3D      PRINTING & SCANNING SERVICES From £1.50 per g / £10.00 a scan

Our Form-3 Printer.

    We started our 3D printing service in October 2014, and soon added the facility to 3D scan as well. Over the years we've upgraded as printers have improved, and currently print using multiple Formlabs machines including the Form-1+, Form-2, and new Form-3 models. Our 3D scanning uses a Matter & Form 3D scanner.

What we do is small scale in every way, but we believe it's better than any other service for making Precision 3D Models. Our best printing is smoother and cheaper than the best that our competitors can manage.

StereoLithogrAphy (SLA) is what we use, printing with ultraviolet (UV) light to set liquid polymers that are stronger than ABS plastics with a wide variety of mechanical properties and colours, in the highest resolution 3D printing technology that's as smooth as it gets.

There are many other companies operating different 3D printing machines, including those who can handle larger items or bulk quantities, brittle nylon powder materials, and there are numerous coarse finish extruding cheaper printers. We've used the services of other companies who've been in this new area of business for a few years and may have invested hundreds of times more than we have - we will still use others for large scale things or bulk printing of less detailed items.

When what you want is something small and precise, if what you need is the finest scale modelling with robust details, this is where you can now get that kind of printing done best. Forget the striations and scale pebble-dash of other types of printing, don't waste your money with brittle as chalk parts snapping off, get something that you can use from us. Prepare a design, email the file, specify the material colour, and get a printed model back typically within the week.

       Our Form-2 Printer.
We can easily mirror or re-scale your designs, up or down in proportion - let's say your file is for 4mm OO scale and you want to print it at 2mm N-gauge 50% of the size: no need to change your file, just tell us you want it printed at 50% - want something mirror flipped, that's easy too!

We can duplicate your design, automatically repeat the file within our build volume - makes it easier to maintain your design file by keeping it smaller, no need to have multiple build files with different numbers of duplicates.

We can precision scan an existing model, to create a 3D printable file from an object, as long as it fits on our scanner. You might then adjust such a scan file to make a new design more easily than creating it entirely from scratch.


Our 3D Printing Studio.


       3D Printing Overview

3D printing is a fast growing area with a real buzz about it. The subject is stuffed full of acronyms and terms that can easily confuse. Read our summary of the technologies and features:



Compare our best 3D printing results with those of other service providers:

Material Options

   

All of the materials that we print with are waterproof, solvent-resistant, fade-proof and electrically insulating. Prints have more tensile strength and stiffness than ABS plastics, there's no deformaty when exposed to up to 80C. The smooth surface finish will be easy to paint if desired. You can drill holes in, file away at or polish parts to a mirror finish. Multiple parts can be superglued together easily. Fine parts can flex and are not brittle like those from other printing services. The weight of printing in grams is the same as the resin volume required in millilitres, and that alone determines the cost of the printing. But note how the different support structure requirements for the different printers, explained in the Printer Specifications section below, affects the total resin volume used.

We are currently set up and printing with the following resin types in each printer:
  • Translucent Grey - Form-1+ - £1.50 per gram,
  • Standard Clear - Form-2 - £2.50 per gram.
  • Opaque Black - Form-3 - £3.00 per gram.




We have more types of resins in stock that require a only short lead time to switch over to:
  • Flexible Clear - Form-1+ - £2.50 per gram - a smokey frosted material that bends to extremes and still bounces back, allows you to make springs or bendy models - we have a half-litre bottle of this which is no longer available in this colour,
  • Translucent White - Form-1+ - £2.00 per gram - ideal for Lithophanes 1L remaining,
  • Opaque White - Form-2 - £2.00 per gram - sharp prints with fine details that show no warping even after weeks in full sun,
  • Durable Frosted - Form-2 - £3.00 per gram, a really hard to break polypropylene-like material, ductile with high-impact strength, designed for low friction moving parts and living hinges. Thin parts will flex, wires, like the support legs, can be bent and folded back on themselves without snapping,
  • Flexible Black - Form-2 - £3.00 per gram - the new black coloured version for rubber-like prints, ideal for self-coloured model tyres, if a darker colour is required it works well with black pigment dye such as printer ink refill. A minimum of 1.5mm support touch points are required - for more details see: formlabs.com/en/products/materials/flexible/.
There's a growing range of the so called "functional resins" with unique mechanical properties that we could print with if required. Formlabs have an article with a diagram comparing the properties of some of the options:
formlabs.com/materials/engineering/

    Exceptional Form-3 Printing. Glass-like optical clarity and smooth surface straight from the Form-3 printer.

