3D Printing my Thesis (Beginning Research)

A moment in time – looking out into the ocean in New Zealand

Things have been nuts lately with the 1st annual Rochester Fringe Festival and the RIT School of Film and Animation Honor Show last month.  They were both very wonderful and great to participate in, however, it took a great chunk of my focus away.  As the dust has settles on those two fronts, it is now all about a new project – my thesis.  The big one.  The crazy, ridiculous thesis.

As I type this, I also have another event in my life that’s happening.  Well, not an event about me – it’s about my awesome wife getting a promotion in her job which means a big move soon!  While this is super awesome and exciting, it does paint a bit of a quandary in how the heck I’m going to get my thesis done.  A big aid was my proximity to RIT and the resources offered at the institute and my college.  However, this’ll change things drastically – especially due to the fact that the DC area, of which we’re moving to, is twice as expensive than living here in Rochester, making the affordability of my thesis the biggest problem.  This all aside – it doesn’t make this change any less great as Corinn will be continuing to challenge herself in new areas with this exciting promotion.  It will be fun and well worth the potential thesis issues I have to figure out.

This out of the way, I’m planning on working on an experimental animation/live action hybrid of creating a Zoetrope like device to tell my story – a personal one.  I am still at a loss of what to do specifically, but the story will revolve around the celebration of my relationship with my wife and how the relationship made an important change in my life.  It’s still in the rough stages of development, but as time progresses, I’ll hopefully have a better idea of how the zoetrope like device and the story can be told in this film medium.  I also hope to have a sculptural piece to show in person, animating in real-time before your eyes as you can walk around and see what’s going on.  This is not the primary objective, but a hope as a byproduct of the design.

The zoetrope design will involve 3D printing – something I’ve never explored at all in my life.  I’ve been fascinated with them ever since I’ve seen examples in person and heard everything about the Home 3D printing revolution that’s happening around us.  But this isn’t an easy task as the limitations are budget and size – particularly resolution.  It’s weird to think about resolution when discussing sculpture, but since 3D printing works through slicing a virtual object into layers and then printing those layers on top of each other, it relies on the limitations and calibrations of the physical printing substrate and technology.  Something that requires research to make sure the money I spend invests in the right areas.

Speaking of research, I’ve been running around on campus to find out more in regards to 3D printing.  I discovered that a printing facility run by students has a ZCorp 310 Plus printer which uses a sandstone-like powder to print.  The process is fairly accurate and fast, but crazy expensive.  Here’s what I discovered:

  • Printer Model:  ZPrinter 310 Plus
  • File types:  STL (accepted by the RIT DPC System)
  • Max Print Size:  10” x 8” x 8”  (Length x Width x Height)
  • Max Print Size Speed:  15 Hours
  • Cost for max print size:  $1300 (without glue $1200)
  • Resolution: Resolution:  300 x 450 dpi
  • Other considerations:  Glue/Curing needs to be applied by hand.  Sanding should happen before curing.  Wall thickness should be no less than 1/10th of an inch.
  • Material:  ZP150 High Performance Composite Powder (used by RIT)
  • Material Options:  High Performance Composite, Direct Casting, Elastomeric, Investment Casting
  • Layer Thickness:  0.0035 – 0.008 inches (0.089 – 0.203 mm)
  • Vertical Build Speed:  1.0 inch/hour (25 mm/hour)

The results printed that they had on hand were great.  If I had enough funds, I’d consider this to be my solution, but it’s a pipe dream, however, much cheaper than using any of the following companies:

Actually, looking all these made me want to print my future zoetrope in metal like silver, aluminum or if I could borrow funds from the Tree Leaves outside, gold.  However, I have to continue reminding myself that I can always print pretty things later – I need to focus on what’s most important which is telling a story through this phsycial/virtual hybrid medium.

As mentioned previously, I stumbled upon other “discoveries” regarding home printing solutions.  They can range on average from $300 to $3000 and all have their advantages of price, convenience and quality.  For the ready made solutions, there are many.  One that JUST released that intrigues me the most is the Makerbot Replicator 2 (released September 29th, 2012).  They even opened up a new store in NYC!  I’ve been considering on heading down to actually take a look and to maybe walk out with one.  Through their website, they talked about lead times of 4 to 6 weeks.  The cost also hovers around $2200 for their basic model and $2600 for their dual head option.  I’m more interested in the single-head, basic model as I’m not intending to print in multicolor (another pipe-dream).  My plan is to print and then paint by hand.

