Friday, 20 December 2013

Steps to making a completed figure

This post is directed at the people who want to know more about the processes needed to produce a complete, painted figure. Since I'm rather limited in the photos I have at hand, I will use the example below (apologies to those who dislike candy coloured equines).

There are 5 major steps from start to finish:
  1. Modelling
  2. Slicing
  3. Printing
  4. Post processing
  5. Painting
I'll try to avoid jargon as much as possible for readability.

1. Modelling

First, to print anything, we need a 3D model for the printer to create. Most 3D modelling programs can be used, since they can save the model in a form the next piece of software can understand. Personally, I prefer to use Blender for three reasons:
  1. It's free (and open source!)
  2. Strikes a nice balance between rigidity and flow. What I mean by this is it's able to model (and sculpt) organic, complex objects; as well as being able to model a part to specific dimensions.
  3. Has built-in utilities to help 3D printers, like showing you which parts of the model are too thin to print.
There's a few things you need to check to see if a model is suitable for printing. For example, internal structures are a massive, massive pain to print, and should be avoided where possible. This is especially frustrating when people upload models which have these structures which shouldn't be there. Let's take a look at the example:

Protip: click on the picture to zoom

That mouth cavity (jumble near the centre) adds time and blemishes to the print. So I just removed it and fixed up the model.

2. Slicing

A slicer is a program which turns the 3D model into something the printer can understand. For example, it will tell the printer to move between these points while squirting out a certain amount of plastic. It's most likely called a slicer since 3D printing is done by layers. You put down a layer of plastic, move up a tiny bit and keep going up and up and up.
The one I like to use is called KISSlicer (Keep It Simple Slicer), which generates the best results by far.

For the print to look good, you need to put in the right settings into the slicer. I won't bore you with the details, but this type of print needs support structures for it to print properly. Let's take a look:

The blue bits is what we expect the final model to look like. The grey bits are the support structures, and the yellow bits aren't important for now. This is now ready to be saved and sent to the printer.

3. Printing

Nothing to say here. Just wait a few hours for the printer to work its magic.

By the way, the horizontal ridging patterns you see there have been fixed.

4. Post processing

The support structures have to be carefully broken off...

...and then I spent a few hours filing and sanding it down... (bit too blurry)

...Holes, details and repairs (damn tail) were patched with standard model epoxy.

One last sanding and it's ready to paint.

5. Painting

Technically, this falls under post processing... Anyway, the paint needs to stick to the model. Otherwise, the paint starts to flake off and it just looks terrible. I searched online and found normal white PVA glue works great for this. So I took a bit of glue, watered it down slightly so it's easily spreadable and applied generously.

Afterwards, I used acrylic paint to start adding colour...

... and finished the model with a bit of matte varnish to protect it.

Overall, this process does not happen overnight. It took me about a week of effort after work to produce these figures... hopefully my painting ability improves though, that my second painted figure so far.

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