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Unboxing the Lulzbot Taz 5

A few weeks back we ordered a Lulzbot Taz 4 from Aleph Objects Inc. As luck would have it, we ordered just as they completely sold out of stock. Happily, they sent us one of their first Taz 5 units instead!  Given the success of the Taz Mini launch, we were excited to see some of the upgrades on this new, larger-format 3D printer. Below is a gallery of what we saw, sprinkled in with our observations about the setup process. If there are additional shots you’d like to see, write a comment!

We previously unboxed a MakerBot Replicator 5th Generation and were impressed with the fit and finish of the packaging. Aleph systems stepped up their game for the Taz 5 with packaging that made a very simple and smooth out-of-box experience. The box is adorned with Lulzbot logos and a “Made in Colorado” sticker, which also clearly labeled which side was up. The first thing you see when you open the box is a very thorough Quickstart guide. Remove the foam underneath and you see all accessories packed cleanly and securely in foam-covered plastic tray.  Each Taz 5 comes with cables, an SD card with test models, printed documentation, a test print, the power supply, a very thorough set of tools, and the gorgeous new all-metal hotend (the first major difference from the Taz 4).

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The documentation and toolkit bear special note. We received a complete checklist outlining the build and test steps, along with documentation of firmware settings in case we needed to return to stock.  The toolkit was nothing short of magical, containing literally everything you’d need to maintain and repair the printer, in a handy bag with the Lulzbot logo. This includes tweezers, pliers, a strong scraper, exacto knife, measuring tool (for truing the X axis), allen keys, and even a little brush for removing powdered plastic from the hobbed bolt. Impressive.

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Underneath the accessories, the Taz 5 is lightly packaged in two separate pieces encased in protective foam. You’ll be instantly greeted with the PEI-coated glass bed (the other major revision to the Taz 4). We saw bits of the glue flaking off the sides of the platform. Be careful to follow the directions in lifting the assembly from the box, or you might scratch/damage the sliding rails on either assembly. Simply stand the unit on one foam piece, then remove the other piece and tilt out the bed. Remove four thumbscrews to assemble the unit, undo some cleverly designed red clips (also 3D printed), and remove lots of blue tape to prep the printer.

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I was lucky to have my friend Steven Osborn assist with this unboxing. He owns a heavily modified Taz 4 and brought over his hexagon all-metal hotend he recently received from Aleph. We took some comparative pictures to show you what the upgrade looks like next to the assembly bundled with the Taz 5. In the photos below, the Taz 5 bundled extruder is on the left and the upgrade on the right.  The first thing we noticed is that the plastic parts were all 3D printed and very heavy. The finish was exceptionally smooth, as if printed on glass. Note the yellow and blue paint marks on the bundled version’s wiring connectors. The Taz 5’s extruder harness had matching marks, to prevent wiring mistakes. The upgrade lacked these marks entirely. We noticed on another unit that only one connector was marked in yellow. The upgrade included a barcode sticker, presumably for individual sale. The kit included a new wiring harness for the extra blower fan cooling the hexagon extruder’s heat sink, along with a larger conduit. We took a peak inside the control box to see where the fan might route through and discovered it connects in the bottom right of the Rambo board. Along the way we discovered we had v1.3L of the Rambo board 🙂

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The Taz 5, being an open hardware printer, comes with complete design files and a few extras to encourage development of new upgrades. We noted a second port for dual extrusion setup, which was pre-wired for the all-metal hotend’s secondary fan.

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The Pronterface LCD is identical to the Taz 4, but the firmware identifies this printer as a Taz 5, firmware 2015Q1. We love that this LCD is mounted high on the printer, so you don’t have to crouch down to use it.  We also love that the SD card slot is located on the control panel, up high, where debris can’t fall in (cough, cough MakerBot). We didn’t see any standout new features in the firmware on first glance, but had one major gripe- the UI reverts to the home screen FAR faster than we expected it to, which required a lot of navigating when we were calibrating. Unfortunately, there didn’t appear to be a setting to fix that.

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Z-axis calibration was straightforward, but 100% manual. We didn’t follow the instructions exactly and actually bound up the z-axis. Fortunately, recovery was as simple as moving one side of the axis by hand.  We were disappointed that the Taz 5 didn’t include the auto-leveling or nozzle wipe features from the Taz Mini, but we suppose they have to save something for Taz 6!