Click on the pictures to zoom in on the detail from Form-3 Opaque Black & Standard Clear.


Flexing Form-2 Flexible Black Printing. Practically Unbreakable Durable Frosted Form-2 Printing.

Flexible Black, Durable Frosted and Opaque White, all from our Form-2.

Opaque White Form-2 Printing.
Modelling applications for the "functional resins" may be rather limited, but compared to the qualities of the Standard Clear resin options, the "functional resins" that stand out are as follows:
  • Castable - Form-1+ - £2.50 per gram - we have a litre of this blue translucent material that can be burnt away without residue for use in the "investment casting" process, it can make moulds for say the manufacture of cast metal parts - although we won't be making moulds or doing any metal casting here, that's for a casting foundry or white metal specialist perhaps. It requires a further UV curing process. formlabs.com/media/upload/Castable-Tutorialv4_pxsB3b8.pdf
  • Castable Wax - Form-2 or Form-3 - £3.50 per gram - the new improved version that we can order in of this type of material to make higher resolution moulds for say jewelery production. It requires a further UV curing process.
  • High-Temperature - Form-2 or Form-3 - £3.50 per gram - a translucent frosted orange coloured material, which can withstand high temperatures and is suitable for making injection moulding components for example. It requires a further UV curing process. formlabs.com/media/upload/HighTemp-DataSheet.pdf
  • Tough - Form-1+ - £3.50 per gram - a green-grey translucent material, with slightly higher impact resistance and durability, supposedly for making engineering prototypes similar to ABS moulding and suitable for snap-fit components. Formlab's diagram suggests it's not actually that much different to the properties of "standard" resins.
  • Rigid - Form-2 or Form-3 - £4 per gram - an opaque white glass reinforced material, which has a high stiffness and is suitable for printing thin parts. It requires the special "LT" tank.
There are further matte opaque revised versions of the standard grey resin that we could order in with a few days lead time for use in the Form-2 or Form-3:
  • Opaque Grey - £2.50 per gram - the new "standard" grey resin.
  • Grey Pro - £4.00 per gram - supposedly best surface finish, requires an "LT" tank.
If you have a requirement for a lot of printing in any other particular single colour, there is a "Colour" resin option we can order in for the Form-2 or Form-3. Based on the "Opaque White" resin with a range of pigment colours that can be added to it to mix a 1L batch in almost any colour. Printing would be charged at 2.50 per gram. However generally with modelling, painting is the preferred solution to achieve multiple realistic colourings, self-coloured plastics don't usually look as good.

There are several other resins, including a growing range of "Dental" options for the Form-2. Currently there are three biocompatible material options for making things like surgical drill guides - they also require a further UV curing process, and the long-life tank is recommended for use with those. Further resins are being released regularly it seems, and there should be entirely new types for the Form-3 - while these may be very useful for some, they probably are not suitable for making our Precision 3D Models.

Have a look at what people have made elsewhere with our type of printer and these materials: formlabs.com/en/applications/

Printer Specificiations:

Our different printers all give great surfaces with some differences in printing results: the Form-1+ is the lower resolution model, the Form-2 greatly improves on that, and the new Form-3 is the best 3D printing that there is - not only is it better, it's cheaper than Shapeways best!

