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Printing Plates v2.0

My last attempt at printmaking didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped it would, so I figured it was time to try again. And actually, the main reason I wanted to try again is because I saw the work of Jenie Gao at Milwaukee MakerFest, and after I took over her table so she could take a break, I asked her a few questions about printmaking, and the most important thing I learned is that I should seal the wood. With that small bit of advice, I was ready to try again…

Laser cutting the plate

Rather than do the same thing I did last time, I decided to start fresh. I once again used the laser cutter, but this time I didn’t want to use a raster etch, but instead opted for a vector cut to create the plate. (A raster etch works quite well of course, as Bret recently demonstrated, but they are time consuming, and tie up the laser for a long time. Vector cuts are much faster.)

Sanding the plate

Once I had my pieces cut from 3mm Baltic Birch, I used the piece of wood I cut them from as a guide to glue them down. After the glue dried I sanded it to make the surface nice and smooth. I’m not sure I needed to do this, but sanding always feels like the right thing to do in these situations.

Sealing the plate

I then coated the piece with polyurethane, sanded it down a bit, and repeated that process two more times. (I’m just doing what is recommended on the can. I don’t know if multiple coats are really needed, but it can’t hurt, right?) I let the whole thing dry for at least 24 hours.

Inking the plate

Ready to print! I inked up the plate and slapped down some paper, did a bit of rubbing, and I actually got a decent looking print! One thing I should do next time is create a larger backing piece, as it was hard to hold the plate in place while inking it, and I got a good amount of ink on my fingers and the table. (And yes, that is a mirror I am rolling the ink on. It’s from a 3D printing experiment long ago.)

MKE Print

The final print. There’s a few spots that could use more ink, but as I wasn’t doing a large run, I didn’t use a lot of ink. I also printed on crappy paper and it turned out good. (Supposedly the suggestion of using ‘Rives BFK’ can be ignored. Regular drawing paper can be used instead.)

Ultimately, my plan is to sort of merge the concept of printmaking with letterpress to make a weird combination of the two… but, you know, using a laser cutter and cheap Baltic Birch plywood.

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A MakerBot Adventure

Drew's MakerBot
Drew’s MakerBot

We had a great demo at the Milwaukee Makerspace last week when Drew demoed his MakerBot Cupcake, and if you don’t know by now, the MakerBot is an affordable 3D printer that squirts out hot plastic based on 3D design files you feed it. If you’re not much of a 3D designer, you can browse Thingiverse for some good stuff.

Holder
Holder in 3DTin

Our old pal Pehr was also there, and he brought his MakerBot too, and when we were talking about 3D design software he said “Just go to 3DTin.com” and then we did…

The interface was a bit confusing at first, though admittedly I’ve never been able to get very far with 3D software. I did manage to design this thing I’ve called a holder.

Holder
Exporting Holder from 3DTin

Once I was done with the design, I was able to export it as an .stl file to my desktop. (There are other export options as well.)

3DTin itself is a simple to use 3D design application that runs completely in a browser. You can use it for free, or for $4.99 you can pay for the “premium” version, which gives you a few more features and hides the ads. I can see playing with this a bit more, or even having the kids give it a try. Meanwhile, I still need to dig into tools like Sketchup, or maybe Blender.

Holder
Holder in ReplicatorG

After exporting an .stl file, I loaded it into ReplicatorG to take a look at it. Once in ReplicatorG you can scale, rotate, and move the object as desired. Once I had it centered and scaled properly, I saved the file to an SD card and handed it to Drew to stick into the MakerBot. (As I understand it, you can also just print directly to the MakerBot via USB cable.)

Holder (raw)
Holder (fresh from the MakerBot)

Once the holder was complete, it looked like this. You can see the strands still in place left from the printing process. These are from the print head moving between the two sides.

Holder (clean)
Holder (cleaned up)

Here’s what the holder looked like after I trimmed off the strands with an X-ACTO knife. This is obviously a simple object, but so far the process of designing it and printing it was well under an hour.

Holder (close-up)
Holder (close-up)

Here’s a close up showing the strands from printing. Commercial 3D printer have much higher resolution, so you don’t really see these lines in the objects they create. Supposedly the MakerBot can be tweaked to run slower for better resolution, but for many purposes, this is still good, and pretty darn impressive.

I’ve got some idea for other things I’d like to design, but for now, you can grab this Holder from 3DTin, and while I had no clue what it would be good for when I designed it, it does seem to work to hold an iPhone in landscape mode, or even as a business card holder.

Big thanks to Drew for the demo and the help in getting started on the MakerBot. I can’t wait to get some serious time with it at the Makerspace.

Oh, it sounds like we’ll also have some good 3D printer action at BarCampMilwaukee6 if you want to come and check it out.