Thursday, April 27, 2017

Chain Mail 3D Print - First Try

3D printed some simple Chain Mail recently. Just small sheets to begin with - about 6"x"6" inches. But I am really happy with how flexible and sturdy the result turned out.

I used some basic black PLA from Hatchbox with a layer height of 0.2 mm on the Monoprice Maker Select v2. I was worried about the huge number of bridges, but the printer worked like a champ. I slowed the print speed by 30% on the first two layers of the bridging and got a solid print with no stringing. No supports were required.

The sheets bend well in one dimension and in two dimensions. They wrap around cylinders and even drape well over sharp edged shapes. There are some oddities in that behavior that depend on the orientation and spacing of the links. Nothing to keep me from experimenting, but it is something I need to understand more before I create any real projects.

I also experimented with varying the link-size and spacing between the links to see if I could add some visual interest or patterning to the sheets. It oriented fine, but the differences didn't show up as well as I had hoped. This might be because the chain mail was all black - maybe another color or surface finish would show the variations more effectively.

I also added a few through-holes along the edges of the small sheet so that I could tie several sheets together to form a larger sheet. It kind of defeats the concept of "pure 3D design," but it's a simple solution that I can use right now.

Overall, this is a successful experiment for me. I'm already working on a more finished piece with some extra goodies and techniques thrown in. Hopefully, I will have a small piece ready to wear soon.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Rainy Day Retouching

Have been wanting to play around with PS again for quite a while now, and the opportunity finally presented itself. We've been having several rainy days all week. Between the newly formed cascades and being indoors, this was the perfect time to dust off a few darkroom skills.

The results are okay, but I've forgotten almost everything I once knew. But hey, that's one of the compromises for switching mediums and project-types as frequently as I do. At least I remembered where the commands were. The atrophy showed up in more in my creative judgement - just couldn't get the images to do what I wanted.

After a frustrating first half-hour, some of the skills started to show up and I could at least begin to tee some of my ideas take shape. Like I said, the result is so-so, but it really felt good just to play around and stretch my Photoshop muscles again after so long. The experience reminded me of why I used to like working in this medium, so there might be more projects like this in the future.

And here's the original image

My self assigned task was to make the image a little more painterly, or at least more dramatically lit. I succeeded in that, but now I'm not sure the overall affect is better - it wasn't what I was after.

But it was a great way to spend a rainy evening, so everything is, as always, very very good.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Wire Wrapping Class

Attended a beginner's wire-wrapping class. The teacher was great with newbies like me. She made it seem simple, and her explanations of the techniques and materials made the whole process accessible and achievable.

Despite having a numb, heavily wrapped thumb, even clumsy me managed to create a passable length of a basic weave and wrap it around a stone. It's not the prettiest project from the class, and definitely not professional quality. As usual, I tried to do something a little fancier than the lesson required and created needless technical issues that came back to bite me

But for a first try, I am pretty happy with it.

The most important takeaway, for me at least, is that you can start with basic materials from the hardware and hobby stores. You do not need expensive silver and gold wire to practice with. Even the copper wire scraps from my electronics projects are good enough to practice with.

Well actually, I guess the MOST important lesson is that the process is fun, easy and even relaxing. I had always thought it would be complex (and it can be at advanced levels) but the teacher and other class members were so enjoyable that I wound up learning about a new craft while laughing for most of the evening.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Party Light with EL-Wire

One of the easiest ways to add some "wow" to any lighting project - EL-wire is cheap and super simple to work with. This project adds some reflective panels courtesy of the fins from a gigantic aluminum heat-sink that I scavenged from a discarded stereo.

The spacing between the fins was perfect for the width of the EL-wire. And the polished metal surface gave a cool 3D effect to the project.

You can see the "wire" wrapped around the base in this photo, and notice how the light reflects all the way to the top because of the shininess of the metal.

The light carries all the way to the outside edge of the aluminum heat-sink. Usually, EL-wire projects are either flat or a 3D wireframe. But the heat-sink looks like a 4x4 cube and the way the light falls off and reflects adds to the three dimensional effect.

