Monthly Archives: May 2013

MakerWare 2.1.061 Review

TL;DR summary: MakerWare is rapidly maturing, and while the UI is easier to use than ReplicatorG, I had a lot of difficulty getting anything more than a basic print out of it. I’m hopeful for the next version, but in the meantime I’m sticking with ReplicatorG.

This is my third review of MakerWare. The first. two. reviews showed the software to be promising but beset with enough problems so as to be unusable. Some problems persist, but the usability’s taken a big step up.

The biggest change I’ve made to my setup is upgrading the Replicator Dual’s firmware to the most recent version. This fixes the MakerWare connectivity problems I was having a month ago, and also makes the Replicator quieter and faster. I jumped from 5.4 to 7.2, and frankly I’m kicking myself for not doing it sooner.

I’ve started aiding the printerless by offering prints of some models on Etsy. A recent order for a set of three Magic: The Gathering +1/+1 counters prompted me to download the new MakerWare to try printing multiple models with a dualstrustion printer.

MTG +1/-1 Counters

downloadThese are small models and they should print quickly, which makes them ideal test subjects. (These counters are available in The Forge, so go ahead and print some for your local Friday Night Magic game. Tell ’em Zheng sent ya.)

Launching MakerWare shows me a familiar interface, including the NYC skyline that I’ve maligned in the past as an unprofessional distraction to the process of 3D printing. I have it on decent authority that this image is the view from Brooklyn, which makes sense given that MakerBot’s HQ is there.

MakerWare Launch

The story of the Brooklyn Renaissance has progressed from interesting to beating a dead horse with a twee-stick. I’m sure it’s great to live in a land where the streets are paved with locally-sourced artisanal chutneys, but give me the option to turn the image off, please. I hear enough about how awesome Brooklyn is from reading Gawker. Or replace it with a truly iconic skyline, like Chicago’s. OH, SNAP. Yes I did, New York.

Back to the review: I reach into my Bag of Holding, withdraw an STL, and MakerWare puts it in the center of the build space, defaulting to white plastic for the build material.

first import

I Command-C/Command-V twice, and now I’ve got three +1/+1 counters. This little feature is far and away my favorite improvement MakerWare makes over grizzled warhorse ReplicatorG. The GUI’s very easy to use when it comes to duplicating and arranging objects on the build platform.

Three counters

Minor feature request: I’d like to be able to select multiple items and group them the way I can in Illustrator, so that I can click one and rotate/scale/translate the group around a common origin. This functionality is kinda-sorta of implemented with a drag across multiple items, but there’s always a chance you’ll grab something else on the build platform by accident.

I import a new item (the -1/-1 counter) and it shows up at the origin, which I guess is to be expected but I have trouble selecting it because another very similar item is in the same spot. I try to move it out of the way and I end up screwing up my placement and I have to start over.

This time I import a single instance of each counter. There is no snap-to-grid option that I can find, but there is an Auto-Layout feature that easily separates the models and places them independently on the platform. Very nice.

Auto Layout

Next. I want to print the -1/-1 in black, and the +1/+1 in red. This is pretty easy to do. Click the instance you want to change and then click the Object button. Select the extruder you want to use. In my case I’ve preloaded the Replicator Dual with black on the right and red on the left.

There’s a color swatch in the Object popup, but clicking on it doesn’t bring up a color picker the way I’d expect it to. Instead I have to go to Preferences, which seems like a weird place to change an object’s settings. I guess if you’re thinking that you’re setting the preferences for the bot it makes sense, but I prefer to think about the object I’m building rather than the tool I’m using.

Object Color

It’s easy to make the +1/+1 counter red, and now I’ll just copypasta the pair of counters and I’ve got three of each. So far, so good.

Ready to Print

I click the make button and get a bunch of well-organized settings, but I’m going to pretend I have no idea what I’m doing and just accept most of the “High Quality” defaults.

I’ve never managed to get a print to work on a Replicator Dual with lower than .18 layer height, but the High Quality settings default to .1 layer height. Either that’s a theoretical minimum that better geeks than me have reached, or it’s a minor oversight in the software. I change the layer height to .2 just to be safe.

My first print fails due to an off-kilter build platform and I have to cancel it from the bot. This isn’t a MakerWare-specific problem– it can and does happen with any software.

Feature request: It’d be nice to have a “try” again button, because now I’m waiting for the slice to finish again. It seems odd to me that MakerWare isn’t caching the most recent slice operation so I can try again quickly. Failed prints aren’t exactly rare as hens’ teeth, and this slice-fail-repeat pattern is really slowing me down.

