Sunday, January 1, 2017

Looking Forware to a Great M3D Pro Year!

2016 was a productive 3D year.  But, with the promise of the M3D Pro, this year promises to be even more productive.

But, that doesn't mean that I want the M3D Pro to be released until the developers are absolutely sure that it is ready for prime time.

That is because I lived through the premature release of the 3rd Gen Cube 3D printer.  The early days of its release forever ingrained in me that patience is a virtue when it comes to waiting for a product to be released.  The problems of early 3rd Gen Cube machines doomed the line and wasted a lot of time and energy on the part of users.  By the time they finally did get it right, it was too late.  And, frankly it was quite a nice 3D printer when all the kinks were ironed out.  Between my own and those in the 3D ThinkLink Lab, I am using 6 of them in active service

But, I do not have any doubt at all that the M3D team will not make the mistakes that dogged the Cube team.  They are too meticulous for that to happen.  And, from top to bottom they are user experienced focused.  They know that it is the user's daily experience that spells the success or failure of a 3d printing product.

Notice that I did not simply say that the M3D team was "User Focused".  I very specifically said they were "User Experience Focused".  There is a difference.

Every conversation I have with them and every communication I've read concerning the progress of the M3D Pro, tells me they understand that we, the users, want as close to a trouble-free working relationship with our 3D printer as humanly possible.  We simply want to print... not fool around with a printer.

Now, I'm not so naive as to think there will never be a need for user intervention with the M3D Pro.  After all, it IS a mechanical device.  But, the more meticulous the designers are in meeting their published goals, the less you and I will have to fiddle to finish a print.  And, that will be a first for me with any of the 3D printers i have owned or used... right on up to the professional full-color powder based printer we have in the lab.


M3D will be at CES.  And, I am told to pay close attention to the news from Las Vegas.  I have no idea what it will be.  But, at the very least, we should see some major online media outlets provide some more insight into and information about the M3D Pro.  So, I'm going to keep my attenna up for any scrap of news that I can come by.

You can bet somebody will be grabbing the print head mid-build to see how well it recovers!

But, as impressive as that capability is, the real meat and potatoes I'm looking for is completely automatic leveling and gapping.  That means rock-solid reliability and I can't wait for that to be my experience with a 3D printer.

I have all the confidence in the world that the M3D team is going to deliver that in 2017.  And that is very exciting for me.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Reflecting on a Wonderful 2016 M3D Year

Looking back, M3D gave me, The YouthQuest Foundation (The organization for whom I work.) and the cadets we serve a wonderful new chapter in our quest to use 3D design and printing to make the lives of at-risk young people richer and fuller.

By making the M3D Micro so affordable and easy to use, we were able to initiate a new opportunity for our cadets to become mentors to other at-risk young people in their own communities.  As the year is closing, we just ordered the first M3D Micros to be given to our first prospective mentors in the second week of January.

We are extremely excited about this new initiative and so are our sponsors who have committed to underwriting it.  We'll have more on that with our January 1, 2017 post!

As I reflect on the year and how much impact that 3D Design and printing has made in the lives of students this past year I am filled with gratitude.

First, there are the cadets of the 3 Youth ChalleNGe Academy sites with whom we work.  This year marked the 200th 3D ThinkLink cadet to graduate since we began.  For the first time, some of our cadets were able to print with flexible materials thanks to the M3D Micro.

Secondly, 2016 marked the pilot 3D ThinkLink pilot program with the Phillips School in Annandale, Virginia serving autism-spectrum students.   Not only did the students do well, they thrived and excelled!  This year the program will be expanded to a second campus!

One of the cool things for me was that I had actually worked with Piper Phillips more than 30 years ago when I produced a series of video documentaries for what was then called The School for Contemporary Education.  It was wonderful to renew that connection.  

I will never forget my first visit to the wonderful Horizons summer program in Hampton Roads, Virginia.  It was here that we first had the opportunity to introduce the M3D Micro to students.  They loved working with the flexible materials and were enthralled by the color changing chameleon materials.  It was here that we came to appreciate the value of creating wearable art.

I cannot even begin to fully explain how the M3D Micro impacted our program this past year.  While the printer is a bit too slow to become our primary 3D printer in the classroom, it is, nevertheless, an important tool in allowing us to better train and build enthusiasm among our instructors and permitting us to begin our mentoring initiative among our cadets.

