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Unique 3D print project: The Greatest Plaque of All Time

Unique 3D print project: The Greatest Plaque of All Time main article image
Posted on March 16, 2021 by D Weiss

This article is about creating plaques with a 3D printer, and the article covers:

  • What You Need
  • Who is this guy
  • Pick your Plaque
  • Strip it Down
  • Let’s Tinker a Bit
  • Wow That’s Big
  • A Hole When You Need It
  • I am the Greatest
  • Really a Goat
  • Come Together
  • Slicing, but no Dicing
  • A Choice of Materials
  • Painting Plastic
  • As Good as Gold
  • Hang It
  • Recognize Something

What You Need

To follow the steps in this article, you will need four things and three pieces of software:

  1. Files in the SVG format. Creative Fabrica has thousands if not tens of thousands to choose from.
  2. A computer (Windows, Mac, Linux, all good, just not a smartphone) to run the free software
  3. A 3D Printer
  4. Rub N Buff (available from Amaco (the manufacturer), hobby stores and Amazon)

The software is free, and is found at:

  1. https://inkscape.org/ Inkscape
  2. https://www.tinkercad.com TinkerCAD Web based, all you need to do is set up a free account
  3. https://ultimaker.com/software/ultimaker-cura Cura Select the free version. Runs on your computer, just select the type of computer you have (Windows, Mac, Linux)

Who is this person?

Before starting this project you may ask yourself, what does the author know about making plaques and 3D printing? To be honest, my experience in making plaques is limited. I have made them but the time spent is probably measured in hours. But my experience with graphics software is measured in decades and 3D printing experience is measured in years. The final piece of this project is bringing techniques from other areas of experience (crafting and cosplay) to make something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

If you are new to making things with TinkerCAD and 3D printing in general you should check out an earlier blog post from me “The Simple (and Free) Way to Make 2D Art Into 3D Prints”

Pick Your Plaque

I am not aware of any rules that say a plaque must be a particular shape. Many are rectangular (BORING) but many are also “shield” shaped. For this project let’s go with a shield since it allows us to use some great art and software. If you do want a rectangular plaque, you can skim over the article until we start talking about TinkerCAD.

To find a nice shield outline we start with a quick search on Creative Fabrica for SVG format art. This is the same kind of art that is used for Vinyl cutters and Laser cutters. SVG format graphics are “Vector Graphics” (SVG = Structured Vector Graphics) that describe images in terms of lines and not pixels (colored dots) like a JPG file does. SVG, AI, and EPS formats are all like this. Artists that create work in these formats often create their finished works by layering art on top of art. Since we only need the most basic outline of a shield, we may need to manipulate the SVG file a bit.

There are a lot of graphics to choose from, so let’s select the Green Protective Shield from CRStocker. This bundle included multiple shield shapes which goes to show you just some of the variety you have available. Of the shields in the collection, let’s choose Shield2.


Strip it Down

This is a great shape, but the problem with this image is that it has details you do not need or want. Unlike a JPG or PNG file, you cannot simply use a paint program to erase the parts you don’t want. Instead, you need to use the first piece of software from our list, Inkscape.

Inkscape is a free vector editing software. It can do a lot of things, but for this project all we need is its ability to dismantle more complex images. If you have not already downloaded and installed the software, you should do that now. The software is free. If you have a different SVG editing tool that you prefer to use, that’s great. There is nothing unique about Inkscape for this project.

Opening Shield2.svg we see the graphic and on the right of the graphic is the list of parts that make up the full graphic, with the outermost shape, “path6”, selected. That is the only part I want, so I select all parts except “path6” and delete them.

Then we “Save As …” with the name “BaseSheild2.svg” so we don’t overwrite the original file. Just in case we need it again. It is a nice shield after all.

Let’s Tinker a Bit

Now that we have the shield outline we want, time to move into TinkerCAD. TinkerCAD is free, cloud based and you access it through the web. If you have not signed up for a free account yet, now is a good time. If you already have a CAD (Computer Aided Design) program you prefer (I subscribe to Fusion 360, the grown up version of TinkerCAD) then feel free to use that. The general steps will be the same either way.

