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A little while ago, I went to a Meetup that featured ShapeJS, a platform by Shapeways to create objects for 3D printing.

voxel

It uses a voxel system to create shapes, which is super neat. It bypasses a lot of potential problems with meshes.

Beekey

Beekey, a software engineer at Shapeways, demo-ed a lot of cool apps you could make with ShapeJS, like the 2D to 3D converter. I’ve used the converter, and it’s been really helpful. Previously, I’d import my 2D vectors as surfaces in Maya, and then extrude. Now, it’s a super easy, one-click process.

Sculpteo has a similar app called Image Extrude (which I believe came first) but it doesn’t let you export the models, which is a bummer.

Beekey said they haven’t super stressed tested ShapeJS. I’ve definitely crashed Shapeways’ mesh fixer (Mesh Doctor / Netfabb) before, so I hope it holds up.

the horrors!

As from ShapeJS, I learned a lot about powder-based SLS from Beekey. However, I was shocked to discover he’s never heard of MAKE!

C’mon Shapeways engineer, gotta get with it! 😛

3D printing services have the best customer service.

When when I get frustrated, and turn into a whirlwind of anger, they know what to do.

anger

For Shapeways, the “Contact Us” button is magic. Recently, I had a print that didn’t color correctly. One click of the “Contact Us”, and I got a message the next day saying Shapeways’ll generously replace it. Super awesome.

For Sculpteo, my go-to person is Nora. If anything went terribly, Nora is there to help me out. From an typo in the shipping address to a last minute design disaster, Nora helps me get the order right, like a miracle worker.

Thanks 3D printing services for being so awesome.

frustrations

{Edit: They didn’t switch the order of the emails. It actually failed on the printer. D: ]

3D printing can be so frustrating.

I usually get an email from Shapeways many many days after my ordering, saying my model can’t be printed.

The latest episode was especially hair-tearing-inducing.

Previously, Shapeways only sent me the “your model is en route to the printer” only after manual checks have passed. I used to celebrate when I got this email, because it usually meant my models would actually be printed. Any failures after that would be due to failures during printing. However this time, I think Shapeways changed the order of the emails.

I believe Shapeways now automatically sends out the “en route” email, the day after an order has been placed, which makes that email kinda meaningless. I was so expecting my model, only to be let down a week and half later.

Also, this time, I know the model can be printed. I ordered it through Sculpteo a little while ago, but it broke during shipping. I was trying to test whether Shapeways had better packaging, not expecting it to fail manual tests.

Maybe Shapeways have less tolerances?

I don’t understand since they and Sculpteo use the same ZCorp printers.

end of rant

[Edit: Multicolor print comparison – they’re different colors!]

Shapeways v Sculpteo

I decided to write a post comparing two of my favorite 3D printing services: Shapeways and Sculpteo. I used to have wildly polarizing feels about them, that oscillated between which one I liked better, but now I’ve come to terms that they’re very different beasts.

A bit of history

Shapeways

My history with Shapeways goes far back to its early days. I’d just discovered a 3D printing service online and was ecstatic. I spent hours pondering what to print, and then finally settled on Jace. No help with mesh integrity meant getting anything to pass the checks was a nightmare.
There was also a $20 limit before something would be printed. Shapeways has come a long way since then, evolving into a giant marketplace for 3D printed goods.

Sculpteo

I discovered Sculpteo a short while ago when I was trying to find an alternative to Shapeways. I didn’t think anything else existed and assumed Shapeways monopolized the market. At the time, I desperately needed something to be printed, faster than the timescales Shapeways provided. I came across it on a list of 3D printing services on 3DPrinterHub, narrowly missing investing in my own 3D printer. It boasted the similar range of materials as Shapeways, but with a 3-day turnaround time.

Comparison 1: Speed

Holy smokes is Sculpteo fast. Most of the time, anything printed in White Plastic (equivalent to Shapeway’s Strong & Flexible Plastic) will be shipped in 3 days. On Shapeways, it takes about 2-5 days for the model to be approved and another week for the printing to happen. I attribute to this amazing turnaround speed to the superior automated mesh integrity services that Sculpteo has.

On Shapeways, when you upload a model, the model is checked for integrity, and an email is sent to you whether it passes the tests  (no manifolds, no holes, etc). Their check system is backed by Netfabb Cloud, which works beautifully most of the time, but has a hard time handling certain meshes. With my workflow, it’s incredibly easy to generate meshes that Netfabb can’t seem to fix, such as collapsed faces of Sculptris outputs. I usually get an email with an obscure message like, “Uh oh! Seems like your model needs a bit more love before our robots can work their magic.” In rare cases, I’d even crashed the check server!

