Category Archives: troubleshooting

Dualstrusion with MakerWare Beta 2.0

TL;DR summary: The UI’s handy and the MakerBot slicer is mind-blowingly fast, but I had a great deal of difficulty getting a dualstrustion to print with MakerWare.

I opened a support ticket with MakerBot yesterday, trying to get MakerWare to connect to my bot over USB. If you’ve read yesterday’s post you’ve seen the litany of troubleshooting steps I’ve already tried. Today I’m thinking maybe I’m due for a firmware upgrade, but we’ll see what MBI has to say before I fix things that are only slightly broken.

While I’m waiting for that request to percolate through the support structure I thought I’d try a workaround: printing from the SD card. I’m interested to see how MakerWare’s new dualstrustion generation works, because ReplicatorG’s method is a little kludgey.

This is MakerWare running on OSX 10.6.8.

I’m going to print my Magic: The Gathering Vampire and Cat tokens, because I already have black and white ABS filaments loaded. One color for each token.

I import the cat and MakerWare helpfully asks me if i’d like to put the model on the build platform. Yes, yes, I would like to do that.


I can command-c/command-v to copy and paste multiple cats onto the platform, and Makerware automatically places them next to each other. This is quite a nice little feature.

Just for fun I see if MakerWare will let duplicate cats off into empty space. It does.

lots of cats

The delete key rapidly relieves me of my extra cats. Next I import the vampire. The vampire and cat are cohabitating, which needs to be fixed before I can print. That’s a simple click and drag.


I’d like to have a keyboard shortcut for “Add,” if anyone from the dev team is reading this.

MTG Vampires are either black or red, so I need to change the vampire’s color. I click the vampire token and then the Object button, which brings up the properties of this instance.

There’s a strange, unused text field under the dropdown menu. No idea what this is for. I can’t click or type in it.

text field

Ah. It turns out this alleged text field is a white color swatch indicating the color of the model. I find this out when I go to change the cat’s color. A label would be helpful here for first-time naïfs like myself.

It’d be nice to have a double-click on the color swatch bring up a color picker. As is I have to go to the Settings button on the other side of the screen.

I go to change the color of the extruders in Settings, and MakerWare crashes.

changing colors

So. I retrace my steps and I’m back in business in two minutes.

Exporting the .thing to a file is a single click of the Make button, and I don’t have to mess with any settings here. I just choose “High Quality.”


Out of curiosity I poke into the Advanced settings. The speed while extruding /traveling seems really fast to me– I’m usually printing around 45/65 and MakerWare defaults to 80/150.

But I’ll give it a go since I’m trying to approach this software as if I’m a n00b who just unboxed my machine.

Skeinforge is the default slicer for High quality. The slice starts OK, and then seems to hang around 66%. I’ll give it a few more minutes and then try again.

I come back three minutes later and the slice weirdly jumps back to 33%. Two minutes later it does some “Weave” business, then a print-to-file step, and finally it’s done! Total slice time, about 15 minutes.

Remember I can’t print via USB yet, I’m exporting a .s3g file and then printing from the Replicator’s SD card slot.

The first layer looks like this:


It looks like some piece of software, either MakerWare or Skeinforge, forgot to take the cat offset into account when building the gCode for this print.

So I try it again with the MakerBot slicer, which slices so quickly at first I think something’s wrong. It takes literally less than 30 seconds.

I believe that somewhere between 1.0 and 2.0 the in-application name of this slicer got changed from Miracle Grue to MakerBot Slicer. This is disappointing.

This print, too, failed in exactly the same fashion, so it’s not Skeinforge that’s the problem. I’m looking askance at you, MakerWare.

So I move the cat over a little bit, to force the geometry to change in the reslice.


Also, as long as I’m here I’m going to drop the travel speeds to something I’m more comfortable with; the machine’s rattling violently at the default speeds. Here’s the result, still overlapping.


I’ll try one last time with plenty of distance between the models printing at 45/65 travel rates.


And finally I get something close to a decent print.