We used Repetier Host v1.03 with the fine ABS profile for Slic3r from Lulzbot’s website. Printing was very straightforward both from the SD card and from the host PC.  The Taz 5 takes 3mm filament and Lulzbot provides profiles to prep for ABS, PLA, and HIPS. The additionally support slicer settings for many more. We used a generic silver ABS we had in inventory. Our previous attempts to use this filament produced mediocre results, but the Taz made this stuff shine (literally)! Check out our test print below.  You might notice that we didn’t use any tape in that print. We are big fans of BuildTak and were eager to try it on the Taz 5. We found, however, that it was wholly unecessary- the PEI surface stuck to every print we threw at it like glue, whether heated bed was turned on or not. We were seriously impressed by its performance.

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Overall, we were pleased with how easy this printer is to set up and use. Though we wish it had a few more creature comforts such as auto-leveling, LED lighting, WiFi, or a camera, the Lulzbot Taz 5 is amazing at Job #1 – smooth 3D prints.  We’ll be updating the blog as we get more pics and video uploaded, but we wanted to get these out there as soon as we could. Please leave us a comment if you’d like to see something specific!


(C) 2015 MatterCompilers LLC
All Rights Reserved. Ping us if you’d like to use any of our images.

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Unboxing the MakerBot Replicator 5th Gen!

Hi Guys! One of our very good friends recently took delivery of one brand spanking new MakerBot Replicator 5th Generation, which he had ordered straight from the show floor at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. We were fortunate enough to be there as he unboxed his Bot and wanted to share that good fortune with you. Below is a gallery of what we saw, sprinkled in with our observations about the setup process. If there are additional shots you’d like to see, write a comment- we still have access!

MakerBot has taken a page from Apple, Samsung, et. al and stepped up their packaging. The first thing you see when you open the box is the MakerBot logo. Flip open a flap and you receive a personal welcome. Flip open another flap and the accessories are packed securely in place. Each bot comes with cables, a spool of clear PLA (2lbs on a new, proprietary spool), the build platform, documents, and the amazing new v8 extruder.

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Underneath the accessories, the Replicator is lightly packaged, preassembled in a plastic bag with hefty ziptie with protective foam all around and on top. This is meant to be simple to setup and start printing. The only pieces to install are the bed, extruder, and filament.

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The new extruder is a work of art. The attention to detail is pretty amazing. Stuff we noted:

  • The built-in spring-loaded lever which holds the filament securely to the built-in drive mechanism (and note that it’s no longer a NEMA-17 motor!).
  • Spring-loaded contacts on the back side.
  • Built in fan ducting surrounding the nozzle and enclosed fans
  • We presume thermocouple, heater controls, and drive pulses go through these contacts.
  • This design uses four STRONG neodymium magnets (check it holding a full altoids can) to hold the extruder to the gantry carriage.

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The Replicator Gen5 ships with two printed shipping clips that hold the Z-axis carriage in place. You need to pull those out before installing the build platform, which is now glass in a plastic carrier.  The carrier+glass slides into the Z-axis carriage on two rails and locks into place with detentes and are retained by molded-in stops.

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Filament is stored inside a sliding compartment on the back of the printer. It holds exactly one spool at a time, and routes it through a teflon tube into the extruder.  Though it should keep it dust-free, the new spool is new, proprietary addition to the 2014 lineup. On one hand, it makes filament handling simpler and more consistent and it is still 1.75mm diameter. On the other, it does lock out the use of third party filaments unless they make spools of the same size or you don’t mind an external spool.

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One of the most welcome features is a color LCD at the top of the front frame rail. No more crouching down to read backlit text- MakerBot puts this screen to good use with graphical setup tips from bed leveling through print, to downloading models.  Also new are jog dial and button controls. We found them simple and intuitive. The jog wheel has a rubber outer ring, has dozens of detentes for a positive feel,  is backlight, and is itself a “Select” button. The other two buttons to the left are purely for navigating options or going back. Check out the variety of messages given below.

One unfortunate addition to the experience was mandatory firmware upgrade on initial boot. The Replicator shipped with Firmware and we had to install the new MakerBot Desktop Bundle (which replaces MakerWare) to install the firmware upgrade. Upgrading the firmware using the ethernet port was not an option!  Though we did get the upgrade to installed, the process wasn’t without hiccups. MakerBot Desktop took two tries to install- the first pass just uninstalled our copy of MakerWare without warning. The second time the entire bundle installed. Did we mention the firmware took 15 minutes to upgrade?

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We were super-impressed with the new semi-automated leveling feature. Though a little slow, you simply let printer calibrate itself at the center, then let it move to two points, at the front and to the right of the build platform. At each point you will be asked to turn the dial until an LED on the extruder turns on. It takes almost no time and no need to slip paper under the nozzle any more!  We did encounter an “HES” error twice during leveling; this cleared up with a power cycle.