Lastly, 2016 saw the birth of this blog after years of blogging about other 3D printers.  This blog is  dedicated to helping M3D 3D printer owners get more out of their 3D printing experience.   If this was an M3D Christmas at your household, I hope you find this blog to be helpful.  While 2017 promises to bring us the M3D Pro, we will still spend a great deal of time and effort focusing on making the M3D Micro experience a fun and rewarding one.  I love this little printer.

Between now and January 9th, 2017 I will be creating some videos for YouthQuest to help our new mentors get the most out of the M3D Micro printers they will be using to mentor other at-risk students in their neighborhoods.  I will share the links to those videos as they are completed.

In the meantime, if you have any issues or questions about your new M3D Micro, please feel free to contact me at tmeeks[at]  I do not work for M3D; but, I am a user and a fan and I am always ready to help other users whenever I can.

As the year ends, I want to thank all of our classroom teachers and our loyal supporters for working so hard and selflessly to make this a wonderful year.

And, yep.  2016 WAS a wonderful M3D year!  :)

Friday, September 9, 2016

Help make this Blog More Newbie Friendly

The sole reason why I blog is because I have a passion for creativity and I believe that 3D printers have stoked the fires of creative thinking in me like no other technology or tool.  And, I want to share that experience with young and old alike.  In fact, I'm going on 73 but love sharing 3D printing with the young at-risk students that YouthQuest Foundation serves.  3D Printing has the affect of unleashing creativity at ANY age.

But, my years of experience can work against my goals for blogging by allowing me to forget or skip over my own struggles when first trying to use a 3D design application and print on a 3D printer.

This is where I need you.

I need you to ask questions and point out where my explanations fall short of giving you truly useful information.  I need to know where you want to go with 3D printing and what examples you would like to see to help you better understand how 3D printing my be helpful to you.

You can do this by posting comments or sending me an email found in my profile.

The 3D Application Quandary

There are many free 3D applications available to either download or use online.  Personally, I have never found these applications to be as easy, quick or capable as Moment of Inspiration (MOI).  That is why we use Moment of Inspiration in our classes with at-risk elementary and high school children.

Currently,  MOI costs $295 for non-students and $88 for educators and students.  While my experience tells me that's a great deal, I know that for someone just beginning to explore 3D printing, that can appear to be a bit hard on the budget when free applications are available.

So, I am going to explore one of the free applications to see if I can find one that is suitable to get you started;  When I create a tutorial or demonstration, I will try to use both the free application and MOI to accomplish the same thing.  That way you can get a realistic idea about the relative capabilities of the software.  It may be that the free application will be easy enough and capable enough.  I don't know because it was years ago when I first looked at the free offerings.  The free offerings may have improved dramatically in the intervening years.  I need to take another look.

One of the benefits of this approach is that at least on some level, I will also be a newbie.  And, so my struggles will be much the same as your own.  And, I hope that, too, will be helpful.

The 3D Printer Quandary

I would rather you have ANY 3D printer than not have one.  But, right now, having had years of experience with many different makes and models, this blog will be focused on 3D printers made by M3D.  There is a reason for that.  My interests are 3D printing in the home and 3D printing in education.  I am not interested in fiddling around with a 3D printer.  I'm interested in using it.

I have chosen to use M3D's 3D printers because they are designed to minimize the need for tweaking, etc.  In this regard, the upcoming Pro promises to be astoundingly easy to use.  But, 3D printers aren't microwave ovens.  Since we can use a variety of materials and conceive of a variety of designs, there is always going to be some need to understand the limitations and demands of this tool.

This sometimes will mean addressing topics that may be beyond the understanding of many readers at that point in their experience.  And, when that happens, I want you to let me know so that we can go back and re-communicate the information in a way that is more useful to you.

I cannot emphasize how valuable this feedback will be.  One of my favorite students was a young woman named Vela.  She would raise her hand and say, "Mr Meeks.  I have a situation."  That, of course, meant, "Mr. Meeks, what in the WORLD are you talking about?  You have completely lost me!!!"

