Tag Archives: MakerBot

Newest Way To Fail

Wow. Totally didn’t see this one coming.

So I’ve been furiously prototyping models for Kickstarter #2. The keystone model for this next project is what we in the business call a giant-ass bucket of geometry. The gCode works out to something like 90MB (!) of data.

Models like this take forever to print, so rather than try to maintain a USB connection between the computer and the printer it’s generally best to print stuff like this from an SD card. A little interruption like a monitor going to sleep can kill the USB if one isn’t careful, and then you’ve got yourself a half-finished print.

The model started printing at 9AM yesterday after some very careful calibration and painters’ tape finessing, and everything was going great until about 2:30AM today, when I came downstairs to find this:


Mother pus bucket.

I’ve never seen this before, so to teh Googles we go. Turns out, at least in the opinion of some electrical engineers, the Replicator1’s Mightyboard generates a lot of electrical interference can cause the bot to fail over long prints.

Live and learn, back to the drawing board, and a host of other try-try-again platitudes must suffice to get me through the day.

What a difference a year makes.

I’ve been printing with my Replicator1 for just about a year and a half now. Here’s what my Penny Catapult prints looked like when I started out. (This print’s a veteran of many Seej battles.)

And here’s what my prints look like after countless hours of learning and frustration and failure and learning.

That cross-grain seam in the catapult’s side arm is probably caused by two pieces of blue painters’ tape butting up against one another. I do all my PLA printing on painters’ tape whether I’m using my Rep1 or Printrbot Simple.

One major difference between these two prints is that the top is ABS and the bottom is PLA– after a year of working with both I’d have to say I definitely prefer PLA. It smells better and heats up more quickly, which saves precious minutes of printer warming when repeatedly iterating through a design.

You can get a mirror-finish base with ABS, but apart from that I can’t see a reason to bother with it. Most of my stuff doesn’t wind up in high-stress situations so the added strength isn’t much of a draw for me.

Penny Ballista Fail

download Still using the demo spool of recycled ABS supplied to me by Filabot. When this print doesn’t fail it creates a Penny Ballista that’ll easily launch Abe across the Oval Office.

I left my Replicator1 unattended for a few minutes and came back to this. This fail isn’t due to any flaw in the filament– if you look closely you can see that the texture of the filament’s very even. Unfortunately, robots don’t do what we want them to do, they do what we tell them to do, and the slicing step of this print went to Wallyworld at some point.

I’ve been having this problem with some models sliced in MakerWare lately; it doesn’t seem to want to add a solid bottom layer to some prints. So I hopped back to ReplicatorG and it sliced just fine; see my previous post.

Annals of Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

Nozzle Fail

When cleaning a clogged extruder nozzle with a power drill, do not, I repeat, not have Pussycat Dolls videos playing on YouTube in the background.

For that matter, you probably shouldn’t try to clear a clogged extruder nozzle with a power drill under any circumstances.

Usually I leave my nozzles in a shot glass full of acetone for twenty minutes, then use the drill bit by hand to snake out a bit of cruft. Then back to acetone to soften up the newly exposed plastic, then drill, then acetone, then drill, then acetone yada yada yada until the cows come home.

This time I said to myself, “Zheng, old chap, this is awfully slow. You should apply a tremendous amount of torque to this expensive part while not paying attention. That will resolve this problem with minimal downtime.”

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.

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.

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.