Seeking 3D printer in SF Bay Area
August 26, 2018 8:52 AM   Subscribe

I have a small but precious object that I would like to have a replica of: an impression of a handprint in clay. I know absolutely nothing about 3D printing. Looking for a 3D printing shop anywhere in/around the Bay Area that (1) will treat it with care and (2) is willing to do this as a small one-off job. (Bonus question: I expect the resulting object will clearly look like plastic. Do I have any options to make it look more like the clay original?)
posted by findabair to Technology (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I will suggest that instead of looking for a 3D printer, you consider instead a professional sculptor and mold maker, who may be able to take your clay impression, make a mold with it, then cast more copies of it in clay as you like.

I don't know the person personally but a quick Google of mold makers in the bay area yielded this gentleman: Phil Diers
posted by Karaage at 9:02 AM on August 26, 2018 [7 favorites]

The hard part would probably be scanning the thing into a 3D model, not printing it. A place with a 3D printer won't necessarily have any means of actually scanning your object.

I like the mold making idea.
posted by BungaDunga at 9:27 AM on August 26, 2018

You can do this yourself: cover in plastic, then mash in plaster to make a relief mold, then mash that into clay to make a new impression.
You can vary the materials, but that’s the gist of it.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:02 AM on August 26, 2018

Yelp has reviews of Bay Area 3D printing and scanning services. One couple had themselves scanned so they could print themselves out as tiny cake toppers for their wedding. I am no expert but there are a variety of filaments and more sophisticated services may have less-plastic looking material available if you decide not to follow the advice above. I would call several services and ask for advice as well as pricing. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 10:33 AM on August 26, 2018

I would just do it myself and use the silicone mold to produce an air-dry clay version so that it will look like clay. You can faux-finish a 3D printed surface, but it's hard to get it just right. I suspect you could also press it into oven-baked clay, bake the impression, and then use that to get a clay copy.

Have not worked with them personally, but ScanSite may be able to scan your item for printing and print it, or refer you to a place where you can do that.
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:36 AM on August 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yea I have a 3D printer and if I was doing this I'd just make a mold out of alginate and then cast plaster, probably also casting a hard silicone to make it possible to repeat if necessary, since plaster could be broken in the future.

You can get the stuff you need from Smooth-On, and this method would result in very high quality replication of the surface details, preserve the exact dimensions, and last for a very long time.
posted by odinsdream at 12:42 PM on August 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

Just in case you decide to DIY and make a cast Douglas and Sturgess would have supplies and possibly advice. Good luck.
posted by oneear at 1:31 PM on August 26, 2018

Agree that you should cast it. You could spend a lot of time with very valuable equipment and get a "pretty okay" copy, or you could go low-tech and get a very good result. Bona fides: Spent the last three years as technical lead for a project involving photogrammetry, which is one technique you might try (if I were going to do it, I'd pay someone with a small laser scanner from eg Faro, but that's unnecessarily high-expense).
posted by Alterscape at 4:01 PM on August 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Sorry for the late comment. A drawback to duplicating in clay is that clay shrinks: once when it dries and again when it is fired (if you fire it). If you don't care, it's not a concern, but it is perhaps 15% total, which if you want an exact replica for sentimental reasons you might care about. The original s already an unknown amount too small, but you are used to that. We have an item like this from one of the kids and it is (I think) a paper clay or even plaster, both of which have minimal shrinkage. Maybe yours is actually a non-clay material and accurately sized.

If you get it scanned and make a 3D printed mold, you can easily blow it up by a factor of 1/0.85 to offset shrinkage. You can even compensate for the estimated shrinkage of the original and get one that is the actual size of the original little hand.

As far as making a model, there are some phone apps that claim to produce semi-accurate 3D models of actual items--you take pictures or video all sides of the item and voila! Having said that, a co-worker had a little statue on his desk he'd printed. I asked him if it was a duck from a comic book. Turned out it was his wife wearing a baseball cap. Not the best model... That was around four years ago, so I expect do-it-yourself 3D modeling apps are better now (and they have the great advantage of "free.")

Anyway, good luck with your project.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 11:42 AM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

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