I’ll be honest – I love everything about art. The creativity, the expression, the way a piece of art can change your mood or how you see the world. Personally, I love singing and dancing, performing in plays and musicals, but I’ll be the first to admit I can’t draw. Not even stick figures. My skills are so bad, I NEVER win at Pictionary. Ever.
To be realistic, I think my deficiency in skill partly stems from my lack of creative spark. When I have a pencil or paintbrush in my hand, my mind goes blank. Absolutely blank. Even if I have an idea in mind, something I’d love to bring to life, I have no idea of how to get there. I know, I know, take a class or something. But there’s a complication – I don’t have the patience for it.
Well, that changed the moment I unpacked our 3D printing pen.
It was pretty easy to set up, and I was mesmerized by how comfortable it was to hold, how quickly it heated up, and how fast the filament came out. The real shock was when I realized how easy it is, with a little trial and error, to create something wonderful. That said, there was a lot of trial and error. So here are my top 10 things to think about when using a 3D printing pen:
If you’re anything like me, you want to do it all, now, and you want it to be perfect the first time. Not so with the 3D printing pen. Starting fast means less control. The first time I tried to print something, it ended up looking like a mound of dirt – unfortunately, I was going for a bird’s nest. Don’t be afraid to turn down the speed so you have more control over where the filament is going.
I found it was easier to start my 3D pen education using a stencil or a page from a colouring book. Being able to trace an outline not only sparked my creativity, but it also helped me get handle on speed variations, how to fill shapes in, and how firmly to press down between layers. You can find lots of stencils online (a quick Google search turned up thousands of results).
When you’re ready to go 3D, you’ll find that the filament doesn’t always stay where you want it to. Try blowing on your design as you’re drawing – especially drawing up into the air – the filament will cool quickly enough that it will retain the shape you want. It’s also key when you’re drawing a lot of layers at a time. If you don’t use a fan or something similar, your beautiful design with just melt together.
I think we can all agree my freeform drawing isn’t exactly precise – which is why I find perimeters so helpful. Drawing an outline of my shape or drawing, before I start building it up helps me know where I’m going, and sets boundaries for my filament. It also pretty much guarantees that the design I start out with will be the one I end up with…unless something drastic happens…
I’ve found that when trying to fill in a bottom layer or create some infill, that straight lines are SO much easier than circles. It could just be my basic skills, but the circles seem to get a little wonky, especially as I hit an area where the nozzle width pushes the pen away from the previous circle. (The nozzle itself is actually quite small but the housing is pretty wide and it can get in the way.) Using straight lines lets me get better coverage and ensures each line filament is connected to the ones beside it.
I’ve also found that layering straight lines as a foundation – each layer perpendicular to the previous one – creates a super strong foundation that you can build on forever. Without a strong foundation, my earlier designs were weak and prone to breaking if handled roughly. And let’s face it, you’ll want to touch your creations all the time because they’re awesome…and that can lead to them breaking.
Did you know that the gear that pushes filament down through the nozzle is located close to the opening in the top of the pen? This means that once the end of your loaded filament is below the gear, the pushing stops and no more filament comes out of the heated nozzle. What I didn’t realize is that while it may appear empty, there’s still quite a bit of filament left inside the pen. Normally, you would just load the same colour into the pen and you would keep on going. BUT – if you’re changing colours, you need to be aware – as soon as you load a new colour of filament, the ends of the two colours will fuse together and blend a bit before the colour totally transitions. To avoid seeing that transition, I recommend you extrude the remaining colour away from your creation until you see the new colour come through clearly. It’s a bit of a waste of filament, but it will avoid weird colour combinations. Like this one – where I was changing from blue to yellow to…see that beautiful overlap? It might be pretty, but it might not fit into your design…
So this one I learned the hard way. I wasn’t paying attention to the pen and didn’t realize how quickly the filament started to ooze out of the nozzle and stick to the side. It’s easy, especially if you put the pen down for a couple of minutes.
Oozing filament isn’t typically a problem, but it could lead to jamming. If you notice filament oozing or sticking to the side of the nozzle, use a pair of tweezers or something other than your fingers to pull the filament gently away. Best to do it while the nozzle is hot so the filament will slide off quickly.
How many times do you have to burn yourself before you remember that it’s hot? In my case, at least 10 times. I’ve been really good about staying away from the nozzle, but I can’t seem to help myself when it comes to touching my design. The filament that comes out of the pen is extremely hot, so if you want to manipulate it to get the perfect shape, or to press it down so it really sticks to the layer below, you should always do that with something other than your fingers.
Fingers – 0, Hot Filament – 10…and counting.
If you’re using a paper template, like a colouring book or design you printed off the internet, you’ll likely have bits of paper stuck to the plastic when you remove your design. My recommendation is to put a layer of blue painters tape over top of it before you get started. You’ll still be able to see the design through the tape, and you’ll be able to remove your design without any issues.
Also consider using objects as a foundation or template. I was exploring different shapes and wanted to create a cup, but I was having issues getting the filament to stay upright while I was printing. It might be basic, but by using an orange I was able to create the structure for a cup. Once it cooled, I took it off the orange and added other detail. I’m still playing with what details after the foundation was set.
I may have gotten a little carried away, but using the 3D printing pen is definitely the most entertaining things I’ve done all week. There are so many designs and crafts that even a non-artists like myself can create that it’s hard to put the 3D printing pen down.
Do you have a 3D pen? What do you think – re there other tips or tricks you’d include? What do you love most about 3D pens?