3D Orcs Printing Company

Adding magic to the mundane, one filament at a time.

Music to Soothe the Savage 3D Printer

A Long Haul

It’s taken us two months, dozens of test prints, and several design reviews with the buyer, but we’ve finally finished the Jankó keyboard project that we started back in March!

But First an Apology

This week’s blog post is a bit late. Sorry about that! I got my second COVID vaccine shot (Moderna) on Saturday and it really wiped me out. Thankfully there was nothing super urgent to do for 3D Orcs, so I was able to take it easy and let my body recover from producing a bunch of very welcome antibodies. I’m now nearly back to normal, with just a sore arm left to tolerate.

Well, I guess I’m still tiring easily too, so today’s post will be on the short side.

The Final Stages of Jankó

Once we were finally happy with the key design, we still had a lot of printing to do.

Here’s the keyboard with most of the original keys, and just our few test keys installed at one end. But there are several new keys ready to go!

Because the Jankó keycaps overlap neighboring keys, they need to be installed in order from one end, so all of the original keys had to be removed first.

Here we’ve started installing the new keys. It was fun to see the offset black/white pattern start to emerge!

Getting close!

All keys installed!

It was awesome to see it all come together after so much work! But the best part was yet to come.

The Completed Jankó Keyboard!

Finally! Fully assembled and operational!

It’s very cool to see our 3D printed products incorporated into an actual functioning electronic device! And the customer is very happy and excited to learn to play it!

In Other News

One of the last things I did before my COVID shot wiped me out was play a game of Ticket to Ride – Europe. Like the last time I wrote about this game, we used several of our custom game pieces, making for a very eclectic board appearance!

This time I used green canoes from the Camping themed set, my wife used a set of black Christmas sleighs, my father-in-law used purple Steampunk roadsters, and my mother-in-law used the yellow heart themed set we gave her for Mothers Day.

Did you notice her spiral heart Train Stations? Those are new! So new, they’re not even listed as an option in Etsy yet!

Pursuing B2B

Aside from adding the spiral heart Train Stations, this week we’ll be turning our attention to exploring some B2B (business to business) opportunities. We want to see if some local small businesses are interested in buying 3D printed versions of their company logos, whether for their staff or their customers. Wish us luck!

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

Or the Berry, Seed, Rodent, Fish, or Nectar

All of these bird foods are now available in our Wingspan Food Tokens set on Etsy!

This set makes a great upgrade from the cardboard discs that come with the game.

And you can choose the quantity you want to match any expansions you like to play, including cute pink Nectar pieces for the Oceania set! A full set to replace the food tokens from the base game plus both expansions totals a whopping 215 game pieces!

Even better, these food pieces can be paired with our birdhouse styled dice tower to really raise your Wingspan gameplay to a new level of fun!

But It Didn’t Come Easily

With six separate custom pieces to design, we expected multiple iterations to get versions we liked.

What surprised us was that it was the worm that took the most attempts to reach a design we were happy with! Technically it’s a caterpillar, and is supposed to represent all invertebrate food sources, including insects and shellfish, but we usually just call them worms when we’re playing.

Here’s a pic of all six versions we printed before we were satisfied.

The first one is red just because that happened to be the color of filament in the printer when we did our first test print, which we didn’t expect to be final, but we wanted to see how the size and shape came out. We knew those details from our design software, but there’s often quite a difference between knowing the numbers and actually holding and feeling the shape and size of a physical game piece.

It was good, but pretty plain, so our second iteration added body segments to give it more texture.

Then we decided it needed legs to make it more of a caterpillar, rather than a worm.

After that it took three more iterations as we tweaked the size, number, and position of the legs, and adjusted the amount of the body that was raised above the table in order to get it to print nicely.

All that just for a worm! But we’re really happy with the set as a whole!

The Key to Success

Jankó Key that is. This week we’re going to push to see if we can finally complete the custom keyboard we were commissioned to print. Come back next Monday to see if we succeed!

Up the Creek

Canoeing Through European Forests

We’ve been continuing work on expanding our themed Ticket to Ride sets to include Train Stations for Ticket to Ride Europe.

This week we added fir trees to our Camping set! Grab a paddle and embark on a canoe trip across Europe, planting trees in place of train stations to claim the use of opponents’ routes to complete your destination tickets.

Another Halloween Reject

We also worked on a train station for our Halloween set, but again did not like the way the design looked when printed.

We’ve got another idea though, and we’ll keep working on it until we get something that looks great!

