Things no one tells you about 3d printing

I know a lot of this has been said online. But I experienced all of this first hand over the past year. Some of it could be painfully obvious, but too much of the press around this topic is only about new equipment, new materials, and company politics.

Screw that. There’s plenty more stuff you need to worry about or at least think about before you dive into the field. These were just the things off the top of my head that I never really heard anyone address honestly:


  • You better know how to model. Cleanly making good polygon models is beyond important no matter what software you use. Ever wonder why so many 3d printed models look so crude, clunky and faceted? It’s just easier for people to handle, for cruder machines to print and many slicing programs to handle.
  • Slicing software is not all created equally. Some programs have pretty crude visualizations of the toolpath of your printer. If you don’t know, a slicer program is the software which literally generates the instructions a printer needs to build your model a layer at a time. I like software which allows me to closely and completely see each of the thousands of layers of the slicing easily. Sometimes you can see exactly where problems will occur and you can adjust for problems.
  • If you built plastic models, have some woodworking skills, any kind of real craftsmanship and steady hands you are at an immediate advantage over most people with 3d printers. Having the ability to add another layer of finish to your 3d prints is huge.
  • No amount of money you spend on a 3d printer will make you a good designer. Don’t know anything about 3d modelling or CAD? Never pushed around tons of polygons? Don’t have skills in design and constructive solid geometry? Chances are you’re just going to be stuck downloading other people’s models and hoping they fit your needs. Just like 2d printers didn’t make people good designers, 3d printers don’t make you an inventor or maker. Well, it is cooler to your friends but that novelty without design chops is seriously overrated.
  • Get used to print failures, they happen. and worse, you won’t notice simple mistakes until they end up costing you money and material. Plenty of copy editors will attest to the fact that things went to print with terrible mistakes. It happens. But in 3d printing, seeing those mistakes manifest in the third dimension is demoralizing on a whole new level if you let it get to you. But if you are used to experimentation, like iterating and experimenting, or just tinkering then you should do fine.
  • If you live somewhere with seriously hot summers, be prepared for a utilities spike. I ran two printers nearly all summer long and saw my highest power bill ever for at least one month. The difference between last year and this year even with a rate increase was noticeable. This kind of equipment needs reliable power and if you can, dedicating an uninterrupted power supply is a given if you plan on using these things for something critical to your home business or workplace.
  • For now, nothing you print will be as high quality as the same object injection molded from some cheap manufacturer in China. Just look at even the cheaper toys at a supermarket checkout – there isn’t a single Kickstarted campaign indie funded ANYTHING that can come close to the quality of some of the stuff you can get mass produced in China. At least, NOT YET. But there is something far more interesting and novel about things you 3d printed for a specific purpose or request. I know people love the inexpensive stereo lithography DLP printers coming out now – but think about this. Resin models printed on these SLA printers cost 10-100 times as much per item as the exactly same thing injection molded by an experienced manufacturer. But you can customize faster. At least FOR NOW. To paraphrase Seth Godin, is the cost of NOT MAKING something HIGHER than the cost of you MAKING something.

Still want to get into 3d printing? You’re nuts. Just like me. See you at the funny farm.


Letting Walter go …

So even I need to advertise my own stuff – I want to get the site to be self sustaining and I hope to provide people with interesting art, technology and other stuff that makes life fun.

So Inktober led me to create this guy and I would love to give him a better home than my portfolio:


Why is the coffee (ink) gone?

Well, I’m still working in visual effects.

That’s getting harder for a lot of people to say in California. I feel strangely lucky this year in that I have actually turned down more work than I took.

But I needed time, I needed some space and really wanted to make some things happen. Planting seeds right?

And, yeah. Dinovember.

jungle raptor

So about the piece above – same Pentel brushpen inks first then a pass with the coffee pigment I made. Nothing fancy, just mix a few tablespoons of instant coffee into a few tablespoons of coffee water and keep adding coffee until the pigment is really thick. Not too thick to paint with, though.

The mixture is less important than knowing how to apply washes in passes – basically building up to the darker tones, not trying to use the coffee like ink.

