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Light Extruder

by mannytan, published

Light Extruder by mannytan Oct 21, 2015
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Light Extruder by mannytan is licensed under the Creative Commons - Attribution license.

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Light Extrusions is a photography experiment that captures light trails generated from a 3d model. Only instead of printing with plastic filament, it uses light from an LED. A camera captures the light using long exposure photography. For more information about the Light Extrusion project, head over to http://www.uncontrol.com/posts/light-extrusion-experiment/

Print Settings






1 mm layer height, 1 shell




Size the 3d model to under 80mm x 80mm x 80mm.
Position the 3d model in front, left of the build plate, floating in mid air. Makerbot desktop will try to place the object on the build plate. Add a small object on the build plate to bypass this issue.

outline speed 150
travel speed 150

*1 mm layer height is outside the range of Makerbot desktop. You will need to edit the profiles using an external editor.

How I Designed This


Below are instructions on how to make your very own Light Extruder.

Disclaimer I do not claim any responsibility for any damages made to your extruder or printer. Build at your own risk.

Parts List

Step 1 The Encoder + Arduino

  1. Connect the encoder directly to the Arduino using the above diagram. There’s an extra wire for ground, I ignored it, it’s up to you.
  2. Use test code from the rotary encoder's comments section to see if you’re reading the values in. Different Arduinos require different pin numbers so update yours accordingly. If your serial monitor it outputting numbers then it's working.
  3. Wire up the rest of the parts as shown.
  4. Use the new code with added toggle switch.
  5. Use an Arduino and breadboard mount to keep everything tidy.

Step 2 Preparing the Extruder.

  1. Print out the extruder mount, the cog wheel and a mount for the arduino. first. Use dark filament if possible.
  2. Warning, going past this point will probably void your warranty. I take no responsibility if you break it.
  3. Remove the extruder from the Printer. If it’s heated, wait for it to cool. clip off excess filament.
  4. Gently remove the guard near the tip of the extruder.
  5. Gently remove the yellow void sticker.
  6. Gently pry the extruder open without breaking the connector pins. use this video for help. If you break it the pins, it can still be be salvageable by tapping it shut with gaffer tape.
  7. When you open it, everything will fly out. That's expected.
    • castle nut + 2 bearings
    • black extruder spring mechanism
    • small black filament bridge thing
    • excess filament
  8. Set aside the parts above.
  9. At the top near the wheel thing there is a small green circuit board held in place with a phillips head. That is the filament detection board. We won’t need it so unscrew, lift up and set aside along with the connected black piece.
  10. What you should see now are four pins sticking up. You will need to connect only 1 jumper across the top 2 pins.
  11. The jumper I used was loose so I ended up removing the black part completely and soldered the jumper directly to the pins.
  12. Test the round band by only putting back the castle nut and bearings with this photo.
  13. The band will be rubbing next to the wheel opening so use a round filing chisel to file down the extruder casing.
  14. Put the close the extruder casing without the spring mechanism and small black filament bridge thing.
  15. To test, pull the band and the castle nut should freely rotate. there should be no friction at all.
  16. Add the guard back for stability.
  17. Attach the mount to the extruder. I use gaffer tape to fill any extra space between the extruder and mount for a snug fit. Make sure you constantly attach/reattach the extruder to the printer to prevent any alignment issues with the gaffer tape.

Step 3 Light Source

  1. Cut extra wires to make sure the LED is 4-5 inches longer than the encoder wire.
  2. Prick a small hole on some gaffer tape and wrap the led so no light leaks happen.
  3. For a tighter beam…
    1. Bend fiber optic wire at a right angle.
    2. Take lighter to the tip of the fiber optic wire to make a larger surface area Crazy glue fiber optic wire directly to LED
    3. Once dried, take a strip of gaffer tape and carefully wrap the led and fiber optic wire. try to make sure there are no air pockets
    4. Use a scissor to cut off excess tape and fiber wire.
    5. A tiny sliver of fiber optic wire should be peaking out from the edge of the gaffer tape.

Step 4 Assembling the Light Extruder

  1. The encoder should have a black cover around the rotating bit, remove with a hex wrench and add the cog. (the cog should only fit one way).
  2. Slide the encoder into the mount. Use gaffer tape around the encoder for a snug fit.
  3. Attach the round belt to the cog and the encode should be ready.
  4. Congratulations your Light Extruder is complete!

Step 5 Prepping the Extruder.

  1. Using a large box (preferably the one that came with the printer), place the box sideways (handles up) and fit the printer in the box. Open up the “bottom” of the box so you can reach the back of the printer to connect any cables. seal up with tape.
  2. Attach the light extruder to the printer and hang the arduino mount to the top using paper clips punched through the box. I positioned the arduino to the left side of the box to ensure there’s enough tension on the wire.
  3. Make sure you use extra paper clips to hang the connecting wire above the extruder because it will sometimes get caught between the extruder and the machine.

Printing and Capturing

  1. Use the print settings listed above, Some settings are outside of what Makerbot Desktop recommends. You will need to edit the profiles using an external editor.
  2. Position the camera at the back right of the build plate. Anywhere else may interfere with the printing process and may damage your camera
  3. Cameras will have different options. I manually focused the camera approximately where I think the model would be, used the lowest exposure setting possible and set up Bulb Mode with a remote control to handle the long exposure.
  4. When you send an file to print, start the camera after it lays down the long strip of filament (or when the build plate moves up for in the air prints)
  5. Use Makerbot Desktop to monitor the print
  6. Unlock the remote after the model has finished printing

Trial and Error

Getting my first capture took tons of trial and error. I originally used an iPhone with apps like Slow Shutter Cam and NightCap Pro to handle the long exposure capture but the results were too inconsistent. Your milage may vary. When you finally get a print you like, make sure you post a made one so everyone can see your results.

Happy light extruding!

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Very creative idea! Im into photography and on the beach we always light the stick on fire or use a sparkler and do the long exposure, write stuff.. you know.. this is awesome, please refine the technique i can see Light installations @ music festivals with this idea! very cool

This is Fantastic. It would make an awesome art installation. I would love to see some sort of hybrid timelapse/long exposure video of this thing in action.

I wonder if you could do "multiple extrusion" with different colored LEDs (or even adapting the setup to use a single RGB LED)?

What is causing the "Golden Ghost" images behind the primary images? is that where the LED is reflecting on the case, or what?

I think you could simplify this a lot on a non-makerbot printer. On a RepRap type machine, I think this could be accomplished with as little as a resistor and an LED hooked up to the extruder motor connection and some fiddling with firmware/software settings. There's a bit more to it than that, of course.

The ghosting effect is from light leaks on the extruder carriage. I gaffer taped it but it looks like i missed a couple spots.

When I have time, I may just record a long video and do some post processing to make the images come alive. I don't see why you can't do it yourself :)

I'm sure you can do it with a non MakerBot printer. I just worked with what I have access to.