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Mastering 3D Printing: Some Technical Insights

Eric Askue from XMD Academy talked about his career path in 3D printing, discussed the growth of the industry, mentioned its essential software and shared details about his 3D printing course that you can apply for now. 


My name is Eric Askue, I’m a 3D artist and I work primarily in additive manufacturing or 3D printing. I design and create digital models, as well as engineer them for the printing process. I got into this when I was teaching at university, we had a horrible polyjet printer that I was fascinated with. I wanted to make toys with it as I had some training with the earlier methods of making toys with clays and wax. With this printer, I made a few creatures and busts, it was amazing. Well,l I have two degrees; one a BFA in fine arts and another in computer animation. I also worked here and there learning about molding and casting, reading about the tech and bringing all of my experiences together when working with these types of systems. There are a lot of moving parts and it can take a lot to understand any pipeline, like the ones we use. Oh, the list of projects is a bit excessive. But the one I’m most proud of is a three and a half foot (1.0668 meters) baby dragon I was asked to do for the painter, Rick Cantu. You’ve probably seen some of his work and didn’t know it. Let’s see, I’ve done a number of busts for Collapse Industries, a few full characters, some real-life, and a ton tabletop terrain for WORLDS OVERRUN, and now I’m teaching (again) with XMD academy.

The Career

Well, as I mentioned before, we had a horrible polyjet printer I was fascinated by when I was teaching at university. The machine was finicky, messy, noisy, smelled bad and just about as difficult to work with as you could imagine. 

But that is just where it started, and that isn't even the best part of the journey.  A year after my time teaching, I met a grumpy, onary print shop owner. We started exploring the limitations of 3D printing, molding and casting. He taught me how to follow the bubble in a mold, and we worked on how to improve the printing process. It was and still is a brilliant learning experience. Being able to take all of my training and leverage it in a practical way, with another professional, who has completely different skills, was a form of synergy. It was exciting and provocative, the 3D printers are still rough, and we still have to make modifications to them. But this is the way. That might be the hardest part. We spend a lot of time tinkering, but in some ways, that is very rewarding in its own right.

Between the two shops, I work with, we have over forty printers. Having access to the different methods, models and options allow you to see how diverse and complex 3D printing really is. 

About the Industry/ 3D Printing

Well, the growth of the industry has been really unusual, most of the real progress is in the consumer market. Even though most of the consumer printers are really cheap, printing can be fairly good. We’ve seen some interesting things in metal printing. For instance, Eos blows me away. They printed an IronMan suit for Adam Savage. Carbon also manages to simultaneously excite everyone with their continuous SLA printing and then make it so expensive, that no one uses it outside of aviation and car manufacturers. Which was terribly disappointing. But there are nice printers in both SLA and FDM styles that almost anyone can use. On that note, though a bit of a warning, 3D printers are not “turn-key”, they do require a good deal of attention, maintenance, and learning. A fair few people I’ve met think it’s as easy as using a microwave. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’re better off outsourcing your printing. You will be happier.

Wow, about the software, mostly in my day-to-day, I use Pixologic’s Zbrush. Which, Holy Cow, has it improved in the 3D printing arena. Most of our slicers are the third party and some are specific to the printer we’re going to be working with. Some are clunky and odd, and others are brilliant. A few we use for just one tool. But that’s what happens when an industry has a good deal of opensource developers competing with each other and the big names in the industry can’t create a proper chokehold on it. It’s both a wonderful thing and a bit frustrating. 

Oni by Eric Askue printed by Collapse Industries.

Working on the Idea of the Course

Unbeknownst to me, Michael Dunnam of XMD was looking for a 3D Printing instructor for his online school, XMD Academy. A wonderful peer of mine Spicer M., who was already teaching at XMD Academy, knew my history and work, called me up and asked me to do it. I used to love to teach, so I said why not. Sharing your experience and knowledge with other people can be so very rewarding. When you do something like this for as long as I have, you gain insight. Sharing that insight with another person, who might be desperate to have that knowledge and understanding could change their world. Lifting people up allows them to grow and, in some cases, it comes back to you. Plus teaching others allows you to refine what you know and, in some cases, resolve mistakes or trouble areas in a pipeline. Students bring you challenges you don’t normally have to deal with because they won’t think like you. They’re amazing! 

general mattis artist unknown, engineered by Eric Askue, printed by Collapse Industries.

