Turn Your 3D Printer Into a Plotter




Introduction: Turn Your 3D Printer Into a Plotter

About: www.patreon.com/making https://www.youtube.com/making www.thingiverse.com/MakinThings/designs

The goal of this ible is to show you how to turn your 3D printer into a plotter. I did find pen holders out there, but that was it. What I needed was a ready made solution for the pen to hop between strokes, using permanent ink to print on various substrates, having the option to use different types of drawing implements, and did not want to have to re-calibrate my printer. So I made one myself, and here it is for all to use.

Step 1: What You Will Need

    • if you can use another program to get the same settings, go for it, but the demo will be with Cura 15.4
    • Cura 2.X is the newer version of cura, it was essentially rebuilt from scratch. It is supposed to have more features, but I have never used it so I stuck to what I know. I am sure it would work as well, but I just can't help with the menus
  • Sketchup (free) or some other edtitor for your models

Step 2: About the Parts

The device is printed in 3 parts, the body, the clip, and the spring. The spring you choose change what type of pen you can insert. The body is more or less universal (at least for regular sharpies it is). The part you may need to edit is the clip, as you will have to find a way in which the bracket that holds the body can be attached to your printer.

If you want to use a different drawing apparatus that needs a different spring, it is also fairly simple to extend it.

Quick note about the parts, the instructables system renames everything to gibberish, so either keep track of which file you are downloading and rename it, or you can go to my thingiverse post to get the files you need.

Step 3: The Body

The body is fairly simple to print, just don't change the direction of the lamination so that it can keep its intended functions, and you are good to go. Once it is printed, the pit has to be split. This has to go across the front, which is why the model has to be printed with the bump side up.

Step 4: The Clip

The clip may have to be edited, I have provided the sketchup and STL files for the complete clip as well as just the part that latches onto the body for custom clips.

Step 5: The Spring

There are three spring lenghts. Generally the middle one is for the double ended sharpie and the longer one is for the regular sharpie, but just through normal variance sometimes it is a bit tight so you may want to go one step down. The bounce should be sufficiently sloppy If you need a longer or shorter spring, you can simply edit the sketchup files provided.

The important point here is that the springs must be printed at 1.2x or 120% scale.

Step 6: Creating a Plotting Model

To make a model that works with this method, you simply have to make your design and raise it to a total height of 0.2 mm. I have attached a demo Sketchup file and the STL file.

Step 7: Setting Up Cura for Plotting

I recommend creating a new machine profile in cura specifically for slicing plots. This will help avoid mishaps (i.e. not changing the temp on the next print by accident). First go to File -> Machine settings and rename your current machine settings. Then go to Machine -> add new machine. You may want to rename this one as well.

The settings you have to change are the following

In the basic tab

  • set the temperature to 0
  • set the layer height to 0.2mm
  • set the shell thickness to 0.2mm
  • make sure enable retraction is on
  • turn off all supports

In the advanced tab

  • nozzle size to 1mm

In the expert menu, under the retraction section

  • minimum travel set to 0.01mm
  • enable combing : all
  • z hop when retracting : set to at least 3mm

In the expert menu, under the retraction section

  • Line Count should be changed to 0

If you have a heated print bed, make sure that is set to 0 as well. Pull the filament out from your extruder, and you are ready to start installing the parts you printed earlier.
We will also need to adjust the start Gcode, this will be done in the next step.

Step 8: Start GCode

The GCode will be modified to remove a few lines that are not needed for plotting, and add in a few more. If you will be printing on something thicker than paper, you will need to check out my ible on drawing on PCBs, where I go through all the extra steps required to make this work without messing with your print head or your probe calibration.

The basic code is as follows:

G21 ;metric values

G90 ;absolute positioning

M107 ;start with the fan off

G28 X0 Y0 ;move X/Y to min endstops

G28 Z0 ;move Z to min endstops

G29 ;calibrates Z

G0 X0 Y0 Z15 ;moves the head out of the way as well as up so it does not snag on the way in

You are now ready to slice your STL file.

Step 9: End GCode

The end GCode should also be edited to lift the sharpie so that it does not drag along as the printer terminates the print, just like we had done in the begining.

;End GCode
G91 ;relative positioning

G0 Z15 ;move Z up before moving away

G28 X0 Y0 ;move X/Y to min endstops, so the head is out of the way

M84 ;steppers off

G90 ;absolute positioning

Now go ahead and slice your STL file so you can calibrate the device.

Step 10: Adjusting the Bracket

Everything is printed and mounted, we have a file ready to go, now it is time to prepare the bracket. I recommend putting the screw in through the two pieces before doing adjustments, so that you don't lose the spot trying to get the screw started later on.

Launch a plotting print that we prepared earlier (one with no offset), and pause it once you can see the machine is clearly making the motions of the pattern.

Back off the screw, and start testing. This will take a few tries, but just put the sharpie in, test a height, take it out, adjust, repeat. Eventually you will get to the point where it juuuuuuuuust touches the base.

Once you tighten the screw, that may move things slightly, and you may have to do a final adjustment. Once you think you have a good spot, resume the test print, and let it draw on your tape or paper.

Step 11: Plot!

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6 months ago

This looks great. We have an old 3d printer in my classroom that needs a new hotend (not available.) I think this conversion would be awesome for the art classroom. Repeated drawings with sharpie. Middle school Artists would find many uses. Not just paper!


Question 3 years ago on Introduction

I enjoyed you video did what you said about changing the settings in Cura Gcode but it didn't work for me the printer is connected to the pc but cant get it to print, Cura goes through the motion of slicing but cant figure out how to make the printer print I can get Cura to save it I can get Cura to save it to an Sd card but that will not print, so I am at a stand still


6 years ago

Is there any use of this plotter specifically or it is just for fun because we could print any image by the use of printer so why one would need it ?


Reply 6 years ago

Of course, the big advantage of a plotter is that it can print on any flat surface you can place under it. In this ible I only did for very thin ones, but I have another ible coming about doing thicker and double-sided surfaces. It's just that it got to be something like 30+ steps when I put them together, because I did it specifically to draw with a sharpie on copper clad boards to make circuits (etching PCBs). Another advantage is that if the type of ink matters, it can also be the only way to get it done sometimes. Printing a document on this would be a waste of time for sure. Plus, this is also a step 1 for me, as it allowed me to properly get a hang of 2d prints, so that I can move on to my next steps; a cutting blade, and eventually a laser.


Reply 4 years ago

This is a great answer. I appreciate the evolutionary path and goals you have set for yourself.

Mark Rehorst
Mark Rehorst

5 years ago

I did some of this when my printer's XY mechanism was working but before the printer was finished. I used a short linear guide that I bought via ebay for $8 with a printed pen holder. The bearing block was screwed to the extruder carriage and the weight of the pen and guide rail kept the pen down on the paper and allowed it to move up and down to follow an unflat or unlevel paper surface. It also prevented the pen from wiggling, so the plots were as precise as the printer's XY mechanism.

Video here: https://vimeo.com/185135110


5 years ago

is there a way to get rid of those stray lines? ive been fidleing around and cant make them go away


Reply 5 years ago

Awesome, post a pic of your build! You could try making the design have a long line upwards after so the pen lifts.