How a 3D Printer Helps Me Run a Website
Many people who take up 3D printing as a hobby jump at any opportunity to use it. Finding a good excuse to use my 3D printer is like music to my ears. I thought it might be helpful to explain how my 3D printer helps me run this very website to show how practical it can be. (Other than of course giving me content to post here!). Not only is it another excuse to use my printer, but it's actually more practical than someone might think.
It's not something I would have thought of myself if I hadn't naturally added 3D printed parts to my blogging process over time. As I figured out that I had to be more organized and efficient, I eventually put the two together.
In short, 3D printing helps to keep my workspace organized, and it helps me illustrate concepts that I might normally find difficult to explain in words alone. Most surprisingly though, it helps me keep working in places where I might not normally be able to.
For those on the fence about 3D printing, hopefully this will help in looking at these machines a little more seriously and practically. Or, if you already have a printer, it will help inspire you to find ways to make it useful in every day life.
The first and probably most versatile way my 3D printer helps me maintain a website, is by keeping me organized. It's amazing how I'm able to find digital designs and print them in to organizational tools I can use in the real world.
By my nature I'm a bit of a haphazard person. I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm "disorganized" but I definitely have my own unique system for keeping things in order. While sometimes that seems ok, I'm finding that taking a few extra moments to organize has massive benefits.
Clean Desk = Clear Thoughts
My 3D printer helps give me tools to work on organization. Primarily by helping me to keep my work space clean through the use of desktop organizers. Be it pre-designed organizers or ones I have specially designed for myself, I'd like to show off some of my personal favorites.
Custom Notebook Stand
I tend to be a bit of a notebook hoarder. I always carry at least one with me at all times, and I generally like to keep organized by maintaining one journal per topic.
For example, I have a Notebook dedicated to 3D printing and this very website, another dedicated to my day job, and one for me to jot down new ideas or things I need to do around the house. At minimum I have at least 3 notebooks in active use at any given time.
I was looking at them scattered across my desk and realized it would be nice to have a small stand, like a mini bookshelf, to hold them all upright. This would create a small footprint and put the notebooks out of the way. I hopped immediately to sketching my first notebook stand and ended up modeling the below.
As can be seen in the above draft, this first shot at creating a stand was very basic. It got the job done, but in use I found that it just wasn't quite what I needed. The main problem was that I had made it too long and over-estimated the number of spots I would need. In addition, I realized I could get even more useful functionality out of this if I put more thought in to it.
My next design incorporated some new features in addition to the notebooks. There is a holder for pencils, pens, and tools. A small tray for parts or paperclips. Finally, I added a stand for my watch that also fits the charger for a smartwatch. I also reduced the number of spots for notebooks down to 3. This was much more practical for my needs and minimized the footprint on the desk.
This is a textbook example of what makes 3D printers so great. If I had gone to the store to purchase a desktop notebook organizer (if I could even find one!) and later found out that it wasn't quite right for my needs, I would either have to go back to the store to return and find a new one, or just live with something that wasn't quite right.
3D printing allowed me to create an object, try it out, and when I didn't like it I could instantly make adjustments and create a new one!
While this is a little bit of a stretch to say it helps me run a website, I use these small parts trays to keep all of my random hardware pieces in one place. It's hugely improved my efficiency when working on a project for the blog.
Instead of digging through a drawer randomly to get the pieces I need, I just pop the lid off of the tray and can see everything in one place. It helps me save time and allows me to get back to writing more quickly.
This tray is by a designer called walter on Thingiverse. It can be found here.
They fit nicely in to the corner of a drawer and I have a few of them stacked up so the storage is great in a small footprint. There are a lot of pre-existing trays like this available in online 3D printer model sites. They're also a great opportunity to start 3D designs of your own. The basic square shapes keeps it simple.
Although this seems like a very "3d printer blog-specific" type of item, I can see visual aides being extremely useful for anyone who is trying to teach others about nearly any subject.
Using a visual aide to represent something while teaching can be an excellent way to connect a lesson to the real world. For example; with this blog I've taken to designing and printing custom visual aides to help show different 3D printing concepts. There are two articles in particular that I find were helped by including visual representations of an idea.
First, the Home3DPrintGuide article about supports shows why supports are needed for 3D printed objects. The next article covers the basics of 3D printer infill and when it should be used. As a writer, I found that both of these articles were helped immensely by including photos illustrating my exact design.
Visual aides are not just for 3D printing!
I can hear people thinking "great, this helps you for a 3D printing blog but has no use for me!" While yes, using 3D printed parts to illustrate examples for 3D printing is an obvious fit, I can see 3D printed parts being a big benefit to any educational topic.
