2. How to make your own models

All of our models are created using Blender, an open source 3D modeling tool, using a custom Emboss Plane plugin.  For those familiar with the Blender interface here are step-by-step instructions for making your own models.

Step 1: Using real world units

If you have set up your Startup File as outlined in the previous blog post this step has already been done.  But as it is important we will cover it again.

In the scene tab set the Units to Metric with a scale of 0.001.  This makes it so one blender unit is equal to 1 mm.

A screenshot of the blender user interface. There are red rectangles around the options needed to set up real world units in the UI.
Using real world units

Step 2: Import the image

Use the Import Images as Planes plugin to add a plane with your grey scale galaxy image as a texture.  The keyboard shortcut for this is SHIFT + A > Mesh > Images as Planes.

A screenshot of the blender user interface. This shows the process of adding an image as a plane.
Import the image

Step 3: Set the image size

When selecting an image set the Height to the value to the size you want, we use 112 mm for our models.  Press the Import Images as Planes button in the upper right of the window after selecting an image.  Blender accepts all major image formats.

A screenshot of the blender user interface. There are red rectangles around the settings for the model size, selecting an image, and the button for importing the image.
Set the image size

Step 4: Use Emboss Plane

Enter Edit Mode and click the Emboss Plane button located at the bottom of the Tools tab.

A screenshot of the blender user interface. There are red rectangles around the buttons for entering edit mode and applying the emboss plane plugin.
Use Emboss Plane

Step 5: Change settings

Use the settings on the side to control the size and shape of various features.

  • Faces per unit: the number of polygon faces per unit (1 unit = 1 mm, see step 1)
  • Emboss thickness: how high “white” is extruded above the plane
  • Base thickness: how far below “black” the model will extend to turn the plane into a rectangle
  • Border width: how wide the border around the outside is
  • External Edge: if you want to avoid using supports when printing you can remove one of the edges
A screenshot of the blender user interface. There is a rectangle around the controls for the emboss plane plugin.
Change settings

Step 6 (Optional): Smooth out noise

If the resulting model is very spiky (e.g. lots of foreground stars) you can add smoothing to the original image. In the Textures tab select the bump texture and in the Image Sampling section increase the Filter Size.

A screenshot of the blender user interface. There are red rectangles around the buttons for adding smoothing to the image texture.
Smooth out noise

Step 7: Export as STL

Go back to Object Mode and export your file File > Export> Stl.

A screenshot of the blender user interface. There are red rectangles around the buttons for exiting edit mode and the menu for exporting the model as an STL file.
Export as STL

Step 8: Set export parameters

On the export page set Z Forward, X up (assuming you set the Top edge as the external one), and make sure only Apply Modifiers is checked. Set the name of the file and click the Export STL button.

A screenshot of the blender user interface. There are red rectangles around the buttons for controlling the export parameters, setting the name of the file, and exporting the model.
Set export parameters

Step 9: Slice and print

Import the resulting .stl file into your favorite slicer program and print the model.  The model should be printed “edge on” (as displayed below) for best results.

A screenshot of the flash print user interface showing the STL file oriented within the print volume.
Slice and print

In out next blog post we will go over using Blender from a command line script.

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