Creating a 3D Printed Heart Charm in Blender

I am working on a project to make earrings, and I wanted to add a heart in the middle of of each earring where it’s connected via a jump ring to the element above and below it.  This meant adding a ring at the top and bottom of the heart.

I’m using Blender to model the earrings, and it turned out to be surprisingly hard to get it so the heart would print right.  Even though it looked fine in Blender, viewed properly in Slic3r, it still ended up printing wrong from the generated g-code.  The ring, even though it was unioned with the heart in Blender would end up looking like it had been intersected, resulting in a gap in the heart, or it would end up filling the interior of the ring, which was not what I wanted either:


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Creating Mid-century Modern “Googie” Earrings with 3D Printing

One of the most iconic styles of the 1950s and early 1960s is “Googie“.  You’ve seen it, even if you didn’t know it’s name. The Jetsons used Googie design in the cartoon. Having grown up in Southern California (which is the heart of Googie style), I’ve always been fond of it.

So I thought it would be interesting to create some jewelry in Googie style using 3D printing. Working with my wife, I found design inspiration in a rounded rectangle which was in wide use in design in that era.  Using the 3D modeling program Blender, I drew my version of the rectangle, then manipulated it into a fancier design (and added a ring to it for the french wires I would attach later):



When that was done, I did some test prints in plastic on my home 3D printer.  After making a few modifications to get the design right, I uploaded the design to Shapeways, a company that does 3D printing in various materials, including metal.

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Creating a Sterling Purse Charm, Part 4 (Final)

Here’s the final purse charm, taken from a design on my computer, printed with a $400 3D printer, cast in silver, and then cleaned up and finished:

The charm installed!

The charm installed!

This, from a design I created:

The purse charm as it is being designed on the computer

The purse charm as it is being designed on the computer

If you want to see the whole process of creating this, you can start at Part 1 and read forward from there.

It’s pretty amazing that on a home computer you can design something and take it all the way to a final form!  There is a real revolution in manufacturing coming with the advent of cheap 3D printers…


Some additional views:

The purse charm + the purse

The purse charm + the purse


The final purse charm by itself

The final purse charm by itself



Creating a Sterling Purse Charm, Part 3

With the charm cast at the end of Part 2, it was time to turn it into a thing of beauty!

Out of the mold, though, it was not so pretty:

Kind of charm free at this point!

Kind of charm free at this point!

The basic problem was that there was excess metal all over the place.  Some is unavoidable — the large knob on the back is from the funnel the silver was poured down.  The bumps around the side are where the air vents were in the mold — the metal flowed past the edge of the design.  Other places were just as a result of the mold being flawed: I found it very hard to get the “delft clay” sand casting system to hold together inside of the letters.

So the process of finishing the charm consisted mostly of removing the excess metal.  I used a small grinding wheel on my flex shaft to remove the metal on the outside edge:

Grinding away the excess metal!

Grinding away the excess metal!

Then I had to work on the inside of the letters:


This is a a ball burr, which is small enough to get inside of the letters and quickly remove the extra silver in them.  

You might notice the cross hatching pattern on the surface of the charm — this is actually from the 3D model itself.  And while it’s charming to see the 3D model faithfully reproduced, it’s not something I want to see in the finished product.  I’ll end up losing a fair amount of thickness when I file the surface flat.

In additional to the ball bur, I used jeweler’s needle files to clean up inside the letters:

It's looking better!

It’s looking better!

When the letters were cleaned up, I went ahead and removed the “button” on the back of the charm:

Closer to its final shape!

Closer to its final shape!

All that was left was to file down the front and back to a flat surface and then polish it up.  That starts with sanding:

Getting very close!

Getting very close!

From there the process consists of sanding/filing with progressively finer grit and then lastly taking it to the buffing machine for the final finish.

I also soldered on a short length of chain and a lobster claw clasp to complete the charm.  The final pictures will be in the next post!

