WonderCon post mortem

Literally the worst best convention ever. Hyperbole aplenty at this year’s con, the one show where I feel like there’s enough action and an audience for what I do. And that, honestly can confuse people because I do a lot.

When you walk by my table, you usually get a glimpse of my sculpture. For three or so years, I have been using 3d printed sculptures to draw people to my table. This year printed out a digital model of a concept I painted digitally a year or so prior. It was a nice progresson, 2d, to 3d, to 3d print. Cool right?

The morning of the second day, as the rush of people grew, one of my fellow exhibitors knocked over the statue. Most of the tentacles snapped right off. I was mentally prepared for this to happen before the show, but I really thought I was going to knock it over and not someone else.

It was a proud moment for me – I was actually trying to finish a commission when it happened and that turned out pretty darn cool.

I actually felt the palpable panic of the people next to me, who were very apologetic and far more embarassed than I was. It felt strange, usually I’m the one who freaks out, throws a fit, leaves, or just throws in the towel. I guess the added pressure of having to finish a commission for an old friend took the pressure off more than added to it. The pressure to create after destruction, it’s rocket fuel.

But I knew I printed that object so fast and light that it was particularly fragile. I took the risk. But even with the shattered tentacles, the piece still drew quite a few people curious about the look – to some people it looked like a demonic Venus De Milo, broken but still beautiful and almost unimaginable any other way.

It sits shattered at the very highest point on my desk hutch. Like a trophy.

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Things no one tells you about 3d printing

I know a lot of this has been said online. But I experienced all of this first hand over the past year. Some of it could be painfully obvious, but too much of the press around this topic is only about new equipment, new materials, and company politics.

Screw that. There’s plenty more stuff you need to worry about or at least think about before you dive into the field. These were just the things off the top of my head that I never really heard anyone address honestly:

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  • You better know how to model. Cleanly making good polygon models is beyond important no matter what software you use. Ever wonder why so many 3d printed models look so crude, clunky and faceted? It’s just easier for people to handle, for cruder machines to print and many slicing programs to handle.
  • Slicing software is not all created equally. Some programs have pretty crude visualizations of the toolpath of your printer. If you don’t know, a slicer program is the software which literally generates the instructions a printer needs to build your model a layer at a time. I like software which allows me to closely and completely see each of the thousands of layers of the slicing easily. Sometimes you can see exactly where problems will occur and you can adjust for problems.
  • If you built plastic models, have some woodworking skills, any kind of real craftsmanship and steady hands you are at an immediate advantage over most people with 3d printers. Having the ability to add another layer of finish to your 3d prints is huge.
  • No amount of money you spend on a 3d printer will make you a good designer. Don’t know anything about 3d modelling or CAD? Never pushed around tons of polygons? Don’t have skills in design and constructive solid geometry? Chances are you’re just going to be stuck downloading other people’s models and hoping they fit your needs. Just like 2d printers didn’t make people good designers, 3d printers don’t make you an inventor or maker. Well, it is cooler to your friends but that novelty without design chops is seriously overrated.
  • Get used to print failures, they happen. and worse, you won’t notice simple mistakes until they end up costing you money and material. Plenty of copy editors will attest to the fact that things went to print with terrible mistakes. It happens. But in 3d printing, seeing those mistakes manifest in the third dimension is demoralizing on a whole new level if you let it get to you. But if you are used to experimentation, like iterating and experimenting, or just tinkering then you should do fine.
  • If you live somewhere with seriously hot summers, be prepared for a utilities spike. I ran two printers nearly all summer long and saw my highest power bill ever for at least one month. The difference between last year and this year even with a rate increase was noticeable. This kind of equipment needs reliable power and if you can, dedicating an uninterrupted power supply is a given if you plan on using these things for something critical to your home business or workplace.
  • For now, nothing you print will be as high quality as the same object injection molded from some cheap manufacturer in China. Just look at even the cheaper toys at a supermarket checkout – there isn’t a single Kickstarted campaign indie funded ANYTHING that can come close to the quality of some of the stuff you can get mass produced in China. At least, NOT YET. But there is something far more interesting and novel about things you 3d printed for a specific purpose or request. I know people love the inexpensive stereo lithography DLP printers coming out now – but think about this. Resin models printed on these SLA printers cost 10-100 times as much per item as the exactly same thing injection molded by an experienced manufacturer. But you can customize faster. At least FOR NOW. To paraphrase Seth Godin, is the cost of NOT MAKING something HIGHER than the cost of you MAKING something.

Still want to get into 3d printing? You’re nuts. Just like me. See you at the funny farm.

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