Realy thin walls and wires are possible, because our printing is not brittle like materials used by other printers, there's far less risk of breaking, so you can reduce materials and so cost.
Our build volume limits, the maximum bounding box, or largest printable part size is:
Form-1+: 125 125 165 mm = 4.9 4.9 6.5 inches.
Form-2:  145 145 175 mm = 5.7 5.7 6.9 inches.
Form-3:  145 145 185 mm = 5.7 5.7 7.3 inches.
If a model were to be bigger than that build volume,
it would have to be scaled down to fit the printer,
which is probably not what you want to have,
so keep within those maximum dimensions!
We have no minimum bounding box size!

The minimum feature detail size, or laser dot size is:
Form-1+: 0.155 mm = 155 microns = 0.0060 inches.
Form-2:  0.14 mm = 140 microns = 0.0050 inches.
Form-3: 0.085 mm = 85 microns = 0.0033 inches.

Best resolution, or X-Y axis minimum laser movement:
Form-1+/2: 0.01 mm = 10 microns = 0.0004 inches.
Form-3: 0.0025 mm = 2.5 microns = 0.0001 inches.

The layer thickness, or vertical Z-axis resolution, the arm step-motor motion depends on the printing mode selected:
0.025 mm = 25 microns = 0.001 inches - the finest mode for some resins only, e.g. Standard Clear or Opaque Black,
0.05 mm = 50 microns = 0.002 inches - our usual print setting,
0.1 mm = 100 microns = 0.004 inches - a coarser quicker option
There are other thicker layer options that we do not use.

For model design guidance specific to our printers, refer to this PDF link:
formlabs.com/media/upload/formlabs-design-guide.pdf
For example, include cavity drainage so that you don't trap uncured resin in an otherwise enclosed shape, allow unprinted liquid to drain out with an escape hole and reduce the print cost:
3.5 mm = 3500 microns = 0.14 inches for drain holes.
  Translucent Grey Form-1+ Versus Opaque Black Form-3.

Compare Form-1+ Translucent Grey & Form-3 Opaque Black.


Different Support Structure Options.

Different support structure "raft" options with Form-2 & Form-3.

SLA printing generally requires the use of supporting structures which start as a raft against the build platform surface and extend as legs to form struts and butresses that attach to your design - this draws the finished model out of the liquid resin as the platform raises. Supports are also used to prevent deflection due to gravity and hold cross sections in place against the printer layer peeling actions. The printer software can automatically create this structure for printing, but it's always best to edit and tweak that. The various printer models have different requirements for support structures, part placements and orientations - files are processed for a specific printer and resin which results in variation of print volumes. It is usually a required added cost over the final weight of the finished model - how much depends on the shape of the object and printing orientation.

The support structure is generally easily removed from the part afterwards. Different resin types require different sizes of support touch points. Printing with the Form-3 allows for generally the smallest touch points, which results in a better finish. With the Form-3 and Form-2 there is the option of using "mini rafts" printing isolated support legs, which for small parts gives a proportionately big saving in resin cost - so much so that it is often cheaper to print something small with "mini rafts" in the Form-2 despite the increased resin cost, compared with the Form-1+ with the required "full raft" structure. For small parts to be printed in the Form-1+ it can be a case of more supports than models - as a rough guide, you can expect around 0.25g of supports per square centimetre of build platform coverage. Objects with large flat bases might be possible to print directly on the build platform - either with some "mini rafts" or even without any supports, it would depend on the shape.

We can print models saved in the Standard Tessellation Language ".STL" file format, the most common file type for 3D printing, and ".OBJ" files, common with animation software. Most 3D Computer Aided Design (CAD) packages can now export directly to these formats or have add-on tools to convert from one to another - e.g. MeshLab (meshlab.sourceforge.net/) which is free and is a means to check your Mesh is workable. If required we may be able to convert other file formats for you - Autodesk 3D Studio "3DS", TurboCAD "TCW" versions, etc.. The program that creates your file may report how many vertices are in the model - there is no upper limit on the size of a file, models with 3 million vertices should be fine for example.

