3D Print With Paper!




We can't all afford a real 3D printer but that doesn't mean you can't bring your creations to life!  In the following Instructable I will show you how to bring your designs from the computer to reality by 3D printing them on Paper!  All you will need are the following things:
  1. Sure Cuts Alot ™ - (or SCAL for short)  - for less than $80 this software lets you create your own shapes to cut out on a craft cutter.  You can download a trial version for FREE which will cut a watermark in your cuts.  I have not tried to use the free trial version for this method of 3D printing yet but it may be worth trying it out! (why spend $75 if you don't have to right?)
  2. Any of the following craft cutters which are compatible with SCAL: Craftwell eCraft™, BlackCat Cougar/Lynx™, BossKut Gazelle™, Pazzles Inspiration™, Silhouette SD/CAMEO™, USCutter™, CraftROBO/Graphtec™, GCC™, Wishblade™  and POSSIBLY the Cricut (only if you already own an older version of Sure Cuts Alot with old firmware on your cricut, older versions of Sure cuts alot can sometimes be found on EBAY but it is much more expensive).  I should note that some of these cutters actually let you make your own designs right out of the box, so if your craft cutter can import .SVG files you won't even need to buy SCAL
  3. Glue!  - any kind will do, I went with Scotch™ scrapbook glue.
  4. Paper! - preferably a thick cardstock.  I used 12"x12" sheets that were about .015" thick.
  5. The following free Software:
  • 123DMAKE - by Autodesk™  - this is the most crucial piece of software you will need and guess what?  IT"S FREE!  All you have to do is sign up for a free account.  Autodesk also has other INCREDIBLE free software for scanning real life objects and making 3D models of them using nothing but a camera (123DCatch), as well as a totally free CAD software called 123D, so check it out!  Technically, if you have a good hobby knife and a lot of time on your hands, you could actually print in 3D with paper with nothing but an inkjet printer and 123DMAKE, but the craft cutter sure saves a lot of time!
  • SCRIBUS - Open Source software which we need to convert .eps files to .SVG files.  To do so you will also need GHOSTSCRIPT (also FREE).  Once you download ghostscript you will need to change settings in SCRIBUS to point it to where GHOSTSCRIPT is on your computer.  The directions for doing so are given to you by SCRIBUS but basically you click File->Preferences-> scroll down on the left to EXTERNAL TOOLS-> and change the Name of Executable field under Postscript Interpreter to the path to your GHOSTSCRIPT .exe file.  For me that path was the following :       C:\Program Files\gs\gs9.05\bin\gswin64.exe
  • OPTIONALLY -  another free software by Pixologic™ called Sculptris which gives you a virtual ball of clay to shape into whatever you want and save it as a .obj file.  This is what I used to quickly design the Duck I make in this Project (I have provided in this instructable for your use if you so desire)

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Step 1: Design Your Model

The first step is to Design something worth taking the time to print.  To do so, I used Sculptris™ but you could use whatever program you want (123D, Google Sketchup, Solidworks, AutoCad etc.) so long as you are able to save your model as either an .stl or .obj file (These are the two types of files which 123D Make can import).

As a second option you can download a model from the web.  123D Make comes with example models like a Car, Skull, Rhino and Shark, and you can browse the community for projects made by other users (I even saw Angelina Jolie's Face as a 3d model there!)
If you like the Duck I made you can download that from this Instructable.  I have both the .obj and the .3dmk (123DMake) file attached here.

Once you are done with your design, export the model as either an.obj or .stl file for the next step.

Step 2: Import the 3D Model to 123D Make

Open 123D Make and Import the 3D model from the previous step.

Step 3: Set Construction Technique to "Stacked Slices"

In 123D Make, Set the Construction Technique to "Stacked Slices"

Step 4: Change Manufacturing Settings to Match Your Paper Size

In 123D Make, under "Manufacturing Settings" set the size to 8.5"X11"X0.1772" just as an initial setting, I will show you how to make it a custom size.

CRITICAL STEP: Now, at the bottom of the screen, Change the settings for length width and thickness of the layers to a custom size.  Make the length and width about a half inch SHORTER than the paper size you will be cutting shapes from and make the thickness EQUAL TO the thickness of the paper size you will be cutting from.  I was using 12 inch by 12 inch card stock so I changed the length and width each to 11.5 inches and the thickness to .015 inches (the thickness of the cardstock I was using).