The vampire printed fine, but there are little bits of black filament embedded in the white plastic– I have no idea how they got there. They don’t look like they rubbed off the left extruder head, and they don’t show up when I print models with a single extruder.

My hunch is that this is an atypical dualstrusion print– maybe I had such a hard time because MakerWare thinks all dualstrusion prints are intended to be fused together and not two models separated by a lot of space. I can’t say for sure.

It’s disappointing. MakerWare’s got a lot of promise but it’s not going to be a regular part of my workflow for a while.

MakerWare 2.0 Beta: First Look

TL;DR summary: I was all excited to check out the performance of this new software, but couldn’t connect to my Replicator Dual even after extensive troubleshooting. I’m sticking with ReplicatorG for now.

This is MakerWare running on OSX 10.6.8.

The download: the DMG for this called the MakerWare Bundle of Awesome; MBI remains lighthearted even in its mundane business details. I’m downloaded and installed in less than a minute. So far, so good.

The first thing I notice when I launch the application, even before the “What’s New” dialog, is that they’ve replaced the old gradient background with a subtle cityscape.


The software asks which MakerBot I’ll be using today. I’ll just select my Replicator Dual, now second from the bottom in the drop-down menu, and continuing its descent into obsolescence as progress trudges on.

The first thing I want to do is turn off the cityscape. I’m used to design applications that get out of the artist’s way– Photoshop, Maya, Illustrator, all these give me the option to eliminate geegaws and focus on the work at hand. I’d like an RGB 161,161,161 background, please.

I click the settings button in the upper right. No luck there, but it’s nice to be able to change my object display colors. So I go to MakerWare->Preferences, hoping maybe there’s some advanced settings there. Nope, it opens the same dialog.

I can’t find a place to turn the background off, so it looks the the cityscape is here to stay. Moving on.

Before I can print anything, I’ll have to connect to my Replicator. The broken USB cable button in the lower right looks helpful, so I click it. I get a notice that my Replicator Dual isn’t connected, and an option to “Export to File,” which I assume lets me save my bot settings.

not connected

I poke through the menus, looking for something that’s obviously “Connect to Machine.” Can’t find it. Must be an autodetect? I’ll quit and restart.

MakerWare starts up and some status boxes appear and disappear telling me that the Replicator is connected *and* disconnected. Don’t blink, you might miss it. The bot still doesn’t appear to be connected, since that USB cable icon is broken.

UI Design tip: the “sheared cable” icon might imply that the cable’s just really, really long; a less ambiguous visual cue would be a big red X over the icon.

Twenty years of talking relatives through hardware problems over the phone tells me the next logical thing to do is power cycle the bot.

The bot chirps its happy startup song and I see the same connected/disconnected status boxes fade in and out. As far as I can tell, I’m still not connected to the bot.

Sometimes the USB ports on my laptop get a little fussy, so I’ll try moving the cable around. Same results: still a disconnected Replicator.

So I click the Help button. It’s all UI help. Useful, no doubt, but not in my present circumstance.

help screen

I had some trouble with MakerWare 1.0 and the conveyor background services, so I’ll try turning those off and on again. No good.

Now I reach way way down into my troubleshooting bag of tricks, into the late 80’s. Turn everything off and on again, and restart from scratch.

Still no connection between the software and the hardware. MakerBot’s support page tells me to go to Services->Restart background service. I’ve done that already, but OK, let’s give it another go.

Still no connection. Just to make sure I’m not a complete idiot, I quit MakerWare and hop over to ReplicatorG to see if I can connect there. ReplicatorG connects instantly, so this is definitely a MakerWare problem.

Ok, big guns. Go to Terminal and ps -ef | grep conveyor. Find the conveyor process and kill -9 it, so I can restart it from MakerWare. This is the Unix equivalent of taking off and nuking the site from orbit.

Go back to MakerWare and restart the service. MakerWare crashes after a few seconds of spinning beachball. Maybe kill -9 was a bit much.

Restarting shows me a services error.

services error

ReplicatorG still works.

I try an uninstall/reinstall, using the uninstaller provided in the disk image. I’m back to the broken USB icon again.

