3D printing

5 Labs That Use 3D Printing for Biohacking Projects

The greatest bridge between the world of makers and the world of biohackers is probably the mighty 3D printer. The main difference is instead of using plastics, they’re using biomaterials to build three-dimensional structures, and using special bioinks made of living cells to print messages and patterns.

Human cells cultured into a decellularized apple slice (left) and an apple carved into an ear shape (right) from Pelling Labs. Photo by Bonnie Findley

How BioCurious Started Bioprinting

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BioCurious is a mandatory stop among biohacker communities in North America. This pioneering space, located in Sunnyvale, California, hosts a number of great people collaborating on the DIY BioPrinter project. Their bioprinting adventure started in 2012, when they had their first meetups. According to Patrik D’haeseleer, who is leading the project with Maria Chavez, they were looking for community projects that could bring new people into the space and let them quickly collaborate. None of the project leaders had a specific bioprinting application in mind, nor did they have previous knowledge on how to build this kind of printer. Still, it appeared to be a fairly approachable technology that people could play with.

“You can just take a commercial inkjet printer. Take the inkjet cartridges and cut off the top essentially. Empty out the ink and put something else in there. Now you can start printing with that,” D’haeseleer explains.

The BioCurious group started by printing on big coffee filters, substituting ink with arabinose, which is a natural plant sugar. Then they put the filter paper on top of a culture of E. coli bacteria genetically modified to produce a green fluorescent protein in the presence of arabinose. The cells started to glow exactly where arabinose was printed.

Modifying commercial printers for this, as they were doing, presented challenges. “You may need to reverse engineer the printer driver or disassemble the paper handling machinery in order to be able to do what you want,” says D’haeseleer.

First major success with BioCurious’ $150 DIY BioPrinter: fluorescent E. coli printed on agar with an inkjet printhead. Photo by Patrik Dʼhaeseleer

So the group decided to build their own bioprinter from scratch. Their second version uses stepper motors from CD drives, an inkjet cartridge as a print head, and an open source Arduino shield to drive it — a DIY bioprinter for just $150 that you can find on Instructables.

The next and still current challenge deals with the consistency of the ink. Commercial cartridges work with ink that is pretty watery. But bioink requires a more gel-like material with high viscosity. The DIY BioPrinter group has been experimenting with different syringe pump designs that could allow them to inject small amounts of viscous liquid through the “bio print head.”

BioCurious’ early printer: $11 syringe pumps mounted on a platform made from DVD drives. Photo by Patrik Dʼhaeseleer

Moving to 3D

Starting with an already existing 3D platform seemed like the best way to go beyond 2D patterns. The group first tried to modify their existing 3D printer by adding a bio print head directly on it. However, their commercial machine required some difficult reverse engineering and software modification to perfect the process. After a couple of months, this led to a dead end.

The RepRap family of 3D printers influenced the next step. After buying an affordable open source printer kit, the bioprinting team was able to switch out the plastic extruding print head for a print head with flexible tubes that connected to a set of stationary syringe pumps. It worked.

Converting a RepRap into BioCurious’ latest 3D BioPrinter platform, with an Open…

Extract DNA at Home with a 3D Printed Centrifuge

Biotechnology is powerful, but only for those with the tools to experiment with and utilize it. The DIYbio movement seeks to put the tools and techniques used in well-funded laboratories around the world into the hands of ordinary people who have an interest but not the means to investigate biology.

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One of these tools is the centrifuge. Centrifuges come in many shapes and sizes to fit a wide variety of laboratory needs. There are large machines with precise controls for RPMs, G-force, timers of all kinds, and even ones with temperature control. Then there are mini-centrifuges used for simple DNA extraction and quick-spins for mixing the contents of test tubes.

This 3D-printed DIYbio mini-centrifuge was designed to do the latter and has actually been used in a real university biology lab doing real protocols. Building one is easy, and hopefully after you’re done reading this, you will have ideas of how to improve on this one, or maybe the inspiration to tackle other types of otherwise inaccessible and expensive pieces of equipment with 3D printing.

Print the Parts

Figure A. Assembly of the printed parts

Go to F.Lab’s Thingiverse page for the centrifuge to download the STL files. Because of the size of the parts, you may need to run multiple print jobs — this gives you a chance to switch colors like we did (Figure A). Print infill of 30% is recommended. Be sure to duplicate the feet so that you have 4 in total.