To get the coffee pigment as dark as possible in one pass takes loading up the brush with as much pigment as it can hold – forming almost a droplet at the brush tip. Learning to use that brush fully loaded takes practice if you want to achieve thin lines as you are basically applying the brush against the drawing surface at the tip of the droplet and not the brush.

Applying ink like this requires breaking the surface tension of that droplet very quickly and gently, then as the “ink” is absorbed, applying more pressure to get the brush to take over. Depends on how thick you made your mixture. Dare you to go overboard. Just use your own coffee. 🙂

I guess I’m used to it now, and it isn’t always so precise but the coffee ink can become uneven during longer sessions. Gotta keep mixing during the process.

I did eventually get a batch that managed to grow some mold. Sounds like I did it on purpose. It took a few days of neglect but I was trying to finish a different project, and to be honest I think it had something to do with the light that shines warmly on my desk during the warmer days of our lingering summer.

Next on the food-as-pigments, parpica. Or some other foodie/art DIY madness.

Until then …


What does a piano have to do with 3d printing?

I promise this will make sense eventually.

There are plenty of people who have posted tons of finishing, painting and polishing tutorials online for 3d printing.

And yeah – DINOVEMBER!


If you are like me, and basically trying to make things work with whatever you have lying around the house (face it – like me you likely already spent too much money on the printer).

Some vital stuff I have never owned before but now keep handy are a dremel and soldering kit.

And you might not be a guitar player, but I am. When you see a tutorial online telling you to get “piano wire” for clearing clogs and you don’t have a piano you want to mutilate, use a guitar string. Specifically the G String. There are jokes there but I’m too tired.

Chances are if you rock up to a music store and ask for piano wire, they might make a suggestion or two but remember to check the size of your extruder (the piano wire is used heated to help unclog certain extruders).

Even guitar strings usually have the dimensions in millimeters labelled so you can tell what gauge of guitar string will work.

3D printing and making people love plastics

Nearly everything I make 3d printed these days is based on the question “what’s it for?”

And oh yeah, Dinovember:

Trex Jungle


Display. Industrial. Kitchen. Entertainment or Play. Everything you’re going to make on a 3d printer these days has an ideal material and it hasn’t taken long for the prosumer market to come up with a host of materials to suit the needs for stuff you want to make.

I think of most of these materials under some basic rules:

Fading – is it going to maintain it’s basic color
Wear and durability – can it take the forces you foresee
Waterproofing – is it bouyant and weatherproofed
Sterile – can it be sterilized
Inert – is the chemically reactive

And that’s just for starters. But the truth is that most of the 3d printers you can get commercially are going to melt a form of plastic or slowly cook come kind of resin.

Look at how much we complain about plastic but look how far it gets you on a daily basis.

Most manufacturers have already figured this out and made forms of plastic that degrade naturally in landfills- PLA, or Polylactic Acid. Hopefully, those claims are true as I’m not sure how well tested they are IN landfills.

I honestly have made things I don’t mind keeping, using and reusing. But I also know people have questioned the waster material that is generated when you throw away support material.

With some basic research you should be able to find out the method your community or city uses for waste management. If you have an industrial level composting capability in your area, and you REALLY want to separate your PLA waste products, you should be fine taking them there. The catch some point out is that PLA is made by so many different people. Some are even made to melt at higher temperatures and are being mixed with outer fillers to get different print properties.

I imagine that as the usage of 3d printing approaches Walmart kind of ubiquity, we’ll be in some trouble again and need ANOTHER alternative material. But by then, there might not be any Walmarts. Hmmm.


Designer Con: IP buys you cheap marketing

People who work comics conventions already know this. You are way more likely to sell something that someone already recognizes. It’s part of why the unspoken truth of conventions that stuff is sold there without the implied or express permission of the original copyright holders.

Oh yeah before I forget, here’s a dinosaur for #Dinovember.

dimetrodon cave

Got that out of the way.

Sure there are alterations, sure there are mashups. It’s satire, it’s parody blah blah blah. I know, ok. Go ahead and construct your legal defenses – I don’t care. There is no defense to the fact that the reason people do it is to make sure they can sell something without having to do the hard work of actually branding and marketing something beforehand. You’re selling something cold, you need to get past the customer’s defenses.