Meh. I’ll try a workaround tomorrow, printing from the SD card so I can evaluate the UI and printing experience. In the meantime I’ll get in touch with MakerBot Support and see if we can’t figure out what’s up.

Repairing a Canon G11 Dial

I take most of the photos for my blog with a beat-up Canon PowerShot G11. It’s an older prosumer camera with a known hardware issue: the control dial for the manual settings will gradually fail, and setting exposure, shutter speed, and manual focus becomes progressively more difficult and eventually impossible.

The fix is pretty simple if you’ve got a small Phillips screwdriver, an electronics cleaning solvent, and some patience. I followed the steps on this forum, and took pictures with my phone as I went along.

Apparently the latest in the PowerShot line doesn’t have this problem, but I’m not one to skip a chance to vivisect a gadget. Also, the discretionary budget for electronics in Casa de Zheng is tapped out.

WARNING: This will void your warranty, might destroy your camera, yadda yadda yadda. Proceed at your own risk. Take the battery out first, so an errant slip of your screwdriver doesn’t short something in the camera.

Tinkering 101 tip: Have an ice cube tray, egg carton, or other segmented container handy to separate the screws for each step.

Also, never, ever work near a floor register. Trust me on this.

Step 1: Remove the screw next to the preview button.

Step 2: Remove the screws on the bottom of the camera.

Step 3: Remove the screws on the left side of the camera. The strap harness is a separate piece and will come off easily.

Step 4: Remove the screw on the right side of the camera, next to the AV door.

Step 5: Open the AV door and remove the screw inside.

Step 6: Gently pry open the case with a flat tool and pull the case straight back. Some fiddling may be required to get things apart. There’s a ribbon cable holding things together, so don’t yank too hard.

Step 7: Flip the little tab holding the ribbon cable in place upwards. Be gentle.

Step 8: Remove the clear plastic covering these screws, and then remove the screws. Gently pry the metal piece off, making sure to save the small L-shaped bracket on the lower left.

Here’s the the dial assembly.

Step 9: This is where the magic happens. Lift the front of the dial away from its contact pad a little bit. Don’t try to pop it off, just create some space between the two pieces. Spray your solvent into this space. I just dribbled some isopropyl alcohol in there and then rotated the dial around a bunch of times to clean out the mystery gunk that was causing my dial to fail.

Follow these steps in reverse order to reassemble. I used some packing tape to replace the plastic removed in step 8.

Getting the ribbon cable back into its socket can be a little tricky, but the rest of the case snaps back together in less than a minute.

The Emperor Wears No Kapton

The MakerBot 2X was just released, and I’m a little disappointed to see that MakerBot Industries hasn’t gotten rid of the Kapton tape part of the printing process yet. It’s easily the most frustrating part of working with the printer, and in a lot of cases it’s completely unnecessary.

For non-3D printer people who have stumbled across this blog post, Kapton tape is a space-age amber adhesive tape that one lays down on a build platform to help prints stick while printing. Kapton tends to bunch up and self-adhere, making the process of affixing it to the platform a real exercise in patience.

Without some adhesive assistance, prints slide all over the platform and you get a big bag of fail.

I haven’t had the opportunity to use a 2X yet, but I’ve been printing on a Replicator 1 for about a year and I’ve found a few workarounds that let me concentrate on designing stuff rather than getting my prints to stick to the first layer. Presumably these tips will apply to your shiny new 2X, too.

The models in all of the following photos were printed on a Replicator 1 using ABS of various colors, using the original Replicator firmware. I’m using ReplicatorG to slice.

HBP 110°
extruder 240°
layer height: .25 to .27
feedrate: 45
travel feedrate: 65
ReplicatorG 037
Skeinforge 50

I’m generally printing small models onto painter’s tape. The base on this squirrel is maybe 5 centimeters in radius.

squirrel token with NUNCHUCKS!

I get at least a 95% success rate printing these. (I need a lot of them because the kids and I use them as tokens in Magic: The Gathering.)

If you’d like a nunchuck squirrel of your own, download the STL here. Unarmed squirrel tokens also exist.