The printing software we use assumes that the values in an ".STL" or ".OBJ" file are in millimetres. If you intend your model's units to be inches, let us know and we will select that option. It's best not to save your model in other units, say metres, because that may well result in a loss of features when the design is processed for printing. Scaling up or reducing down the size of a design is a simple print-time option - if you have a file intended for 4mm OO scale and want it printed in a 7mm O-gauge version say, 175% scaling up can be selected. Repeats of the design within the same printing can also easily be selected, so you don't need to duplicate items in your design file and keep it simple to edit. The PreForm software is free to download from Formlabs if you want to see how your file will be handled, maybe even prepare the ".FORM" print job file to send if you wanted to arrange your own support placement say, see what the build volume and so printing cost will be: formlabs.com/en/products/preform/


Lithophane 3D Pictures

We can print your "Lithophanes" - use this link to simply load a picture into your browser frame and click to process it into a lithophane "STL" file:
3dp.rocks/lithophane

High contrast images that are around 600dpi or 2400 pixels for 10cm will work best, portraits, simple patterns or objects. Setting the "maximum size" for the model to twice as large as your intended final print size will enhance the quality of the eventual 3D print - we can shrink the STL model file with our print-time scaling down options. The print volume of a job might be as much as 35 millilitres for a full 10 centimetre square print at the default thickness. Setting the "maximum thickness" to 3 instead of 5 millimetres will work better in the light, as well as roughly halving the volume and so printing cost. Reducing the overall size to say a 7 centimetre square will halve things again - at then typically 9 millilitres it would cost around £10 including P&P.

Additional SLA printing supports are not required for Lithophanes as the large flat face can be printed directly against the build platform, but in so doing there is an initial compression loss of up to 0.5mm of material thickness against the build platform, depending on which model of printer we use. 2.5mm is probably the minimum workable "maximum thickness" setting for a Lithophane model file. The test print shown against a light was done in Translucent Grey resin, Translucent White resin would be another attractive option for pictures. With the "positive image" setting, a picture that has dark edges will create a thick surround to enhance the structural integrity of the piece - a white surround in the original picture will result in whatever is the specficied minimum thickness. Note the option to add a fixed thickness frame around the edges if desired.

Models of cast plates, printing stamps or textured surfaces can also easily be created with the Lithophane website tool. Set the "minimum thickness" to zero, while setting a multiple of the required model size and at least a 2.5mm "maximum thickness" - e.g. 100mm "maximum size" and 5mm "maximum thickness" for a double-sized model file. A bitmap image of a nameplate should for example have the raised rim and lettering parts in black RGB 0,0,0, the indented in-fill mid grey around RGB 80,80,80, and corner surrounds are white RGB 255,255,255. When printed in our Opaque Black resin with a 50% scaling, the raised parts can be painted white, silver or gold to finish a 5cm wide model ideal for larger scales. A typical set of G-Scale nameplates might be around £5 for printing costs.


  3x6cm From 6x8cm Lithophane In Translucent Grey.

Translucent Grey Lithophane.
Actual size 30 x 60 x 3 mm.
Lightbulb behind right.


7mm O-Gauge VSOE Nameplate Painted.

Nameplates as Lithophanes.
Printed in Opaque Black.
Painted with added decals.

G-Scale Engine Nameplate Painted With Our Decals To Finish.
Preparing Model Files

    
We are by no means experts in or offering a CAD design service - although we can take a 3D scan of an object for you. We can usually remove duplicated independent items in a design file if you have set something up for another print service and only want to print a part of that here. We cannot otherwise offer to alter files and do not guarantee to check your files beyond anything that the printing software reports.

We will usually keep a copy of any files you send us for faster re-printing, but we won't use them for anything other than printing at your request - you own the files that you create. It remains your responsibility to create a workable design that prints.

There are a few general things that commonly cause problems, so also bear in mind these points that can make all the difference between printing a successful Mesh and just making a chargeable mess...
  • Surface-only models won't work - you should submit a solid body model, where walls have a thickness of at least 0.4mm in the Form-2 or Form-3, but we would recommend 0.8mm to 1.5mm for robust handling. If you have drawn in surfaces to create a shape, all of the faces must be closed off to form that shape as a solid with no open faces.