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Printing was straightforward, with two exceptions. First, there is a new setting in MakerBot Desktop that you must check before you can print direct to printer. The only option offered initially was to export to file. Also note the Thingiverse and MakerBot store integration. That extends into the printer UI as well. Camera function was curiously absent from both the software and UI. However, that might be exposed when you link the printer to your Thingiverse account, which we were unable to do (since this was not our printer).

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Printing was a good experience, after we put painter’s tape on glass. We tried to print our friend the Octopus directly on the glass with a raft, but found that the raft became detached rather easily. Interestingly, MakerBot Desktop’s raft pattern is significantly different than MakerWare. Rafts seem to be a bit thicker with more cross-hatching. Heating percentage and time are prominently displayed on the LCD. Prep time feels to be slower than the Replicator 2, but print speed feels faster. We’re working on adding some videos of both.

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Thanks for reading this far! We’ll be updating the blog as we get more pics and video uploaded, but we wanted to get these out there as soon as we could. Please leave us a comment if you’d like to see something specific!

We’d like to give a shout out to our friends at Smart Mocha who make a simple, sensor based monitoring platform for just about any task. This Replicator 5th Gen will be used to develop cases and sensor brackets for their product line. They generously allowed us to document and share the fun of their unboxing. Thanks guys!



(C) 2014 MatterCompilers LLC
All Rights Reserved. Ping us if you’d like to use any of our images.

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Make Your Printer Reliable with BuildTak


TL/DR: BuildTak is a reliable build surface for your printer

Making your 3D print stay in one place is surprisingly hard, particularly for long prints. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a complex print fail because the corners peeled up or the model lifted off entirely. The choice of build surface plays an important part.  For extrusion printers, the options include:

  • Bare (Acrylic, Glass, Metal), either heated or un-heated
  • Tape – Kapton, Painter
  • Liquids – Cubify’s spray glue or hairspray

You almost need a rubric to figure out which surface is best for a given print. Just recently I was made aware of a product called BuildTak, which replaces all of these options. Per the manufacturer:

“We believe offers a superior alternative to using masking tape or heat resistant films (such as kapton) on your FDM 3D printer’s build plate. BuildTak is a proprietary, patent-pending composition that comes in pre-cut, specially textured plastic sheets that adhere to your build platform with its heat-resistant adhesive backing.”

BuildTak is essentially a textured melamine pad with a glue backing that covers the entire build surface of your printer. The texture isn’t sticky or rough, but is noticeable to the touch.  I was a bit skeptical of the “total replacement” claim, so I decided to test it it for a few weeks against the other options. I was primarily looking at this from a mainstream consumer perspective. In short, they want reliability. That breaks down into four categories:

  • Stickiness – Do the models stick to the build surface? Do the corners stay as flat as possible? Do I have misprints or need large rafts?
  • Replacement cycle – How often the surface needs replacement or replenishment?
  • Mess – Does the surface stick to the print and require cleanup? Does it cause a mess inside the printer? Is it a pain to remove?
  • Expense – How much does it cost relative to the number of prints. Is this simply another consumable for the printer?

I tried printing exclusively on each surface for 2 weeks on my MakerBot Replicator 2 with a stock, un-heated Acrylic platform, printing PLA on the “rough” side. This is what I found. In general, lower is better, except for stickiness:

Bare Kapton Painter’s Tape Hairspray BuildTak
Stickiness Low High Medium Exceptional High
– Corner Lift High Medium Medium Low Low
Replacement Low Medium Medium High Low
Mess Low Low High High Low
Expense Included with Printer $30 for 3”x36 yards $12 for 3” x 60 yards $5 for 8oz can $20 $12 for one sheet


Hairspray was the stickiest material of the lot. Bare platform was the most variable; for some small-footprint objects, I experienced great adhesion. For others, I couldn’t make them stick even with a raft.  Models reliably stuck to both Buildtak and Kapton tape, even without rafts. Painter’s tape was somewhere in between Kapton and Bare platform.  Corner lift was an entirely different story. Without helper disks or rafts, corners lifted off of Kapton and Painter’s tape relatively frequently (>50% of the time). With BuildTak, I hardly observed any corner lift.  I also observed that the more I printed the same object in the same spot, the “stickier” that spot became and the better the prints turned out. These surfaces never totally eliminated the need for rafts or helper disks, but I used them far less frequently.

Replacement Cycle

Painter’s tape tore every time I removed the printed piece and needed replacement after almost every print. I replaced sanded Kapton twice due to tearing or wear-out twice, primarily after printing several identical parts in the same spot in succession. Unsanded Kapton held up well, at the expense of stickiness. With both types of tape, I had to be careful to avoid overlaps or gaps and to ensure it was pressed firmly to prevent de-lamination early in the print. I never had to replace BuildTak, but I had to be a LOT more careful removing items to prevent scratching or slicing the surface. Note: I use a thin pocketknife blade to lift extremely stuck prints. A side effect of replacement is that you need to recalibrate/level the print bed. With BuildTak, I recalibrated once per week using MakerBot’s firmware level utility, but I never had to adjust the leveling screws.


