KiraKira Inspired Us to 3D Print, And Here’s What Happened Next

With KiraKira founder Suz Somersall on the Spirit of 608 podcast this week, it was more than enough motivation to try 3D design and printing for the first time.

If you haven’t caught Episode 98 yet, let me catch you up: Suz came up with the idea for the platform while participating in the University of Virginia iLab as a community member. Trained as a jewelry designer, Suz entered the program to grow her ecommerce business, but soon found herself going in an entirely new direction, one that became educational online 3D design and printing platform KiraKira.

If you’ve been curious about 3D design and printing, but don’t have access to the machines you need to take objects from plan to reality, you’re in luck: with KiraKira, you don’t even need access to a printer. Send in your first two designs, and they’ll print out your finished piece for free as long as it fits their max dimensions (so, sorry, no surfboards – instead, think objects that could fit in the palm of your hand). After that, you can buy designs and finished “prints.”

Created to educate and inspire young girls ages 13-18 to teach them more about 3D printing and mechanical engineering, the site offers free video courses that are 10 minutes or shorter. KiraKira’s tutorials break down the process organically so you can see the object you’re making come together shape by shape.

KiraKira features rows upon rows of designs submitted by users. The community members can interact with one another by sharing, saving and liking each other’s creations. Think Pinterest, but solely focusing on 3D design. Members can also submit designs to competitions on the site. Past categories include “best dog tags” and “Gigi Hadid inspired jewelry.”

You can buy designs to use with a printer you have access to or order the finished “print” itself. From jewelry to iPhone cases and even clothing, the site features dozens of ideas for users of varying expertise to get started with.

For a few to try, check out how to make a teaspoon KiraKira style. Or if you’re interested in jewelry creation, this bangle is a cool place to start experimenting.

While KiraKira’s focus is on empowering young women to become future STEAM leaders (and FEST founders, we hope, too), it’s important to call out that anyone can use the site to learn, upload designs and shop new prints.

Inspired, I dove into the KiraKira site and went to the University of Virginia’s 3D printing lab with a few designs in mind.

Here’s what I learned:

Know this…

Yes, it’s true, you don’t have to be a tech guru in order to operate a 3D printer. All you need is a little imagination, some creativity, access to a 3D printer (plus its equipment) and a computer.

First, you need to…

The first thing you’ll have to do is design a model to be printed. Tinkercad is the software that I used, and it is intended for beginners. SketchUp is the design system of choice for intermediate users, and Fusion 360 is the one to go for if you’re interested in finagling with some expert level optics.

Next, you’ve got to…

Once a design is created and ready to print, it’s uploaded to a software called Cura, which takes the imported design and slices it into layers. This preps the design for printing since 3D printing traces out the layers from the bottom-up. This is the main determinant of the quality: the thinner the layers, the better the quality.

Once you start printing…

Printers heat up a material known as filament, which is the Latin word for thread. The filament in my model was made out of polylactic acid (PLA), a biodegradable and bioactive polyester. PLA prints at around 180-230 degrees celsius, and the platform itself is heated to 65 celsius so the surface is adhesive and the print sticks to the glass.

A word about filaments…

Other types of filaments such as copper and wood exist as well, both of which can be fun when creating jewelry or other accessories. Based on my level of design expertise, I decided to keep it simple and create a name block depicting the logo of a school club.

When I wanted to start printing, I discovered that a low quality print of my design would take 41 minutes, while a medium quality print required an hour and four minutes, so medium quality it was. Because many many objects are enclosed, it doesn’t matter what’s on the inside. Using a porous inside can save printing time and filament. Iff you want a stronger model and more density is required, you need to opt for a filament with more infill. 

If it sounds confusing, take a look at the diagram below.

Models featuring different percentages of infill

How great is good help?

Now might also a good time to mention that I had some additional assistance from Duy Nguyen, a student technologist in 3D printing who works at UVA’s Makerspace. The Makerspace is a place for students to explore graphic design, physical computing and augmented reality. Nguyen is a fourth-year engineering student and helped with the mechanics of printing.

After threading the printer with filament and adjusting the temperature settings, I was ready to print.

The Ultimaker was the printer that I used

All I had to do was sit back, relax, and wait. Instead, I watched the printer heat up the filament as it whizzed back and forth, printing my design.

When it came time for the lettering, Nguyen paused the printer and rethreaded it with a different color of filament that I selected.

To my surprise, the entire process was truly that quick, and I can see the appeal of 3D printing. In just two hours, a figment of my imagination became something cradled in my hand.

“The appeal of 3D printing is very much in the art itself because there are cheaper ways to get it done and there are more efficient ways to get it done, but I’m going to 3D print it because it’s awesome. The idea, for the consumer to be able to make whatever they want on the fly and that it can be created immediately — that ability and freedom is only there with 3D printing,” said Nguyen. 

My finished product

If you’re interested 3D printing and how it can be a part of your design future, check out Spirit of 608 podcast EP 98 and KiraKira.

Top image: courtesy KiraKira 




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