of file that Quick Forge will accept, in this case an .STL file. I also needed to make sure that the model was "watertight", that is that there were no "holes" into the interior, or orphaned parts - i.e. parts not attached to the rest of the mesh. The process to do this involved a couple of intermediary programs called MeshLab and NettFab.

Once complete, I uploaded my file to Quickforge and waited for the model to drop into my sweaty palms.
About a week later I received this:

The model is made from a fine beige resin and has pretty good resolution. It does have a pattern of lines all over it, an artefact of the layering method of printing I assume, which makes it look a bit like it's covered in Zimmerit.

Since then I have also uploaded a mesh to another 3d-printing site, Shapeways, the Stingray fighter, another one of my DOGA designs shown here in all it's textured glory:

Shapeways is a goldmine of all sorts of amazing objects. Unlike Quickforge, you can browse a catalogue of other peoples designs, and there ere literally thousands and thousands. I could spend all day looking at them.  These are the results of the Stingray printed at Shapeways, along with another ship generated using the very fun Shipwright:

You can choose from a variety of materials at Shapeways, and these were created in White, Strong and Flexible - the cheapest option. The result is very good, though. The detail is far greater than on the Quickforge model and the surface texture is different. Rather than smooth and glossy, this is slightly matt and grainy.

I can see that this could be a hobby that could get very addictive very fast. I'm already thinking how I could bulk up my fleets for Silent Death, and fill in the gaps in my Air War C:21 hangars too. The cost of larger models is high, if I were to reproduce the freighter above at Shapeways it'd be something like £13.

In the meantime, I've set up a Shapeways shop so you can see my designs as they get uploaded. My Shapeways Shop


Armies Army said...


love them

Ive been playing a lot with shapeways and materials. If you need some advice give me a shout! Especially if your thinking of making moulds etc


Anonymous said...

I personally was very excited by the fact that you can print in silver.............