I was having such success printing tokens of all kinds on painters’ tape that for a while I was thinking Kapton was completely unnecessary until I tried to print a Dungeons and Dragons dice plinth.

painters tape plinth

See that circled gobbet of filament? That’s caused by not covering the entire platform with tape. The plastic won’t stick to bare aluminum, so when the extruder does its pre-print nozzle clearing it takes the extruded plastic along for the ride.

These gobbets can mess with your print if they get caught up in the print area, so it makes sense to cover the extruder path with a strip of tape.

Note where the edges of the dice plinth curled up from the platform. My understanding is that as layers of plastic cool, they contract and pull the lower layers of the print upwards. If you want to avoid this pulling, the first layer really has to stick to the platform.

The Sharpie marks around the print help me to make sure the build platform is locally level in the print area. I hardly bother with MakerBot’s platform leveling script anymore. I don’t see the point of having level platform corners if I’m not printing that far out, and getting level corners is a second exercise in patience that I just don’t have time for.

So. I lay down a small piece of Kapton in the build area only. Don’t bother trying to cover the whole build platform if you don’t need to. It’s much easier to work with that way.

I spread a liberal application of ABSynthe in the build area and then hit the print button again. Success. Those bubbles in the kapton are usually a problem, but with enough ABSynthe anything will stick to the HBP.

plinth with absynthe

Take a look at the difference between these two prints from the side. Painters’ tape on the left, Kapton with ABSynthe on the right.

plinth comparison

But, there’s a small downside to using ABSynthe: look at the bottoms of these prints:


The ABSynthe I have at the workbench is a noisome slumgullion of every ABS filament color I have, which leaves a murky film on the bottom of the print. Note to self: make mono-colored ABSynthe for higher-quality prints.

Why not use ABSynthe on painter’s tape? I’ve tried it. The ABSynthe fuses with the tape and it can’t be removed from the bottom of the print without a lot of sanding.

What should my first layer look like?

Your 3D printer just arrived. The nearest hackerspace is 100 miles away. You’re all ready to start printing, but all you really know about the technology is what you’ve seen on YouTube videos and breathless reports on Wired, or the Colbert Report.

They never show you the bottom of the print in any of those venues. It’s always Stanford bunny this or Colbert head that, and that’s all well and good but there’s no one around to tell you you’re doing it wrong.

first layer

I was happily printing failbottom models for months before I went to Maker Faire in Detroit and saw a proper print done by some experts.

The stringy bottom on the first two prints is mostly caused by having an off-kilter heated build platform. Make sure your heated build platform is as level as possible before you start printing.

MakerBot Replicator 1
ABS, 240° C
HBP 110° C, with painters’ tape

(These are prints of my Magic: The Gathering Fungus Tokens, available for free download in The Forge.)

MakerBot’s leveling script never seems to work perfectly for me, but since I’m printing small objects anyway I just make sure the HBP is locally level in my printing footprint. There’s no need for the corners of the platform to be 100% level if the center’s good enough.

I often start a print and let it run for a single layer to let the print heads get to their destination. Then I abort the print, remove any plastic from the HBP, and use ReplicatorG’s homing function to home the Z-axis to minimum.

(In ReplicatorG, go to Machine->Control Panel and select the Homing menu to do this.)

Then it’s a matter of twiddling the thumbscrews on the HBP until the nozzle passes MakerBot’s business card test. When you slide a business card between the nozzle and the HBP and the surface of the card just catches on the nozzle, you’ve got it.

It takes some time to get a knack for it, so don’t despair. I find it works best when the nozzle makes an indented scratch along the card’s face.

The first company to ship an auto-leveling build platform gets a fistful of cash from me.

It’s possible to get a mirror-smooth base when printing on kapton, but I’m mostly printing with ABS on painters’ tape right now. More on that in a subsequent post.

Fungus Token Fail


Rather than being just a ramen-esque tangle, this fail taught me a little something about MakerBot Replicator maintenance.

The print failed the same way every time. It would get to about 45%, and then stop extruding filament. My best guess is that my HBP and nozzles aren’t quite level– the Replicator’s been taking a beating over the last couple of weeks with all the nozzle changes and such, and I haven’t leveled the platform in a while.

