Sci-fi objects from a 3D printer

Make reader RoboGeek has been playing with a Spectrum Z510 3D printer, whipping up science fictional objects out of bits and atoms.

One of the objects is a "metatron" by Bathsheba Grossman. The red polyhedral sphere is the work of George Hart ( and is actually 7(!) nesting spheres, I assigned a different color to each one. I hope one day to print that one out of plastic. When you take an object out of the "build tray", you place it in a dust cabinet and blow off ant excess powder with a needle tipped airbrush. Then you CAREFULLY "infiltrate" it with cyanoacrylate. I did this by dipping one of those little red coffee stirrers you find in office kitchenettes, and applying it one drop at a time. Having a touch of OCD helps this procedure. ;-) We used Loctite 408, as it was less expensive than buying replacements from ZCorp. MicroMark sells little paint/glue brushes that are small plastic handles with fuzzy flocking on one end. The Serenity is from a poly mesh sent to me by Sean Kennedy, aka Treybor in the 3d computer modeling community. I don't recall where I got the Hawk Mark IX mesh from. The Z510 can print from vrml models. None of these are painted; the Z510 prints in color. Good joke: the software comes with a jpg of the IniTech (Office Space) logo! Note the logo on the command cabin of the Hawk Mark IX. The Lego gears I designed in AutoCad 2002. The yellow one is a replica of a 40-tooth Lego Technic gear, the largest they make. The others are 56 & 96-tooth, I designed for use as parts in an all-Lego clock.
Link (Thanks, PT!)


  1. …You noticed that as well, huh? What gets me is that the models made by the manufacturer of this printer look as if they’ve been vac-u-form cast, and have way too sharp an edge for what I’ve seen produced in the field by this printer. I’ve seen some laser+gel models that were far, FAR more sharper in detail than this thing obviously produces, although they’re all in green or really light purple.

    …The cost of materials is the question here. The printer runs about $50K USD, and if you take into consideration the traditional scam of the “ink” always being so grossly marked up above actual cost that it’s cheaper to buy a new printer than to buy refills, then that Mark IX Hawk probably cost him about $1902.43 USD in materials cost. He’d have been better off just buying a resin kit at that rate!

    …Speaking of that mesh, he probably got it at the old GAMMA Mesh site. It’s no longer up, but the mesh is floating around on other sites. 3D Meshes may have it, or some of the regulars there may be able to provide it.

  2. I am currently doing work for the Canadian Space Agency with 3D printers, although of the plastic extrusion sort and can answer to some of the comments.

    First, part of the reason some of these models look really sculpty-like is that they are tiny. The one in the pic above is 7″, but most of the others on the site are much smaller.

    The other reason the detail suffers is that none of these models were designed with printing in mind. It may not sound like a big deal, but in my own work, I have found that it is. When a random model is taken and simply scaled down, the printer has to figure out how to deal with that. 3D printers have resolutions just like ink printers and this can cause odd outcomes.

    As an example. One of the printers I am working with has a resolution of one quarter (.25) of a millimeter. Now say I take a model and scale it down. What does the printer do with a piece that at the smaller scale is smaller than that .25? or what about two pieces that have a gap between them of less than .25? Or something that has a fluctuating width along its length so that it passes in and out of this limit? I think the 5″ long Serenity shows these issues best.

    Results in these types of cases can be inconsistent. You can see the differences in the cleanness of the edges between the space ships and the geometric shapes, even at the same sizes. The ships were built as meshes, which are sort of the raster format of the 3D printing world. While technically vectors, they don’t scale well. My guess is that geometric shapes were built in some sort of math modeling/graphing program and exported in a format that the printer could export much more cleanly.

  3. Ryan:

    …Interesting. This implies that these printers require a different CAD output, then? What CAD package is best suited for use with these?

    …At the same time, your comment about the scaling vs. accuracy begs the following: If the samples on the printer’s website require size to be as sharp as they are, then how larger *are* we talking about? What’s the *practical* minimum for a really sharp edged accurate “print” of a part?

  4. Considering the extremely high cost of the printer and material, and the quality of the resulting product; would it not be better to do the reverse process? Start with a block of plastic, grind it down to what we need. The excess/unused plastic, we put in the oven to melt down for the next project.

    Or we start with a low-cost, low-res 3D printer, which produces an object that is close to what what we want. Then we use another device to grind it down, to get better resolution, sharp edges, etc.

Comments are closed.