Our First Designs and Prints

So, we have a new 3d printer. What to print first! That’s always the biggest question I would imagine on everyone’s mind when they first unpack the box of joy. For me, it was certainly the question. I was excited to see how this thing worked in person. For weeks, I had been watching countless videos online about how the printers were built, how the plastic extrusion process was developed, and how simple designs could come to life in a matter of hours.

I started looking in to some software systems that would make it easy for me and my students to get making, and get printing right away. I had some experience working in 3D with programs like Maya and Lightwave (back in the day) but it had been a while. I had also never designed anything specifically for printing. My background in 3D design has always been geared more for art, character design, or animation. Sure, I had done some object design, but more for environmental attribution or for addition into a 3D world space of some kind. Still, the process of designing in 3D for print or for animation is based on many of the same principles and theories. I wasn’t really worried about my success rate. I was, however, a bit worried about my students’ ability to pick up on the terms, the rationale, and the design theories involved in 3D.

I needed to be able to structure projects for them that were challenging, but were also able to be completed quickly. It was pretty critical that they were able to design things quickly and easily that could be printed – and the failure rate would be minimized – at least at this point in our project.

I thought maybe we would start with Blender 3D, a free design program. However, if you haven’t ever played in 3D, Blender is way too overwhelming. I found this out the first day of training when I showed them the interface and operational controls. Even at the high school level, the students were quickly overwhelmed by the number of shortcuts, menus, options, and even simply the interface of Blender. Day two I said to them, “Oops…my bad guys, let’s start over…”. Let’s take a look at instead.

Tinkercad ( was a great choice. Not only is it free, and available in the cloud, when you start your free account, the system steps you through a series of tutorials to get your feet wet and get your mind oriented to working in 3D space. is one of a few options you should consider for any level of designer looking to start in designing and building in 3d. Other options include; Meshmixer ( , 3DTin ( ), Autodesk’s 123D ( ) builder for iPad. Any of these services is very good – we decided to start with Tinkercad because of its simplicity.

The first step my students had to take was to step through the four or five simple tutorials offered by Tinkercad. They are very easy, take only a few minutes each, and within about a half hour, my students were on to building their own first ‘thing’. offers three key elements that I had liked right out of the box. First, the interface is very simple and easy to use. Second, any of the files you create in their interface can be downloaded in a number of formats to prepare for 3D printing. And third, artists can upload files into Tinkercad that have been designed in other software. More on that idea later…in Project 2!

So what did we build first? Take a look at some of the objects in this gallery, then read on about our first few builds and troubleshooting.


The new Makerbot is out of the box!

Here we go – the new Makerbot Replicator is out of the box and up and running in the lab! After a few tweaks to the physical position of the device in the room we are ready to go.

Under the print bed of the Makerbot, showing support struts (solid black poles left and right) and movement screw (threaded chrome center).

In the box, there are several things we had to unwrap and fix, in addition to removing the bright orange plastic struts that held the replicator platform and drive screws in place. Under the print bed stage, there are two platform struts on the left and the right that balance and true the plate. In the middle is a large drive screw that allows the mechanics of the printer to raise and lower the bed as the object prints. In the image above, if you look under the print stage, you will see a thin orange column just to the right. That is the shipping support strut you have to remove before you try to print anything. Be sure to do that!

As you set up your printer to begin printing objects, make sure that you clear the plastic struts that support the bed during shipping. Without removing those, your printer bed is vulnerable to damage. In addition to potentially damaging the drive motor or drive screw, not removing these supports will not allow the bed to drop during printing.

Make sure that you clear out all the support tape, plastic struts and supports so you can start printing. Next up – software!


Getting started in 3D Printing and Design

So here we go! This semester I have the opportunity to teach a brand new class in 3D design, animation and CAD. I’m really excited to get my hands dirty on working with students in designing objects in 3D and also to see these designs come alive using our new 3D printer.

This new class is in computer applied drawing and animation, and is geared toward students with some art background, and also a passion for building and making things. It will be very exciting to see designs come alive. One thing I think many design students in my classes in the past have lamented is that they never really get to see how their designs will look when they are built in ‘real life’.

Makerbot 5th Generation Replicator Desktop 3D Printer

To work from an idea or a drawing is one thing, to see the product rendered in 3D or animated on the computer is another thing, but to hold the object you designed in your hand is quite another thing entirely.

In the spring of this year, toward the end of last school year, we had the chance to acquire a Makerbot 5th Generation 3D printer! I was naturally ecstatic to think of the possibilities for producing 3D art from the computer and design software. I of course jumped at the chance to work with this cool tech, and sunk my teeth into the world of 3D printing, and believe me, it is amazing! If you haven’t had the chance to see what is going on in this space in the world, I’ll be sharing many of the cool things I find here on this website. Please keep checking back for the cool stuff we do and find.

For now – I’m on to unpacking, setting up and testing the printer! More to come!