Hot Mess

We were slowed down this week with another in our growing series of 3D printer problems.

After replacing a clogged nozzle (which happens every couple weeks), our next few prints were ruined by extraneous globs of plastic appearing amidst the expected game pieces. At first we didn’t know where it was coming from, but then realized the melted plastic was oozing out from the top of the heating block, instead of staying inside and feeding down through the nozzle.

Finding the Problem

Further investigation (which involved disassembling the entire extruder assembly) revealed that the heat break had loosened slightly from the heating block. The heat break is a metal tube that connects the hot end with the cooling radiator. It also holds the end of the Bowden tube that feeds the filament into the hot end.

Here you can see the disassembled hot end. The Bowden tube (blue, coming from the top) feeds down into the radiator (black with air fins, lying to the left in this pic). The heat break (seen in the next image) connects the radiator to the heating block (silver rectangle object). The nozzle screws into the bottom of the heating block, and that’s where the melted plastic is supposed to come out. But I had a mess of melted green plastic all over the heating block.

Oh, and to make this all more fun, bear in mind that I needed to do most of this work with the heating block heated to 220°C (428°F), because otherwise solidified plastic glued everything together.

The Big Delay

Once I had it all apart, it should have been relatively easy to put back together, ensuring it was all screwed tightly into place. But the threads on the heat break were covered in plastic and had to be cleaned.

Cleaning PLA plastic off of metal parts is not easy to do. Unlike other plastics, PLA is resistant to most solvents, unless you get into some very harsh chemicals that need a fume hood and disposable gloves costing $40/pair.

But I didn’t necessarily need to entirely dissolve the PLA, just soften it enough to clean the part. Enter ethyl acetate. This chemical does need to be used in a well ventilated area, but at least it doesn’t cause serious injury at the slightest whiff. It does require patience though. I had to soak the heat break in it for 24 hours!

My Gear

Here you can see the cleaning station I set up. The heat break is that little metal tube near the middle with threads on one end. The ethyl acetate is in the jar – keeping the lid closed saved me from the fumes and also prevented disastrous spills. Once it had soaked for a good long time, the PLA flaked off relatively easily – you can see the bits of it on and near the paper towel. I got the bulk of it off by scrubbing at it with the brass brush, and then picked the last bits out of the threads using a tiny screwdriver. The magnifying glass and head magnifier were very helpful in seeing it close enough to ensure it was really clean.

This picture shows some of the other tools I used, including a syringe of thermal paste to ensure good heat transfer between the heating block, the heat break, and the radiator. The long tin in the lower right holds my spare nozzles, as well as several acupuncture needles which work great for cleaning out a clogged nozzle. Probably the most important piece of equipment is the huge cup of tea (Earl Grey, hot), which helped me stay sane while tackling the project.


I’m glad to say the printer is working great again!

And boy, I sure appreciated having a second printer running while I dealt with the problem! It meant production didn’t need to stop entirely for two days while I resolved the issue.

Up Next

What’s on the agenda for the coming week? Another attempt at a Halloween train station, more work on the Jankó keyboard, and project X. What’s project X? Well, it’s not really a thing. I just made it up to make it sound more mysterious than “some other project we haven’t decided on yet”. It might be a new version of the Collapsible Dice Tower, or it might be some pieces for a new game. Find out next Monday!

3, 2, 1, … Liftoff!

Ticket to Ride, on a Rocket

As promised, we’ve been working on more train stations for our themed Ticket to Ride sets.

We love the rocket we added to our Steampunk set! It goes very well with the roadster trains we already had.

A Grand Day Out

It wasn’t until after we finished this design and added it as an option to the Etsy listing that we realized its thematic similarity to the rocket Wallace and Gromit built!

With all of his inventions, I think Wallace is truly a steampunk maker at heart. I can only imagine what he’d come up with if he had a 3D printer. Thank goodness he has Gromit to save him from all of the scrapes he gets himself into!

More Train Stations Coming

We’re also working on train stations for our Camping and Halloween themed Ticket to Ride sets. Unfortunately we weren’t thrilled with our first drafts, so it’s back to the drawing board. But we won’t put any pieces out there until we love them, which ultimately means nicer game pieces for our customers, and that’s worth taking the time to do right.

Satisfied Customer is an Understatement

Last week I wrote about the person who bought 594 game pieces in a single order. Today I’ll share the 5 star review he posted on Etsy.

