Here's a fun way to take a creation from an addictive online snowflake designer and make something that just might make someone's holiday season a little brighter. As a novice to the 3D printing world, this project pushed my thinking just enough and the end result made me feel like I was finally making some strides.
Have fun and see what you can create.
Step 1: Make a Flake
One of my elementary STEM students' favorite websites to visit is called Make-A-Flake at snowflakes.barkleyus.com. It's just like old school folding paper and snipping out pieces minus the sore hands, mess on the floor, and never being able to fold the paper exactly right. Make-A-Flake takes away the headache and allows you to create perfectly symmetrical snowflakes just by clicking the virtual scissors. Sometimes the most random cuts provide the neatest designs. After you get your bearings and notice how the edges of the virtual paper form the spokes of the flakes you can actually cut out halves of festive shapes like evergreens or bells and have them appear in your flake. Be careful not to make your cuts too close together or your final flake will be too brittle. This design actually had a secondary set of smaller trees around the secondary spokes. I snipped them after printing because the connections to the rest of the flake were too thin.
When you are satisfied with your flake, save it and export it as a .jpg.
Step 2: Convert Your .JPEG
In order to transform the 2D image of your flake into a digital 3D model you will need to convert it to an .SVG vector drawing. While the free online converters aren't always the most accurate, Online-Converter.com handles this job very well. Simply upload your image and click "Convert File". The new .SVG version of your flake will download once the process is complete. This usually only takes a few seconds.
Step 3: Import Into Tinkercad and Accessorize
Open the online 3D modeler Tinkercad. It is also from Instructables so I use those membership credentials for both that site and Instructables.
Use the import tool over on the right side to import the .SVG file you just converted. I set thickness to 4 mm for my flake. Once the image imports, scale it by holding shift and dragging a corner handle to make it a more manageable size. Make-A-Flake includes some text at the bottom of each image. That can be removed in Tinkercad by covering it with a hole shape and then grouping that with rest of the flake.
In addition, I added stars for the tops of my trees in Tinkercad. It took a bit of rotational tweaking and then I had to match the 4 mm thickness. Be sure any shapes you add are completely adjoining your flake. A couple of mine were not tight enough so after they printed they broke away from the rest of the design. I glued them back into place with E6000 and let dry a day before painting.
Download your project for 3D printers and switch over to your slicing application.
Step 4: Print and Fine Tune Your Flake
As you prepare to print, take special care to insure the flake comes out with a decorative level of quality. Speed is often sacrificed but it can make a big difference in the final results. If you have a clear or white filament available use it to save a painting stage, but otherwise any color should would. As you can see in the picture my unfortunate only choice was yellow. Yes, I 3D printed yellow snow.
I printed my flake on my XYZ Printing Davinci Mini Maker. In the XYZware application I cranked up the quality settings to print with 75% fill and the smallest possible layer height. Some software allows for layer heights under 1 mm. This project also used a slow print speed which helped with the quality.
Once the flake prints carefully remove it from the print bed. This can be tedious especially if the design have fragile points. Once it's removed, use a small pair of nippers like ones used in manicures to remove any stray filament materials. Consider also using an extra-fine grit sandpaper to take care of any other burrs or printing imperfections.
Step 5: Paint Your Flake
Once it has been cleaned up and any necessary adhesive has been allowed to set, give each side a couple of coats of a plastic-specific spray paint. Allow one side to dry completely before flipping it over to paint the other side. The flake could also be painted by hanging it with fishing line. Both sides could be completed faster that way as well. I used Krylon's Fusion and was happy with the results. I also painted my flake on construction paper in a shallow box. This helped contain the glitter used in the next step.
Fusion does say that it can be used indoors. Having done just that, I would highly advise doing the painting nonetheless outside. The fumes were still quite noticeable in the room for a significant time.
Step 6: Add Glitter
Once the flake has been painted well enough to cover any of the original filament color, give it a quick once over again with the spray paint. Sprinkle the flake with glitter and allow to dry. Flip the flake and repeat the process. Depending on how glittery you want your flake, this can be repeated a couple of times. Allow to fully dry.
An alternate to using traditional glitter is to combine the paint and glitter steps with Krylon's Glitter Blast paint that comes in a number of colors and also sticks to plastic.
Step 7: Clean It Up. Hang It Up
Finally when all of the glitter has dried, unbend a paperclip and use it to clean out all of the nooks and crannies where excess glitter may have gathered. Be sure to do this over a trash can to avoid any unnecessary clean-up. The paper clip step greatly returns a lot of the definition and original intricacies of the flake. Try also using the manicurist nippers to remove any additional glitter. Consider giving your flake a coat of spray finish to seal everything in place once you have your flake just perfect.
A simple piece of fishing line looped through one of the snowflake's points is usually sufficient for hanging your snowflake.
Step 8: Get Creative!
So, there are the steps for taking an addictive online snowflake maker and turning a virtual snowflake into something that just might make someone's holiday season a bit brighter. Get creative and see what amazing creations you can make.