Hairspray is the WORST when it comes to mess. Either you need to coat the platform outside the printer and recalibrate or you end up with fine sticky particles inside of it. I found painter’s tape stuck TOO well to small prints and I had to remove small pieces constantly. When that happened, the tape was compromised and I had to reapply it.  Kapton went on cleanly and removed cleanly; the only messy part was sanding it down. BuildTak provided mess-free installation and usage. I did reposition the BuildTak once and there was no glue residue on the platform. Both Kapton and BuildTak attracted dust, which was easily removed with an alcohol wipe.


On the value side, I went through almost a third of a roll of painter’s tape in 2 weeks with a few 2-3 hour prints per day. With similar usage, I consumed perhaps 1/8 of the Kapton tape roll. I went through almost the whole can of hairspray.  Extrapolating to one month, that’s around $8 in painter’s tape and around $5 in hairspray and Kapton.  It would take 3-4 months  of usage to justify one piece of BuildTak, purely from a cost perspective. That said, convenience is a big part of value, for me. BuildTak costs about the same as 6 weeks worth of tape; considering the other benefits, it’s totally worth it.

Edit:  Readers have kindly pointed out that pricing for a sheet that will fit a Replicator 2’s build surface costs $12, not $20 as I originally indicated. I’ve updated the table and this paragraph accordingly. Also note I’ve not figured shipping into any of these estimates!


Overall BuildTak makes my 3D printer feel like it “just works.”  It’s not perfect, but the complaints are minor (see below). I plan to use it long term on my Replicator 2 and also on a printer with a heated build platform. Stay tuned!

My Recommendation: BuildTak makes your printer reliable. Buy it.


  • Set and forget. No need to install, reinstall or remove once it’s there.
  • No residue to clean off of the print.
  • Reduced the number of rafts I use dramatically. This won’t replace rafts and helper disks entirely, but will really reduce the need.
  • Simple to install and calibrate.


  • Need to be careful about gouging BuildTak when removing prints.
  • Seems to need “seasoning” before it really becomes sticky.
  • We’d prefer a single solid color w/o logo. It’s hard to see corner lift without getting in close.
  • Attracts dust.


BuildTak pad fresh out of the package
BuildTak pad fresh out of the package


Stock MakerBot Replicator 2 Build surface.
Stock MakerBot Replicator 2 Build surface.


Prior to Installing BuildTak, prepare the build plate by removing all dust and material. Swab it down with alcohol to get rid of oils.
Prior to Installing BuildTak, prepare the build plate by removing all dust and material. Swab it down with alcohol to get rid of oils.


BuildTak cut to fit the MakerBot Replicator 2 build plate.
BuildTak cut to fit the MakerBot Replicator 2 build plate.


Remove backing, align, and apply. Squeeze out bubbles by pressing down using a plastic wedge (credit card used here).
Remove backing, align, and apply. Squeeze out bubbles by pressing down using a plastic wedge (credit card used here).


BuildTak-dressed build platform reinstalled in MakerBot Replicator 2.
BuildTak-dressed build platform reinstalled in MakerBot Replicator 2.


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New High Tech Filaments from Proto-Pasta

Frankly, we all want 3D printers to make anything out of any material. The folks at ProtoPlant are helping us get there with their line of fortified filaments for desktop 3D printers. They make PLA and ABS filaments that are stronger and more heat resistant than normal. We spoke to the inventors of this filament as they were fundraising on Kickstarter. Here’s what they had to say!

Practical 3DP: What does ProtoPlant Inc do?
We design and build prototypes and one-off custom fixtures and equipment for manufacturers and aerospace companies.

