3D Printing Turns Browsing for Fun to Building for Real

June 4, 2017 ProgressTH 

At one point or another while browsing a magazine, a store, or online, you'll find something interesting you wish you could have for your own but for whatever reason can't get a hold of it.

That's just what happened when browsing pictures of Japanese-style lanterns and coming across a picture of an Edo Period wooden lantern. Normally one would day dream for a moment about what it would be like to have one of their own. With 3D design and 3D printing they no longer have to day dream. They can simply deign and print out a replica of their own.

Depending on your skills and the amount of free time you have, that replica can range anywhere from a quick "sketch" model or an intricate and precise replica. For the Edo Period lantern, it was somewhere in between because of the straightforward design itself.

And now, thanks to open online 3D model libraries, you can download and print out this lantern for yourself.

The lantern project pictured above is now freely available on our Thingiverse page for others to download, print, or modify.

Because this is an actual lantern from Japan's historical past, creating it becomes an educational experience as well, not unlike selecting 3D scanned objects from museums that have made their collections available online and printing them out like the Gayer-Anderson cat we printed out a few months ago.
Designing: To make the lantern, we simply opened the reference picture on one monitor and modeled it in SketchUp on another. The design was optimized so that the pieces could be printed flat without support material and assembled after printing.  
Closely examining the reference photo allowed us to sort of see how the original makers of the lantern put it together, giving us some ideas of how to optimize the design for printing and assembly. 
Printing: The lantern is about 160 x 160 mm and is broken down into many pieces requiring several rounds of printing. No support material was required. The pedestal was flipped upside down for printing and also required no support material at all.   
Assembly: Once the pieces are printed, we use a lighter to quickly pass over any filament fibers left behind by the printing process. We then assembled the panels within the rings using friction welding (see an overview here of the friction welding process). You could easily use hot glue to assemble everything as well.  
The panels were then lowered onto the frame and the top and pedestal were attached afterward. A keychain ring can be used to thread through the top of the lantern for hanging. 
LEDs are small enough to fit through the slots under the side panels, and that is what we did. We had strings of LEDs that we passed into the lantern for a 'firefly' effect.  
We printed out two lanterns while developing this for Thingiverse. One is a hanging version which omits the pedestal and the other is a tabletop version with the pedestal.
PLA and ABS plastic is easily painted using acrylic paints.  
The 3D model captures the basic form of the lantern. Upon closer inspection of the reference photo, a lot of details were clearly omitted, but the SketchUp file of the lantern is included on Thingiverse so users are more than free to go in and add in the details they wish to include.

The skills you acquire through fun projects like this can easily be applied to more practical processes like modeling spare parts based on reference pictures or even designing new ideas based on existing examples.

If you are new to 3D printing and want to get into it, or dive deeper with the skills and experience you already have, making a replica is a great way to do it. Because it is a project you personally are interested in, it gives you added incentive to see it through to the end.

Follow ProgressTH.org on Facebook here or on Twitter here.