Program the Arduino

Figure B. Click for larger version

It’s a good idea to program your Arduino first and test everything out before assembling the entire centrifuge. Upload the code below to your Arduino. Wire everything together as in the diagram (Figure B), but make sure to use only temporary connections between the 3 drone motor wires and the ESC, because you’ll need to disconnect them and reattach them during the assembly process.

#include Servo myservo; int potpin = A0; // analog pin used to connect the potentiometer int val; // variable to read the value from the analog pin int listo = 13; void setup() { pinMode(listo, OUTPUT); digitalWrite(listo, LOW); myservo.attach(9); //pin de control al ESC arm(); // Función para armar el esc } void loop() { digitalWrite(listo, HIGH); //Sierra preparada LED intermitente delay(200); digitalWrite(listo, LOW); delay(200); // reads the value of the potent. (value between 0 and 1023) val = analogRead(potpin); // scale it to use it with motor. Limitado a 100. val = map(val, 0, 1023, 55, 140); myservo.write(val); } void arm() { //Función de armado myservo.write(0); delay(1000); myservo.write(30);...

Filament Friday: Refil ABS Is Recycled Plastic for More Sustainable Prints

A major complaint leveraged against 3D printing is the creation of additional plastic waste that is quickly filling the world’s waterways. Most filament on the market is created from new, first-use polymers, but the team at Refil is working to combat that with their line of recycled plastic filament — creating little to no extra plastic waste.

A good friend of mine called me up to let me know he was helping out with 3D Brooklyn (who have recently been creating downloadable models for the History channel’s Vikings TV show) and that he thought I should check out the new filament they were bringing to the US market. He sent me a spool of the Refil ABS, a filament made from 100% recycled car parts, with no virgin plastic used. While you may not get the color options found in new plastics (Refil ABS only comes in black) you will have the peace of mind knowing that you are not contributing to the pollution problem as much as using new plastic.

Using the Refil ABS made me remember how much I love printing in ABS. It was not that long ago that ABS was the dominant 3D printing material and PLA was experimental. ABS…

Scientists 3D Printed Cheese

These days, you can 3D print anything from a house to your breakfast. And as 3D-printed pizza becomes a thing, food scientists are examining what exactly happens when you print yourself some cheese.

A recent study in the Journal of Food Engineering explores how 3D printing affects the structure of processed cheese. How gross would 3D-printed Velveeta nachos be? A bevy of researchers from University College Cork in Ireland decided to find out.

They melted a commercially available processed cheese (think American cheese, not cheddar) and put it through a modified 3D printer that printed the cheese out at either a fast or a slow speed. The cheese was printed out into cylinders that were then cooled for 30 minutes and put in the refrigerator for a day. After that 24-hour refrigeration period, the researchers took the cheese out of the fridge to check its texture and chemical structure.

Laser Cutting An Enclosure To Compare To 3D Printing and Milling

There’s always a next step, a new opportunity to learn. For me, that’s the best part of being a maker. I’d wanted to come up to speed on 3 modern fabrication technologies, a filament 3D printer, a resin SLA 3D printer and a CNC router. At the Columbus Idea Foundry, a local makerspace, I had access to these devices. That led to my article, published on MakeZine in January. I wanted to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each of these technologies and as a beginner with them all, it was the perfect chance to compare.

My comparison project was to create an enclosure for a “Camera Axe,” a camera controller for high-speed photography developed by another maker, Maurice Ribble. I’d built the board from a kit. While it worked perfectly without an enclosure, it just seemed wrong to use it “naked.” But this was a challenge, the board was not designed with an enclosure in mid. ICs and capacitors stood taller on the board than the switches used to control it and the LCD display. Not an easy task.
My colleagues at the Idea Foundry were delighted with the article but they wondered why I’d stopped at 3 fabrication technologies. What about our Trotec Speedy 400 Laser cutter/engraver, they wondered. And so round 4 began. I’d never used a laser cutter either.


In comparison to additive approaches like 3d Printers and subtractive techniques like CNC routers, working with Laser Cutters is a different game altogether. One might call this fabrication model “assemblative.” Laser cutters can’t create cavities so creating an enclosure requires cutting an assortment of parts and assembling them. But as I looked at laser cut enclosure designs on the web, I was bothered by their appearance. Some looked like sandwiches gone wrong, with the height of the enclosure provided by many stacked layers of acrylic. Others seemed more like3d jigsaw puzzles with the sides and top made of interlocking parts. I wanted to produce an enclosure with a more professional look. As before I also wanted to create the enclosure using only one tool, in this case the laser cutter, and limiting myself to fasteners as add-ons. I chose acrylic sheet as my material, both because it is relatively easy to cut and because I had a source of inexpensive scrap at a local distributor.