Step 5: Change Object Size

In 123D Make, change the "Object Size" to the size you want your model to be after it is printed.  In my case, I wanted the duck to be about 3 inches tall, so I changed the Height to 3 inches (the other dimensions will change automatically).  Take note that the number of slices, parts, and sheets will update after you change this, you may want to take that into account when determining how big you want your part to be after it's printed (read: It takes much longer to make a 500 layer model than it does to make a 200 layer model!)

Step 6: Get Plans

In 123D Make, select "Get Plans", select ".EPS" as the export option and click "EXPORT" you will be prompted to sign into your 123D account (again this account is free!)  
Note that you can also save the plans as a PDF.  This is where, if you don't have a craft cutter and you have a lot of time on your hands, you could print out this pdf and cut each shape out by hand but be warned this could take a VERY long time.  The preferred method would be to use an electronic cutter such as in the following steps.
Make sure to save your file in 123D Make because you will need the assembly steps later on!

Step 7: Import the First EPS File Into Scribus

Once you click export, 123D make will save a zip file of eps files.  There will be 1 eps file for every sheet of paper you need.  I have attached the eps files for the duck I created to this Instructable.

Open Scribus and browse to open the first of the eps files.

Step 8: Cleanup the EPS File

See all of those numbers in the middle of all of the shapes?  We need to get rid of those now, Otherwise the cutter will try to cut them out and make holes in your slices.

First right click anywhere and select "Ungroup"

Next click to select the outer box in red and hit delete on your keyboard to delete it (it is an unnecessary border)

Now you may not be able to tell but there could be yellow shapes as well.  They are hard to see because they are on a white background but we will fix that.  Those shapes represent where one layer sits on top of the next.  They need to be removed as well.  To see them easier click Edit-> Replace Colors -> Add Yellow to the color to change from and Red to the color to Change it to.  That will give these shapes better contrast on the Screen.

From Here you have two options, the quick way and the slow way.  The slow way has the potential to yield more dimensionally accurate parts but it is much more tedious.  The quick way is... well.. faster.

The Quick Way:
Read the Important Note in bold below before continuing.
In SCRIBUS, holding CTRL and ALT lets you select multiple things at once.  Select only the section outlines (The Blue Shapes!) and drag them off to the side of the screen.    Now, left mouse click and drag to box select everything else (the red numbers, the green boxes, purple lines and the red outlines which were originally yellow)  and then hit the delete key.  Now box select all of the blue section outlines again and drag them back to their original position (or close to it).  
IMPORTANT:  keep a copy of either the EPS files or a PDF of the plans that 123D Make created. You need to know where the shapes are on the page later on to assemble the sections in the proper order.  You can also still find these plans in 123DMake again if you loose them.
Keep the shapes in the same relative position as the original EPS files had them.  Many of the shapes will be VERY similar and impossible to tell one from the other unless you reference the numbered plans.

The Slow But More Accurate Way:
Read the Important Note in bold below before continuing.
Hold CTRL and ALT to select multiple things at once. Select everything that is Purple or RED (which are all of the numbers and the outlines which were previously yellow) and delete them using the delete key on your keyboard.  Be sure to leave all of the green squares.  These green squares can be used to line up one layer on top of another.  Keeping these squares will yield a more accurate model if you use them to line up the sections.  It is important not to move the squares from their position relative to the the blue section outline they are in.
IMPORTANT:  keep a copy of either the EPS files or a PDF of the plans that 123D Make created. You need to know where the shapes are on the page later on to assemble the sections in the proper order.  You can also still find these plans in 123DMake again if you loose them.
Keep the shapes in the same relative position as the original EPS files had them.  Many of the shapes will be VERY similar and impossible to tell one from the other unless you reference the numbered plans.

Step 9: Export As SVG

Export the cleaned up Scribus file as an SVG file by clicking:
File -> Export -> Save as SVG

I have attached the cleaned up Scribus (.SLA) files as well as the exported SVG files I used to create the Duck Model in this instructable.  Note that I did leave some of the Purple and Red Lines but it was not an issue later on.

Step 10: Import the SVG Into SCAL

Open Sure Cuts A Lot.  You will have to read the documentation/help files to familiarize yourself with the program and how to use it with your particular craft cutter.  Make sure your Mat size is the same as the Mat size you are using with your cutter.

