Making a maker: How to turn a 2D image into a 3D printable object

We’ve all heard the “computer guy” cliché: One person has special computer knowledge, and suddenly they are asked to fix every single problem with their extended social circle’s computers.

Soon after I started tinkering with the Noisebridge Ultimaker, I sort of became that person, but for 3D printing. Luckily, no one I know has a 3D printer yet, so it’s more been people asking me to print them things. I don’t mind it. I like hearing the interesting applications people come up with (best so far: a cup-like instrument), and it’s great knowing more people are being exposed to the technology.

It also gives me a good excuse to practice making unexpected things. Recently, a family member made a special request for a District 12 badge for part of a “Hunger Games” costume. This was ahead of the debut of the latest movie in the trilogy, which came out today.

Just in case, I did a quick search on Thingiverse to make sure a 3D badge design did not already exist. It didn’t, which is unsurprising considering Hunger Games paraphernalia is likely protected.

Hunger Games District 12 badgeSo I would have to design the badge myself. I found plenty of 2D drawings of the badge online, which I wondered if I could turn into a 3D object and print.

Shapeways offers a very handy service where they can turn a 2D image–even a drawing–into a 3D print for you. But you can’t export the file after you go from 2D to 3D, which means you need to print through Shapeways or you are out of luck.

I read that 123D Design, a computer aided design program I have been working with, can turn an SVG vector file into a 3D shape. I used one of the many slightly shady sites available online to turn my JPG into an SVG and then loaded that into 123D.

It worked! The 2D image appeared. I used the “pull” tool to grab it and drag up its walls, turning it into a virtual 3D object

From the white space in the image, you can see that the black parts, which are what would be printed, aren’t all connected. So the badge needed to printed on a solid layer of plastic in order to stay together. I created two solid disks and slid them under the badge design to give it a solid bottom.

Made in 123D Design

Made in 123D Design

Then it was time to print. I loaded the file into Slic3r and then Pronterface. Slic3r noted I had some holes in my design, but it seemed like it had exported a file as usual, so I decided to go ahead and ignore the warning.

Hunger Games District 12 badge

Then something went wrong — it “finished” the print job after only completing the bottom solid layer. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong so I turned to a Noisebridger (did I mention it’s embarrassing to explain you are working on something Hunger Games-related to a full-blown hacker?). He took a look at the file and said I had some holes in the print, which prevented the printer from continuing. He fixed it up for me in a software program called Blender.

I started reprinting. It took a long time–nearly two hours–to finish because of the fine details. Here’s a video of the final touches being printed:

[wpvideo nP5S4lnr]

Note the stringiness within the open spaces. That’s a result of working with an older printer. You can clean it up with a little bit of nail polish remover.

Overall, it was a fairly simple process. The hole problem was troublesome though, as I would have failed on my own without help at that step. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, this whole process is so reliant on software. I’m eager to learn it, but there’s a lot to know.

This print job also exposed a lot of legal gray areas with which 3D printing is dealing. It was easy for me to make my own replica of a District 12 badge. But that’s something I could also print on a 2D printer and glue onto a badge. Would the entertainment industry really care I went ahead and made it 3D?