Having worked in the world of true 3d, rethinking the design as a set of planar surfaces seemed very restrictive. As mentioned above, this enclosure needed to accommodate a range of bumps and recesses. What would I be giving up? In some ways, the step forward seemed simple. Just use Fusion 360, my 3d CAD software of choice, eliminate any chamfers on horizontal surfaces and then cut the enclosure into planes. I’d then just cut out each plane on the laser cutter. A top, a bottom and 4 sides.
But thickness is infinitely variable in a 3d print. Acrylic sheet comes in defined thicknesses, 1/16”, 1/8”, etc. My original design had recesses in the top to make the buttons accessible and recesses in the top’s underside to accommodate the parts that projected above the height of the tall buttons. Since the laser cutter can’t create recesses in a surface, each of those levels would require its own piece of acrylic. But then too, the variance in height wasn’t necessarily 1/16” or 1/8”. This was going to require a good deal of experimentation, both in the CAD tool and with actual prototype parts.
After a couple of iterations my design came to look like this:

Taking a part from CAD design to production with a 3d printer or CNC router is a two-step process. For example, with the Lulzbot TAZ printer, the design is exported from CAD and imported into Cura where it is prepped and then sent to the printer. Going from a CAD design to the final product uses with the Trotec laser system is a 3-step process.

  1. Export the drawing from the CAD tool
  2. Import the design into a vector graphics program where specific colors are assigned to define the areas to be engraved or cut
  3. Print the file from the vector graphics program which triggers the Job Control software to load. In that tool, you then position the laser, position the part, define the laser’s speed and power for each area of the design and then kick off the job.

In that setting of speed and laser power, laser cutting shares another common feature with CNC routing. In the world of CNC, “feeds and speeds” are a bit of an art form. What material is being routed? How fast should the bit be spinning? How many inches/second should the router move? How deep should each pass be? Settings for the laser cutter are similar. What material are we cutting or engraving? How fast should the laser move across the material? What percentage of full power should be used? And at what frequency should the laser pulses hit the material? As with the CNC router control software, the Trotec Job Control software incorporates settings for a wide range of materials. Still experimentation is needed.
The Trotec laser uses a vector graphics editor as a design tool. I had a copy of Corel Draw so that was my tool of choice. But how to get a drawing out of Fusion 360 and into Corel. Corel does accept CAD drawings in DXF format (only the pro version, not the Home version). But for the life of me, I couldn’t find a way to export a DXF out of Fusion 360. After far too many wasted hours I learned that you have to turn off “Capture Design History” to export a DXF file from a sketch. This makes no sense to me and is a significant headache. Once you turn off history to do the export, you can turn it back on but you will have lost all previous design history. Ugly!

The middle section of my design (between the two top layers and the bottom) stood about 1 inch tall. My initial thought was to cut it out of one block of 1 inch acrylic. That seemed like a good idea but I ran into two problems. First, the walls on the sides need to be quite thin to handle allow inserting 3.5mm cable ends into the board’s jacks. I was concerned that those thin walls would deform under the heat of the laser. So, I split that level of the design into 4 components, two endcaps and two side walls.
I still wanted to create the endcaps out of 1 inch acrylic. I ordered a 12-inch square of 1 inch acrylic online, but once I tried to cut it, I encountered the second problem. The Trotec Speedy 400 is a powerful laser cutter/engraver, with a 120W laser….

Look At These Sculptures Undulate Under Strobe Lighting

Artist John Edmark makes 3D-printed sculptures that are designed to “animate” when they’re rotating on a turntable and lit in just the right way.

There are two ways to create the effect—either view the sculpture in person while a strobe light flickers over it, or take a video with a very fast shutter speed (so each frame of the video is a tiny sliver of time, similar to a strobe light burst). In the videos below, the latter approach is used.

Edmark explains how the sculptures work mathematically:

Blooms are 3D printed sculptures designed to animate when spun under a strobe light. Unlike a 3D zoetrope, which animates a sequence…