Monday, July 12, 2010

Musing on Cutter Mats... Or, Lack Thereof!

Ah... the idle mind. Or... actually, in this case, the mind that refuses to remain idle in the face of absolutely NO new information. My mind has refused to be idle of late. And, it's all because of that illusive eCraft cutting machine!!

Sans facts, my mind races to fill in the blanks... right or wrong. As I fight the traffic around the DC beltway, my brain refuses to allow me to simply growl at the other drivers and wanders off into an imaginary world where I have the eCraft in my hot little hands.

There is something about the brain that actually LIKES not having all the facts. This leaves it free to wander in any direction it wants. And, somewhere between Tyson's Corner and Cabin John, Maryland the brain in this head took off into musing about the possibilities afforded by NOT having to immediately remove a cut shape from its page.

Now, with a mat, when I cut a shape I'm forced to either lift the shape or lift the page from which it was cut,  separating the two.  I have little choice in the matter.  The adhesive demands it.  And, like it or not that has ramifications on the types of applications we can effectively address with our cutter.

But, with the eCraft, the material comes out of the printer with the cut shape and the page, from which is has been cut, still intact and  TOGETHER. And, THAT started my brain thinking in 3D.

Suppose we design a set of pages with registration holes that might fit onto a corresponding set of pegs in a precise layout. Then, from page to page, we made changes to a shape. If we print each layer, leaving the page/shape intact and placed each page over the registration pegs, we could build up precisely aligned layers creating a 3D object.

Now, that isn't easy with a mat system. And, it might not be practical with a matless system. But, it sure might be fun to try.

Sitting next to me and staring at me is one of the little guys in the image below that printed with the Desktop Factory 3D printer.  If you look closely, you can see that he is built in layers.

About three years ago it looked like personal 3D printers might be VERY nearing release.  I began a 3D Printing blog and was fortunate enough to be able to test some 3D printer materials from Desktop Factory... including testing removing support materials from this little reindeer.

Unfortunately, we are still a ways away from having an off-the-shelf personal 3D printer that can do more than simply extrude plastic. The least expensive, the BTF 3000 is still over $3000!  In the meantime, that should not stop us from THINKING in 3D, even if it's a bit clunky. And, a mat-less cutter might be just a small step closer to that 3D dream.

The resolution and detail is not going to be even close to what a real 3D printer can deliver.  But, that shouldn't stop us from seeing what we CAN do to go beyond 2D in new and different ways that go beyond simply folding.  And, it shouldn't stop us from expanding our imaginations to widen our views of what a digital die cutter can do for us.

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