Also, the aluminum fins hide the EL-wire itself except for certain angles. So the look of the light changes as you move around it.

El-wire is very simple to install and run; just plug it and turn it on. You can find controllers of various power levels, everything from a coin cell, 1xAAA to 4xAA on up to 12v. The more power the controller is the more wire you can run and the brighter the glow is.

Most of the controllers have at least a few display modes (always on, slow blink, fast blink etc.) There are versions that react to sound. And Sparkfun has two versions that use Arduinos to create programmable displays with up to 8x different wires.

If you want to create your own party-light I would strongly suggest buying your supplies from either Sparkfun or from Adafruit. Both of these companies feature high quality, durable and very bright versions of EL-wire components. I have bought the cheap versions from other vendors. They do work, but they are always much dimmer and more fragile. If you want a dependable, brightly glowing version stick to the versions from Sparkfun or Adafruit - they are worth the extra cost in the long run.

Also check out my glowing pillow project on Instructables for more ideas about how to use EL-wire.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

RC Airboat Built From Scrap

Last summer's project was a working remote controlled airboat made from a broken toy drone, some holiday ornaments and a squeegee. It worked better than I ever expected - a little slow, but for less than $5 in parts it was a blast to build and to play with.

Full, step-by-step building instructions are over on the Instructables website.

RC airboat built from quadcopter drone

This year I want to learn how to hook up an Arduino to a real brushless motor and ESC (electronic speed controller) and build a much faster airboat. My brain tells me to build a land-based RC vehicle first, but the lure of the lake is strong.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Nightlight from Digital Picture Frame

A controllable nightlight (moodlight?) made by combining a hand-me-down digital picture frame and several layers of paper cutouts.

You control the color by choosing the image that is displayed. You can also set the digital frame to random cycle for an ever changing display. I liked strong geometric images or blurry ambient images. Somehow, "regular" images didn't work as well for me.

The patterns, layer-spacing and the thickness of the paper cutouts really affect the look of the moodlight. The cutouts shown here are made from discarded failures from other projects.

Theoretically (I did not accomplish this) you could hack the frame's IR remote with an Arduino or Raspberry Pi to create an "ambilight" or other sensing/smart or IOT display.

Digital moodlight nightlight upcycle

I also tried this behind a blank mounted canvas. It made for a nice diffused look, especially when used with blurry landscapes and still-lifes.

I also tried acrylic and plastic cutouts etc. They were very eye catching, but they reminded me of 70's sci-fi movie sets. Cool for certain events, but not what I was after.

If I can find those pics, or recreate them, I will post pics of these also.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Terrarium Frame - First Tests

Been designing a 3D-printed frame for a small terrarium. For the first test I used a clear plastic holiday ornament that is 100mm diameter. I went through a few iterations with the basic design

Some lessons learned:
  1. Flat pack, assembled designs print much quicker than monolithic, one-piece designs
  2. Tolerances are very important in assembled designs
  3. The simpler the joints the easier it is to control tolerances
  4. Test-fit one sample joints before printing multiples
  5. No shame in sanding-to-fit

I am playing with variations of this concept - different shapes, sizes and styles. I will share more details about all the designs and the design-process soon, but I also need to digest the lessons-learned before I can articulate them.

3D printed Terrarium frame

Friday, March 17, 2017

Throwing Light #2 - Channel Size & Angled Reflector

Learned a lot about the basics of throwing and controlling light from NeoPixels in Part-1 of this series. But I wasn't getting the amount of light I wanted, probably because I was using a 3v board instead of a 5v - the LEDs are simply not as bright as I'm used to.

I decided to see if bigger "channels" would allow more light to be output, and whether adding a 45 degree "reflector" over the NeoPixels would help project more light.

The answer to both questions is YES: larger light channels do help, and an angled reflector helps (especially when silvered). And painting the channel with silver paint makes a huge differences at both sizes.

The design of the medallion remains essentially the same except for the increased depth of the channels.

