Dec 2, 2015 | By Tess

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! For those of us who love a little bit of snow around the holidays but might not like the cold, or for those of us who may live in a warmer climate and miss out on the great snowfalls that some places get around this time, there is now a way to bring snow into your home, through The Snowflake Machine which creates beautiful and realistic looking 3D printed snowflakes.

Laura Taalman, also known as Mathgrrl on her Thingiverse profile, has created an algorithm and interface that allow for users to easily generate 3D snowflake designs. What is especially impressive about the project is that in using the algorithm and computer coding processes, the number of different snowflake designs that can be generated through the Snowflake Machine is virtually limitless. Just how no two organic snowflakes are alike, no two 3D printed snowflakes should be alike!

In order to achieve this, Taalman looked to how real snowflakes are formed in nature, and how they each come to possess their unique properties and designs. She explains, “Stellar plane crystal snowflakes start from a hexagonal prism seed and then grow outward with branches and plates whose size and positions are determined by the temperature and humidity of the atmosphere.”

The OpenSCAD code that generates the 3D snowflake designs works by creating random sequences of numbers based on a seed that is selected by the user, then by gradually building up the snowflakes design through the various next steps. Evidently, temperature and humidity cannot come into play with the 3D modeled snowflakes, but the Customizer sliders which can be adjusted by the user act in lieu of these natural elements, allowing for a nearly infinite number of snowflake designs to be made.

With the Snowflake Machine users can easily create 3D models of snowflakes that can be 3D printed and turned into window decorations or ornaments. It is also possible to adjust the size of the snowflake models, allowing users to additively manufacture giant, extremely detailed snowflakes, or even micro-flakes, which can be made with an ultra-fine nozzle.

As an interface, the Snowflake Machine is relatively straight forward to use, as you simply select “Open in Customizer”, choose a seed and adjust the style settings. When the desired design is achieved simply select “Create Thing” and then voila, after a few minutes your design should be ready to download and 3D print.

Taalman does offer some useful tips when using the Snowflake Machine, such as remembering and reusing a particular snowflake seed you liked to base more designs from it, and that the 3D printed snowflakes generally look best when made with 4 to 7 steps, even if the Snowflake Machine allows for 11 steps. She also points out that it is possible to quickly make and print what she calls “mathematically perfect snowflakes” which have the organic setting set to zero, but that the generated snowflakes look much more realistic and stylized with a higher organic setting.

The Snowflake Machine can be used through Thingiverse, but Taalman recommends downloading a free copy of OpenSCAD, as well as the snowflakerator.scad file which is available on the Thingiverse page. By working directly through OpenSCAD it is easier to visualize the snowflake design and all of its details.

Along with the .scad file, some ready to 3D print models of already generated snowflakes are available for download on Taalman’s Thingiverse page, and she urges anyone who creates their own model to 3D print it and take a photo of the result. Since every snowflake design is likely to be different, it would be great to see how many different ones are actually made!

Laura Taalman is a mathematician and professor who is self taught in 3D printing technologies and design. Her Thingiverse page includes many other 3D printed projects such as 3D printed thermoform jewelry, and a customizer that can create 3D models for all tessellating  convex pentagons.

If you or someone you love is missing snow this year, be sure to check out the Snowflake Machine to 3D print some amazing snowflakes that can be hung around the house, given as gifts, or placed just about anywhere to add some winter cheer!

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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