I re-slice, wait, and try again. This time, it turns out the left extruder head is slightly higher than the right. The first layer of red counter goes to la-la-land, crashes into the emerging black counter, and the whole print goes kablooie. I cancel, get out a wrench, and adjust the hardware while the extruder nozzle is still warm.

This is frustrating, but not unexpected in the world of home 3D printing. So I try to keep things simple, and go back to printing a single color print of a single -1/-1 counter with Make it Now. Success.


I need to print two more of these, so I Make To File and export the gCode. The gCode file is ready in a few seconds.

Export to File defaults to .x3g, so if you’re not poking around in there or haven’t RTFM’d you won’t even know gCode’s an option. You can’t print an .x3g file directly from MakerWare, at least not in this version.

I choose File->Make It from File (this really should be an option under the Make button) and a dropdown appears. I click Make It and the build fails before it even gets to the printer. It tells me to look at the log to see what happened. I see a bunch of cryptic errors in the logs that I’m unqualified to troubleshoot. I’m abandoning this method for now, and I’ll just print two more single copies of the -1/-1 counter, slice delay and all.

I’ll also need some red +1/+1 counters, so in the interest of keeping it simple I import the STL, change the color of the instance to red, and discover a bug shortly after I hit the Make It button. This version of MakerWare doesn’t like single-extruder prints with the left nozzle for some reason.

The Replicator goes through the motions, tracing an empty line on the build platform, but the extruder’s not heating up. It’s got residual heat from a previous attempt, but it’s not getting hotter.

doesn't heat up

But. Both extruders work just fine if I try a dualstrusion print again, now that I’ve leveled the HBP and made sure my nozzles are both at the same height. They work just fine in that they manage to extrude plastic, but they do that job just a little too well.

Both prints have these filament morgellons sticking out of them. Close observation during the print reveals that a little bit of filament continues to seep out of the nozzle as the machine switches colors. That tuft of filament catches on the print the next time the extruder sweeps over the top layer. Maybe this could be fixed in gCode by running the extruder drive motors in reverse for a bit in-between colors. I dunno.


This is more cleanup than I want to get into. Probably better to print one color at a time.

At this point my effit-o-meter’s in the red zone, so I give up and go back to printing with ReplicatorG. It looks like MakerWare is sufficently advanced to handle a simple import-and-print operation, but for more complicated operations I’d prefer software that allows for quick and easy print iterations.

Verdict: Still waiting for MakerWare to live up to its potential. I’m looking forward to the next version, but for now the software is a perfectly cromulent way to troubleshoot away your Saturday morning.

The Long Arm and The Paw

This post is out of chronological order for building the Magic: The Gathering Drake token. I got a little excited by the progress I was making on the wings and forgot to post it a week ago.

Building a 3D hand is one of those things that looks really hard at first but really isn’t that big a deal once you’ve done two or three of them. This is a low-resolution fantasy model, so I’ve got some leeway in the anatomical accuracy. The most important modelling technique here is keeping the mesh as quads while dealing with the transition between the first knuckles and the metacarpals.

The day may come when I forsake quadrilaterals and take the easy path of willy-nilly geometry. BUT IT IS NOT THIS DAY!

MTG Drake Paw

The yellow octagon is a NURBS circle that’s more or less aligned with the lead face on the digit. I curve-snap the finger vertices to the circle to keep the digit mostly circular.

MTG Drake Paw

After all eight verts are snapped, I move the circle up to the next digit and repeat the process. I’ll still have to go back and clean up the edge stars between the fingers so that the hand deforms properly, but this is a good start for a hand.

MTG Drake Paw

For some reason I can’t get the refrain to “Becky From the Block” out of my head while I’m working on this. Hera, give me strength.

Printing a Replacement Technic Axle

Zhengspawn the Younger has begun to dabble in LEGO Mindstorms, and since our kit has been floating around the house for the better part of three years, naturally a piece or two has gone to the great scrapyard in the sky.

The bot couldn’t be completed according to instructions in this excellent book without a 9L axle. The axle is a cross-shaped piece of plastic about 70mm long and maybe 5mm in diameter. (I’m ballparking here.)

I’ve got a 3D printer and some modeling software, so a replacement part isn’t too hard to hack together, although I did have to go through a couple iterations before I got a snug but not too snug fit with my homebrew axle.

Note to LEGO, not that they need my help in dominating this particular toy niche: I’d pay for a LEGO-certified chunk of gCode for printing my own replacement parts instead of futzing with calipers and test prints and acetone.