Do Bigger Channels Make Brighter Light Rays

Yes, more light escapes from bigger channels. But to make a noticeable difference, I had to make the much larger. So much larger that it makes the pendant slightly bulky, almost 8mm total thickness. And, it is so large I could now put a strip of NeoPixels "on edge" and project the light directly down the channel instead of bouncing it 90 degrees.

To test, I printed the thinnest pendant I could, with the channel's top only about 1mm above the face of the LED. Then I printed another one with roof about 4mm above the NeoPixel. You can see the results below.

With the raw black PLA the difference is noticeable, but not extreme (blue light). The difference is much more pronounced when the interior of the channels is painted with silver paint (shown in red at bottom of page)

A comparison of the amount of light coming out of a 1x4mm channel (top) and a larger 4x4mm channel (bottom). Notice that there is a distinct difference in the amount of light emitted from the two channels. This is the raw black PLA print. Even more light is emitted when the interior of the channel is painted with reflective paint.

Do Angled Reflector Surfaces Really Work
Yes, especially if the reflector-panel is painted with silver paint. The raw black PLA does reflect some additional light from the angled surface (blue image). But if the angled surface is painted silver, then the effect is much more pronounced. Unfortunately, the silver also scatters the light in all direction, making the "ray" shape less pronounced.

I wonder if only painting the angled surface, but not the rest of the channel would be "the best of both worlds" - bouncing more light, but scattering it less. Or maybe a tiny mosaic mirror would be ideal for reflecting and directing light. But as noted, at this thickness, the NeoPixels could be mounted vertically, negating the need for any reflector altogether.

An angled surface (shown at right above) was added to one half of the medallion. I wanted to see if the angled surface would reflect more light from the LEDs (shown as the red boxes).

Even the raw black PLA shoes a small increase in the amount of light when using an angled surface.

When the interior surfaces of the channels are painted silver, the
amount of light reflected off the angled surfaces increases dramatically.

Next test is probably going to be masks and gobos.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Throwing Light #1

How to Throw and Channel Light with 3D Prints
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

I am learning how to sculpt light using 3D printed shapes, but understanding how to create specific effects is sometimes difficult. I can't always predict what is going to happen. So I started doing methodical experiments to find out what affects light's behavior, and more specifically, how I can control light to achieve the effects reliably. This post documents one of a series of ongoing experiments.

Notice how the right-side is brighter, but the light is more scattered. The left side has much more defined "rays" but isn't as bright. Also notice how some of the colors get absorbed (are dimmer) on the left side.

Questions I wanted to explore:
  • How does the type 3D material affect the light?
  • Does a reflective surface increase distance and brightness?
  • How far can I throw the light?
  • How does the shape, length or size of the channel affect the light?
  • Does the shape, length etc. affect how quickly the light cone expands
  • Can I shape the light with gobos, masks and cut-outs?
  • Can I throw light sideways as well as forwards?

Right now, I'm back on a jewelry making kick - embedding lights and sensors into decorative wearables. So I used jewelry-based designs to explore these questions. I wanted to move beyond a simple glowing or twinkling effect - I wanted to be able to cast shaped rays of light.

My new favorite toy for illuminating jewelry is the "Circuit Playground" board from Adafruit - it's the board used in this experiment. This little board comes with 10 Neopixels, plus built-in buttons and sensors. How about a 3-axis motion sensor, a light, color sensor, temperature sensor and a built-in microphone and speaker, all on one slim convenient board. (And an even more powerful M0-based board appears to be in the works)

I designed a simple cover to fit over the top of the Circuit Playground board. There are square "channels" that fit over the NeoPixels and reflect the light out to the side of the medallion cover. The channels ranged from about 12mm to 20mm in length and about 4mm in width (the LEDs are 3.5). The top of the channel is about 2mm above the surface of the LED and 3mm total height.

For this experiment I wanted to throw light out of the side of a medallion, but not the front. I had already played with non-opaque and semi-translucent materials to create glowing objects. So I used black, standard PLA from Hatchbox. It is slightly shiny when printed and totally opaque to light at thicknesses over 0.7mm.