Click   File-> Import SVG and navigate to the .SVG file from the previous step.  In the Properties window set the Width and Height to the same values you used as the paper width and height back in step 4.  I used 11.5 inches x 11.5 inches

Arrange the imported SVG such that it resides within the cutting area (shown by dashed lines).  Click the icon that looks like a magnifying glass to preview exactly what will be cut out.

Now you are ready to start cutting!  Be sure your cutter is connected properly to your computer and all of your SCAL settings are set accurately for your cutter (refer to SCAL's documentation to be sure of this) and then click the icon that looks like a pair of scissors to begin cutting!

Step 11: Start Gluing!

Repeat the process of creating SVG files from the EPS files for every EPS file that 123D created for you.
IMPORTANT: Be sure to keep track of the numbers on all of the shapes, I found it was easiest to just use multiple cutting mats and keep the shapes in place until I needed them.  During the assembly steps (coming up) 123DMake will highlight where the shape you need is on its page, this makes finding the right piece easy if you kept it in its place on the sheet! 

Once you have all of your shapes cut, open the file you saved in 123D Make and click "Assembly Steps".  At the bottom of the screen you can click the left and right arrows to step through each piece in the assembly process.  

If you kept the green squares in your SVG files from step 8 (the slow way), then you can use those holes as guides for assembling the pieces.  As you can see in the pictures attached to this instructable, you can use needles (careful not to prick yourself!) as guides to line up the holes while gluing layers.  This will result in a more accurate 3D model but  it is very time consuming.  I abandoned this method about a quarter of the way through and just lined up the pieces by eye after that.  For my purposes this method was fine.

I would suggest using a glue that is somewhat quick drying but slow enough at drying such that you can slide the layers around for a couple of minutes in case you need to adjust positioning.

Now all you need is some time and patience. The time it will take to glue all of the pieces together will depend on how big you made your model.  Note that some of the cutouts may be so tiny that you can just skip gluing them.

Step 12: Paint It!

Congratulations!  You now have your first paper-printed 3D model!  Now all that is left to do is pretty it up!  Since I made a duck I decided to spraypaint it with Spray-On Rubber! (get it? Rubber ducky!).  You can pick this up at your local hardware store or follow the link to the home depot page.  After that I just used regular craft paint to on his feet, bill, and life-preserver.

THAT'S IT!  Have fun bringing your ideas to life!  Why not make your kids (or yourself) a toy.  Make yourself a new hat!  Make a landscape for your model train set!  Whatever you decide to print out, have fun with it, it can be addictive!  

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    16 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    This is my favorite use of 3D printing paper I've seen all day! Love the concept- cant wait to try it out for myself.

    1 reply

    Cool ! And a very good alternative to a 3D printer. I may have to try this with contact paper sometime ( yep, I've made quite a few graphics for my windows with that stuff ...lol). It would also help greatly with some projects I would like to do with paper mache clay.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Glad you like it! Yeah, 123D make let's you order laser cut cardboard but I wanted something of higher resolution. I used cardstock in this project which is .015" thick but really you can get super fine resolution if you were to use regular printer paper!


    3 years ago

    Could you not include a couple of holes that go all the way through to stick pins through to help with alignment?

    2 replies

    Reply 3 years ago

    Of course! The only reason I didn't is because at the time it wasn't very easy to cut a hole through the model in sculptris. Also the craft cutter has some trouble cutting small holes and it is tedious to peel them off the mat afterward.


    Reply 3 years ago

    123d Make has a dowel feature specifically for this purpose.


    3 years ago

    Thank you, really great work :) So inspiring :) I have done an alternate version more low tech :)


    1 reply

    4 years ago

    Could you possibly add instructions on how to make the 3D object without the craft cutter for those who don't have a printer that could use a craft cutter?

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Basically you would do the following: See the image in step 9? Here you could just save as a pdf or an image file then open that up and print it. Or just print straight from scribus. Then it would be a long arduous task of manually cutting out all of the shapes with an exacto knife, based on your avatar picture you may know of it as the "sword of exact zero" -Lego movie reference. Good luck!


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    I notice at step 6 there is an option to save out all the layers as PDF also which is where I think I might stop and then try to use a scalpel to cut out my slices.

    Thanks for all the info on free 3d software. I think I am going to be enjoying myself for a while LOL


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Will this same method work with Make the Cut? I'm interested in purchasing a machine that uses this software.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    I myself have not tried but Make the cut claims to be able to import SVG files so I am assuming it would work! That software does not work with cricut machines so make sure you have a compatible craft cutter.