“Ordered a variety of pieces for Ticket to Ride in various colors & shapes, and they are excellent quality! I really like the selection of colors and the different styles of tokens will be fun. I especially like the bright neon green & orange. Customer service was also great, and the order was filled & shipped very quickly, and was accurate. Wouldn’t hesitate to order from them again.”

Reading this review truly made my day. Thank you!

Other Things in the Works

We’re mostly working on themed train stations, but we’re also still plugging away at the Jankó keyboard (which turned out to need yet more design revisions), another version of our Collapsible Dice Tower, and a few other ideas we’ve been kicking around. Come back next Monday to see what we’ve added to our Etsy shop!

This Is For The Birds

A New Dice Tower

We launched a new version of our Collapsible Dice Tower this week!

This one was inspired by the game Wingspan. If you know the game, you’ll recognize the dice in the pic.

In fact, we had this in mind when we started designing our first dice tower. Like the cardboard dice tower that comes with Wingspan, ours can be disassembled and stored in the game box. That’s why we made it collapsible in the first place, and why we chose the size we did. Since we knew we were planning this Wingspan version, and we wanted to be able to use the same basic structure, we used the same design principles for our first tower.

We did the keep first because we anticipated the TTRPG (D&D) community would be more interested in dice towers and would find that style more appealing. But we’re very happy now to add the one we envisioned to begin with.

594 Game Pieces

Any guesses what that number signifies?

This week we received our biggest order to date. Twelve sets of Ticket to Ride game pieces! And two of them were for the Europe version, including train stations. All told, that came out to 594 individual game pieces, and really kept our printers busy!

Even better, the buyer liked our custom themed sets!

He bought four Halloween sets,

four Steampunk sets,

two Christmas sets,

and two Camping sets.

There’s going to be some fun game nights in that household!

More Train Stations

The train stations have been a popular addition to our Standard and Christmas themed Ticket to Ride sets, so we’re planning to add them to our other themed sets too. Which will we do first? Come back next Monday to find out!

All Aboard!

3D Orcs is Going to Europe!

Ticket to Ride Europe that is. We now offer train stations as an optional add-on to our Standard Ticket to Ride set.

We’ll also be gradually adding them to our themed sets. An important prioritizing factor is customer wish fulfillment. Since we’ve already been asked for stations for our Christmas set, we’ll do that first.

Speaking of Wish Fulfillment

Another thing people have been asking for is Catan pieces for the Cities and Knights expansion. 3D Orcs has now bought it, so we know exactly what extra game pieces are needed, and they’re high on our product development priority list. And we’re looking forward to playing it too!

Pink Poses a Problem

I’ve mentioned before how popular pink is, especially for Ticket to Ride trains. So when we started to run low on pink printer filament I made a point of ordering more. Except I couldn’t. The suppliers for the brand I’ve been using no longer offer it.

There are plenty of other filament manufacturers, so finding replacement options wasn’t hard. But finding an acceptable replacement has been a challenge.

First, I wanted something as close as possible to the bubblegum pink I’ve been using, since that has proven really popular. So I ruled out everything substantially darker or lighter.

Second, I wanted quality filament at a reasonable price. We use 1.75mm diameter filament – the most common. But that thickness isn’t 100% perfect, so manufacturers state a dimensional tolerance indicating how close their filament comes to being 1.75mm. It typically ranges between +/- 0.02mm and +/- 0.05mm, though I’ve seen filaments both above and below these tolerance ratings. I always choose +/- 0.02mm when I can, because too much variation in filament thickness can ruin a print fast.

After much searching, I finally found a pink filament that was the right shade, right quality, and right price. And it had good customer reviews, which is also very important. So I ordered it.

And it arrived just before I used up the last of my previous pink filament!

But alas, it’s too pale. The actual filament is very much lighter than the online picture led me to believe. (Where’s a sad orc emoji when you need one?) It’s really more of an off-white, and I don’t think it would appeal to our customers at all.

So I went back to the internet to renew my search. In the end I chose one that’s both the wrong shade and has a tolerance of +/- 0.03mm, so technically it misses two important marks. When I say “wrong shade” though, I just mean it doesn’t match the bubblegum pink I wanted. But it’s actually a beautiful hot pink, which I believe people will like just as much. At least, according to the seller’s picture and description. It’s due to arrive Wednesday, so let’s hope it looks good and works well. Fingers crossed!

In the meantime I’ve had to remove pink as an option from several of my listings. I hated doing that, and I’m really looking forward to being able to re-enable it!

