Introduction: 3D-Printed Thanksgiving Stake Decoration From 2D Image With Tinkercad

About: I'm the Community Manager for Tinkercad from Autodesk. I like to see 3D solutions for common, real-world problems. After that, I like to get dirty working on motorcycles. Someday, the two might meet.

Yes, a 3D-printed 2D thing. BUT - that means that just about any image can be extruded and given depth!

Note: I use a Mac and give those shortcut keys in this Instructable - PC will really only be different with the CMD+_ shortcuts.

I got a request for a Turkey pie-topper and accepted the challenge. Tinkercad has a couple of options to do this - SVG Import and Image Generator. For this decorative stake, I knew I wanted a silhouette, rather than a photo-type image, so here's a walkthrough to make one using the SVG Import feature. Also, here's a link to the model itself if you want to crack it apart.

Google Images is the best, but in looking for an image, you'll need to look for a few things:

- Monochrome images work best. A good way to think about an extrusion of an image is in terms of color values, ranging from black to white through all the grays. The relief, or variant heights within an extrusion, will be defined by those color values. Consider a black and white image as a binary, if you like - where the black gets extruded to a certain height, and white does not. That means that our turkey (being monochrome) will only have a relief based on the black parts of the image.

This is actually true for both vector-based (SVG) and a raster-based images (jpg, png) AND both monochrome and full-color images. However, with full-color there are typically TONS more values between true black and true white, so each of those color values will be given a different height, based on the quantitative value of the color on the black-grey-white spectrum - this 3D printed photo Instructable is a great example - but that's probably way too much info for this project.

- Dangling Parts. Since only/all the black bits in our image will be printed, we need to make sure that those bits are connected - giving us a single print. If you look at the Turkey's eye, it's just a little black island that will be left behind when we pull it out of the printer. So, we'll fix that before printing.

Step 1: Vectorize That Turkey

An SVG is a type of vector-based image file. That just means it's based on lines that create shapes, rather than a raster-based image, which is made of a series of dots (pixels).

Here's the confusing part: the Turkey image I downloaded (while monochrome) is actually a raster image (jpg), but the dots just happen to be mostly black and/or white. Hang on, we'll get through this.

To create the SVG, you'll need vector graphic software; I use Illustrator, just because, but Autodesk Graphic is a great tool, too.

Note:There are many methods and ways to do this with different hotkeys and workflows! The guy next to you will say there's an easier way to do it, but this seems the simplest to me.

- New Image > drag and drop the jpg into it. You can see the pixels in the first image above - it's not really black and white, but a series of mostly black and white squares.

- The Image Trace feature (you can see the button directly above the turkey's rear end) will approximate the boundaries and give us hard shapes based on those color areas. Click it and you can see the default settings are already pretty close to what we want - a clean outline with no real thin connections between masses. Play around with the settings a little bit to see the preview image change. Just be sure that the "Preview" toggle box is checked. Click Expand to finalize - on the top menu or under Object>Expand. You have now officially Vectored.

- Fortunately/unfortunately, the image is now a series of black and white shapes, butted up to each other and Grouped together as a single layer, creating the whole. However, we just want the black bits - so double click your new vector and you'll see that you can then select the individual components. Double clicking allows you to sort of enter into the Grouping to select and edit, you can tell you're in a Group by the blue border around the window.

- Better yet, hit the Escape key to get out of the Grouping. Then select your vector and click Object>Ungroup. Now you can select and delete every white shape individually, as it is Ungrouped. For the more observant of you, you may notice that selecting white shapes against a white background can be difficult. I just made a grey box and put it in the background (CMD+Shift+[ when it's selected) to see everything more clearly.

- When you're just down to the black parts, you should just have 2 - the body and that little eye. If you select them both and Group them (CMD+G) you'll have a single vector layer that's ready to go.

- BOOM. Save it. File>Save As. Tinkercad accepts SVG files, so assign it as such - but NOT as a compressed SVG. Remember where you saved it. Don't sweat the dialogue box that pops up; don't touch anything and click OK.

Note: Sometimes, esp. if you have multiple colors, AI can get presumptuous and layer them on top of one another. If that happens, look in to the Pathfinder tool to merge them into a single layer. Having the image as a single layer is pretty important actually, and hangs a lot of people up in the next steps. So, I'll make it bold right now. Be sure you only have one layer of vectors before saving. You can confirm that by being sure that the holes in an image are actually holes, and not just a white shape on top of another.

Step 2: Tinker That Turkey.

So now we're ready to give that image some depth.

If you haven't created a Tinkercad account already, shame on you. Do that now.

Once you log in, just create a new design by clicking Create a New Design in your dashboard. (It's gonna be that easy from now on).

On the right hand side, there is a drop-down menu called Import. Find your file with the Browse button and click Import. Depending on the size of your image, you may get an error that it's too big. No sweat, just scale it down to what it recommends by entering that value in the appropriate field. Then your little turkey should magically appear as an extrusion.

The beauty of Tinkercad is in its use of simple shapes to create more complex ones. In the 3rd pic, you can see the original green roof and red box I used to make the spike. Just drag the shapes from the Geometric drop-down menu on the right and use the rotate arrows and white scale handles to create the spike. I didn't want to stab my eye out, so I chopped off the sharp bit by turning the box into a Hole - essentially a negative space that, when combined with a solid, cuts away whatever it overlaps.

Also, remember that little eye? You'll want to connect it to the rest of the body with a little tab - again, using a red box that's just scaled down.

The Group feature (CMD+G) combines any selected parts with one another (including Holes) to create a brand new shape. Just select everything and click Group. Magic.

Step 3: Print That Turkey

When you're satisfied with your design, you can print by using your home 3D printer or through a service like 3D Hubs or Shapeways.

I use a Dremel Idea Builder, so it's as easy as clicking Design>Download for 3D Printing. Then you'll be presented with some different file options. STL is the ubiquitous file format that will work for most 3D printer drivers, so just click the button to begin the download.

Once it's saved, just drag and drop into the Dremel3D interface, or File>Load (CMD+L). Settings vary with different printers and filaments, so I like to start with the default options and see what happens. Time can be a factor, too. I reduced the print time by 1/2 by making the resolution Low and reducing the infill to 5%. Whatever floats your boat.

Et, voila. Turkey spike! Now stick it in a pie, take a picture and then eat said pie.

Did I miss anything?