P3DP: What is Proto-Pasta and what are its applications?
PP: Proto-Pasta is a new line of FFF filaments for consumer grade 3D printers.  We tried very hard to offer some materials that are just not available to consumers.
  1. Carbon Fiber PLA is, in a word, stiff.  It resists bending more than standard PLA,  It is not lighter or stronger but this added stiffness makes parts that feel really solid and that are hard to deform or bend.  It prints very well with good adhesion and without clogging nozzles.
  2. High Temp PLA becomes less soft than normal PLA at elevated temperatures.  It is similar to ABS in temperature resistance after it has been annealed for a few minutes at 80C.  It also prints very easily and seems to bridge better than normal PLA. It is a solid color, not translucent like normal PLA.
  3. Polycarbonate ABS makes tough parts with much higher impact resistance than either ABS or PLA.  This material is tougher to print with, requiring up to 280C at the hot end and a 120C heated bed.
P3DP: Who can benefit most from Proto-Pasta?
PP: Anyone who is interested in experimenting with printing some new materials with their printers and expanding what is practical to make.
P3DP: What’s the coolest thing you’ve been able to print with your filament? The most useful?
PP: We have focused on testing and evaluating our materials, not so much on printing. Some of our beta testers have printed interesting things like bridges and bottle openers.  We have a tester who manufactures split board snowboard bindings who prototyped some parts.
P3DP: Where will Proto-Pasta have the biggest impact?
PP: Proto-Pasta will have the biggest impact in fueling people’s imaginations for 3D printing.  We know there are folks out there looking for new and interesting materials to work with and we are hoping to help fill that need.
P3DP: Have you run Proto-Pasta through a 3Doodler?
PP: Nope, but good idea.
P3DP Note: If you have a 3Doodler and would like to try this filament, contact us! We want to see this happen!
P3DP: Where can we get it?
PP: We are working on rolling out several distributors in the US and UK, more details to come.  We will be also selling it from
P3DP: How much does it cost?
PP: Working on that, but somewhere close to the Kickstarter pricing.
P3DP: What is your background? Education?
PP: I have a Mechanical Engineering Technology degree from Montana State University and am a licensed Professional Engineer in Washington State.  My background is in aerospace, designing and manufacturing satellite missions for NASA that study the sun. Aaron has a Computer Science degree from MSU as well.  His background is in virtual reality and 3D graphics.
P3DP: How has Portland/Vancouver’s startup ecosystem helped ProtoPlant?
PP: Portland is an awesome community for creative minds.  My family and I live in Alberta Arts and really enjoy the community.  I have worked with ADX in Portland for inspiration and networking.
P3DP: How does your work make 3D printing more practical or usable?
PP: Our work opens doors into areas where affordable 3D printing may have been cut off before.   We think our users will answer this question.
P3DP: What are you looking forward to being able to print someday?
PP: Nothing specific in mind, but we have had some awesome ideas from backers.  One I thought was super interesting was high performance engine valvetrains.  This backer was looking for a stiffer material to verify valve designs and was very excited about our CF-PLA.
P3DP: What is the coolest thing you’ve ever seen printed?
PP: There are some awesome prosthetic hands and fingers that I think really show off the flexibility and utility of 3D printing.  It is not something that you can really mass produce because people are all different and it really impacts price and people’s lives.
P3DP: What is needed to make 3D printing easily usable by everyone?
PP: There are some things in the works to address this point, but I think that moving toward a less “maker” user experience (like the buccaneer) is a good start.  Hopefully at the same time we can all keep things relatively open source and not too corporate feeling.
P3DP: What materials would you like to print with one day that you cannot today? What would you build with it?
PP: I have some ideas that hopefully you will see on Kickstarter or soon!  But I think anything different is awesome, and really respect the work of folks like Taulman.
P3DP: What is some of the interesting research that you are following in the 3DP space?
PP: I love the work being done on delta-robot style printers, along with some rotary stage printers currently funding on KS (no affiliation or cross promotion, just think it is cool)
P3DP: What’s next for ProtoPlant?
PP: We are really hoping to build a reputation as a premium supplier for 3D printing materials and hardware over the next few years.  We love the creativity and newness of this space and are excited to explore what opportunities are there..
P3DP: Anything else you’d like to add?
PP: Maybe just a shout out to Kickstarter and our backers, it is pretty amazing to have this opportunity to bring something we are really interested in to the greater community.
Proto-Pasta is a line of fortified 3D Printer filaments with extra strength and heat resistance, made by ProtoPlant in Vancouver, WA.  You can find more information at their website and their Kickstarter campaign.
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Helix Printer by Acuity Designs

If you are a small business and you want to add 3D printing to your prototyping or manufacturing process, you have options:

  1. Design services such as ShapeWays, i.Materialise, and Sculpteo that can print your projects in just about any material.
  2. Local firms or enthusiasts that can print your design for you.
  3. Desktop 3D printers from MakerBot, Cube Systems, Ultimaker, etc.

Each involves compromising time, cost and control. No can do? The team at Acuity Designs has designed the Helix printer just for you. We had a chance to talk to Acuity co-Founder Ben Malouf about their product, their company, and how they got started.

Practical 3DP: What does Acuity Designs do?
Acuity Design: We started as a product design and development firm, helping people and companies design, engineer, and prototype new products. Products we worked on ranged from motorcycle components, to factory automation components, to high-end earthworm composting bins. Since July, however, we’ve been working full time on development of Helix.


