Practical Magic: 3D Design

2015 was an electrifying year here at the library.  We debuted Gutenberg and Ada, entering into a complicated and wonderful relationship with the newest technology on the block: 3D printing.  It has been an awesome year watching Gute inspire ideas and spark conversations, enable ingenious solutions to problems like the Tech Services Department’s beloved tape dispenser breaking, and we got to do what librarians do best and pass along our 3D printing and design know-how through demos and our first 3D printing workshop.

Why branch out into design?

It’s twofold.  One, we want to keep fostering that inventive spirit and get our patrons thinking in 3D.  Finding something neat to print on Thingiverse is great, but creating something you need from scratch or by customizing someone else’s design is at the core of the maker movement and, for the school-aged crowd, STE(A)M (Science, Technology, Engineering, [Art!], and Math) education.  Not to mention it’s incredibly satisfying to design something and find that it works, even if it took several iterations to get it just right.  Basically, though, we want to support curiosity and help you find and hone some of the tools and skills you can use to go forth and create.

Second, we get so many questions during demos about creating the files we print that we couldn’t resist designing a workshop around answering at least some of our favorites: “Where do you find what you’re printing?” “How can I make my own designs?” “Can I print my cat?” “How about this photograph?”  In short, “The internet,” “The internet,” “Not quite,” and “Kind of.”

To expand on those answers a little:  We do find a lot of our most awesome prints on Thingiverse, where crafty-types upload their designs and we reap the benefits.  However, to get you started making your own designs, there are resources like Tinkercad, a very simple, web-based and free to use (with an account) option for beginners; Project Shapeshifter, which is also free, doesn’t require an account and is equally good for beginners; and Google SketchUp, a free software download for the slightly more adventurous newbie.  As for printing a model of your cat, if you can get it to hold still long enough, you could give Autodesk’s 123D Catch a whirl, which is an app that allows you to “scan” items using your phone or tablet’s camera.  Want to give that 2D photo a pop into the third dimension?  Image to Lithophane is a nifty tool that we recently discovered that lets you upload a photo, convert it to a 3D version, download the STL file and print it.

So what did you miss and what can you look forward to in future 3D printing workshops?

In our first workshop—and bear in mind this is all totally subject to change as we figure out exactly what the heck it is we’re doing—we debuted Ada, our Flashforge Creator Pro, brought Gute out for an adventure, and went over one of our favorite basic 3D design tools, MakerBot’s PrintShop iPad app.  Playing with the app in the workshop means you get to create your own nameplate, bracelet, ring, vase, medal, or bring a doodle to life and then print it for free here at the library.

This workshop was, we hope, the first of many such adventures in 3D design.  In fact due to the popularity of the adult program, we’re offering one for grade 4 and up on Wednesday January 27 4:30-6pm, and you can register—or register your young’un—at the Youth Services desk in the library or at (603) 766-1740.  The workshop is limited to eight participants, so hop on the registration bandwagon now.  Stay tuned for more dates for design workshops for all ages coming later in the spring.

Check our events calendar and Facebook events page for updates on our upcoming printer demos and workshops!


Gutenberg enjoys humming, getting crafty, and causing mischief around the library. Ada enjoys reading up on the latest 3D printing technology and researching tips and tricks to make life easier. Gute and Ada’s people enjoy tinkering, making, and discovering ingenious solutions to everyday problems. If you have questions or suggestions for future Practical Magic posts, please feel free to email us at

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