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3D Design and Printing

I teach the 3D design tool Tinkercad to my fifth grade students, and then they incorporate 3D printing into projects during the rest of middle school. I also sometimes do projects with younger students. The three articles here that I wrote for Ultimaker give a good sense of the kinds of work my students do, as do the videos below. 

I made coding tiles so students could keep track of and iterate their code when working with Bee Bots. Here they are at work. Thingiverse files.

Second graders engineer rocket fins out of cardboard for a rocket I designed and printed. 

I created this CO2-powered egg-mobile so that students can design crumple zone bumpers. We test, destroy, and iterate. (I also donate to several carbon off-set organizations in trying to balance the scales.) Thingiverse files.

Here's a quick video showing the "Sphero Rig" I designed to turn my robotic Sphero ball into a drawbot. Thingiversee files.

I designed this rocket for an air-powered launcher. It lets students see how it flies without fins, then they can design cardboard fins and easily attach them with a collar. Thingiverse files, including launcher details.



Lithophanes have traditionally been images carved into porcelain or wood with such fine detail that when it is backlit, the image appears with amazing clarity. You can create the same effect with 3D prints. I did much experimentation (20+ failed attempts) and tried both Tinkercad's ability to easily import photos as well as the Image to Lithophane web app, which I eventually settled on. 


This is a finished product, backlit. This lithophane is 1.8 mm thick. I cleaned it up a bit with an exacto knife, and there are still a couple of spots I see I need to hit. The filament is a pale cream color.

This is the lithophane lit from the front. The filament looks silver here but is actually pale cream. At 1.8 mm, colored filament will work.

Here is the photo I used. It was in color, so I used Google Photos to make it black and white, and to lighten it considerably. 

This is the image in Image to Lithopane. It's a free web app, I am so grateful for this tool that I donated to its creator on Patreon. 

Upload the image under Images, preview it under Model (hit referesh whenever you've changed anything), and adjust settings under Settings. Here, in Settings--> Model Settings, I changed "thickness" to 2 mm and "border" to 3 mm. In Settings--> Image Settings, I changed it to "positive image." Back on the Model tab, hit Refresh, then Download. 

Steps for Using Image to Lithophane

1) Edit a photo so it's black and white. 

1) Edit a photo so it's black and white. 

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2) Import it to Image to Lithophane. Switch it to Positive Image under the Image Settings.

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3) In the Model Settings, you can scale the print with the Maximum Size setting. I print lithophanes at 1.8-3 mm in thickness. I liked how 3 mm turned out below. The color of your filament will impact how thick you can print it (darker would need a thinner print). You can also add a border, and you can specify the minimum thickness (I usually use .4 mm). Be sure to hit the refresh button on the model page after making changes. 

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4) In your slicer, specify a small layer height, slower speed, and 100% infill. 

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5) You can print the resulting file from step 3, or  your can import it to a CAD program for more editing. I inserted into Tinkercad so I could combine a 1.9 mm thick version with a 3mm thick version and label them. Unfortunately, I mislabed them! Tinkercad takes a while to process a lithophane, so prepare to be patient. 

6) Tinkercad sometimes has trouble with elements of a lithophane. 

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7) Here's the finished print, back lit on the left, front lit on the right. The image on the left is 3 mm thick and the on on the right is 1.9 (I accidentally switched the labels). The 3 mm gave it a bit more range to create finer gradations, and I think it came out better. 

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