P3DP: Who needs a Helix printer?
AD: Helix is a great option for any business or organization that wants to benefit from additive manufacturing. Our first customers have been other product engineering firms like us, a high school, and the University of Montana. We are also talking with several architectural firms and manufacturing companies. All are recognizing how bringing a 3d printer into their organization can transform the way they operate. Engineers and manufacturers can save money and attract new customers. Architects can win more projects with physical models of their designs. Schools have another tool for engaging and inspiring their students.

P3DP: Where can we get it?
AD: Helix is currently available on Kickstarter for a great introductory price. The campaign ends on November 21, so hurry! After the Kickstarter ends you can place a pre-order for Helix on our website

P3DP: How much does it cost?
AD: MSRP for Helix is $6850. On Kickstarter it’s available for as little as $4750. Helix uses non-proprietary materials that average just $40 per kilogram vs. $200-400 for microchipped cartridges used by the so-called professional machines. Helix’s capability makes it more expensive than consumer level printers like Makerbot and Afinia, but far more affordable than any comparable machines offered by Stratasys or 3D Systems.

P3DP: Tell us more about those capabilities!
The Helix printer has an all-metal chassis and is designed to operate for around 200 hours without maintenance. It has dual  extruders with Bowden drive for faster printing, a large build volume, and enclosed+heated build platform. Our software has calibration profiles for a number of different types of materials. All of this helps keep small businesses focused on making their designs, instead of fiddling with the printer settings.


P3DP: What is your background?
AD: I was born and raised here in the Missoula, Montana area. I got into 3D printing while completing my MFA in Integrated Digital Media at The University of Montana and I also have a BFA in Ceramics. So my introduction to 3D printing was definitely based around artistic application of the technology. My partners, on the other hand, all have mechanical engineering degrees along with masters degrees in education and business, so together we have an extremely well rounded and qualified team.

P3DP: How has Montana’s startup ecosystem helped Acuity?
AD: Startup ecosystem? Just kidding, Montana actually does have a vibrant, if small, community of like-minded folks. We know a lot of talented web and marketing gurus who have made spreading the word about Helix a lot easier. Events like Startup Weekend and BarCamp have put us in touch with the right folks also. The cool thing about starting up here is that local enthusiasm is easy to come by and there are tons of underemployed smart people. The tough part is that investment capital is hard to come by.

P3DP: What’s next for Acuity?
AD: We don’t want to stop innovating. Helix was a great entry point for us because it’s the print that we wanted. Next we want to develop machines for specific markets. We also want to dig into new and different additive manufacturing technologies like selective laser sintering. In the nearer term, we will be feeding every new material we can to Helix to push the ever expanding library of print materials to the professional level.

P3DP: What’s the coolest thing you’ve been able to do with the Helix printer?
AD: Dual material printing is awesome. Being able to print soluble supports for models that would otherwise be unprintable is really exciting. It’s also just fun to print things bigger. Our largest print prior to Helix had a build volume of 432 cubic-inches. Helix’s volume is about 1728 cubic-inches which opens up so many new possibilities for functional and artistic prints.


P3DP: Where will Acuity have the biggest impact?
AD: We hope we can foster wider adoption of 3D printing in small businesses. That’s where additive manufacturing truly starts to be disruptive. Before Helix small businesses have either had to settle for consumer grade machines or take out loans to afford expensive machines that lock them into huge yearly consumable and service costs. As a result, most small businesses have yet to adopt 3d printing, despite the benefits it offers. If we can start to change that, we’ll have succeeded.

P3DP: How does your work make 3D printing more practical or usable?
AD: Helix is a no-compromises machine. It’s designed to run day-in and day-out reliably, with more material options for less money. Helix doesn’t reinvent the FFF wheel, it just makes it better in every way we knew how.

P3DP: What are you looking forward to being able to print someday?
AD: A new liver!

P3DP: What is the coolest thing you’ve ever seen printed?
AD: All the inexpensive printed prosthetics being reported on in the news are so inspiring. Personally, I’ve been blown away by everything I’ve printed in taulman t-glase filament. It’s easy to print with, doesn’t warp, is super tough, and looks amazing.t-glase

P3DP: What is needed to make 3D printing easily usable by everyone?
AD: Software. First, CAD and or scanning needs to be cheaper and more accessible. They’ve taken huge strides, but still have a long way to go. Secondly, getting those models to the printer needs to be simpler and more reliable. Slicers have improved as well but they still require way too much interaction and knowledge on the part of the user. Eventually, we’d love to be able to contribute to the advancement of additive manufacturing software by teaming up with software developers, but for now, hardware is what we’re best at.

P3DP: What materials would you like to print with one day that you cannot today? What would you build with it?
AD: Metals for sure. Right now metal printing is insanely expensive. When that changes control over manufacturing will truly be democratized.

