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Walter is a freelance designer and creator of Thrinter.com, a 3D printing blog.


What made you start printing?

As you can probably guess by looking at my designs, I love backpacking, surfing, snowboarding, snow camping, and other outdoor activities. When I'm indoors, I'm usually working as a software engineer or building things with my 3D printers.

I've always been driven to create. I grew up with computers and software as my main tools, so I was working primarily with bits, pixels, and paper. I couldn't wait for 3D printers to become affordable, they have made it possible to create tangible, functional objects using tools I was already familiar with.

What printer do you use?

I currently use a Cranestyle Mini (designed by Whosawhatsis) and an Eustathios (designed by Eric Lien and others), both are home-made and customized for my printing style. The Cranestyle Mini is a small, fast printer that I built recently and I'm still tuning. The Eustathios is much larger and it's been my main printer for the last few years. I have also used a RigidBot and an Afinia, most of my older designs were printed on them.

How do you get inspiration for your designs?

Most of my designs start with a need. Some of them are born purely out of curiosity. Sometimes I'm inspired by something I see, sometimes by something I remember, but the most interesting solutions tend to occur unexpectedly. I'm often inspired and influenced by nature, like the wave, the leaf, or the shape of a boulder.

Wave iPad Stand - https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:91942
Customizable Lens Filter Case - https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:43781
Magnetic Cover for Echo Dot - https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2490385

wave design

Tell us more about your blog. Why did you start it?

I started Thrinter as a way to share what I've learned about 3D printing, things I think others will find helpful. I have posts on printer design, printer settings, filaments, print quality, material properties, post processing techniques, and print failures. Unfortunately I'm not nearly as productive when it comes to writing so I have only finished a small fraction of the posts I want to write.


effects of infil

What makes your designs unique?

I don't think my designs are unique in the way most artistic designs are. But I prefer simpler forms so my designs often have a minimalist aesthetic.

Which do you think is your best design and why?

With so many designs for different purposes, it's hard for me to compare them. But I love designs where the function merges with the aesthetic and all the parts are simultaneously functional and aesthetic. I'm not sure if I've ever achieved this fully, certainly not in the more complex designs, but sometimes I can get close.

boulder design

What advice do you have for other aspiring designers?

Design with emotion. The feeling I get when looking at a design is often a better guide than what I see or think. Subtle changes can look the same yet feel very different.

Try designing things in new ways. 3D printing lets us create designs that could never have been manufactured before. This opens up so many unexplored options in the design world, entirely new ways of doing things that no one has thought of yet. It's a very exciting time to be a designer.


Thrinter - https://thrinter.com/
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/walterhsiao/
500px - https://500px.com/walterhsiao
Vimeo - https://vimeo.com/walterhsiao
Google Plus - https://plus.google.com/+WalterHsiao

Wave iPad Stand
by walter
Customizable Lens Filter Case
by walter
Magnetic Cover for Echo Dot
by walter

Love your designs, Walter! I just got my printer last month and will be trying some of them out.

Thanks for putting this together, Ana. Hope to see inside the minds of more designers soon!

Hey Walter- Thanks for all your great designs -- I'm a long-time fan. I also admire the quality and artfulness in the photographs you post of your work. Care to share your photo setup along with any tips and tricks? Cheers!

Thanks! Check out thrinter.com, I'm putting together a series of posts that covers photographing 3D prints. I plan to cover basic lighting, light tents, flashes, and post processing. I still have a lot of work to do there so it may be a while before I get though all the things I want to cover, but the first posts are up and more should be coming soon.

Walter, i am one of your biggest fans. You are the designer which designs i like the most, and i am not even limiting this statement to this website or 3d printing. Not only are your designs beautifully minimalistic but also highly functional and mechanically sound. Thank you for describing your process and tools, but most importantly thank you for designing and sharing your designs.

Walter has been one of the most inspiring 3D printing designers out there for a while. Thanks for the feature and bringing his designs to more poeople.

Did you lose your shoes?

You could print some boots if you did!