Wow That’s Big

The first thing to do is import the “BaseShield2.svg” file. This brings up a common problem with working with different types of vector files. The units of measure often differ, sometimes greatly.

The good news is that this easy to fix. We can see that the length and width are both 2500 and TinkerCAD expects things in millimeters. 250 millimeters is more reasonable size for TinkerCAD, so we change the scale from 100 to 10. Which fits the shield nicely on the work surface.

The first thing you want to do is get the plaque to the right thickness and then give the plaque an edge. To set the thickness, click on the object to bring up the dimension lines. Click on the thickness dimension (in the center) and change the thickness to 4.00 for four millimeters.

Four millimeters may sound really thin (it’s just over an 1/8th of an inch for those in the USA) but it is thick enough to be the edge that goes around the plaque. In some more advanced CAD programs, there are specific features to create the edge we want, but TinkerCAD is meant to be simple to use and has less features to learn. But don’t give up hope! The trick is that we will carve out the inside of the plaque to create the edge.

A Hole When You Need It

You can see in the picture above that TinkerCAD has two types of objects, “Solid” and “Hole”. A Hole in TinkerCAD is any object that subtracts itself from another object. For the CAD knowledgeable this is called a “Boolean Subtraction”. But for this blog I’ll just say that one object is carving out the other.

Now what has the exact same shape as the shield, but a little smaller all around? The SVG file we already have! We import it again. When we do TinkerCAD gives it a new color, so we can tell them apart even though they’re stacked on top of each other.

Instead of changing the thickness this time we need to change the height and width. Click on the bottom right corner, which shows the height and width of the shield. If you subtract four (4) millimeters from both the numbers, this will give you a shield that is two (2) millimeters smaller on all four sides when you are done.

After changing the dimensions, select both shields (draw a box around them with cursor or shift click on both of them) and click on the align tool (in blue at the top, once you selected the objects). This brings up the alignment marks (those lines with black dots on the end). Click on the mark on the center left and then the one on the center bottom. This aligns the smaller shield and the larger shield top to bottom and left to right.

Click somewhere that is not on either shield to deselect them. Now click on the smaller shield (gray in this picture) and click and pull up on the arrow in the center of the shield and raise it two millimeters.

What you have done is lifted the smaller shield so that it will leave two (2) millimeters of the bottom shield behind, but carve away the rest of it except the out edge. To do this simply click on the smaller (gray) shield, and then click on “Hole”.

Finally, select both shields as you did earlier and click on the Group icon at the top of the screen to complete the base of the shield.

Ok, that was the tricky part, the rest is easy.

I am the Greatest

The term G.O.A.T has been popular lately. I am so unhip, I did not know what this meant at first. It turns out it stands for “Greatest Of All Time”. So, let’s make this a GOAT plaque. We want to add the text “Greatest Of All Time” which we can do with the text tool.

There are a limited number of fonts built into TinkerCAD. For this plaque let’s go with the “Serif” font and set the height to four (4) millimeters because that is the height of the outer edge of the plaque. It needs to be more than two (2) millimeters, or the bottom of the plaque will cover it.

Let’s use two lines of text to allow us to make the text larger. This is purely an aesthetic choice.

Really a Goat

Let’s have a little fun with this plaque and add an actual goat found on Creative Fabrica, Goat Silhouette Graphic by Rayan. We bring this in just like we brought in the shield originally. Also like the shield we adjusted the thickness to four (4) millimeters.

As a finishing touch let’s create an indention at the bottom of the plaque where the person’s name could be added with a label or even and engraved metal tag. Or maybe you will want to make it more of a square so that a picture of the person could be placed there.

To create the indention, drag a box shape onto the plaque. Size it to what you want and then raise it up one (1) millimeter like we did the second shield. This will carve out a one (1) millimeter indentation. Just like carving out the inside of the plaque. Change the box to a hole and then combine the plaque and the box.