P3DP: What is some of the interesting research that you are following in the 3DP space?
AD: We’re very interested in how we can contribute to the field of “industrial forging.” By rapidly printing solid approximations of parts with large nozzles and then machining the resulting parts, you can save tons of time and money vs. machining from larger blocks of material. Helix should be a perfect machine for contributing to this field.

Acuity Designs is an engineering firm that produces the Helix 3D printer, for architects and engineers needing reliability and versatility. You can find more information about Acuity Designs on their websiteFacebook, and Kickstarter.


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Wireless Charger Dock for Nexus 5

So, my shiny new Google Nexus 5 arrived a week ago, and I spent the first couple of days just ogling the new device, setting it up with all my favorite apps and tools, enjoying games and videos on my 5″ display and generally wasting the days away 🙂  After years in the iPhone world, it was time to cross over to the dark side (or is iOS the dark side?).

After the initial euphoria about the new toy subsided, I started looking for a good protective cover for my N5, and being a 3D printing nut, I searched on Thingiverse before I even thought of Amazon :-). Unfortunately for me, the phone was very, very new, and there was only one conceptual design on Thingiverse for a Nexus 5 case, with no successful prints yet.  That’s fine, I thought… this is the realm of DIY and Tinkering.

Sourcing the Design

BUT, something else on Thingiverse had caught my eye when searching for the N5 case:

Now, reading the specs for the Nexus 5, I knew that it supported wireless charging, but the Google wireless charger was not available on the Play store when I looked.  However, this charging dock was designed for the Nokia QI Charging Pad, which is available at a few places (like AT&T stores) for $24.50, and the design posted by Joe F on Thingiverse would provide a nice inclined base to match! WOOT!

I downloaded the design files for the dock from Thingiverse and set out to customize the dock for myself a little bit. I just wanted to add something to it myself, to convince my wife that I did not just “download and print” , but had put in some effort myself 😉

Modification/ Customization

I first uploaded the design files (STL format) to TinkerCad, a fantastic online tool to do quick and fun tweaks to your design files.  I then rotated the body so I could lay it flat on the work surface.  Then, I grabbed the letters of my last name from the model gallery, put them in order, grouped them, and stood them up, like a wall.  I then extended the letters along the y-axis so that the letters penetrated opposite walls of the dock, like so:



I then marked this object as a ‘hole’ and the base as a solid object, and then proceeded to use this object to punch a hole through the solid base, resulting in:



With this complete, I finalized the model, and the final render came out looking like:



Voila!  I had just downloaded something from Thingiverse, and quickly modified and personalized it using free, online tools! What could be more thrilling!

Printing the dock

Next, I downloaded the customized model in .STL format to my Mac, and fired up MakerWare, available from MakerBot here.  In MakerWare, I positioned the TinkerCad model on the build platform and exported out the machine code file (.X3G format), selecting options for a Normal Print and ‘Supports’ since the lettering cutouts on the dock meant that I would have a lot of overhanging parts.  I then transferred the .X3G file to an SD card, fired up the trusted MakerBot Replicator2 and loaded it with a translucent blue filament, and fired off the ‘Print from SD’ command.

After roughly 4 hours and 60 grams of plastic, I had my very own charging dock!

[vc_column width=”1/3″]3-QI_dock[/vc_column]
[vc_column width=”1/3″]2-QI_dock[/vc_column]
[vc_column width=”1/3″]1-QI_dock[/vc_column]

Kudos to Joe for a flawless design, as the Nokia QI charging plate fit into the designed groove very very nicely.  The dock now sits nicely on my nightstand, and my N5 rests on it peacefully every night, charging wirelessly without worrying about plugging and unplugging the darn little micro-usb cable!

My dock can be seen on Thingiverse at: 



Technical Specs

  • Printer: MakerBot Replicator 2
  • Software / Services: Thingiverse, TinkerCad, MakerWare (using MakerBot slicer)
  • Settings: Standard mode (15% infill, 0.2mm layer, 90mm/s), Rafts disabled, Supports enabled.
  • Print Time: 4 hours
  • Material: Translucent Blue 1.75mm PLA
  • Mass (Weight): 40 grams

 Final Thoughts

Thingiverse is quickly becoming my first stop to look for new designs, and I was pleasantly surprised to see designs related to N5 popping up there almost as soon as the phone was launched.  This was also my first pass at using TinkerCad for an actual design-to-print project, and I was pleasantly surprised at its usability, considering it is a fully browser-based tool.  I also felt the pain of dealing with small geometries and support structures, as evident from the no-so-clean finish on the final piece and the broken ‘U’ on one side.  Next time, I might try changing the print orientation or cleaning up the model using MeshMixer or Netfabb.