:) I didn't lose them, not on that trip. I just don't like swimming with shoes on.

I have thought a lot about printing backpacking sandals as none of the one's I've tried are quite what I want. I just don't think I can make a better pair, at least not yet.

I jest, but that is an interesting idea.

Where do you like to backpack? I'm personally into the high sierras, but it's always cool to get suggestions. Also, what's a good way to get started on learning to design quality 3D prints? I've been going by experience but it'll take a while to get a hang of the design process- any advice on getting started?

I love the high sierra as well and that's where I almost always go, I don't think I'll ever run out of places to explore there. For those who haven't been and have only hiked on trails, once you get above the treeline in the high sierra, it's pretty easy to go explore around anywhere (well not quite, watch out for the cliffs, waterfalls, streams, and rock climbing with a pack is not a good idea). But there are countless lakes and streams that are off the trail, you can step over a mountain pass and see an entire basin with almost no one in it. Most areas don't require you to stay in designated campsites and have trailhead quotas so most areas are much more secluded than other places I've backpacked.

If you haven't checked out the Trinity Alps, they're spectacular as well, but a lot further away as it looks like you're lucky to be really close to Sequoia/Kings Canyon. I'm happy to share my designs online, but I'm keeping my favorite off trail backpacking sites a secret :)

I think a lot of learning to design for 3D printing is just spending the time designing and printing. Trying new things, figuring out why they don't work, and trying again. Figure out what you like and don't like and build up from there. You can also learn a lot by looking through Thingiverse, seeing the many different ways many people design what is functionally the same. Sometimes it's nice to start without seeing other designs though, as those designs can fix features in your mind that you would have done differently, maybe better, if you hadn't looked at what everyone else was doing.

A lot of the plastic designs you see around you are the way they are because of the limitations of injection molding (things like ribs, draft angles, wall thickness restrictions). I think a lot of people have a tendency to copy what they're used to, so it does take some effort to break away from that to avoid bringing injection molding limitations into designs for 3D printing.

In the world of design for injection molding, there are a ton of resources, but consumer 3D printing is new and I don't know of any good options. Things are also changing so quickly that anything that does get written often goes rapidly out of date. I don't have any formal design experience though so I expect there are a lot of useful resources for designers out there, I just don't know them. Maybe others will have suggestions on things that have helped them.

Hello Walter,

Thank You for taking the time to spend talking about your experiences. I am a public school teacher in Georgia and have started an interest based class where students Learn Create and Share. This is my first full year of implementing and I have gathered a decent amount of resources and tutorials for students to learn 3D design using Solidworks as well as Autodesk programs.

Do you have advice or favorite resources for students interested in getting started with 3D design? What keeps you going when you run into problems?

That is cool, I would have loved to have these kinds of classes when I was a student. I'm glad there are teachers like you who are taking the initiative to create and teach them. I do think parametric CAD programs like the ones you're using are the the way to go, not just because it's more useful, but it seems like a great way for students to appreciate and visualize geometry. For learning CAD, I think video tutorials are a great way to go, there are a lot of free ones on YouTube, but I think there are many paid courses that may be better suited for classroom use.

There are usually two ways I tend to use the videos. The first is all about knowing what's possible. For example, if I want to learn about surface modeling, I might watch an hours worth of video on the topic. Assuming I don't need to use it right away, I don't pay too much attention to how it's done, I just want to have a better sense of what is possible. I may even play these videos at 1.5 or 2x speed or watch them while I'm doing other things. The other time is if I run into a specific task that I don't know how to do, say I want to put threads on a part. In that case I'd watch a video (or sometimes more than one), hopefully about 5-10 minutes worth, then I'll try the task again. It's the doing it myself where I actually learn, especially after I've done the same thing a few times. But before I get to the point where I'm ready to learn something new, I need to know that it's something I need to learn, and I need a situation where I can apply it.

Hmm, what keeps me going when I run into problems? I don't think I really have a choice. My brain will tend to keep working away at the problem whether I want it to or not. So the best way for me to avoid getting distracted by thinking of random solutions all the time is to implement them. That seems to clear up more space for new designs to stop popping into my head so it's an endless cycle.

