AMS Spring 2023

Designer Creates a 3D Printed Viewer for 3D Images

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Thingiverse user dj505 knows a thing or two about Altoids tins. Over the past couple of years, this maker has used Altoids tins to make a TV-b-gone (a disguise for a small TV), a working four-port USB hub, and simply integrated them as cases for extra wiring on larger projects.

Now s/he has released the latest addition to the Altoids tin tinkering line: a collapsible 3D image viewer.

IMG_1759_preview_featuredThe images themselves are not 3D, but rather the structure of the image viewer, which is 3D printed, lets you see a flat image in 3D. Looking at the illusion of 3D in photographs through a viewer, called a stereoscope, became a craze during the Victorian era. Image viewers of all shapes and sizes were created through which two separate images were shown in an isolated fashion to each eye. The brain then worked to do what it does with all of the images that humans take in through each individual eye, that is to construct a replica of the 3D world around them.

Holmes_stereoscopeThe inspiration for the Altoids viewer didn’t come from the technology-crazed 19th century, though, but instead from the Googleverse of the 21st. Google Cardboard, a clever viewing device designed to fit with stereoscopic images as displayed on the screens of smartphones, and thus low tech led to high tech and back to low tech again.

This version of the 3D image viewer may not be as elegant but it is certainly more compact than its Victorian counterparts. And that was exactly what dj505 was aiming for.

“The idea for the project came about when I was messing around with Google Cardboard,” the designer noted. “I thought, ‘how can I make this more compact?’ So I built a prototype out of cardboard and worked out how to make it fit inside of the tin.”

altoids_viewmaster_main_preview_featuredIn the spirit of home tinkering, the list of supplies necessary for creation range from the mundane to the awesome: empty Altoids tin, hot glue, paperclips, double image, stick tack, concave lenses and, of course, a 3D printer. It doesn’t hurt to have a partner either, as the maker explained:

“I brought the idea to my dad, who is awesome at modeling in Softimage, and together we worked out a way to 3D print this. We had to design a way to keep it strong and stable but also be able to fold up. For the face plate with the lenses, I just scanned the cardboard version and imported it into Adobe Illustrator. I then traced it, making a vector object that could be imported into Softimage. The hinges were designed so the legs could only fold one way, and would stop if folded the other way so it doesn’t break.”

IMG_1760_preview_featuredThe only downside of the viewer as designed is that the illusion of 3D is somewhat disturbed by the fact that the viewer can see all three images at once (the ‘real’ ones printed on the image and the third one that is constructed in the mind). The Victorians overcame this technical difficulty by placing a thin piece of paper or word between the two images, but doing so in this compact little design would have impinged on its collapsibility. Perhaps DJ505 could incorporate a small slot into which a thing 3D printed square could be placed when the viewer is open in order to allow it to fold up while also removing the two ‘side’ images.

In any case, it’s clear that s/he has plans to keep tinkering:

“I’ve been doing little projects here and there for a long time. I got good at soldering and started ordering and putting together kits, such as the Raspberry Pi Gameboy by Adafruit or the Adafruit Menta, and various other projects. Later on, I’m planning to improve this project. It’ll still fit inside an Altoids tin, but when you fold it out, there’s a place to rest your phone. That way, you could view images right on your phone, or even play some VR games!”

And that’s the spirit that the Victorians would have whole-heartedly supported. Do you? Let us know if you might try out your own version in the 3D Printed Altoids Stereoscopic Viewer forum thread over at 3DPB.com.

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