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Find a local 3D printer with

3D Pinpoint logo showing a map with the location of one 3D printer.

Earlier this year we found, a brand new service for listing and finding local 3D printers in your community, on Reddit. We had a chance to catch up with the creator about this site and where he thinks the industry is going. Here’s what we found!

Practical3DP:     Please tell us about yourself.
Daniel Brooks:  My name is Daniel Brooks, and I am from Houston, Texas. I’ve been in various manufacturing, sales and computer related careers for the last 6 years – the most recent being in IT administration for a mid-size software development company. 

P3DP:     What is How did you come to find this problem?
DB:  3D Pinpoint is a website that brings together designers and customers together, which results in both parties getting their desired results. People who own 3D printers can make a profit from listing their 3D printing services, and customers can find someone nearby to print their items. Shipping, of course, is also an option. This reduces overall turnaround time, and prices. Our most successful printers list their services on social networks to draw in the attention from their “Local” customers.


P3DP:    How are you different from the other sites out there?
We have 2 competitors – MakeXYZ and 3D Hubs. The biggest differentiator is that we offer a filter by “Industrial” quality, which allows for businesses which extremely expensive high-end printers to list their services as well, and distinguish themselves from a high quality printer such as a Makerbot Replicator 2. MakeXYZ makes you find a printer first, and then upload your print. We’ve chosen to have you upload your print first, and then get a calculated price from each of the listed results. 

The biggest difference between 3D Pinpoint and 3DHubs is that anyone on 3D Pinpoint can join without any restrictions, and we are also US based(although we do have quite a few printers in Canada, Mexico, Italy, China, and many other countries) For instance, 3DHubs requires 10 printers in your city to register before you “unlock” your city. We believe that anyone, anywhere should be able to list your 3D printer services. If you are the only printer in your entire city – that’s great! That person can hopefully receive all sorts of print jobs and continue to build up their reputation.

To my knowledge, we have at least 5 $100K plus printers listed.


P3DP:    What is the biggest barrier in sharing your 3D printer?
DB:  The biggest barrier would be consistency and printability. Most customers just want their things printed in 3D, at the lowest price. They don’t realize the print may not be “printable”. We’ve included links to fix prints on, which solves 99% of any file upload issues. As far as consistency goes, its hard telling which printer will produce the best result at the best price. Which is why we’ve included the ability to upload images, and also rate your 3D printer to find the best combination of the two.

P3DP:     How do I know if a printer can produce my design?
DB:  When it comes down to it, its 100% up to the printer owner if they deem the print design to be “printable”. They know their own printer better than anyone, and therefore they have the final say. However, as I mentioned, can repair the STL ensuring it CAN be printed if the right printer is found. We have a custom invoice option available also, for those who may want bulk prints or custom designs.


P3DP:     How does your work make 3D printing more practical or usable?
DB:  It opens up an entire world to people who don’t own a 3D printer, can’t afford one, don’t have the time to learn CAD software, or for people who prefer to have a professional they can interact with directly. It supports local businesses, encourages repeat customers, and both Printers and Customers win in this business model.

P3DP: What is needed to make 3D printing easily usable by everyone?
DB:  Both hardware and software will need to continue advancing to ensure its usable by everyone. Once printers are sort of “plug-and-play”, and software just “works” and aligns the print bed automatically, more people will be interested in purchasing one. Even though 3D printing has been around for many years, it only recently has become more readily available in households.

P3DP:     What are you looking forward to being able to print someday?
DB:  I’m really interested to see how far medical advancements will go. So far I’ve seen 3D printed arms and legs, nose, jaws, and much more.

P3DP:  What is the coolest thing you’ve ever seen printed?
DB:  The coolest thing I’ve seen printed is by a company called Whiteclouds. They’ve created an entire series of Steampunk dinosaurs which are truly amazing. They’ve also used 3D printing to enlarge microscopic organisms and bring them to life. Whiteclouds have also created a scale model of Elon Musk’s Hyperloop. On Facebook:

P3DP: What materials would you like to print with one day that you cannot today? What would you build with it?
DB:  Concrete and wood. I’ve seen plastics and metals in action, but not concrete or wood. It may be unrealistic, but it would be really cool to see outdoor statues or Gargoyles printed out a 3D printer. 

P3DP:  What is some of the interesting research that you are following in the 3DP space?
DB:  I’m following it all. The newest I’ve seen is 3D printed noses. I really like all of the household decorations, such as light fixtures that can be made using 3D printed than cannot be made any other way. Here is an example. is a printer sharing service that makes it easy to find a local printer and price your print. You can find more information about on their website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.