I have had my eye on 3D printing for a pretty long time, but it was only recently that I finally decided to dive in and try it for myself. The tipping point for me was when a project came up that was of the size and complexity that I thought could be done with no 3D model making experience, and was something that would actually be useful in my life.
The item that I set out to create was a custom bracket to use with my microphone. I use a Blue Yeti microphone that is attached to an adjustable boom arm. I also have the Blue Pop Filter but it has a bendable attachment arm that I never really liked and doesn’t work well at all with the boom arm. After dismantling the pop filter, and taking off the bendable arm, I was left with just the screen and no way to attach it to the microphone. Seemed like a perfect opportunity for 3D printing!
I grabbed some cardboard and started working out what a bracket would look like and once I had that, I measured all the angles and lengths of the cardboard mockup and set out to recreate it in 3D. I wasn’t sure what program to use on the mac for 3D design, so I did some research into what applications export the types of files that are used by 3D printers and landed on 123D Design from Autodesk. I would never call this application “great”, but it did the basic things that I needed and was fairly easy to pick up, so I went with it.
After going through a couple iterations of the design, and getting it to a point where I was happy with it and thought it would work, it was time to print! I don’t have a 3D printer of course, but with the recent popularity of 3D printing, there are now services that you can send your design to, and pretty inexpensively get it printed and shipped to you. The service I used is called Shapeways. The process couldn’t have been easier; I uploaded a .stl file of my design, picked the material I wanted it printed with, paid for it, and that was it. Shapeways does some checking of your design to ensure it will successfully print before moving forward, and once your design passes that first check, it goes to print. When checking your order status, they have a nice update menu showing you where your project is in the process. I received the “ok to print” email pretty quickly after submitting, and then just had to wait for it to arrive in the mail. The shipping estimate was originally around 4 weeks, but it showed up at my house in about 2 weeks.
It was an amazing experience opening the box to find something that I had thought up and created myself! The sense of accomplishment was off the charts. Then came the time to see if it actually worked.. I did a test fit and it was perfect! I didn’t design in all the mounting holes for this first print because I wanted to do a real fitting to determine the hole placement. I used my Dremel to create the needed holes and the bracket installed perfectly and does exactly what I intended.
The whole process of using Shapeways was great and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them for your projects, especially if you have never done 3D printing. It is a relatively inexpensive way to get your ideas from concept to reality.