Passing the mesh integrity test is only the first step towards passing printability. The second part is passing thinness checks. Different materials have different minimum thickness requirements, and when an order is placed, the model is hand checked for thinness. This could be very slow (and sometimes inconsistent). Shapeways informed me every model of every order is checked, even if they had been printed before. I understand that minimum thickness is a hard constraint because the printer bots could crash and cause further delays. However, I presume the manual check is done with Netfabb desktop tools. It heavily depends on the checker to catch if anything’s too thin, by measuring with the Netfabb ruler. Depending on different checkers, and how much they want to measure, very similar models could be passed or failed inconsistently.

Getting a quote and scaling is also a pain. Shapeways gives you a quote for a model, but doesn’t offer scaling services. After receiving a quote, if I decide I only want to pay half as much for a model, I would need to scale it on my end, upload it, and wait for another quote when it passes the mesh integrity checks (fingers crossed).

Let’s talk about Sculpteo.

I absolutely love their mesh integrity services. I’m not sure what algorithm they’re using to fix my models, but even the most troublesome ones have successfully been patched. It’s black magic. They’re just announced a new suite of tools to give you an option of a couple possible fixes, if you’re not satisfied with the default.

Their thinness check is also real-time. By the toggle of a button, all thin parts will be highlighted in red, given a particular material. You can adjust the scale to see if the problem goes away or upload another model with the fixes. They even show you a really nice clay-render of your model in the color of your chosen material.

Sculpteo also takes a larger range of files types, so if I want to print a colored model, I don’t have to use VRML.

Rakdos

For Rakdos, it took me about 4 days of fixing to get Shapeways/Netfabb to accept my model. It took Sculpteo 2 hours of their server time to fix my model for me. Shapeways, a day after my order, notified me my model had too thin components. I fixed it, reuploaded, and it passed. However, while my figurine passed, my Rakdos dice holder did not, even though they had the same model but a different base. I am still awaiting news on my dice holder.

Comparison 2: Price

While Sculpteo has this amazing ease-of-use process, it is definitely far more expensive to print objects. For one, shipping is terrible. There are three tiers of shipping. If an order costs less than $10, a cheap shipping option is available. However, that shipping takes about a month to arrive, which severely negates the speed benefit. Orders between $10 and $50 cost about $20 to ship, which is ridiculous. Orders above $50 cost about $6 to ship. It would be more worth it to print another object, or scale something up, to qualify for the $6 shipping than pay $20 for shipping.

The prints themselves are also more expensive. For small objects, like plastic rings, the base price is $8, while in Shapeways, it’s priced by the volume. In my experience, it costs about 2 to 8 times as much to print through Sculpteo than to print through Shapeways. 3DPrintingPrices is a nice check on prices with a lot of different services. Very seldom do I see Sculpteo as the cheapest option.

Though Sculpteo has a bulk discount option, the discount is not nearly enough to match Shapeways’ prices. The site is also not designed like a marketplace platform. I could be wrong, but don’t see people stopping to buy goods off of Sculpteo like they would in Shapeways, just because the UI isn’t as friendly. Aside from the amazing clay renders, the overall Sculpteo site feel isn’t as well designed as Shapeways’. I don’t like having to go through nested menus to find the upload button. Though, Shapeways has also made “upload” slightly nested, because it’s opting for more of a designer shop platform.

Shapeways provides cheap shipping without minimum order requirements. This allows for awesome business opportunities, where you don’t have to keep a stock of goods, and can order on demand. I feel like it has a larger user base and a great community (almost like the Etsy of 3D printing). The community building aspects are wonderful, as well as the really nice UI to browse and shop.

Rakdos

This Rakdos only had about $3 different in price between the two services. However, the dice holder would’ve cost ~$25 to print through Shapeways and ~$40 through Scupteo. Based on the price, I decided to print through Shapeways.

Conclusion

Both Shapeways and Sculpteo are great printing services. They both have an awesomely large range of materials to choose from, and super friendly customer service. Since Sculpteo’s turnaround is faster and Shapeways’ pricing is cheaper, I use the services very differently. If I want an object, and I want it now, I tend to choose Sculpteo. If I want to perhaps sell my design in the future, I tend to choose Shapeways. I think I secretly hope they’d merge and everyone can have the best of both worlds, but I’m sure both companies would hate me for saying that.

Hope this article is useful for someone out there, because I didn’t see any in-depth comparisons of the two services. The base price comparison is a little unfair because they are so different. I’ve also used a little bit of iMaterialise and Ponoko, but not enough to be authoritative about them (and also because I like Shapeways and Sculpteo far better).

I’m so excited for Pixar’s Monsters University!

Monster

I’m lovin’ all the fanfare about the university site.

Monsters University is my dream school. I could take all the cool classes like Scream Technology and  Canister Shop, and maybe even rush for Eta Hiss Hiss (HSS)!

I squeed the other day when I saw a lady with a MU shirt. It wasn’t the 4-armed shirt hoodie though (I love this hoodie).

4-armed hoodie

I got myself a Monsters University class ring. They don’t sell these in the school store, so I had to make it.

class ring

MU Class Ring

It’s made of paint-coated resin with gorgeous details.