Come Together

The last thing to do is select everything and group it together. This gets it ready to be exported as an STL file for use by the slicer (Cura in this example) to create the 3D print file. Select the completed plaque now that you have grouped it all together and click export in the upper right corner of TinkerCAD. Export the file as a .STL file.

Slicing, but no Dicing

Now that you have an STL file we are in the world of 3D printers. The next step is to use a “slicer” to read the file STL file you just created and prepare it for printing.

If you have never worked with (or even played with) 3D printing, it works by extruding (think back to the icing example but think of one of those tiny tubes used for lettering) a thin layer of the sculpture and then draws more layers on top of that to get the thickness. On my printer each layer is 0.2 mm thick meaning that my file will have 20 layers. The nozzle I use is 0.4 mm in diameter which is tiny enough to give me a lot of detail. It also means that there are about 25 lines drawn per inch to give a solid layer. A fine line pen might be 0.5 mm, so imagine drawing the plaque 20 times with a fine line pen. It will take a while.

The good news is that both the slicer and the 3D printer have nothing but time on their hands.

If you have not already downloaded and installed the Cura software, do that now. Cura let’s you set many things about how your sculpture will be printed. I am going to believe that the person that usually 3D prints where you are, already has those settings tuned for the printer. They are probably using Cura already as well since it is very popular (and free).

Opening the file will center it on the virtual 3D printer in Cura. If the sculpture is too big, or you just want it a different size, you can do that now with the controls in Cura. When you have it the way you want, click the “Slice” button in the lower right and Cura will create the special information (called GCODE) that your 3D printer needs.

Slicing the sculpture should go quickly and you can save the results for sending to your printer. For myself, I put the files on an SD card and plug that into my printer. Some prints (not this one) can take more than 24 hours to 3D print. You can see in the picture that the software estimates the printing to take over seven (7) hours. My suggestion is to start the print and go to work (or bed, your choice).

A Choice of Materials

One down side to 3d Printing at the consumer level is that you can only load one color at a time into the printer. This means the whole plaque will be the same color. In this case I am going to make that work for the project instead of against it. I have chosen to print the plaque in a matte black carbon fiber infused filament. The matte black color will make the next step “pop”.

Painting Plastic

A matte black trophy is hard to read at a distance, even with raised letters. This is where the non-technical part of the project begins. Some people do paint 3D models when they are completed but they run into the problem that it is hard to paint plastic. Paints tend not to stick or bead off and get on other parts of the piece. The right answer is to coat the whole object with primer paint and then paint on top of that. But for this project, there is an easier way.

As Good as Gold

Rub N Buff is a metallic wax based paste that makes anything look like it is metallic. A lot of cosplayers  (short for “Costume Players” or people that dress up as comic book and fantasy characters) use this to make weapons and armor look like metal even though they are really foam and cardboard. Because Rub N Buff is wax based it goes on much more cleanly than, and stays on better than, paint without priming. It comes in a tiny tube in a variety of metallic colors. A tiny tube is fine, very little goes a long way.

To apply it I used make up sponges I got from the Dollar Store (the source of so many things crafters need) but you can even apply it with your finger (read the instructions on the tube). By carefully applying the Rub N Buff only to the top of the raised edge, goat and text the plaque suddenly pops with detail. I found that after the Rub N Buff dries it will not come off, even with acetone (nail polish remover) that the vendor recommends. So be careful, clean up quickly and don’t worry about it coming off when you award the plaque.

Hang It

Depending on where you plan to display the plaque you can mount it with something like 3M Command Strips or even drill a small hole in it towards the top. Or maybe you attach it to a polished block of wood to give it more heft.

Recognize Something

I am sure there is SOMETHING in your life worth recognizing with a plaque, possibly even the birthday of a family member or Fathers Day, Mother’s Day, Grandparent’s Day or some such. There is so much more you can do than what I did here today. You can combine multiple objects to make more elaborate plaques, modify the plaque in TinkerCAD, and print the plaque in a wide range of materials. Tell me in the comments below what you created with these instructions and free software.

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