A 3D Orcs Milestone

Celebration time! Since we launched our Etsy shop last fall we’ve had over 200 sales! Even with 2 printers it’s sometimes hard to keep up with demand and still squeeze in test prints for new designs. Thank you to all of our customers who brought us here!

Ongoing Projects

Besides train stations, the Catan expansion, and filling orders, we’re also still working on the Jankó keyboard, Dice Tower variants, and ideas for new themed game pieces. Come back next Monday to see which of these we end up focusing on!

Here Comes Peter Catan-Tail

It’s Nearly Easter!

And we’ve got some treats for you that are better than chocolate! Well, maybe not better exactly, but at least they’re easier on the waistline.

You can hide Easter eggs across the country with our Ticket to Ride set. And the hatching egg score markers are SOOO cute!

Or if Catan is your preferred game, the egg rows are roads, the hatching eggs are settlements, and you get these awesome Easter baskets for your cities!

Rolling in Style

We were also excited to launch our Collapsible Dice Tower! We talked about its development last week, and it was nearly ready to go. But two final steps ended up taking so long we nearly didn’t launch in time for today’s blog.

First, since it ships in several pieces and needs to be assembled, we needed to write instructions. It’s pretty straightforward, but we really wanted to minimize the chance of our customers not being able to figure it out, or worse, breaking it by doing it wrong.

That meant we needed simple diagrams, understandable annotations, and clear, concise wording. I went through several drafts myself, and then more after getting feedback from our Design Review Department (aka my wife, Lois). Eventually we came up with something we were both happy with.

The other problem we faced was getting good photos for the Etsy listing. This time the problem was shading. I took pictures with a variety of lighting options, but the gray kept coming out looking too light.

I was finally able to get good pictures by switching to a white background instead of the black I’d been using, and we were able to launch!

Dice Tower Variants

Though we currently just have the one design shaped like a castle keep, we’re working on more. They’ll have the same basic structure, but with different surface details to appeal to different gamers. If you have an idea for a different version of our dice tower, let us know in the comments below!

A Brand New (to us) Game Variant

Even with everything else we have going on, we still take time to play board games. This past weekend we got to enjoy our brand new copy of Ticket to Ride – Europe! Better yet, we each chose a different 3D Orcs themed set of game pieces to play with!

We had Easter eggs,



and standard trains printed in gold. The gold pieces aren’t available on Etsy yet due to continued production problems, but we’re still working on making it happen because when it does work, they look incredible!

But Those Train Stations are the Wrong Colors!

You might have noticed the train stations don’t match the train colors. That’s because this version of Ticket to Ride is so new to us that we haven’t yet modeled the stations and had to use the standard ones out of the box. That’s something multiple customers have asked for, and is what prompted us to buy the game. Now that we know exactly what they look like, we’ll be working on adding train stations to our sets on Etsy. First as an optional add-on to the standard set, and then to some of our specialty themed sets. Come back next Monday to see how we’re doing!

Evolution of a Dice Tower

Our Biggest Prints Yet

Over the past couple weeks we’ve been working on an exciting new game accessory – a dice tower! This is a big deal for us in two ways. First, it’s our largest print to date, and second, it’s the first one that’s printed in multiple pieces to be fitted together after printing.

First Attempt

As is often the case in 3D printing, our first attempt was a pretty dismal failure.

We had a great concept – a dice tower printed in mostly flat pieces, which could be disassembled for convenient storage. And in our design software it all fit and worked perfectly!

But with the actual print it very quickly became apparent that it was completely unworkable. The pieces would not hold together tightly enough to maintain structural integrity.

We could have solved that with more interlocking slot connections, but we really wanted the outside to look good, without a bunch of extra protruding connector bits.

Second Attempt

We ended up shifting away from the separate panel concept and combined the four main walls into a single tube-shaped print. This gave us our tower in four separate prints:

The base, to provide a catching tray for the dice and a stable support for the tower.

The tower tube, which needs to be printed upside down because of the opening at the bottom of the front.

The deflector ramps, which fit inside the tower to help randomize dice rolls.

And the top, providing a structure for the crenellations.

The pieces fit together fairly well,

and could all nest inside the base for shipping and storage.

This basic structure has remained the same since then.

Third Attempt

We made a few sizing adjustments to make the fit even better, and added all the surface detail – stone blocks/bricks, a portcullis, and crenellations. We also added curved bevels in the tray to make dice removal easier, and improved the supports for the deflector ramps.

At first we thought this design might be the final version.

