Gearbox9, a kinetic sculpture, twisted - Kevin Caron

Click on the photo to see a video of Gearbox9y moving!

When 3D printing first burst on the scene for “mere mortals” (non-geeks – and that’s said with plenty of respect), there was 1 big thing no one told people.

The dirty little secret? You need a file to print.

Sure, we all want to be able to scan something and print it, and that’s possible, but it’s not yet easy. You need to have a 3D scanner and a program like Autodesk MeshMixer to fix the scanned file.

I played with it – or rather, it played with me – at the Arizona State University event held for the annual meeting of the International Sculpture Center some years ago. The technology is still young, though, and always improving. (Wouldn’t it be great to be able to just take a picture and create a 3D print? We can dream …)

If you know CAD (Computer Aided Design), you can make your own STL file. That’s what I do – I almost only create my own files – more on that in a moment.

If you don’t know CAD, though, there is still hope because there are places to get files you can print, lots of files to print for free.

Homepage of Thingaverse 2024-02-05My favorite is Thingaverse. It’s a huge site with original designs you can use, theme designs – right now Valentine’s is hot – and customizable designs.

Even though I create my own designs in Alibre Design, Rhino, and K-3D CAD programs, I do like to visit Thingaverse and see what’s going on there.

And I’ve customized some of the designs, including enlarging the geared cube (above right) to create sculptures like Gearbox9, for which I also created a cool aluminum stand.

There are free and easy CAD programs, too, like Autodesk TinkerCAD, if you are ready to learn CAD.

But to dream, download, 3D print and play, it’s hard to beat Thingaverse.