This blog details how you convert a photo of anything to a 3D printed object using open source (free) programs and was written by Luke Petit. If you want to follow along with this blog and use the programs mentioned then here are the links. Windows, Macintosh and Linux operating systems are all catered for.
However there are also paid versions such as Selva3D that you can use if you wish (you can get a few for free until they start charging you).
Recently someone on a facebook forum wanted a photo of some text that had been written on a whiteboard by a loved one, turned into a 3D print. (PS this isn’t it, this is just a sample I made.)
Can I first suggest that to make your life easier and make a folder on your desktop to keep all the files so you are not hunting for them later, you can always move it when you’re finished.
On the original internet version I loaded the photo into Krita as it needed cleaning up. I desaturated it so it was black and white as I didn’t need the colour information and believed this would also help Inkscape do its job. The clean up was simply getting rid of anything that wasn’t going to be needed or scanned.
In that case, I inverted the image between black and white and white and black a few times, this helped me see what needed to be removed, this process isn’t always necessary (just a quick tip). I then exported the image in png format, to my folder.
Open the image in Inkscape and then with the pointer arrow selected (It should be by default) click the image so it is highlighted then go to “PATH” then “TRACE BITMAP” then when the TRACE BITMAP settings windows opens, click UPDATE then LIVE PREVIEW then OK.
Download the latest version of Blender and open it if you haven’t already done so. Under file, open USER PREFERENCES and click on the ADD-ONS tab. In the search box (top left of that tab) start to type 3D print and before you’re finished you’ll be presented with some options. Click the little box next to “Mesh: 3D Print Toolbox”
Now go to the input tab and on the left hand side look for “SELECT WITH” and click LEFT (don’t ask why its set to the right mouse button).
Then on the bottom left of that preferences box there is a button that says “SAVE USER SETTINGS” click that then close the box. Now we are going to remove the box that shows up automatically when you opened Blender. We’ll also get rid of the camera and light as we don’t need them either.
Push the “A” button on your keypad and everything should be outlined in orange. If it isn’t then push “A” a couple of times until everything is selected and outlined in orange, now click “X” and then click DELETE.
Ok if you’ve made it this far, well done, now we are going to import the “SVG” file we made in Inkscape. So go to file – import and the last one in the list that pops up should say “Scalable Vector Graphics SVG” go to your directory where you saved all your files and select the “SVG” file you made in Inkscape.
If you are using my files that I’ll include with this walk through, then the lettering will be pretty small and hard to see.
Use the mouse wheel to scroll/Zoom in somewhere near the centre, or you can click “A” and this will select everything. You can then scale the object by clicking “S” and dragging out toward yourself with the mouse until you think it’s big enough to deal with or;
If you are game click “S” then immediately type in 20 then enter. This will scale the lettering by 20 units so you can see it better.
More details on using Blender can be easily found using Google. To rotate use the middle mouse button, to pan use the middle mouse button with shift held down.
Blender Guru has recently been posting some beginner videos you could follow if you want more information on using Blender. Youtube has lots of other beginner videos if this isn’t to your liking, search for beginning Blender (there is no commercial arrangement here I just like his teaching methods and he he knows his stuff, even if he’s a little chatty haha)
Now we are going to convert the SVG into something Blender can deal with on its own terms, so make sure the text is selected and then click Alt C and select the bottom choice “Mesh from Curve/Meta/Surf/Text”. Or use the long way as shown in my next picture by clicking OBJECT then scrolling to the top to find the same thing.
Now we need to make sure our text is still selected you can left click or use “A” and then we click the “TAB” Key on the keypad. If it’s still orange then just move on to the next bit. This puts us in editing mode ready to extrude our text so it has some height/thickness.
The pictures I’ve included will now be invaluable as you need to find the little icons that represent the vertex/edge/face mode. They are near the bottom centre of the screen and you to click the face button on the right hand side of the group of three. They will have a button to the left of them that says GLOBAL and a button to the right of them that looks like a radio button with up and down arrows beside it.
Now use that “A” button to make sure everything is selected and everything has turned orange. Then hit “E” for extrude and a blue vertical line should appear, if it doesn’t then push “E” then “Z” then drag your mouse up until you get a thickness you like then click the enter button on your keypad. Tada you’ve made a 3D object!
Click the tab button again to go back into object mode from edit mode and your text should all be a solid black. This can be changed but isn’t really necessary for what we do next which is to export it. To look your handy work over, use the middle mouse button to rotate the view.
We turned on some of the preferences at the start of opening Blender this will allow us to export our files for 3D printing as well as make sure they are printable. Make sure the text is selected then use the 3D Print tab on the left hand side and for me is the 7th tab from the top.
It has a lot of features to check your 3D model for all sorts of issues and to make sure it is manifold etc but we are mainly interested in the export function. So now click on the export path to set it to your desktop folder you made earlier, then once that is done, right under that, make sure STL is the choice of export type (It should be) then click export.
My files that were exported were pretty big, so you might need to scale and rotate it for it to suit your printer. My i3 has a 220 x 220 x 230 mm print bed so adjust to suit yours. I reduced my scale to 1000 percent and rotated it by 90 degrees in Z.
I hope you enjoyed this and give it a go! Naturally the kids drawings could be a candidate for this treatment. ;-D If you have any feedback or questions about this then feel free to contact me and I’ll try to answer them best I can.
Luke is a semi-retired (health reasons) 3D artist who was happily making Ukeleles and it was while making a travel uke (designed by “Circuit and strings” on youtube) that he realised a part he needed could be 3D printed. After years of following 3D printing’s progress it was time to jump on board and now he can’t stop and can’t find enough hours in the day to do everything he wants. His erratic ramblings can be found on his blog.
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