But then we noticed something – the pieces no longer fit together nicely for shipping/storage! We hadn’t taken into account the thickness of the surface detail, and it was just enough to ruin the fit.

Fourth Attempt

So we had to adjust the sizes of several pieces to make it all fit nicely when disassembled, and still work when assembled.

We also increased the size of the tray bevel to make it more helpful in lifting dice out, and thickened the walls in some places for added strength.

Now it fits nicely when collapsed,

and still looks great when assembled!

This is likely our final design, but we’re going to print it again using one or two other filament colors in case that highlights other needed changes. (You’d be surprised what can happen just from using filament from a different supplier!)

That will also give us more photo options for our Etsy listing. In particular we envision it in gray to simulate stone walls, or a bright color for a fairy castle! But just printing more copies is no small feat. Print time for the entire dice tower totals around 20 hours!

And that assumes no failures, like this piece that came loose from the print bed 5.5 hours into a 9 hour print!

Jankó Update

If you read last week’s blog, you know we’ve been working on a funky keyboard project as a special request. It turned out there were still a few small issues to overcome. I’ve got them fixed now, and I’m awaiting approval from the client before moving ahead with the rest of the keys.

New Seasonal Game Pieces

We have an ambitious week ahead of us! We hope to get the dice tower listing up on Etsy, we’ll be producing more keys for the Jankó keyboard, and we’re very excited to be launching some new sets of game pieces for both Ticket to Ride and Catan! Come back next Monday to see them featured here!

What the Heck is a Jankó Keyboard?

A Fascinating Musical Concept

I’ll start with a one sentence lesson in musical history. The Jankó (pronounced Yanko) keyboard was designed over 100 years ago, and has the clever benefit of allowing each scale and chord to be played with the same fingering regardless of the key. Wild! There’s more on Wikipedia if you’re interested.

Why didn’t it catch on? Seems to be the same kind of thing that saw VHS succeed over Betamax, or Qwerty over Dvorak.

But it’s still really cool!

What’s That Got To Do With 3D Printing?

I was approached by a customer who likes to tinker with musical instruments. He had a small electronic keyboard, and wanted to convert it from a standard piano layout to Jankó keys. He had even found 3D models online for printing the replacement keys. He just needed the keys printed.

Each key involves three pieces: the key itself, and two keycaps that attach to a pair of posts.

Easy enough, right?

Not So Fast

The first problem (did you see the foreshadowing there? yup, there turned out to be several issues…) was that the keys extended far out in both directions from the lowest point, and therefore needed to be printed with supports. I talked a bit about printing supports last week, and prefer to avoid them when I can.

In the case of these keys, the support removal was time consuming, risked damaging important parts, and left an ugly mess that would have been even more time consuming to clean up.

Inversion Therapy

Looking at the keys, we saw a nice big flat top surface. If only we could print with that as the base and not need supports. But those posts would be a problem.

Print the posts separately and glue them on later? It would be pretty hard to get them positioned exactly right.


If the key base included geometry to ensure a precise fit, it should be doable.

The Solution

I ended up cutting holes in the tops of the keys so that the posts could sink into them, mimicking the way the keycaps attach to the post tops.

More Challenges … And Solutions

There were several more problems that needed to be resolved before I could deem it a workable design.

Sinking the posts into the keys made them too short, so the keycaps would strike adjacent keys when depressed. So I made the posts longer.

Getting the post height precise was difficult due to the awkward geometry. So I added a ring around each post, ensuring it would sink an exact distance into the hole, and no further.

There was a slight depression in the top of each key, requiring supports when printed upside down. So I flattened out the top of the keys.

Some of the holes went right through the keys, resulting in loose-fitting wobbly posts. So I thickened the affected region of the keys to more firmly embed the posts.

There were other issues as well, mostly caused by strange behaviour in Blender, the 3D modelling tool I use. But eventually I worked my way through all of them.

It took several attempts with keys that didn’t work, but I think I’ve finally got a design approach that will work nicely.

Taking Shape

I have several more keys to do, but here’s a look at the keyboard so far, giving you a glimpse of what it will look like when it’s finished.

Game Accessories

Through this week I’ll be producing more keys for this project, and with luck I’ll have a finished Jankó keyboard to show you next Monday. But I’m also working on another entirely new board game accessory. It’s not game pieces, nor is it strictly for any one particular board game. But if I can work out a few remaining kinks it’ll be really cool, and will be the largest item I’ve printed to date!

« Older posts