  • Shared edges and zero gaps won't work - either overlap joined sections or you must leave at least the minimum recommended gap - 0.5 mm = 500 micron = 0.02 inches between independent or moving parts.

  • Ensure your "normals" are normal - within CAD models these are the perpendicular reference points on surfaces that define whether it's an inside or outside face. An "inverted normal" is a "normal" that is pointing in the wrong direction, telling the computer incorrectly that an outside face is an inside face, and that won't print correctly.

When you have a file that's ready to print, please send it to us for a quote. Simply attach the "STL" or "OBJ" file, or "ZIP" compress it before it attaching. We prefer not to use third party file sharing sites as we can accept large files directly.

Email STL/OBJ/FORM files for printing:     <Click Here To Send Mail>


  Screw-Link Couplings 7mm O-Gauge.

Couplings 7mm O-Gauge,
articulated in Opaque Black.


PreForm Software Preparing An STL File To Print.

PreForm STL file preparation.


Order Payment & Finishing

When we have processed a file to be ready to be printed, we can email you a payment link. The amount will be based on the report of total print volume from the printing software - that includes any required support structures. Our 3D printing charges are generally non-refundable - for example if the print doesn't work as you had hoped because of an error in your design. However we may offer a free re-print of a design if we believe some technical issue or operational difficulty can be overcome, perhaps with alterations to the design to better meet our recommendations. 3D printing charges are not subject to our Instagram special offer discounts.

The cost of printing is mainly in the polymer resin consumed, and that weighs 1.13g per cubic centimetre or millilitre. Although there are other costs from the tank and build platform parts, finishing solvents, disposable gloves, etc., the next major consideration is the time to print and finish your model. It can take a full day to print a full build volume, but the printer does that mostly by itself, our time is in finishing the output, along with any required additional UV curing. Ultimately all the costs are proportional to the print volume.

There is a minimum printing order charge of £5, otherwise depending on the type of resin it's from £1 per gram used depending on resin type, plus at least £1.75 P&P per order P&P within the U.K. - large items and International shipping will usually require additional postage charges.

When we remove your model from the printer we will clean away all un-cured resin that we can, remove the printing supports, and dry the finished items. We won't normally send you the printing support structure remains, unless you ask us specially to do so. There's no extra charges for printing multiple files or several separate items at once, we only charge for the total weight of resin used.

We do not perform post-printing surface filing, filling or polishing. We will UV cure any "functional resin" prints that require it. If requested we can apply a coat of Johnson's Klear as a surface sealant which enhances the overall finish and helps Standard Clear resin prints achieve optically clarity - we sell that separately rebottled as our K4-A/B options in the Marketplace section of our site.

For example: a finished model of an N-gauge 2mm scale wagon body that weighs say 5g, depending on its shape, might have required a further 0.5g in printing supports, and so be charged at £12.75 including U.K. delivery.

One example of what can be achieved with our type of 3D printer is shown here in a news item: 3dprint.com/22484/3d-printed-batman-form1/

Here's an independent review of the printer we use:
youtu.be/s8zwlbs_QvM


  3D Printed Golden Arrows.

3D printed Golden Arrows.





Light Covers Printed In Standard Clear Resin.

Standard Clear light covers.

3D Scanning Details

Our Matter & Form precision 3D laser scanner slowly rotates an object on a black rubber turntable bed while viewing it with a camera and firing two red lasers in turn at it. From the captured point cloud, the end result can be saved as a watertight 3D printable model file. The unit captures approximately 2000 surface points a second and can save files as 3D printer-ready ".STL" or ".OBJ" format, point cloud ".PLY" and ".XYZ" files for maximum compatibility, or its own native ".MFC" format.
The maximum object size is:
18 cm = 7.0 inches in diameter, and
25 cm = 9.8 inches in height.

Very small objects won't scan well, we recommend:
minimum object size 3cm cube.