About 3D Printing

3D printing (additive manufacturing) is a way to produce objects that are difficult or impossible to make through other methods; like milling or casting. Most of the difficulty in 3D printing comes from printer limitations. Like I said before, none of these printers are turn-key, they all have upkeep and consumables and require a good deal of babysitting. 

Workflow for 3D printing really varies on the part. But if you do a character like a superhero, for example, you have to start by going through all of the parts. I’ll list the steps I use to simplify things. 

    1. Review the model for scale and placement of cuts.
    2. Decimate 
    3. Condense the parts into related groups like an arm, watch, or glove. At this point, you may want to, or need to, boolean these parts. 
    4. Start to clean up by looking for floaters, envelopes, and pockets you can remove. These defects are in almost every model and will lead to catastrophic failures of your print. 
    5. Cut and key the parts using booleans. Make sure you understand draft angles and tolerance for the parts. 
    6. Repeat steps a through d where necessary. 
    7. Name all parts 
    8. Export 
    9. Send the parts over to your slicer 
    10. Orient part to reduce, and hide “layer lines” sometimes referred to as “grow lines” or “z-layer lines”
    11. Add supports 
    12. Run slicer and print. 

This is a gross oversimplification of what goes into a print, but so much of this is overlooked by people new to printing, for instance, the orientation of a part can be the difference between hours or post-processing and a few moments of clean up. This is the basic idea behind one type of printing method, using a different printer requires different tools and understanding. 

WORLDS OVER RUN tabletop terrain.

About the Course

I guess the main goal has always been to help people learn things I had to learn the hard way. Like how to hide layer lines, or why does my print fail at the same place? You can be a novice to 3D printing, and I would love to have more novices in this type, of course, but let's be honest about it and say that intermediate skills in 3D arts are required. You need to have access to software and hardware also. 

The On Demand has all of the recorded material, while The Live course has that and class time with me. Every week, I’m able to answer questions in real-time, review models and share specific stories and experiences that may not come up in the On Demand material. These sessions are also recorded for viewing at any time. You can think of the On-Demand course as more of a tutorial set. The Live course is a workshop where you can have constant interaction as though you are in a classroom setting.

The Educational Process

Your journey begins as soon as you purchase the course. Every student will work at their own pace. The enrollment period for the course ends February 7th. When the enrollment ends, students will have to wait until the next enrollment period to register.

When you purchase any course from XMD Academy, you have instant access to all of the pre-recorded sessions. Each week there will be a live session (sometimes more), where the instructor will critique any work that has been submitted. 

The live sessions are always a gem. The instructors work in a live setting with every student that attends one on one. Not only can you have your work looked at, but you can also ask questions, get feedback and, in a lot of cases, learn something new. Every live session is practically an add-on lesson. The live sessions are an invaluable resource. 

The course covers the process from start to finish on how to improve your 3D printing, from cut up and prep, to slicing and supports. 

I am having a webinar on Wednesday 1/22/20 at 9pmEST. Here is the link.

If anyone would like to check out what this course is all about, they should go sign up for the webinar.

Malck Corps Prince By Erc Askue

Future Perspectives for Students

I hope they will have a better understanding of how to troubleshoot and problem solve their printing issues from the software side. Being capable of meeting the ever-changing needs of this part of our industry means being flexible and making compromises. 3D printing can be very unforgiving. But by participating in this course, you'll have a greater opportunity to make mistakes and ask important questions about the production before you have to work with your peers. 

Surprisingly, almost every area of manufacturing needs artist knowledgeable in 3D print. One of our lovely peers, Jillian M. works with a shoe company where they prototype shoes before going into production. So if you have a love for this type of technology, there is work out there to have.   

King Thor by Spicer McLeroy

Eric Askue, Instructor at XMD Academy

Interview conducted by Ellie Harisova

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