Go ahead and claim it’s because they loved something growing up – I don’t buy that entirely. It’s also because they know that if they love something it has a good chance of making sales because someone ELSE loved it, too. By the way, this is my way of giving you credit for NOT being a naive hippie and thinking it’s all peace, love and happiness.

But I truly loved that some people I spoke to at Designer Con WERE trying to make a break away from intellectual property sales and into their own content. That’s always what people will say by default, and lots of people hate their jobs and would rather do THIS.

I also have to say that people here have a WAAAAAY higher display game than any comics show I have ever been to. There are some people here who shouldn’t even try to sell stuff, they should professionally design OTHER people’s presence at shows. They are THAT good.

But there is something happening to the overall business of making – there is just so much STUFF being made by far more people than ever that I think some people will eventually make some prediction about the disruption of yet another industry. Yeah, even your lovey-dovey crochet crafted ugly dolls are part of aggressively disruptive tech grinding away at the prior hegemony of traditional manufacturing. That’s mostly an excuse to use the word hegemony – I try to do it at least once a year. Like a prostate checkup.

Think about what happens if there are enough breakout hits emerging from this designer crowd of DIY badasses. Think about the already built in aversion to that big word I mentioned before that started with the letter H. If enough of them don’t want that ToysRUs deal, that mainstream national and international endorsement, the fast food chain kids meal market position … what happens then?

But that makes ME naive. Of course they want that BIG deal, right?

Dinovember update

I haven’t really been keeping track of the days as I finished all of the compositions for Dinovember on the first day and planned to have all of them rendered by next week.


But the whole Inktober activity kind of brought out lots of old tools – stuff I haven’t used since college. I’ve even had at least one sumi brush I have’t used since junior high.

Tric and raptors

I had mentioned someone had asked me if I had abandoned digital art. I keep thinking about that from time to time since he asked. If anything I had abandoned traditional tools but over the last few years I have felt a real backlash against digital art.

I almost always depend on commissions to make money at conventions, the ratio is almost always 60/40 commissions to other sales, but I had been trying to get away from depending on them by making different products. 3D printed figures were some of those products, limited run figures which I designed. I did make digital prints of some of my digital art and some my comics’ covers.

Frankly I hadn’t done a good job of presenting the prints in particular as I had to share my table this year (and most years actually, and yes I already read Greg Pak’s article. I will tell him HI for YOU when next I see him before the con opens). But something which I have NEVER had in substantial amounts has been original art – basically inked images not previously commissioned and rendered traditionally. It’s par for the course for artists to post artwork and the cynic in me groans at the “This was fun to do” child-with-crayons mentality.

I honestly think a lot of that thinking is rubbish – I would call out artists who complain about going broke when speaking to me privately, but constantly post “I had fun making this” instagram and facebook status updates. Is it really fun going broke? Or are you using art to salve your impoverished circumstances? Sorry. That was mean. I will gladly tell you someday how much of a pain in the ass it was making certain pieces.

I took Inktober to focus on creating plenty original art, though. Dinovember is building up that as well. Compared to the amount of time and material involved in either 3d printing or digital prints, I am more capable of offering these at a comfortable price point for people at shows. I did manage to sell original art at both Anaheim and Long Beach which had never happened before.


Can you make a rocket out of carbon fiber PLA?

Sure you can. As long as you’re talking about a carbon fiber Rocket Racoon. All joking aside, I made this prior to the Long Beach Comic Con as a demonstration piece for the Ultimaker 2.

The first one came out very well for being printed in one pass – no parts, no orientation tricks. I think people always want to know – especially 3d modellers – how well a 3d printer will work with their models. The answer is always it depends, but so far the Ultimaker 2 has really dared me to do things that are more difficult.

The results of this test aren’t perfect, but they are impressive considering the level of “difficulty” of this model.

The basic figure was sculpted in Sculptris which thankfully is still free. The figure was posed and the gun was added with Lightwave 3d. I also made the model watertight – if you don’t know what that means, it’s made into one continuous polygon mesh – also in Lightwave. But the software is less relevant than the material – Carbon Fiber reinforced PLA.

Although this came out better than I expected, I should have increased the wall thickness of the print.