Continue on to Part 4!

Creating a Sterling Purse Charm, Part 2

In the first part of this series, I wrote about some unsuccessful efforts in casting a sterling purse charm.  I’ve got a good cast at last, and want to walk through what that process was like.

As a quick recap of Part 1, I’m trying to use new 3D Printing technology as a way to create items in precious metals (for the moment, sterling silver).  3D printing doesn’t do it all, but it automates a very important part of the process: the creation of a wax/plastic model that can be used to create a casting.  After the unsuccessful cast (actually, several unsuccessful casts), I decided to reduce the size of the model to try something a bit smaller.  Since I had received and assembled my 3D printer, a Printrbot JR, in the interim, I was able to reprint the model smaller without having to use Shapeways.

I started out by designing a fairly simple design in Blender 3D, the free 3D design program:

The heart made 3D

The heart made 3D

This gets exported into a format the 3D printing software can understand (“STL”), and then the charm gets printed on my Printrbot JR printer:

It ain't pretty, but it gets the job done!

It ain’t pretty, but it gets the job done!

The end result is the design I created rendered in plastic:

I (heart) Printrbot...

I (heart) Printrbot…

I did some clean up of the model — mostly with needle files to remove burrs and other large imperfections,

But can only get it so good in plastic...

But can only get it so good in plastic…

and then it was off to cast it in silver.

The first part of this series talks about unsuccessful castings, and I finally have a good one. There’s a couple of challenges I had to overcome to get there.

First, the design I have doesn’t work as well as I hoped with the Delft Clay sand casting system. The system consists of two aluminum rings as a frame and a special fine grain sand (the clay) that you make the mold with, and is conceptually simple.  You fill one ring with compacted clay, put your model in the middle, and then fill the other ring with clay:

The mold being created

The mold being created

At the bottom of the photo you can see a line around the outside of the mold frame — that’s where the mold separates. The next steps to finish the mold are

  • fill the remainder of the mold with clay
  • compact the clay
  • pull the mold apart at that separation point
  • remove the model
  • put tunnels from the surface of the mold to allow the molten metal in and air out

It was at the “pull the mold apart” point that I kept running into problems.  For whatever reason, it was very very hard to get a perfect imprint of the inset C+K letters — the clay would stick to the model when I pulled it out.  I used talc to coat the model.  I even teflon coated the model. But the mechanical compression of the clay into the letters just made it too hard to separate cleanly.  I eventually decided that the ratio of the size of the openings to the depth of the openings was problematic for clay, and when I got a “good enough” mold I moved on.  I knew I could remove excess metal afterwards.

The next step is the pour of the metal:

Molten Metal!

Molten Metal!

And this is where my choice of metal saved me!  Because although this is a linear narrative, the process was not linear — I ended up (re-)casting this piece several times.  Argentium® silver saved me!  While ordinary sterling gets firescale (a pernicious kind of tarnish) every time you torch it, the Argentium stayed perfect through my repeated abuse of it.  The very small incremental cost of it over ordinary sterling is trivial compared to the grief it saves me in casting.  Maybe if I did everything perfect, quick, and once I wouldn’t care so much, but when you’re experimenting with new technologies having a metal that is extremely forgiving is just wonderful.

The final result was “good enough” — A little excess metal I’ll have to remove, but it will ultimately be more or less perfect when finished (fingers crossed!):

Close up on charm right after casting...

Close up on charm right after casting…

In Part 3, I’ll detail the finishing of the charm.  Lots of elbow grease involved …

It may seem like there’s a bit of “stone soup” involved with creating precious metal jewelry with 3D Printing, but I don’t want to diminish the value 3D printing provides or the revolutionary nature of it.  It is the same kind of CAD/CAM approaches that have cost 10 to 100 times as much beforehand, and the opportunities it offers artisanal and amateur (in the best sense of that term) jewelry manufacturers are phenomenal.

Continue to Part 3!