3D Printing Spotlight On: Vicky Somma, Maker and Software Developer


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If you’re inexperienced with 3D printing but want to learn, there are plenty of courses, both online and in-person, that you can take – or, if you’re anything like Vicky Somma, you can just teach yourself. The software developer taught herself how to use 3D software and a 3D printer a few years ago, and has become an expert maker who sells her work on Etsy and Shapeways, while documenting it all so that others can learn as well.

We’ve covered much of Somma’s work in the past, and she’s stayed quite busy since we last checked in with her. For the second year in a row, one of her 3D printed ornaments was featured in the Virginia Governor’s Mansion, and she has recently been experimenting with embedding items in 3D prints. In 2016, her 3D printing business was in the black for the first time, and she also makes money and helps other makers through her own 3D Hub. We caught up with Somma again to talk to her about her 3D printing journey and being a woman in tech.

When did you first learn about 3D printing? What drew you to the technology?

“I believe the first time I became aware was at the free USA Science and Engineering Festival that happens in Washington, DC every other year.  I don’t recall being too terribly impressed at first. Then one year when I was researching Christmas presents and I ran across Shapeways. I didn’t order from them right then. A few months later when I wanted to make a breastfeeding charm for my Origami Owl locket—that memory of 3D Printing and Shapeways surfaced. It was enough to entice me to learn 3D Modeling.”

What have you been working on lately?

“I had another ornament in the Virginia Governor’s Mansion in 2016 (two years in a row). This one was based off the historic Rockledge Mansion in Occoquan, Virginia. It is a popular venue for weddings and receptions, so I ended up selling about 50 of them this past year.

Lately, I have been experimenting with embedding items. Last year it started with embedding mirrors into vases and candle holders. Since then, I have inserted nuts for working tap handles for a local brewery (and then I used nuts for myself to make rhododendron drawer pulls). I’ve filled prints with sand to make them heavier, embedded in magnets, and I also made a large chain of ‘kinetic’ houndstooth by having the print pause and embedding in small 6mm split rings. Finally, in my quest to continually find a use for my Mom’s old wine corks, I’ve been working on a Wine Rack…. with embedded wine corks. I have my first prototype print. That print has some cosmetic flaws…but it works!

And on the very small victory side—my 3D Printing side business—it was in the black for 2016!  I am VERY far from quitting my day job… but I can accurately say I’m making money with 3D Printing now.”

What were some of the challenges and rewards of teaching yourself about 3D printing? What advice would you give to someone who wants to start learning about 3D printing on their own?

“One of the biggest challenges for me is stepping out of my comfort zone into hardware. I have a software background, but do very little with hardware and have had a contentious relationship with 2D Printers since those very first paper jams back in high school. In the last few years, however, I have learned to take apart and put my printer back together for maintenance and upgrades. I am comfortable with my machines now and I also have the confidence that comes with knowing there is a whole community’s worth of knowledge to tap into should I run into a problem.

As far as rewards, this is a hobby where you get to exercise your creativity and your critical thinking at the same time, two skill that will serve you well in all endeavors.

The three tips I have:

  1. Don’t be afraid of failure, it’s going to happen. It happens to everyone. It happened to me just this past week!
  2. The 3D Printing Community is way more supportive and helpful than you can ever imagine. Don’t be afraid to reach out. If you are intimidated, there are ample YouTube stations out there where you can learn in a more anonymous manner.
  3. Write or save your settings, particularly when you are exploring your printer and trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t work.”

What made you decide to start your own 3D Hub?

“Really, I wanted to do my part to increase the accessibility of 3D Printing. It is very easy for me to remember the thrill of getting that first print from Shapeways in the mail and hold something I designed in a real, tangible form. Some of the prints I do through 3D Hubs is someone’s first experience with 3D Printing. I get to be that person who helps make their idea real.”

You’ve shared a wide variety of 3D printing projects that you’ve completed – do you have a favorite?