Not only was her willingness to let me know she was lost helpful to her.  But, it was helpful to me and every other person in the class.  I cannot thank her enough for how she shaped the curriculum that has helped so many other at-risk cadets and young people.  And, it is the first story that I tell to each new class.  It brings to mind a phrase I learned in college 50 years ago from an educator that I greatly admire.
"Where there is no learning, there has been no teaching."
                                               Dr. Wesley R. Willis.
And, that is also true of blogs.  :)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

M3D Live Streaming Event on KickStarter

Today, September 8, 2016 at 8:00PM, M3D will be testing Kickstarter's new Live Stream capabilities to communicate directly with people interested in hearing about their new Pro 3D printer.

I don't exactly know how the streaming, which is in beta, works; but, there is a sign-up for participating on M3D's KickStarter Page.

It's an excellent opportunity to ask questions of the M3D team.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Series: Colorizing 3D Prints #13 - Non-Smear Coating That Glues PLA!

This is a huge deal for me.  I have looked for years for an effective glue for PLA.  Up to this point, clear fingernail polish was about the best I could find.

Ironically, I wasn't actually looking for a glue for PLA when I came across one that works.  I was looking for a clear coat for prints that have been colorized using alcohol marker ink.  And, I suspected that I would find it in the form of a glue.  I was right.

The great news is that it can be found in grocery store, hardware stores and places like Target or Walmart.  It's called Loctite GO2 All-Purpose Glue.

Loctite GO2 Glue

But, the added benefit was that Loctite GO2 also bonds PLA.  Here are my 3 test samples.

Loctite GO2 As Clear Coat & Glue
The samples are (1) a 'swatch' of Tough 3D Ink that has been painted with both Spectrum Noir and Sharpie alcohol ink using the eBrush airbrush, (2) Tough 3D Ink glued to Premium PLA and (3) 2 pieces of standard PLA.  In each case the glue worked as I had hoped.

Sample 1: Loctite GO2 does not smear alcohol ink and is flexible

The Tough PLA color did not run and the material remains as flexible as it was before coating.  I applied the glue by pouring it onto the item and smoothing with an artists brush.  The brush was cleaned with alcohol after the application.  What can't be conveyed by an image is the interesting feel of the coating after it's dry.  It has a rubberized feel to it that provides some non-slip 'grip' that is interesting.

The glue dried crystal clear.  So, it does make for a great top coat to protect the alcohol inks.

Sample 3: Loctite GO2 joined different materials.

The simulated wax seal is M3D's Tough 3D Ink and the simulated coin is M3D's Premium PLA.  The bond does take a while to set (30 minutes) and was fully cured in 24 hours.  I was able to accelerate that by putting all the test pieces in a food dehydrator for a few hours.

Sample 3: Loctite GO2 joined two PLA pieces.

This is really a big find for me.  None of the normal cements designed for plastic models ever worked all that well when used with PLA.  So, in the past, I usually turned to clear fingernail polish.  It worked; but, never seemed to be a great solution.  The cool thing about Loctite GO2 is that the glue, itself, is flexible after it cures.  So, while the bond is tight, there is some capability for give at the point of connection.

The bond can be broken if too stressed, so if you are planning to build a large 3D printed PLA bridge, I'd make sure the glue was liberally applied.  While not a completely perfect solution, it works better than anything else I have tried.

If you have a glue that works with PLA, I'd love to hear about it. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Food Dehydrator - The Go To Filament, Paint & Glue Drying System

Anyone that prints with PLA and Tough 3D Ink needs to understand that moisture in the ambient air tries to degrade and destroy these filaments. That's why filament is shipped in sealed bags with dry packs.  Once we open the bags, the filament begins acting like a sponge soaking up the moisture in the air,  That;s why I do not like buying large reels of filament.  In fact, the filament reels chosen by M3D are a perfect size in my area, which is the moisture laden mid-Atlantic.

A few months ago I went on a quest to attack this issue.  I came up with storage bins in which I can put drying agents along with the filament.  But, the most significant discovery was that an ordinary food dehydrator can be used to draw the moisture out of our filaments.

After trying several, the one that I finally settled on as my favorite is the Presto Digital Dehydrator that can be purchased through Kohl's, Walmart and any number of similar stores.

Presto Digital Food Dehydrator
I prefer the digital version because I can more precisely set the temperature and running time.

But, now I have found an additional way to use this product with my 3D prints... for drying paint and curing glue!

While I spray aerosol paints outside and let them dry a bit before bringing them into the house, it is nice to be able to select a nice even temperature for the bulk of the curing time.  Most aerosol paint directions say the paint will dry to touch within an hour and be fully cured in 24 hours.  Using the food dehydrator ensures that will be the case no mater how moist the ambient air.