I'm not sure if this would be useful in the classroom, but if I run into a problem and I'm not making any progress, I'll just set it aside and wait for inspiration. More likely than not, I'll think of a solution or a new approach some time later (it can be a few minutes, or a few months). I always like to have multiple projects or tasks in the pipeline at the same time, so I can switch to something else when I'm blocked. It's much more enjoyable and less frustrating that way, I'll often head straight to the computer jot down notes when this kindo f inspiration happens. It also often leads to much better solutions as the problem I'm stuck on is often irrelevant and a better approach would avoid the problem entirely.

I don't always stop and switch when blocked, I'll sometimes go on ahead with a sub-optimal solution or workaround, but then I'll often revisit it later when I get inspiration on a different way of doing things.

Hi Walter. I'm a big fan of your job and I often use your things to calibrate/test my printers.
I was wondering what is your favorite CAD software? Does the choice of the software depend on the design?
I personnaly like to use Openscad for its units/scale system ; I might be wrong but you don't use it anymore right?

Thanks! I'm mostly using Onshape these days, I find I work faster in Onshape so it makes it possible to make more things :)

I do think different designs often work better with different programs, and the choice software often influences the design. There have been times I've started in one program only to switch to another part way through.

Yeah, i haven't been using Openscad lately, there are times I do miss it and think I should start using it again. Mostly when the modeling involves more complicated math or when I think it would be useful as a customizable design. For the most part though, I find the variables feature of Onshape is sufficient for most designs when I want to make them customizable.

I never tried Onshape yet, but I will for sure ;)
Thanks for your answer.

I'm surprised not to see more questions here....I have tons of questions to ask to skilled designers for 3D printing like you....
If you got the time here is one more :
What's your routine to test a new filament? and how do you save your calibration's datas?
I have spend some times on thrinter trying to learn as much as I could, but I'm still a bit messy with that.

Ask away, I'll do my best to answer and hopefully others will find the questions and answers useful too. When you try out Onshape, make sure you check out the variables feature, you can do basic math in the expressions, including trigonometric functions (which I think is new, I don't think it worked the last time I tried it).

I'm not so great about that either, I find easiest thing to do is to write whatever I think is important on the spool with a opaque paint marker. Usually this is just the filament diameter, sometimes temperature or min nozzle size on some filaments. If I'm happy with the setting I used, I'll write it on the spool and update it if it changes.

For the most part, I just remember most of the settings and adjust them for each print. I save profiles for specific prints I may want to repeat or for a few styles of printing, but there are just too many parameters that are design-dependent for it to be practical to have a generalized filament profile. For example, I'll change the print temperature of Natureworks PLA between 190 to 240 depending on how matte or glossy or transparent I want the print. I mostly can use fixed retraction values, but I'll sometimes have to bump it up if the filament has absorbed some moisture (firmware retraction is great for this). I'm still figuring out how many settings I need for pressure advance, I'm using different values for PLA and PETG, but it's really dependent on not just the plastic, but also the nozzle size, temperature, and I don't know what else. Even with filament diameter, there are times I want to slightly overextrude or underextrude.

i have found longer bowden tubes make it difficult to get consistent results. And I prefer dual drive extruders, I think they behave more consistently as well. So when I get a new spool of filament and it's not a new type of plastic, I'll mostly just measure the diameter and use the settings I'm used to.

Alright, that's where 3D printing becomes an art, right?
Thanks for the answer, it confirms that my methods are not so bads. Still I need to push my research about the pressure advance ; thanks for the clue.

By the same time you answered a question I wanted to ask : extruders! But looking at your recent 5 dual drives extruders post, I do have some clues. I will probably try your Quadstruder K7 which looks awesome.

I red that you use Marlin and smoothieware. Have you ever tried other firmwares? Which (opensource) firmware would you recommand?

Thanks a lot for everything you share! And awesome pics btw!

