During my senior year of college, my rapid prototyping professor said that he expected, within a few years, that fused deposition modelling (FDM) printers would become as common as inkjet printers were back then (2012), and every college dorm room would have one. I think it’s safe to say that he was correct, judging by how much information is out on the internet. However, I don’t think anyone could have foreseen the return of stereolithography (SLA), the original 3D printing process, via its modern, high-efficiency incarnation, low-force SLA, or LFS.
I have watched 3D printing communities grow online over the years since I first got into the hobby. To give you an overly brief history of my experience, I received a Makerbot Replicator as a graduation present back in 2012, and I printed very few models with it, some that I had designed myself, and others that I found on Thingiverse, before I discovered its limitations. I had heard of Shapeways from my professor, but didn’t finally get around to opening an online shop there until 2013. From a combination of requests, new materials added to their library over the years, and dreaming up new ideas on my own, I now have over 600 different models uploaded, and over 300 different products available for sale. Most of these items are wargaming miniatures, but there are also some jewellery items and other odds and ends. A few years ago, Shapeways announced their partnership with Hero Forge, a website for designing custom wargaming figurines (as opposed to vehicles and ships, which are my speciality). Last year, I joined Wargaming 3D, a file-sharing website similar to Thingiverse, but for wargaming miniatures specifically. My models dominate the 6mm collection there. I also purchased my own LFS printer and launched my own website, which is nothing more than an online catalogue for my miniature tanks, but I have plans to expand it to include all of my miniatures. I no longer have the Replicator. This year, I joined the 3D printing community on Hive, which is quickly expanding as well, and I would urge anyone who enjoys this hobby to get on Hive and join that community. Likewise, if you use 3D printing primarily for making wargaming miniatures, subscribe to Tangible Day here on WordPress for painting tips. Finally, the most recent thing I did was to at last start playing around in Hero Forge, and I’ve gone nuts. As of this writing, I have 56 different designs in my collection.
This is a screenshot of the 3D printing community on Hive, which I took immediately after posting the results of my first miniature batch with grey resin. I had used grey resin only once before to make a wine bottle drip collar, one of two “everyday objects” that I’ve printed and shared on Hive, the other being a hair dryer comb attachment. I will be posting the results of other experiments to this community on Hive, so that I can share printing tips with others. Granted, most of the community members are FDM users, and the information I have to offer is considerably more niche. However, just like FDM printers a few years ago, LFS printers are coming down in price. I still have my heart set on getting a selective laser sintering (SLS) machine eventually, and while there are many small-scale options available, none of them are affordable. There is some speculation that SLS will never become mainstream the way that FDM has, but every article I’ve read explaining why sounds just like IBM when they explained why there is a world market for “about three computers.” They said the same thing about laser printers, by the way, and they are quickly eclipsing inkjet printers in popularity. Besides, no-one saw SLA becoming mainstream via LFS, yet I was kicking myself when I saw the price of the Anycubic Photon S compared to the machine that I got (I made myself feel better when I reminded myself that I got the Form 3 so that I could print castable wax and make my own metal jewellery). On a slight tangent, as I’ve been into both miniature modelling and precision machining since I was a kid, I’ve been getting the Micro-Mark catalogue in the mail for nearly fifteen years. I remember my eyes bugging out when they started listing FDM printers, and I almost screamed when I saw the Anycubic listed there as well. Granted, Micro-Mark still supplies a niche market, but the fact that 3D printing went from an obscure curiosity mentioned once a year in periodicals at best (I first learned about 3D printing, specifically SLA, from a children’s magasine called Explore, which is long out of print and not to be confused with the Canadian adventure publication of the same name), to having affordable desktop machines listed in mail-order catalogues just within my lifetime is impressive indeed. The only technology that has moved faster has been social media, and that’s not nearly as interesting (unless you’re a synth like Zuckerborg and you want to gather as much data about the human race as possible).
All joking aside, I see the rise of 3D printing itself, and the diversification of processes that ordinary people have access to, as a great way to move toward proliferating self-sufficiency and sustainability. I’d still like to see a lot more, and my personal goal is to diversify my own capabilities and provide instructional materials along the way, which is the main reason that I’m starting to post more than just pictures of 3D printed models themselves. My latest BitChute video, for instance, shows the relatively simple process of cleaning out the Formlabs wash unit. Future videos will show mould-making and casting. But enough of me talking about what I do (bloody hell, I don’t think I’ve ever used the word “I” this many times in a single article before). What do you think? If you were never interested in 3D printing before, are you now? If you thought 3D printing was all about plastic filament, are you surprised that another process is affordable enough for hobbyists? Are you interested in discovering new things that you can do with this technology? If you answered “yes” to any of the previous questions, then come join more of us on Hive. If the blockchain network confuses you, fear not – the Hive Pope is there to help, as are we all.