So once the model built up to a certain point, the nozzle would bang into the extruded plastic, get a clogged tip, and then fungus fail.

The Delrin Plunger

Fresh off my success clearing the left nozzle on my Replicator, the right nozzle stopped working.

So I cleaned it out with the aforementioned acetone and drilling process, and still no go. So the next thing to try is adjusting the fabled Delrin Plunger.

It sounds like Elvish plumbing equipment, but it’s just a little piece of plastic that lives inside the Replicator’s Stepstruder Mk. 8. The plunger’s job is to maintain pressure on the filament so that the stepper can feed it into the heated nozzle.

Over time the filament will wear a groove in the plunger’s head, which reduces contact between the plunger and the filament, which in turn makes it had for the drive wheel to push the filament through the nozzle.

This is what a plunger looks like after about eight months of more-or-less daily use. The blue arrow points to the wear on the head.


If filament isn’t emerging from your nozzle, or it’s coming out really slowly, rotating your plunger may help.

With a couple of hex wrenches this is a ten-minute job. Be aware that the plunger is inside a two-piece plastic case held on to the stepper by two bolts.

This is a right extruder, so the plunger goes on the left side, pointing away from the Replicator’s midline.


And then here it is with the second piece of the case attached. Note that I’ve rotated the plunger 90° so the filament has maximum contact with the plunger’s head.


When you disassemble this case be careful that the plunger and washers don’t go flying. The washers you could probably replace, but I have no idea where to get a new plunger. MakerBot’s fresh out of them.

Cleaning a Clogged Replicator Nozzle

Last week I came down with what must have been the flu, and all my creativity and motivation ebbed away like so much mucus.

So I haven’t updated the blog in a while. Thingiverse redesigned its website, which broke my /dev/random scraper script, and I’ve been so busy digging out from under a pile of flu-delayed work I haven’t had the opportunity to repair it yet.

I did manage to restore my dualstrusion Replicator to full operating condition, though. Here’s what it looks like when your nozzle gets clogged.


A little bit of filament will still emerge from the nozzle, but it’s anemic and thin and bunches up around the tip. You won’t get any prints out of this.

MakerBot’s replacement nozzles have been out of stock for as long as I’ve been looking for them (about six weeks), so it’s up to you to solve this problem yourself.

They do have some maintenance tips that will help you get the nozzle off.

I skipped the “unbolt the stepstruder” step. The nozzle unscrews easily with a wrench or pair of pliers, but be careful, that little guy is hot if you’re following the instructions.

Here’s what eight months of melted PLA/ABS gunk on the inside of a nozzle looks like, as the late, great, Toshiro Mifune intimidates the nozzle into functionality.


(I have a Yojimbo poster in my office. I think I’ve seen every Kurosawa movie at least once.)

The instructions say to leave the nozzle in acetone overnight, but I think that’s overkill and, in the case of a really clogged nozzle, probably ineffective. A combination of acetone baths and physical goop removal got mine working again.

So first, an hour in acetone. Find a container that the acetone won’t dissolve. A shot glass will work. Do not drink the acetone.


I tried a few little tools before I found one that really scraped the gunk out well. Needles and bits of wire didn’t do the job, but this small drill bit did. I just stuck the bit in and twisted back and forth; no electricity involved.

Then back in the acetone bath for an hour, and then the drill bit again. Lather, rinse repeat two or three times.


Replace the nozzle, load your filament, and before you can say Bob’s your uncle, you’re back in show-booty-bidness. I didn’t even have to recalibrate the build platform.


I’m working on a couple of dualstrusion models now. Watch this space.

A little 3D printing tip


I have one spool of blue PLA that prints well at 240° for the first layer and 210° afterwards, and one spool of white that becomes useless hot snot at 230°. Then I’ve got a few rolls of ABS which prefer totally different temperature ranges.

I’m always forgetting which settings to use with which plastics, so I’ve just taken to writing the optimal settings on the spool with silver Sharpie.

This cuts down on a lot of frustration.