Surface features can be captured as small as:
0.43 mm = 430 microns within +/- 0.25 mm = 250 microns,

Render smoothing to create the mesh file means surface detail effectively:
+/- 0.75 mm = 750 microns.
This is a developing technology and results depend heavily on the object surface colouring and lighting conditions, unavoidably certain shapes will have problems. Matte finish objects in a neutral colour scan best, we've found HobbyCraft's "Colour It Ready Mix Paint" very helpful for coating objects before scanning - the flesh coloured paint is rather like Calamine Lotion, and can be simply washed off afterwards. Another option is to apply talcum powder to reduce the gloss of surfaces. Thin walls, holes or deep crevices, and pointy projections do not scan well - the scanner will easily delete a thin wall and extend a hole into a lump that isn't there! Multiple scans can sometimes be combined, aligning dfferent angles of data capture automatically to improve the results in a final model file. There are some limited cleaning up options in the software - to remove all data points below a specified height up from the scan turntable bed, and points outside of a given cylinder from the centre.

Scanning something larger than your wanted end design, for later scaling down, is a good approach - e.g. a G-Scale 1:29th figure to end up with a 4mm 1:76 final printing. Scans can be mirror flipped quite easily, other enhancements to the STL would require further chargeable work. It might be advisable to scan a model by separating it into sections to create multiple STL files that can be joined later in CAD software. We've done a lot of work with a boat modeller who prepares plastacine models of half of a side of each boat for scanning, which is then mirrored and assembled into a final full boat print file.

Send us something to scan for the £10 flat rate charge per scan operation - and if the results fail to satisfy there will be no scanning charge. All postage here and back, including hopefully insurances, will be at your further non-refundable cost, just Contact Us to arrange the shipment to our UK address. We'll send you the ".STL" file, or other supported file formats if preferred, by email or put it on a CD to post back with the model, after payment.

Here's an independent review of our scanner:
youtu.be/sZXlwxAe9co


 






A Model Car Dashboard To Scan.

A car dashboard & flipped scan.

Scan Flipped For Right Hand Drive.

Frequently Asked Questions
   
Please just Contact Us to ask if you have any questions.

We would be pleased to explain any details of how our 3D printing and scanning works, what it can and cannot do, discuss what you'd like to achieve and hopefully help you to create amazing things. But here's some earlier questions that reveal common misconceptions about the capabilities of any current 3D printing and scanning technology:
"Can you cheaply print a full body shell design for a 1:87 model bus with 1mm thick sides ?":
Yes and No! It might be something you can get printed elsewhere in one piece using other technologies, with their features of brittleness, yellowing, and rough or striated surfaces. But the SLA technology we use works differently and has different requirements, which mean the chances of a complete body shell with all those window struts successfully printing in one piece are slim, and the sides are probably too slim relative to the overall size. Although perhaps our Form-3 printer might manage it because of it's new low-force printing action that allows for finer than ever parts. An alternaitve approach could be to split up a design into a number of flat-backed sides, our Form-2 printer might then achieve the industry best surface finish with flexible yet robust results at a reasonable price.

"Could you scan a 1:43rd scale die-cast model car and print a 1:76th scale version ?":
Not really no! There are no known scanners that can do that in one go. Scanners don't see things the way we do and the best result of a scanning a full model car would be a jelly-mould blob that could be used as a guide to the size and overall shape for use in creating a new 3D design file using a 3D drawing program. What can work is to dismantle a model into pieces that can be individiually scanned, for better results at more cost of course, but you would still need to work on those scan files to refine and assemble them into something printable.

"Could you scan a 4mm OO scale "West-Country" steam engine body shell and print it as a longer N-gauge 2mm "Merchant Navy" class ?":
No! There's a bit more to it than just re-scaling it a bit longer, and we don't offer that printing feature for a stretch in one dimension, only as an overall re-scaling. What that requires is a lot of time consuming 3D design work to make the boiler section longer and we don't offer that service, sorry.