As a result the legs broke when I cleaned the model. But, I am used to cleaning and polishing plastic models. What red blooded teen-aged boy didn’t spend hours making plastic models seamless?

Some Tamiya modeling putty and 2 grains of sandpaper (60-120 grain) will make this raccoon whole again, but since the test was meant to see how the untouched surface would hold up – well I think it’s still successful as the finish is actually very good by default.

Chances are you have everything you need around the house when you first get a 3d printer – especially if you are already a hobbyist of some skill level. The only thing I really didn’t have lying around which made this much easier was the Tamiya putty – which is terribly expensive by volume. I think I would DIY an alternative since basically it is a quick drying semi-polymer based, molding putty. Time to break out the chemistry set.

Even printed at only 100 microns (mostly for speed), the model printed well for something with an enormous amount of overhang issues. People constantly tell those who do 3d printing to try and avoid overhangs by orienting parts in certain ways. And that’s still true but I like to torture test materials and equipment with tough situations and this guy has every DON’T DO THAT issue related to 3d printing there is.

For more information on the ultimaker 2 and Carbon fiber reinforced filament, visit and

And sign up for important private invites and announcements. I want to offer something to the courageous soon.



Sister Marda Tsai

I went to a catholic junior high school and took sumi painting from Sister Marda.

She could be very tough in class but joked with me one day after critiquing one of my studies “are you sure you’re not Chinese?” Followed by a big laugh.

The kids used to joke about her all the time. They didn’t like that she forced you to hold up your work, and take your crit on the chin. That was the first time I ever did that with my work – hold it up in front of the class.

I used to get literally KICKED because of it. Not because it was bad. But because other kids didn’t care. I hear tons of stuff about kids getting beat down in life into some less creative versions of their preschool selves. We were no angels by junior high.

Sister Marda ran a tight ship, no one was ever allowed into then storage room. My friend and fellow artist Ji Jae Sang were the first to be allowed to get supplies directly from this room.

Hanging in an honored portion of this thin back room/studio was a ceremonial Chinese sword. It was ornate, clean and SHARP. Imagine a 40 odd year old NUN wielding a deadly Chinese BLADE. Likely wouldn’t be allowed today.

I can’t tell you what her guidance meant to me, but I am showing you. Every chance I get.

Makerbot removed from iMakr stores

The following is a link to something everyone who has followed my printing experience with the Makerbot Mini has known for most of the year:

Customers of the bots they got at iMakr are not happy with the 5th gen Makerbots. I’m not happy with mine. And it’s been another week of waiting on support.

The 5th gen machines only need two improvements to make them credible and reliable. Unfortunately both of those changes are expensive because they involve all the things that make it a 3d printer – the extruder, and the stepper motors.

It’s loud as hell and jams too easily. That’s it. If Makerbot as a company can resolve these two things they’d really have it made because they spent so much effort lining up deals to get the products into every possible space they could, if they actually had a KILLER product they’d be running the world (or at least a small part of it).

It doesn’t help that the company gets accused of actually stealing ideas and patents from their users, it’s bad enough they how bad they look now. I honestly chose a Makerbot because of their previous reputation with the cupcake and rep 2’s, and because they were backed by enough money to ensure they wouldn’t disappear overnight which is the fear I have for 90 percent of the 3d printer gold rush companies flooding Kickstarter with stuff.

Even the venerable Form 1, the SLA printer I initially wanted and seriously considered has struggled with it’s fair share of FULL machine replacements. If you think a failed print on Makerbot looks bad you should see some of the fails from a Form 1 or other SLA printer. It’s something which makes the 5th gens so hard to swallow – the ideas in them are actually REALLY good – just poorly executed. Make it quiet, reliable and easy to get back up an running again. PLEASE!

Even if they do get this settled, the accusations by users of idea theft still bugs me. It was the biggest reason I’ve never contributed anything to their so called ecosystem that isn’t an ecosystem. If anyone in tech is going to use that term it better include better ways for users and not just filament re-sellers to make some coin.

I want Makerbot to succeed for two reasons – the first being so I can actually make back the money I blew on the Mini by making something worth buying, and two so they can repay the users they allegedly stole from should that ever become a thing they need to do. THEN. Then, I can feel comfortable buying something other than filament from them again.