But, another application that has become important for is curing glue.  As I have been testing clear coat candidates for the alcohol markers, it is clear glue that seems to offer the most promise.  In fact, Loctite GO2 All-Purpose glue does not seem to smear alcohol marker colors and, as an added benefit seems to perform as an effective glue with Tough 3D Ink.  The jury is still out on standard PLA.

And, that jury is the food dehydrator.  I joined two pieces of PLA with Loctite GO2 and am letting it cure for at least 24 hours.  That should give it the proper time and proper environment to work its best.  I also have a 'swatch' of alcohol marker painted ABS-R running through the same drying cycle.  So, in 24 hours we should have some results to report.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Series: Colorizing 3D Prints #12 - Colorizing with Chalkboard Paint

Before talking about a project that was a LOT of fun, I have to tell you where I got the idea.

Cathy Parlitsis of Stamps and Scrapbooks is a person that creates wonderful mixed media and paper crafting tutorials and videos.  Her site and YouTube channel are well worth exploring.

I came across this video, where Cathy re-purposed some candy canes and blackboard ornaments to create some very cool food identifiers for a pot-luck dinner.

Working on the principle that no cool idea should go unappropriated, the idea came to me that a great 3D printed craft project that would involve colorizing 3D prints might be a personalized mini-chalkboard.

My first attempt involved creating and printing all the elements... chalkboard area and personalized hanging frame in a single printed object.   But, of course, since I am masking challenged, that turned out to be more trouble than expected with the chalkboard paint finding its way into unwanted areas.

3D Printed Chalkboard - First Draft
I was able to clean it up a bit; but, clearly there had to be a better way to do this project.  Plus, after proving that the chalkboard paint would work on a PLA surface, I really wanted to make the design to be more personal for the person for whom it was intended.

So, the design was broken into two pieces.  The first piece, the chalkboard, was beveled to fit into the back of the second piece, the frame, which was expanded to make room for a name..

Inlay Trick #1 - Bevel Inlay Edges

While the chalkboard piece is inserted from the back, it is still essentially an inlay.  Inlay is another way to put two different color prints together.  The inlaid piece must fit into the host piece and there are some tricks to making it work more easily.  The 3rd Gen Cube on which this project was printed has some differences in the size of borders and holes from the specified design when printed.  We can make allowances for that; but, by beveling the inside and outside matching edges we know that the piece will fit even if our compensation estimates are off.  If the edges are straight and we miscalculate by even .1mm, we might have to reprint the object. The beveled edge gives us a little margin for error.

Beveled Edges Widen the Margin of Error in Fit
Inlay Trick #2 - Resize (Expand) the inlay object when using it to cut the inlay channel or hole.

The trick in making sure the insert fits correctly is to use the inlay object to define the hole or channel into which it will be inserted.  But, first, we resized the chalkboard by 1mm in the X and W directions.    We do this because, typically, holes get slightly smaller and pegs (inserted objects) get slightly larger when 3D printed.  Resizing the chalkboard ensures that the design of the hole will be 1mm bigger all around.  But, when printed the opening of the hole will actually be a bit smaller.

After the hole is cut, we return the chalkboard to its original size for printing.  I added 1mm to both the height and the width.

Then we print each object separately.  With an independent chalkboard, colorizing it with chalkboard paint is easy and requires no mask.

For now, the frame remains uncolored.  But, should we desire to add some color, it would be a lot easier than with a single design.

Once the paint dries, the pieces are taped or glued together.  Since we may want to colorize the frames, for now it is taped.  But, because, this was printed in PLA, clear fingernail polish would be the glue of choice when we turn to that option.  Here is the result.

Mini-Chalkboard Colorized with Chalkboard Paint
It's easy and fun.  Of course, I had to make two, with two granddaughters.

One single style black board and 2 new style chalkboards
The new two-piece style is better in every way.  There is no danger of paint slipping under the masking as can be seen in the top sample.  Names are added to the Master Design just before the object is saved for printing, allowing each one to be personalized with a unique name.

It can be hung using a suction cop attachment on a window or a small stand could be printed to hold it on a desk.  In any case, I know they are going to be surprised and pleased the next time we see them!

Thank you Cathy!!  I loved your original idea and it turned out to translate very well to 3D printing!