Here are a few examples of ideas for widely different topics:
Visual Aide Idea 1: A DIY Home Blog - Real-Life Arrows
For those with a knack for do it yourself home repairs, wouldn't it be nice to be able to take a photo of a work in progress and show a reader exactly what it is they need to be looking at?
Instead of spending the time to figure out how to use Photoshop, why not print a real-life arrow or circle to highlight a focus area in the real world? This is also great for video content to draw attention to something.
It's a creative way to bring attention to an area and if used right, can really "wow" readers. This simple print took less than 30 minutes and I created the design in even less time, under 5 minutes!
Visual Aide Idea 2: A Travel Blog - Landmarks and Scale
Fans of travel and architecture can use 3D printing to create some great visual examples of landmarks around the world. "Why wouldn't I just use a real picture?" I hear people asking. To that i say, You should! But a 3D printer can help supplement those pictures with to-scale representations.
How cool would it be to show a true to-scale representation of the Empire State Building in New York next to the Gherkin in London? Well, with 3D printing you can! By finding 3D models online, and scaling the designs so they're the right size compared to each other, you can create a real-life visual representation of how big landmarks would be if they sat next to one another, even if they are across oceans from one another in the real world!
Visual Aide Idea 3: A Video Game Collection Blog - Custom Stands
One of the most difficult things for me as a blogger is taking photos. I'm by no means a professional and I don't have many tools to make sure photos turn out great. That said, it's easy to get help from a 3D printed item to make improvements in photography. Even if the 3D printed object isn't the focus of the image, it can still be helped to create visuals for a blog.
For example, having an item angled just the right way for a photo can make a big difference. It can both reduce glare and provide something more interesting than just a straight-on shot.
I added a 3D printed stand that creates a more interesting image and being able to put the game at an angle helps to reduce glare.
If you're interested in the stand, I've uploaded it to Thingiverse for anyone to use in their projects. if you do end up using it, please let me know! It would be great to hear from someone who actually found a good use out of this design.
These are just a few quick examples of how 3D printing can help with visual aides. I tried to think of unique topics, however 3D printed items are even better for educational science or math topics.
A content creator could easily showcase visually how a rain cycle works in nature, or how different pieces of a pie chart fit together to create 100% of a pie, etc. With a little creativity, the possibilities are endless.
Hands-Free Writing Assistant (AKA, a Phone Mount for my Car)
To my surprise, this tool became the one thing that added a significant amount of productivity to my average day. Without it, I would probably lose multiple ideas and would fall behind on keeping this blog updated while I maintain a regular job. I would say about 75% of all of my articles are first drafted using what I now call my hands-free writing assistant. I can't imagine running this site without it!
Everyone knows that texting and driving is incredibly dangerous and in many places, illegal. Using 3D printing however, I've been able to figure out a way to continue writing for the blog while maintaining safety on my morning commute. Thanks to this tool, I'm able to use the 30-45 minutes each way to get my ideas down and continue creating helpful content.
Warning: Please, always drive safely. This is not intended to add to distracted drivers. While I don't necessarily recommend others do this, this method works for me and I only follow safe-driving practices in appropriate situations. This article is simply a way to help others generate ideas for 3D printing, and is not meant to be a guide on using a phone while driving. Stay safe, do not text and drive.
An In-Car Phone Mount
That's right, in all reality my "hands-free writing assistant" is a simple mount to place a phone on the dashboard. It is by far my most productive tool and it seems so obvious now. I had originally printed this item to utilize maps and for displaying my Spotify app so I could safely control my music. That was great, but a frustrating morning helped me to realize how useful this simple phone mount actually could be.
Inspiration hit me one day as I was running late for work but had an idea for an article that I knew I would have forgotten if I never wrote it down. I didn't want to sit in my driveway and type on my phone because I was already running a bit behind.
Quickly, I opened up Google Docs and tapped the text-to-speech button, putting the phone down in my center console. I started talking and the phone jotted everything down for me... or so I thought.
It turns out that while I felt like I had written half an article just by speaking, the phone cut out after the first few lines! I was annoyed but couldn't really do much about it.
Thinking about how I could improve the process, I realized that by just mounting my phone in a place that is easy to see, it would at least allow me to see that my voice was being heard. If the text stopped moving, I could just hold my thought and wait to come to a stop sign or light and then simply re-tap the microphone button.
It's a simple process, and I have a lot of editing to do when I get home because voice to text isn't perfect and I can't actually read what I'm writing while I drive. Overall though it gets my thoughts down at least in a rough fashion so I'm not forgetting them.
How can 3D printing help you?
The purpose of this post was to get others thinking about how they can use 3D printing to their advantage, more of an inspiration than a guide. It's my goal to help others realize that not only is 3D printing at home affordable and easy, it's actually practical when you put your mind to it.