The Story of Twisted Star Lamp

This is the story of the project that launched my interest in 3D printing. In September 2010, i.materialise announced a 3D printed lamp design challenge.  The guidelines were pretty simple – design an original lamp using Sketchup, taking advantage of 3D printing’s unique capabilities. After two months of learning about 3D printing and designing over one dozen prototypes, on the final day of the challenge I submitted this hastily rendered design.  The lampshade was my own design, but the lamp base was supplied by i.materialise and required for the contest.

Starburst Lamp by Marcus Ritland
My entry to the 2010 i.materilase design contest

I didn’t win the contest, but became addicted to 3D printing.
When designing the lamp, I worked hard to create something that I would be happy to show off on my desk, while incorporating features that showcase the power 3D Printing into the design.   I wanted to shield the bulb from sight, to throw a unique shadow pattern, and take advantage of the translucency of the material.   These features combined makes a design that would be nearly impossible to manufacture cost effectively with any other method.
In the next few days after the contest ended, I kept playing with the design and had the thought to give it a little twist.  When that was finished, I knew the design was complete!  Here’s what it looked like in Sketchup:
Star Lamp Twisted original
Original images of the twisted lamp

After the design tweak, I really wanted to see the lamp in real life so I uploaded it to the i.materialise print service to check the price.   At nearly $400, it was a bit pricey for something I’d never tried before, so I decided to make something cheaper first.  I designed a tea candle holder featuring a tessellating crystal pattern on the sides which won critical household acclaim, but that’s a post for another day!
After a year of learning and designing about a dozen successful 3D print projects, it was time to order the Twisted Star Lamp.  I chose Shapeways for the print service because of their superior pricing and excellent customer service.
I cut open the box with UPS exhaust still hanging in the air, and carefully lifted the bubble-wrapped package out.  I was blown away.  Honestly, it was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life when I opened the box and held the first design I had ever made for 3D printing.  Every little detail I had struggled to perfect, and even the minute imperfections in the design were faithfully reproduced in laser sintered nylon.
The lamp was surprisingly heavy, a little rough to the touch, and not delicate at all.  Each of the points was clearly defined.  These are all characteristics of the material I chose for 3D printing.
Fresh out of the Shapeways box
The Twisted Star Lamp, fresh from the 3D Printer

Of course, its not really a lamp without a bulb and some electricity.  I had already assembled those parts using components purchased at a local lamp repair shop.  I slid the shade over the bulb, and promptly had a shining example of 3D printing!
3D Printed Twisted Star Lamp

3D Printed Twisted Star Lampshade plus electricity!

There are many specific things I learned by printing this model that I’ll use when designing future 3D prints.  The main lesson was that I need to leave plenty of room for the support powder to be cleaned out from the model after the printing process.  At the apex of the lamp, the fins are very close together, making the powder difficult to clean from between them.  In future versions, I’ll make that area much easier to clean.
I’ll leave you with an image I composited for a poster – the intersection of 3D printing and fine art!  The central top view shows the pattern cast by the unique design of the lamp.

Denali 3D Design 3D Printed Twisted Star Lamp
Composite image with design wireframes and photos of the Twisted Star Lamp.

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