I painted half of the medallion's inside surface with "metallic silver" paint and left the other half raw black PLA. I also scuffed some of the raw PLA channels to see if a matte finish made a difference in the amount of light transmitted.

 What I Discovered in The First Test
  • YES - The choice of 3D printing material does affect the quality of light. The PLA seems to absorb some colors while leaving other colors unchanged.
  • YES - The shiny, printed PLA does reflect some of the light. Sanding the surface to a matte finish does have an affect on the amount of light that is emitted, but it is a minimal difference.
  • YES - Painting the inside of the light-channel with silver or white paint increases the amount of light emitted - increases it significantly. It also increases the distance the light travels away from the medallion.
  • HOWEVER - The reflectively painted channels also disperse the light much more quickly. This causes the "rays" to be much less defined. The light scatters so quickly that the ray-effect is lost after only a few millimeters.
  • AND - The silver/white paint has almost no affect on the color rendition of the light
  • NO - The length of the channel did not seem to affect the amount of light emitted. But the variance of 8mm between shortest and longest channel might not be enough to give a true indication. Without a channel the LEDs simply glow and do not create a ray. And longer channels may affect the amount of light more significantly.
  • ADJACENT SURFACES - The surface that the light gets projected onto can affect the appearance of the rays. Dark materials and matte surfaces create shorter visible rays. Light surfaces and reflective surfaces create much longer rays.
  • VERTICAL SURFACES - Although a parallel surface stops showing significant amounts of light after a few millimeters, a surface perpendicular to the light can be illuminated when it's several feet away.
  • BEHIND THE MEDALLION - The light rays expand in all directions, so the rays can also illuminate surfaces that are behind the medallion. This effect increases with the distance from the "mouth" of the light channel. So if the medallion is set an inch away from the wall, the rays will only begin shining on the wall surface after they travel several millimeters away from the medallion.
  • ALSO NOTE: The 3v Circuit Playground board does not put out nearly as much light as a 5v board. The LEDs are still blindingly bright, but the 3v version does not cast the light nearly as far as my older 5v experiments.

Future Experiments
  • Does the height of the light channel affect the distance the light rays travel?
  • Does an angled surface near the LED affect the amount or quality of light emitted? 
  • Can the channel surfaces be painted "selectively" to increase the amount of light while keeping the light more tightly focused and avoid scattering?
  • Does "reflective safety" paint act differently than "metallic silver" paint used here.
  • How well do gobos, masks and grills work to create shapes within the light rays.
  • Do these findings hold true for LEDs placed parallel to the light channels instead of perpendicular like in this experiment?
  • What are the minimum and maximum lengths of the light channels for specific effects?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Light for Monoprice 3d Printer

Designed a bracket to hold an LED light on my Monoprice 3d printer. And I'm really happy with the results. I'm no longer printing in a gloomy shadow box. I can actually see how the print is going without using a flashlight.

An animated gif showing the difference the lamp makes to the illumination on the print bed. Also notice my high-tech printer enclosure (two trifold panels and a plastic bag.

The light from my studio's overhead light got blocked when I stood near the printer, and the desk-lamp still wasn't bright enough. I had to hold a light near the printer to really see what was happening with the print, or make the entire room blindingly bright just to see what the print looked like. So I decided to design a bracket to permanently attach a light to the printer itself.

At first I was going to do a simple squared-off S-hook and hang the light off the top rail of the printer. But no, that was too simple for a self-proclaimed designer. So I used the notches at the corner of the vertical and horizontal bars to create a pair of brackets. And I "just had to" decorate the bracket with mini-pilasters and notches and grooves. Hey, it may be a simple functional object - but that's no reason to not adorn every surface with decorations.

I had an old LED strip-light designed to go under kitchen counters. It's way too dim for my kitchen needs, but worked really well for shelves and the workbench. Plus, it was almost the exact size of my printer and the multiple LEDs gave an even illumination to all sides of the prints- no pesky shadow sides. So it had already become a sort of portable flashlight for my 3d-printing corner.

