I've been watching the 123DMake software and output for a while - seeing all the cool cardboard, wood, and plastic structures other folks have made was inspiring. I wondered if I couldn't use that technique as a starting point for a "fine art" piece - or - a less expensive way to make a large-scale rapid prototype (although now having gone through the process, the word "rapid" doesn't really apply - lol). I decided to do a "proof of concept piece" to see if it was a viable technique - and to see just how much work would be involved.
I picked a model that would be pretty challenging (all curves) but not ridiculously complex. There are limits as to how delicate your details can be and still come through on the "printed" core - but adding details would be easy later on in the process. It is a great way to obtain the overall structure of a piece.
Even though it's dramatically less expensive than having a rapid prototype printed (3D print), it's still not terribly cheap. I got 40% off on my laser cutting and it still cost $115 for the service. You *could* cut out all of the pieces yourself, but I'm in favor of retaining all the sanity I can - lol. Once everything is added up, you could be looking at a few hundred dollars once you add in filler, primer, paint, sandpaper, glue, etc. The price will be dependent on the size and complexity of your project (you pay by the linear inch of cut for the laser cutting service as well as materials) and whether you decide to go for less expensive materials (paints, primers, etc).
Cardboard "core" sculpture
Body Filler (I used the Evercoat brand as it's the smoothest I found)
Plastic spatulas (some way to spread and mix the body filler)
Glue (I used yellow glue because it allows for some movement as you place layers of cardboard)
Weights (some way to clamp the layers as they dry)
A few pins (used to align the layers with each other)
Sandpaper (I didn't use very much, really - maybe a sheet of each - 80, 150, 220, 320, 600 grits)
Primer (a good quality FILLER primer - I used a catalyzed filler primer by Keystone - #8882)
Paint (if you want it - could be rattle can paint - or something more exotic)
Sureform or Rasps (used to shape the rough filler)
Misc (this is the catch-all category - tape, drop-cloths, etc)
Step 1: Process Your Model
Before you import your model into 123D Make, be sure to think about any ways you might need to support it while working on it. In my case, I knew that I needed a way to "hold on" to the model without actually touching freshly painted parts, so I booleaned a 3/8" hole into the core of the model in my 3D software before exporting it to 123D Make. This hole was then laser-cut into each layer (far easier than drilling it later) and when the layers were glued up, it allowed me to insert a 3/8" steel rod to act as a "handle" while working on the model (especially painting).
Once you import your model into 123D Make, the first thing you'll probably want to do is to choose the material and thickness that you intend to use. Knowing the thickness of the material you plan to use is *critical* in order to get the best (non-distorted) results. Next, you'll want to set your scale - overall dimensions of your final model. Next choose the best layer orientation for your model - one that will minimize or eliminate unconnected parts or leave you with small or unsupported structures. When you are happy with your results, export your templates and either cut them out yourself, or have a laser-cutting service do it for you.