Introduction: Micoscapes

About: Smith|Allen is a design firm based in Oakland California. Our work is interdisciplinary in focus bringing design, innovation, and novel concepts to bear on a wide range of projects. Smith|Allen brings togeth…

Microscapes is an investigation into the creation of forms that blur the line between natural/unnatural forms and challenge the divide between digital and physical craft.

We see fractals all around us from plant cells, to growth patterns, to man made geometries. One of the most interesting things about them is multiple systems from completely different stimuli or generators can create strikingly similar fractal patterns.

Constructed from an assemblage of 3D Printed, machined, and waterjet cut steel and plastic, the piece evokes feelings of mass and lightness. There is an inherent tension between the lightness of the pulsing natural lit form and the raw steel.

Set of 2

6x14x6 inches Steel, Resin, Carbon Fiber, Electronics

Step 1: What You Will Need:

The first step is to gather our desired materials and tools:

123D Catch app to 3D scan

A Tree to Scan

Objet Connex500 or Form1

Type A Machines Series 1

Protopasta CFPLA

Omax Waterjet

1/4" Steel


Novus 123

Turtle Wax Canuba Wax

Turtle Wax Rubbing Combound

Step 2: Scan a Tree

Using the 123D app take a scan of a tree. We scanned a ton of trees before we got one we liked. The key is to find a feature about 6x6x6" then take about 20 photos from all angles.


Step 3: Print

After scanning and cleaning up the data send the solid mesh to the printer. We're using the amazing Objet connex 500s down at Pier 9 but this would work with a Form1 as well.

Step 4: Polish

The next step is a bit tedious, although the prints come out of the objet looking great they need a push to get them shiny and transparent. This is a pretty time consuming step but there are a couple of great guides to follow:

Detailed guide to polishing large prints

Guide to polishing small prints

In general we start at 120grit sand paper then go up to 800. We then switch over to a polishing compound, then red rouge on the wheel, finally a paste wax.

For each of the small pieces you see here the whole process takes about 6 hours.

Step 5: Make the Base

Part of the piece it a counterpoint to the lightness of the 3D printed object. We chose to use the 5th axis on the Omax at Pier 9 to cut beveled and tapered bases. These bases are then assembled like a box. Using 45 degree bevels on all sides we were able to construct a piece that fit together perfectly...in theory. It seems that the waterjet is not precise on the A jet and there is some angular variation leading to misaligned corners.

Once we had the bevels we laid them out then used JB weld, we wrapped it up with blue tape to dry. This construction method meant the inside was free for the electronics and support components.

Step 6: Patina

The most time consuming part of the entire project was getting a patina we liked. We started from the raw steel right off the omax. The downside of the waterjet is it rust steel incredibly quickly, when we would cut a piece and come back the next day rust had already formed on the cut part. To combat this we had to figure out a good patina.

Our first direction was to sandblast the entire part, while this made a nice, evenly colored finish, the process left blotches and inconsistent spots, it was also incredibly time consuming to do the entire pieces. After days of blasting trying to get a good finish we move on to round 2.

The next thing we tried was patina paint, we were going for a deep green/blue even patina. The patina base paint went on well but as soon as the activator was applied it became incredibly inconsistent and antique looking. The green was in streaks and was not working even after many coats.

Finally we came to gunbluing, this is a chemical process that is usually used for adding a thin protective finish on guns. It yields a blue/black even finish that maintains the natural beauty of the metal. There are many tricks to gun bluing and we found ourselves messing up many times. We would blue, then have to buff with steel wool to even in out. In general we found the bluing compound goes on with a little bit going a long way. It instantly turn the metal black and needs to be wiped around to avoid spotting. As soon as it's evenly coated wipe any remaining bluing off immediately.

Leave the blue to dry of a couple hours then apply a thin layer of linseed oil. You can thin it down with mineral spirits or just apply a very thin layer with a rag. We applied 3 coats to get a good protective layer while not letting a oil build up.

Step 7: Electronics and Lighting

The 3D print on top is transparent. We used a printed opaque enclosure to house a ring of adafruit neopixel LEDs to light it from the bottom. The LEDs are connected to an arduino to run the pulsing program. The LEDs are directly powered off of a 5V powersupply in the base. The arduino itself need 6-24V so there is a voltage booster to provide it with enough current.

The internals are mounted to a Carbon Fiber PLA structure printed with ProtoPasta's amazing matte black CFPLA on a Series 1.

We ran power and signal through channels in the CFPLA structure then attached a matte black woven power cord.

Step 8: Display

The final step is the plug them in and display! Find a nice spot where you can appreciate the beauty of the piece and can see the pulsing light on top.

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    8 Discussions


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Yeowza! Before reading your/this instructable, I considered myself a reasonably intelligent person. Now, after having read and pondered, I'll be lucky to shake-a-tail-feather enough to write my name in the dirt with a stick.

    Thank you for taking the time and trouble to so thoughtfully write this up! I LOVE creative lighting, and using light in creative ways - you've inspired me to look for a local resource capable of doing, and willing to mentor.

    You are amazing!


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    thanks Barb37! It's a pleasure to share the work with such a great community!