Finally, I had the brilliant idea to attach it to the printer and avoid the extra step of holding the lamp every time I wanted to check the progress of the print.
The lamp casts a nice, even illumination across the entire build plate. Really makes it easier to see how the print is progressing - even when you're printing with black filament on a black bed. Very happy with this enhancement.

The Monoprice i3 v2 has notches at the top of the vertical bar. Be careful - the notches on my printer were NOT THE SAME SIZE on both sides. I had to customize the tube that goes into the notch.

The bracket fits snugly at three points to keep to keep the lamp secure. There is a 30mm standoff for the filament to feed into the extruder. The post and flanges fit of the bracket into the notch at the corner of the printer's top and bottom rail. (Yes, I didn't level the bed, so my first layer is rough.)

The view from underneath shows the multiple LEDs on the lamp (providing evenly distributed light) and how the bracket clasps the beveled edges of the lamp. I printed the test piece at .20mm layer-height and a fast speed. It's ugly, but worked so well I decided to use this teat run instead of printing another, finer tuned one.

Here are some design captures from the 3d modeling program. I used attached pilasters for decoration and to add some thickness to the walls for added strength. I wanted to both hide the thickness of the walls and to make it to look like wrought-iron decorations. It does look less clunky than simple, thick walls - a little more delicate maybe. But the decoration doesn't read very well at this scale. It was good practice though.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Diffusing Experiment

Played with some diffuser shields for NeoPixels using cheap E-sun PLA filament. I printed out copies of designs I had printed with Shapeways' Strong-and-Flexible materials. I wanted to compare the results. The PLA seemed very opaque and I thought it might block too much light, but I really liked the results

There is a difference between the two materials, but it doesn't show up very well in the photos. With a 1.0mm thickness, the S&F looked "grainy" - similar to Photoshop's add-gaussian-noise filter. The PLA was striated or slightly striped. Neither is noticeable from more than a few inches away however. A quick sanding on the PLA print's top layer would probably eliminate the stranding.

The PLA did seem to reduce the amount of light a little more, but it diffused the light more. Neither material significantly affected the colors. I probably wouldn't trust either to set my white balance, but for a rainbow light show with NeoPixels both materials work great.

Here's the case design. It uses a first generation Trinket from Adafruit, a 12 pixel ring and a potentiometer to change effects.

A pic with the cover on the case. This uses the Strong-and-Flexible material from Shapeways.

A close-up of the S&F material - notice the grain.

And a close-up using the cheap PLA. The camera grain almost hides the banding from the FDM printing process.

Overall, I'm very happy with the cheap PLA as a diffuser material. I will play around with other brands of PLA soon, and I understand some are much more translucent than the basic E-sun.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

3D Printed Mesh on Green Clutch

Printed out some large chainmail mesh. Liked the design - not enough to print an entire garment from it, but I still wanted to experiment with it some more. So I headed to the thrift store to look for colorful backgrounds to work with. Here's the first try...

Liked the simple, graphic design of this bag. Thought it could hold up visually to the huge links in the 3d printed mesh. And the bright green showed up well through the mesh.

Yes, these links are almost an inch wide - and vey flexible.

I even picked up a nice retro dress that  mimicked the colors and shapes from the modified bag - pretty cool haul.

The 3d printed mesh was created with circles interlinked with a rod-and-knob joining hub. The links are big enough that there is lots of play between the links. It isn't "fabric like," but it is pretty flexible for a PLA print.

Got some more ideas for this design, including a red clutch and polka-dot dress. And I want to add some bling to the knobbies.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Glowing Evening Pendant

Here is an earlier project. It's a good example of the types of projects that will be featured on this site.

The pendant has a rich coppery finish. And when the ambient light is lowered, you can turn on a gentle back-light that makes the Japanese print glow from within.

The build-process is documented on Instructables.

The construction is simple and the parts are inexpensive. The look is variable depending on the lighting, and you can take the same techniques and make it look any way you desire..

Glowing LED art deco pendant