Now, if only the applications open, life would be perfect. The site says applications are not yet open for this fall.

[update: printed here]

Oh man am I excited.

So I don’t usually post my 3D prints unless they come out pretty good, but I am super excited about this one. I just placed an order today!

Behold: Rakdos, Lord of Riots

Rakdos Figurine

This came about when I was testing out a new modelling tool, Sculptris, instead of my usual Maya and Max.

I love Sculptris! It’s a whole new way of modelling!

I had to rig my model after exporting it from Sculptris to pose it. As a side result, I can animate it.

I saw a really cool idea about having dice/spindown holders so I thought I’d turn the figurine into a spindown holder as well.

The dice goes into the triangle groove, with a face facing up. We’ll have to wait and see if it actually fits…nervous chuckle

positioning the dice

I ordered a figurine and a dice holder in polished red plastic, so here are some red renders while I wait:

red render

red render 2

I was bummed at the Dragon’s Maze Pre-Release. I’d hoped for some awesome spells to buff  my Selesnya deck, but atlas, the heart of the cards wasn’t with me.

Voice of Resurgence

To make myself feel better, I decided to make a Voice of Resurgence Token.

Behold:

Selesnya Token

This creature’s power and toughness are each equal to the number of creatures you control.

Selesnya

It’s my rendition of a promo creature token.

Token

Yup, I know I like tokens, so I made a token of a token.

[Edit: print poses and items!]

Pudge

Basics:

Faceless Void

I recently 3D printed a Faceless Void in color. It came out super nice. I have a mini-tutorial for 3D printing non-colored DOTA heroes, but someone asked me how to print the colored version.

Here you go!

  1. Like before, download your favorite Hero from Valve’s DOTA2 workshop. Heroes that would not be too good for printing are those with thin components (like, Death Prophet’s trailing scarf) or those with clear alpha-mapped areas (like, Naga Siren’s earlobes). Thin components are not printable, unless manually scaled up. The alpha-mapped areas will just print black. My Faceless Void actually has a bit of alpha-mapped areas on the bottom of his loin cloth, but I figured he’d be ok.

  2. I used Sculpteo to handle my 3D printing. Once I packaged my model, I handled to them, and a few weeks later, they shipped me a tiny Faceless Void. With Sculpteo, shipping is $6 when the order is over $50. They usually print super fast (almost 3-day turnaround) so my delay was probably a special case. My Faceless Void cost about $18, and measured 1.9 x 2.1 x 1.1 inches (price scales with size). There’s a slew of other services available, as well as the possibility of using an at-home 3D printer, but I really like Sculpteo.

Sculpteo model

  1. To get everything Sculpteo ready, the model needs to be packaged in a zip file. The model needs to be in an OBJ format, along with a MTL file, and the texture files. The OBJ will dictate the 3D shape of the model. It can be used by itself to print (like what I did with my Mini-Furion). The textures (Valve provides them as TGA files) will dictate the colors of the model. The MTL file will tell Sculpteo what parts are colored what.

files

  1. After downloading the Hero and unzipping the model files, there’ll be two folders. One is materialsrc, which will contain the materials. The other is models, which will contain the 3D models.
    Go into the materialsrc, and find _color TGA’s for each component. Copy those files to a new folder. These will be the color of the printed Hero.

all TGAs

  1. To get the OBJ and MTL files, open up 3ds Max 2013. If Valve provides an OBJ, it’s not really possible to use it since the MTL files produced will be incorrect (the texture mappings are wrong). Instead, find the fbx files in the models folder. Each fbx file will contain a component of the Hero.

  1. For each one of those fbx files, select the solid-looking mesh and export the selected as an OBJ. The wire structures are bones, used for animating the Hero, and can be ignored. Create a new scene after each export to clear the screen.

export mesh

  1. Once all the components are exported as an OBJ, import all of the OBJs into a single scene. They should be all positioned correctly to form the hero.

  2. Press M to texture the hero. Click on a white sphere, and click on the box next to Diffuse. This will bring up the Material/Map Browser. Clicking on Bitmap, and browse for one of the TGA textures. Drag and drop that texture on to the corresponding component to color the Hero. Hopefully all the mapping are correct and the Hero will look like it popped right out of DOTA2.

press M

Sometimes the mapping isn’t correct and it’s a pain to fix (like Faceless Void’s mace).

wrong colors

  1. Once everything is texture, select the components you want to print and export them as an OBJ. Make sure “Export materials” and “Create mat-library” is checked. Click the Map-Export button and it will tell you where the final MTL file will be created.

hurray

  1. Gather the final OBJ, the MTL, and the TGAs into a zip file and upload onto Sculpteo. Sculpteo is super nice in that it allows you to scale, and gives you a price quote. Be sure to check for solidity, which will tell you what areas are too thin / easy to break. When you’re ready, choose multicolor as the material, select your size, and add to cart.

shiny

Good luck!