Introduction: The Great (Snowflake) Seal of the United States

About: I'm a computer engineer / maker residing in Charleston, SC. I graduated from Clemson University and have a passion for sharing ideas.

This is my first instructable and was created in response to the "3D Printed Ornament Challenge" sponsored by the Smithsonian and White House. I've had a growing interest in 3d modeling & printing, and figured this would be a good opportunity to learn and practice new skills. I'd like to take what I've learned and teach others in the STEM and Makelab communities I'm involved with.


The first idea that came to mind when brainstorming about this challenge was to create some sort of 'mash-up' that combined a widely-used national symbol and a traditional winter symbol / Christmas tree ornament. I realized that there was some overlapping resemblance between the bald eagle on the Great Seal of the United States and a simple snowflake, so I decided to run with that.. I ended up adding stars around the outside edge of the ornament to represent the 50 states in the union.

Step 1: Disclaimer

Though very interested, I don't claim to be an expert at graphic design, and am sure there is probably a simpler way to achieve the same results with less steps / tools than used in this instructable (for instance, using a vector design program from scratch instead of starting out with an image editing program). Feel free to suggest shortcuts in the comments! We're all here to learn :D

Step 2: Tools

Step 3: Graphic Design

I used GIMP to do most of the graphic design, since it's the tool I'm most used to. Without going into too much detail, here are the steps I performed with it:

  1. Open the images to be 'meshed' as layers, scaling as necessary for best fit.
  2. Use the editing tools to remove unwanted features ("trim the snowflake").
  3. Use the editing tools to add new features (like the circular text, shield, olive branch, arrows, etc.).
  4. Save the resulting image as a bitmap.

Step 4: Vector Transformation

Since GIMP isn't technically a vector design program (which is the format needed for import into the 3d modeling tool), we'll need to convert the bitmap (.bmp) into scalable vector graphic (.svg) format. There are may ways (and instructables outlining how) to do this, so I won't delve into it too much. One of the easiest ways is to use the Trace Bitmap tool under the Path menu in Inkscape.

Step 5: 3d Modeling

The next step in the process is to perform the 3d modeling...

  1. Open Fusion 360 and create a new sketch (Model -> Sketch -> Create Sketch).
  2. Insert the .SVG file (Model -> Insert -> Insert SVG) that was created with Inkscape.
  3. Extrude the sketch (Model -> Modify -> Press Pull).

    At this point you should have an ornament that is nearly complete. For an additional challenge, I decided to add 50 stars to the outer ring of the extrusion and add a new dimension to the ornament. The gist of how I accomplished this..
  4. Create a plane tangent to the outer ring of the ornament.
  5. Create a sketch on this plane and import a 5-point star SVG (available via google search).
  6. Create another plane by offsetting the first by a few mm.
  7. Create a sketch on the new plane, and place a point in the middle of the star below.
  8. Create a new body by lofting the star to the point (you should end up with a raised star).
  9. Create a circular pattern using the raised star rotated around the center of the ornament as it's axis. Make sure to adjust the angle so that there is no interference with the loop the ornament will hang from.
  10. Export resulting body in STL format.

Step 6: Printing

I used a MakerBot Replicator Dual clone to print the ornament in white PLA. The settings I used:

No raft, no support.

Infill: 50%
# Shells: 1
Layer Height: .2mm

Print Temp: 210 degrees with a 70 degree heated build plate (covered in Kapton + glue stick for adhesion).

Print Speed: 30 mm / sec while printing and traveling.

Step 7: STL Files

I've created 2 versions of the ornament.

Version 1: Thin white background for soft diffusion of light.

Version 2: No background. If printing with a non-translucent material, such as metal, this might look better.

Formlabs Contest

Participated in the
Formlabs Contest

3D Printed Ornament Design Challenge

Participated in the
3D Printed Ornament Design Challenge