The axle’s cruciform profile means I can’t lay it on its side for printing; it’s got to go straight up. But it’s a really narrow print which means it’s likely to topple if I print it as-is.

So I made a little base for the axle and printed with 100% infill. The model prints in about half an hour, and after a quick wipe of the axle with some acetone to smoove out the printing ridges, Zhengspawn’s Mindstorms bot is off to the races.

Now. Usually I boolean join my multi-part models together so that ReplicatorG doesn’t make a hole at the intersection of two separate pieces of geometry.

If the shaft and base were booleaned together, they’d need to be cut apart with a hobby knife. This can be a little tough when printed at 100% infill.

See how the edges on the top of the base connect to the bottom of the shaft here? This model is watertight– as far as ReplicatorG is concerned this is one contiguous mesh.

But. If one just kinda jams the two pieces together without actually joining the geometry, ReplicatorG will create a very delicate connection, easy to snap off after printing.

Usually this self-intersecting geometry is a problem in 3d printing, like it was with my Gingerzombie cookie cutters, but here it’s actually an advantage in creating the final product.

MTG Drake, Day 5-ish

I have no idea how I’m going to print this, especially once I get the membranes in the wings done. I’ll figure it out, though. My mon Zheng don’t shiv.

MTG Drake

I haven’t added much detail to the head and body yet. He’s going to need a proliferation of cool spines, scales, and wing tatters before he’s ready to play Magic: The Gathering with his other 2/2 drake buddies.

But first things first: the next step is making a temporary skeleton to make sure the wings, tail, neck, and legs deform properly, and then I’ll take a look at those wings and body details.

I’m coming for you, wings.

Martini Squirrel

Martini Squirrel width=The Planet Money Podcast is, byte for byte, the most informative economics podcast you’ll find. They cover a wide range of topics in significant depth, and when they veer into esoterica like debt-to-GDP ratios they keep the examples simple enough to be followed by a layperson.

Years ago, inspired by The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy, they decided to follow the production of their own branded t-shirt, from cotton seed to final sale.

It wouldn’t surprise me if they decided to continue with the project to see what happens to t-shirts after the first world is done with them.

The logo upon which the brain trust at Planet Money has settled is a squirrel holding a martini glass. It’s a brilliant pun on Keynes’ Animal Spirits, and since I’m a huge fan who’s got a more-or-less-turnkey process by which 3D-printed squirrels can be cranked out, I believe I owe them an homage. Here he is, in timelapse:

The STL file for this squirrel is available for free download from The Forge, along with other miniatures, Seej models, and assorted useful and not-so-useful 3d-printed baubles.

If you don’t have access to a 3D printer, you can purchase a ceramic print from Shapeways.



The lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3 is an accomplished gardener, but even she is vexed by bunnies. Up here in growing zone 5a, rabbits emerge from their warrens ravenous at the end of winter, and they’ll suck the paint off your house if they can’t find something more tender.

Enter the phytome. It’s a 3D-printed seedling cage that’s designed to keep mid-sized varmits from disturbing one’s sprouts while allowing rain and sunlight to pass through its webbing.

download I’ve printed teacup-sized phytomes for small seedlings, but the one shown in this photo is scaled to the maximum dimensions my Replicator1 can handle. It’s about 15 centimeters tall, and a little less wide.

Installation is easy peasy mac and cheesy; just print and gently screw into the earth around your plant. This one’s printed in ABS plastic for durability, but for true fire-and-forget plant protection I recommend biodegradable PLA.

This model and many others, including a bunch of miniatures and Seej engines, are available for free download in The Forge.

Beast Token Print Timelapse

I’ve been getting a lot of referrals lately from Joe’s MakerBot and Fabbaloo with regard to my Magic: The Gathering Beast Token. Thanks, guys!

There’s some healthy skepticism out there suggesting that the either the Beast requires support or won’t print at all on an FDM printer. I’ve been wanting to do some timelapse photography for a while, so this was a perfect opportunity to dig out an old webcam and show that si, se puede.

This is printing on a Replicator 1 with factory firmware. I had some weird webcam software issues so I ended up taking timed screenshots, which turned out to be handy because Replicator G’s “DONE” dialog got caught in the final frames.

You’ll see my hand flicker in there for a frame or two; I’m removing a piece of filament ramen leftover from the extruder clearing action. Didn’t want this model to get touched by His Noodly Appendage.

About 52 minutes, this print.