Thanks! The quadstruder is working well, I've been using it with my latest printer, but the brass gears are starting to wear after a few months of use. I have some new stainless steel gears on the way so I'll update the design when those arrive. Bondtechs are also very nice, though not cheap.

Of the firmwares I've used (Marlin in the Rigidbot, Smoothie in the Eustathios, Repetier in the BoXZY, and Reprapfirmware in the Cranestyle), reprapfirmware is my favorite. The web interface has a lot of very nice features, printer control of course, but also editing of all the configuration files. There are still a couple of things I prefer in smoothieware, I get better temperature stability and its PWM algorithm seems to quieter with fans (worse with lights though). But overall Reprapfirmware on a DuetWifi is my current favorite. I'm nowhere near current with all the firmwares though, so my opinion is based on what I have installed, and I'm comparing the current reprapfirmware with other firmwares that are one, two, or three years old so this is in no way a fair or accurate comparison.

I can't really compare print quality as I'm running them on different printers and using different stepper drivers. The newer generation of stepper drivers are very nice too, much smoother and quieter. I'll probably upgrade my Eustathios at some point just for use the newer stepper drivers.

Makes a lot of precious infos to explore. Thanks again Walter

Do you think people could earn a living from design for 3D printing at some point? Do you earn anything directly from your designs?

I don't know, I think it would be a challenging career path. I think photography is similar and from what I've heard (mostly from photography podcasts), the photographers that succeed either work for hire (wedding and corporate photography) or have a combination of skill, business, and marketing savy that lead to success. I think it would be easier to make a career of doing contract design work than make a career of creating original designs for 3D printing, but that probably wouldn't be as fun. If you can create designs and productize them, that seems like a good option if you have the skills to do that, but then the designing is just a small part of a much larger business.

But I wouldn't have thought making a career out of producing YouTube video was viable, but there are quite a few people who do that successfully these days, so I wouldn't give much weight to my opinions on the matter. We're still in the early stages of consumer 3D printing, so who knows where things will go from here.

I do earn some money from the affiliate links I occasionally add to the descriptions and on my blog. It averages a few dollars (US) a day so I don't plan to make a career out of it, but it helps offset the costs of this hobby (maybe it'll increase after this Q&A). I've also earned a couple hundred USD via tips through Thingiverse so many thanks for everyone who has contributed there. I don't earn money directly from my designs. It just seemed like charging for the designs would massively decrease the number of people would would benefit from them, without making much money for me. Of course it's people like me who make it harder for others to charge for designs.

There must be lots of other people on Thingiverse with other opinions and more experience with this so maybe they'll chime in below.

How do you have the time to do a job plus spend time camping, hiking, etc AND be such a prolific designer? You must have no time for movies, books, etc?

Yeah, just as you probably expect, I almost never watch movies, TV shows, or play video games anymore. Which can be quite challenging as I keep hearing them talked about on podcasts and from friends, but it's easier to not watch anything than just watch a little :) I don't even remember the last non-technical book I've read, but I do listen to a lot of audio books. While it's not the same experience as reading, I can listen while designing, printing, driving, etc.

The backpacking doesn't take up too much time as I'm usually only out a few days at a time, but 3D printing has really cut into time I used to spend on other hobbies, many of which were probably much healthier for me. I've also taken time off between jobs to focus on 3D printing and building printers. Probably not a great decision financially, but I probably wouldn't have had the time or energy to build and modify my printers if I hadn't.

Where do you start when you get an idea you want to put to paper or in CAD? What's your process?

I usually start with a blank CAD document and sketch out the main shape / structures with dimensions. I find that helps me visualize things and it's easier to refine from there. Occasionally I'll draw shapes on paper, usually for for 2d shapes and curves. I find those are easier to get a feel for those on paper, especially when it comes to more organic shapes or complex curves.

Often during the process, especially with more complicated designs I'll hit a dead end or things just aren't progressing the way I want. When that happens I'll usually set it aside. I'll usually be inspired later to tackle the problem from another direction, which may mean modifying the existing design or starting over from scratch.