3D Printing with MatterControl

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3D Printing with MatterControl by Rich Cameron

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The consumer 3D-printing landscape has changed a lot in the past year. Initially in the realm of crowdfunded startups, the printers are now starting to look more and more like consumer electronics devices than hobbyist kits. As with any maturing industry, unfortunately along the way there has been a fracturing of standards. Many one-off proprietary systems are coming on to the market. The open source community has been standing against that trend. This book focuses on MatterControl, a program for using any one of the many printers that conform to open source standards.


3D printing can be defined pretty simply: creating an object by building it up layer by layer—rather than by machining it away the way you would by making something from a block of wood or by squirting something into a mold as you would for injection-molded plastic parts. Making 3D printing work, though, is far from simple. 3D-printer designers can take one of two fundamental approaches. Either they can make their system proprietary (using software and hardware available only to them) and tightly control their ecosystem so that the user does not have to (and, often, cannot) make many changes; or they can accept the complexity, requiring that the user be more sophisticated.


This book is aimed primarily at the latter audience. MatterControl hides some of the complexity from users, but also allows flexibility for the printers that support it. MatterControl comes preloaded with settings for some printers, which makes getting started with those printers particulary simple.


This book is meant to be a self-contained tutorial on consumer 3D printers that run open source software. More specifically, it is a “manual plus” for MatterControl and the ecosystem of open source 3D-printing hardware and software surrounding it. We draw on some of the material from the earlier book Mastering 3D Printing (Apress, 2014). That book for the most part avoided screenshots and step-by-step instructions because when it was written (about a year before this book), most software interfaces were too much in flux to include in a traditional book. With the maturing of the industry and its software, it is now possible to create more of a step-by-step guide to using particular software. Details may change and features may be added, of course. By the time you read this, MatterControl may have evolved a little, but the fundamentals are now in place. This book is mostly software-focused; if you are more interested in the hardware too and post-processing, you might consider also investing in Mastering 3D Printing.


This book can be used as a textbook for a semester-length class or university extension certificate series covering 3D printing and its applications, particularly one focusing on K–12 educators. It might be paired with an in-depth class on 3D computer-aided design (CAD) software for students interested in engineering and industrial or product design, or a group planning on starting with an open source RepRap printer that they plan to modify for specialized applications. Similarly, this book might be paired with a text covering one of the sculptural 3D-modeling programs for students developing skills in 3D animation or fine art.


Part 1 (Chapters 1–3) of the book gives background on the history of these printers, talks about how the hardware works, and introduces the MatterControl software, including downloading and configuring it for a particular printer. Part 2 (Chapters 4–8) is the nitty-gritty tutorial on the workflow of using a 3D printer: developing a 3D model, slicing it into layers that the printer will create one at a time, and controlling the printer in real time. This part concludes with a discussion of special cases, such as printing something hollow. Part 3 (Chapters 9–12) talks about how to put your 3D printer to work, with some case studies, a discussion of classroom lessons learned, and ways of post-processing your 3D print to improve the surface finish. This part reviews creating larger projects and troubleshooting, too. To round out the book, we have two appendices. Appendix A lists the 3D printers currently supported by MatterControl, and Appendix B gathers up all the links referenced in the book so that you can have them in one place.


We hope you enjoy this book and that it launches you on many adventures in 3D printing. As the software and hardware begin slowly mature, we know you will be able to invent and prototype as never before, and we hope in some small way that we can speed you along that road.


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