Oct 12

3D Printed Cufflinks


Every once in a while my family makes me socialize with other people. We recently attended a community benefit that required me to wear a tuxedo. It may come as some shock to you, but the reality is that I don’t normally have a lot of cufflinks on hand. While I could certainly go to the mall to get a pair in 15 minutes, I decided to spend the better part of an afternoon making my own.

I recently purchased a 3D printer, and it’s far exceeded my already lofty expectations in terms of its possibilities. It’s Maslow’s Hammer become real, because everything actually is a nail when your hammer has the ability to command matter into existence. Like most tools, there are constraints you need to work within, but spitting out cufflinks felt well within the envelope.

The first step is creating a 3D model of the object you want to print. I use a CAD package called SolidWorks, which is a bit complex but quite powerful once you get the hang of it. I was able to design something I was happy with in about an hour.


The printer creates objects using ABS plastic in one of a few solid colors like White, Black, Red, etc. The printer that I have also can print out support material to prop up parts of the model as needed during the build process. The photo below shows 3 of the cufflinks fresh out of the printer. the leftmost one is the orientation as printed. The middle one shows the support material “raft” on the bottom, and the final one shows the black plastic cufflink after I manually broke the raft off.


You can break away the support material with tools if you are patient and careful, but if you don’t mind waiting a while it’s far easier to dissolve it. I dropped the cufflinks into a heated agitation tank filled with lye and a few hours later the white support material was completely gone.


I was going to wear a black shirt, so I wanted the cufflinks to look silver. I spray painted two coats of Krylon Chrome spraypaint and it looked reasonably well from a distance. The final touch was to paint the bowtie black using some acrylic paint and a tiny brush.

bowtie-paintingIMG_20120923_133227 (400x342) (2)

The printer uses a process called FDM which creates a somewhat rough surface texture that is apparent in the close-up pictures. It’s possible to smooth out the surface by sanding and applying solvents, but I actually wanted a matte finish so the result was good as-is from the printer. At the party someone saw my cufflinks and asked if they were silver – achievement unlocked.

I’m sure I could make literally dozens of dollars selling these on Etsy, but instead I’ve published the design files so anyone can make a pair themselves. Even if you don’t have a 3D printer, there are sites like Shapeways or Ponoko that will print them for you for a fee. The design files can be found on Thingiverse. You can upload the file to Shapeways and print a pair in plastic for about US$7 or they’ll also gladly print them in silver for about US$100. If someone actually does that, I’d love to see some pictures!

Jul 11

When Life Gives You Lemons…


“When life gives you lemons? Don’t make lemonade. Make life take the lemons back! Get mad!

I don’t want your damn lemons! What am I supposed to do with these?

Demand to see life’s manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give Cave Johnson lemons! Do you know who I am? I’m the man who’s going to burn your house down! With the lemons! I’m going to get my engineers to invent a combustible lemon that burns your house down!”

– Cave Johnson’s lemon rant after realizing that it turns out ground up moon rocks are pure poison.

Inspired by the speech and the hot temperatures outside we made combustible lemon props. I even hung one on our lemon tree. For science.

Jun 11

Empire State of Mind

amp I don’t really remember why, but for some reason I decided to create some vector artwork of a stormtrooper last weekend. I grabbed an image of a helmet and then did some tracing and editing to get a pretty good silhouette of a stormtrooper helmet. When it was done I was very happy with the results and needed to figure out what to do with it. It turns out that once you’ve got some simple vector art you can do a lot with it.

Paper Soldier

I started out by cutting a piece of cardstock with the Craft Robo paper cutter to make sure that all the contours were closed, etc. I took the resulting piece of paper and stuck it on a little 15-watt keyboard amp just to butch it up a bit. Since the paper I chose was white it looks best against a black background and the amp fit the bill.

Next I used the vector art to cut a screen-printing mask from adhesive-backed vinyl. That plus some yellow screen printing ink applied with a gentle uneven pressure on the screen gave me a T-Shirt with a distressed looking stormtrooper on the front.


Big Finish

The final project I did was something I’ve been thinking of for a while. It’s actually just the first prototype of a more ambitious project that involves motion and some electronics, but first I wanted to verify if the visual effect was what I had imagined. What I did was take the vector image and cut it into strips using geometrics operations in Corel Draw. These strips were then cut from 3mm thick acrylic on the laser cutter. Finally, I cut a base and frame from birch plywood and clear acrylic. The birch got 6 layers of finish and some final polishing so it took a week to complete the project. You can see a few views of it below.

topright-1 closeup

corner-34 off-axis-1

The individual white acrylic slices can be rearranged in the holes at different depths, but I found that it’s best to have adjacent strips no more than one row distant from each other. Otherwise, perspective effects from the difference in distance distort things too much unless you’re very far away. I finished up with a Galactic Empire logo cut from black vinyl on the base. The display looks fairly abstract from most angles and then snaps into a stormtrooper when you square-off right in front of it.