The Wonderful World Of 3D Printing For Photographers and Videographers – A Primer

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Photographers and Videographers are a creative group of people. We use our creativity to make beautiful images and sometimes extend that creativity into creating the tools to capture those images. This website is a testament to that creativity.

The future is now. One of the most powerful tools that is now accessible to the DIY photographer is 3D printing. If you can imagine it, you can make it real.   I recently started dabbling in 3D printing and wanted to share some things I learned that might make your journey into 3D printing a little smoother.

Did you know can 3D print in different types of materials? Currently, you can print (at least) in the following materials:

  • Plastic
  • Ceramic
  • Metal
  • Human Tissue ( This will revolutionize medical treatment.)
  • Wood and Paper products can be made with laser cutting or CNC
  • Food, like coffee, cakes and sugar decorations

This next video is from a professional 3D printer that represents a good overview of what is possible to print in 3D

Here is a Quick Overview to get you started in 3D printing:

Downloading Pre-Existing Objects

First, check out the free and open source designs that you can download and print. The 3D printing community wants to encourage open source and creative commons projects. One of the main places to check out open source projects is http://www.thingiverse.com/

There are over 3000 things under the keyword “photo” and 119 things under DSLR. Here are a few that were interesting to me:

Next, you can make or modify your own objects. There are two types of files to work with: files for that can be edited in 3D programs and files almost ready to print. Most of the files on Thingiverse are in the .stl format. This is a very common format that can be converted to the proper format for your printer to be printed. I have found the .stl format to be somewhat difficult to modify. I sort of liken it to a .jpg versus a .psd file with layers. You can modify the .stl file but it is pretty challenging. At least for me.

In order to print on the Thing-O-Matic, you must convert the file into an .x3d file. I use Makerware to convert .stl files to .x3d files. Think of it as the .psd file with layers vs. a flattened .jpg

Designing from Scratch

You can also design from scratch.  I use a free program from Autodesk called 123D Design. I use the desktop version though they have an online version that works right in your browser.

Here is what I have I have tried so far:

123D Design was the best fit for me. It has .01mm precision and is very easy to use. I found navigating around the object in 3D space especially easy to use in 123D Design. It has a navigation button in the upper right corner that you can just click or drag to navigate.

The Printer I Use

The printer I use is the Makerbot Thing-O-Matic. It is on loan to me from my friend who is traveling at the moment. The Thing-O-Matic is one of the first home 3d printers. It is not plug and play to print. It does require monitoring so that plastic spool does not bind up. Also, one of the wires has become frayed from the heating bed and needs to be monitored to make sure it is still heating properly.

The heated bed on this model helps to keep the plastic sticking to the printer at the right amount of tension. Not so little that the object moves around and not so much that you can’t remove it at the end of the print.

The printer also requires calibration. You have to have a fair amount of knowledge and training to get this printer to print. As I mentioned, this one of the first home 3D printers and is meant for the hobbyist and not the general consumer. Regardless, it does a decent job of printing objects from our imagination.

There have been some major advances in home 3D printers since the Thing-O-Matic. Here are some of the other home 3D printers out there that are interesting to me:

 3rd Party Professional Printer Services

You can use also 3rd party professional printer services. They charge based on volume. It is relatively inexpensive compared to other manufacturing methods. Also the resolution is often way better than home printers.   Plus you can print in different materials as opposed to only plastic or cut wood.

The following are a few professional printers you can easily upload your designs and get an instant quote.

 3rd Party Home Printer Services

A potentially budget friendly way to go is finding someone that has a home printer that is willing to print for you. The quality might not be as good as a professional printer but it can be less expensive.

I found a couple on www.fiverr.com and a service called www.makexyz.com . You should do your research on their pricing, delivery, quality, and reliability.

 3D Printing vs Injection Mold Manufacturing:

If you have a design that you want to bring to market via Kickstarter or some other method, you may be wondering if 3D printing is the best way to go as opposed to traditional manufacturing methods like injection molding. I searched far and wide for this answer and found this very useful article:

https://www.shapeways.com/blog/archives/1933-comparing-apples-and-oranges-mass-produced-vs-3d-printing.html

In the article, it has a very general rule of thumb: for simple parts of quantity of 100 or less 3D printing is more cost effective. At greater than 100 injection molding, starts to become effective.

Another way to look at it, once it starts to get past $2000 mark is when you start looking at injection molding.

Lastly, here is a project that I have been working on, It is a multipurpose clamp that can act as barn doors on LED lights and as a teleprompter for 15mm rails systems for video cameras.

This was just a very broad and general overview just to get you introduced to the possibilities of 3D printing. 3D printing is still in its infancy but the outlook is amazing. There are new printers coming out that may just take the tech to the masses.

About The Author

Jeff Orig is an award winning filmmaker based in Honolulu. He is interested in life hacks that help achieve goals; the business of filmmaking; and telling stories better. He has produced feature film; produced and directed several TV Shows; currently in post-production on the feature-length documentary, The Hawaii Wisdom Project; and has various episodic and feature film projects in development. Check out his blog at www.OrigMedia.com/blog