The Replicator 2 by Makerbot

There is a controversy though with Makerbot – Closed Source.  This was a major hit to the community as they looked at Makerbot’s Replicator and other variations as successful Open Source projects that worked very well and contributed a lot to the community.  Now, things have changed quite a bit as Makerbot ballooned in size and has become a successful startup.  Chances are, they’ll continue to stay closed source to keep revenue and an edge with their designs.  Kind of reminds me a bit of Microsoft and Apple in many ways.

However, outside this, it seems like a sound solution as it does offer many advantages:

  • Printer Model:  MakerBot Replicator 2
  • Purchase price:  $2200
  • File Type:  STL, OBJ, THING
  • Max Print Size:  11” x 6” x 6”  (Length x Width x Height)
  • Max Print Size Speed:  ~24 hours
  • Cost for Max Print Size:   ~$50 per 1kg of PVA
  • Software Interface:  Makerware – Beta
  • Print resolution:  100 microns (could be less if I knew what I was doing)
  • Supported Solution with a limited Warranty
  • Made in US

Replicator’s Max Print size (close to) – click for higher res version.

Example print out from the Replicator 2. Click through to see a nice high-resolution version.

The only downside that I could see to buying one of these is that there will be many, many objects printed out, lying around for my cat to play with.  There are other solutions I had interest in, but one of them is in production for release in February 2013 – possibly too late for me to start printing then, assuming I have something by then.  The group is called FormLabs and they produced a laser based solution that also is not open source, but claims the finest resolution available for desktop 3D Printing.  The resin they use is liquid based and the platform looks like it could be a problem for the size prints I’m considering.  They had a kickstarter site that blew-up and ended up exceeding funding that they set a target for.  It probably helped that the CEO/Creator of SolidWorks gave them some presence in the video, backing their innovative creation.

There are several other dozen companies out there that have pretty amazing 3D printing solutions, however, the break-through price of $15K makes it difficult to afford on a budge that’s considerably less than that.  So ultimately, it comes down to affordability and convenience.  Resolution will be taking a hit if I try to afford something with good build quality, reliability and known to repeatedly print without much issues.

The material is another determinate in picking the right solution.  The ZCorp printers use that powder I mentioned before, but the community developing 3D desktop printing solutions to be affordable have been avoiding jet-based printing nozzles.  Right now the majority of affordable materials have been using extrusion methods that have a heat nozzle with some material pushing through which usually is ABS or PLA.  Both have advantages and disadvantages:


  • Petroleum Based
  • Needs good ventilation when heated
  • Flexible when bent
  • Finish look is opaque/matte-ish
  • Sometimes warps or shrinks when cooling
  • Can be fused using a form of welding
  • Using Acetone can help get rid of stringy-look and add a bit of polish if done right


  • Corn Based
  • Smells like waffles when heated
  • Brittle when bent
  • Finish look is clear/shiny
  • Doesn’t shrink/warp
  • Breaks down at higher temps and turns milky
  • Cannot be weld – other gluing is possible though

ABS on the left, PLA on the right. Borrowed from John Biehler’s flickr stream.

Both seem to cost relatively the same for materials – But I’m liking PLA the more I read up on it as it’ll be better for working inside an enclosed-space.  I may not have a studio space when printing this, so that’s why I may go for it.  It may also hold up better when in zoetrope form too.

The more I read about all this, the more I want to do.  My next post will probably be about some of the artists I’ve been researching recently.  I’m just hoping I can do something that’s good and worth all this stress.


  • Mark says:

    I think perhaps you can look into a kickstarter of your own to help fund this project. Who knows, perhaps you might be surprised at the amount of money that could be raised. Just a thought.

    • SpunkyDDog says:

      Thanks Mark for the suggestion. I’m considering a kickstarter campaign, but will need to have a prototype to show in order to get people on board. I’ll probably start it up once I also know what the virtual structure will look like before I goto printing.

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