“My favorite usually tends to be the last thing I’ve worked on, due to that natural high that comes with creating. But I think the design that stands the test of time is an Anglerfish I did in colorFabb GlowFill and colorFabb bronzeFill. I have a single extruder machine and it was my first experiment of embedding parts inside of 3D Prints. I printed all the GlowFill pieces first and embedded them into a later bronzeFill print.  It opened doors for me to start embedding other things like mirrors and nuts and magnets… and it won a Printed Solid/reddit Contest and scored me some free filament.”

What does the name of your business, TGAW, stand for?

“TGAW is a souvenir from my childhood.  My cousin called himself The Great and Best and I called myself The Great and Wonderful. We were penpals, as kids were back in those days, and after a while we started to abbreviate—TGAB and TGAW. As an adult, I’m not walking around thinking, ‘I’m Great AND Wonderful.’ I have found TGAW to be a convenient and usually unused login name (except you, Instagram!). And fun fact—I have owned the four letter tgaw.com domain for 21 years.”

You’ve become well-versed in several different 3D software programs, and have spoken about Blender and OpenSCAD in particular. Can you share some of your thoughts on these programs? How have the individual features of each impacted your work differently?

Spinning PokeStop ornament

“Blender is my main go-to for modeling, particularly if it is something dealing with curves or if I’m trying to work from reference images. When I’m modeling buildings, for example, I can pull images into Blender itself and scale sections of my model to match. The various modifiers in Blender are a powerful arsenal. If there is something I want to model, but I’m not quite sure how, Blender is going to be that vehicle. Why? The Blender Community is prolific and very generous with sharing their knowledge.

OpenSCAD I typically use for things where I think there are going to be iterations in my measurements or if I think there is something the community may want to remix. OpenSCAD is code-based so it is easy to setup measurements and dimensions as variables. The Spinning PokeStop Ornament is an OpenSCAD piece. I used 0.75mm clearances between all the parts, but if someone needed to adjust that, he/she could tweak that one variable and all the changes would trickle down to the rest of the model.

There is a third one I use regularly—Tinkercad. Tinkercad I use to show people just how easy it is to get involved in 3D Modeling, how powerful even simple shapes can be when they are combined, and how easy it is to personalize an existing model on Thingiverse.”

As a woman working in 3D printing and other tech, what are your thoughts on diversity in the 3D printing field and in technology overall?

“I feel like 3D Printing as a technology is well poised for a diversity explosion. You can already see how it applies to niche markets and interests. With 3D Printing, one is not bound to buy what someone else has decided to manufacture, you can manufacture it yourself. It is my hope that more women will start to see the 3D Printer in the same way they see sewing machine or a glue gun. To me, a sewing machine is way more intimidating than a 3D Printer!  I find it a heck of a lot harder to thread a bobbin than it is to load filament.

I hope to see 3D Printing become more prevalent in other demographics as well. I very much admire the efforts of Josh Ajima from Design Make Teach. He regularly highlights (and designs) models that celebrate African American and Latino History and role models.”

What kind of projects do you have planned for the future?

Embedding a nut into a rhododendron

“I have a craft show coming up in June.  For that, I want to try to tweak some recent models and add them to my ‘product line’:

  1. Wine racks made with embedded wine corks
  2. Rhododendron-themed drawer pulls.

For brand new models, I’m sketching a ‘Cork-u-pine.’  I’m thinking it’ll be a kit of a number of 3D Printed pieces. I’m envisioning it kinda looking like a Chia-Pet, but the quills are made from old wine corks (with some connector pieces). I have lots of projects where I use up our old wine corks. I know we are far from alone and that others have stockpiles of corks with no purpose. This would be something that other people could print or buy and turn their old corks into a [hopefully] cute critter.”

We’ve always enjoyed following Somma’s work, and if you’d like to keep up with her as well, you can check out her website here. Discuss in the Vicky Somma forum at 3DPB.com.

If you are interested in sharing your story, or know a woman we should get in touch with for this new series, please reach out any time. Send us an email or connect on Twitter. We’re looking forward to sharing more stories about women in 3D printing. Find all the features in this series here.


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