In a recent guide on how to 3D Print Your Favorite Pokemon or Just About Any Pokemon I have pointed you to a website offering you to download 3D models of pretty much all of the Pokemons out there. Then you can use these 3D models along with a 3D printer in order to get a 3D print of your favorite pocket monster, but the quality of the resulting prints will not be too high due to the low polygon count of these models…

The good news is that there is a really easy way to increase the number of triangles/polygons of the 3D models of Pokemon without you having to be good with any kind of 3D modeling software or to actually buy any such program. Using the free application Blender and literally by pressing two keys you can get a smoother 3D model with higher number of polygons that you can export in STL and then get into your 3D printing software. This trick will work with other lower polygon count 3D models though the results may vary, so it is not applicable to the current case where we want to get a better looking and smoother 3D models of Pokemons for 3D printing them.

What is Blender and How to Get It

Blender is a free and open source 3D creation suite. It supports the entirety of the 3D pipeline—modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing and motion tracking, even video editing and game creation.

It may sound complicated and also for a user that wants to start with 3D modeling software such as Blender the interface of the program may seem quite complex, but for the purpose of this guide you don’t have to know the software or how to work with it. You just need to follow a few simple step and take advantage of one of the functions that it supports in order to get the desired results. So what you need first is to download the free Blender software, it is available for multiple operating systems – Windows, Mac OSX and Linux.

Download the free Blender software from the official website of the project…

Start by Opening Up the 3D Model of a Pokemon
First you need to download the 3D model of the Pokemon you want to work with or download all of the 3D models, you can do that from the Root of Evil Studios’ website. The archive does contain 3D models of the Pokemon in multiple formats, as I have explained in the previous post you can directly use the OBJ file to import in your 3D printer software (should work with most slicers). For the purposes of this guide however we are going to be working directly with the Blender files that are also available, though the software can also Import OBJ and a few other 3D model formats.

So in order to load up a 3D model of a Pokemon just double click on the blender file in the archive you have downloaded. Alternatively you can open up the Blender software and go to the File menu and choose Open, then select the Blender file you want to open. In order to Import another 3D model format such as an OBJ file you need to open the File menu, go the Import option and select what type of 3D file you are going to be opening, then just choose the file and you are ready. It is really easy to do that as opening the 3D model is 1/3 of the work you need to do and the whole thing is really easy and simple.

How to Increase the Number of Polygons
As soon as you open up the 3D model you will see the same lower polygon version of the Pokemon that you would see in the preview of the 3D printer software when opening up the OBJ file for 3D printing. In this example I’m using the 3D model of the Evee Pokemon that by default has just 4934 polygons and the result is a bit blocky or what is usually referred to a low poly 3D model. What you need to do now is to automatically increase the number of triangles/polygons that the 3D model uses and thus smooth its surface – more polygons means smaller building blocks for each part of the model and finer detail.

Increasing the number of polygons with Blender is as easy as just pressing a two key combination, told you it is really easy to do it. So just select the 3D model with a right click and press CTRL + 1 and watch what happens. You will instantly see a much smoother and more detailed in terms of polygons used 3D model, for the Evee character I’m using as an example we get from 4934 polygons up to 29604 or with other words 6 times more triangles. You will see that things look much better now, though there is a little more than can be done to get an even better result – increase the number of polygons used. If you want to get back to the starting point and the 3D model with just 4934 polygons you can press CTRL + 0, you can also use this to check what the before/after will look like.

Going for some more polygons with CTRL + 2 will bring even better result with an increase of the total number of triangles building the 3D model to 118416 – this is 24 times the original polygon count. You will see that the 3D model looks even better now – smoother and more detailed than the original or the first step of increase of the number of polygons, though some places could still benefit a bit more from a little extra polygons.

More polygons are available at your disposal, just press CTRL + 3 to get them. This will make your total number of triangles/polygons used for the 3D model all the way up to 473664 or almost half a million. This is 96 times the original count of the polygons used, so it is normal that the 3D model will be much smoother and detailed than the original low polygon count version. At this point there is no need to add extra polygons as they will hardly make any easily visible improvement anymore, but will still make the 3D model more complex and harder to be processed by the 3D printing software. You can still try by increasing the number you press along with CTRL to get even more polygons used, but again there is really no point in making the 3D model too complex as you might have trouble printing it up.

When you are ready with the right increase of the number of polygons for the 3D model to make it smoother and more detailed you need to export it in STL file format that you can directly load up in pretty much any 3D printing software (slicer). To do that just open the File menu, go to Export and select STL, then choose a name and where to save the file and click on the Export STL button. This is it, you can close Blender after that and open the 3D printing software you use. You have just increased the number of polygons and made the 3D model of the Pokemon you want to 3D print more detailed and with much smoother surface without having to deal with complex stuff or having to learn how to use a 3D modeling software such as Blender, though if you are interested you can still learn a bit more about it and how to use additional functionality.

Again, don’t go increasing the number of polygons too much as it will just make everything more complex and hard for the slicer to process it, especially if you are not going to benefit from any additional quality form the extra polygons!

Let us see how you can 3D print your favorite Pokemon or just about any Pokemon without too much effort if you already have a 3D printer available at home/office or at least have access to one. In order to be able to 3D print a Pokemon you will first have to obtain a 3D model of the pocket monster or you can of course design one yourself, but that one is only for the advanced users, so getting the 3D model is actually the easier thing. Then you need to do some processing of the 3D model and send it to your 3D printer for printing, some waiting time for the model to be ready and you should end up having a decently looking 3D printed Pokemon…

Downloading the 3D Model Files
First you need to obtain the 3D model files of the Pokemon you are going to be 3D printing, fortunately this is actually a pretty easy step as you can find all of them (over 700 Pokemons) available from Root of Evil Studios. Just download the archive with the 3D model files for the Pokemon you choose and go to the next step, there is also a download containing all of the files in one package, though it is a pretty big download.

To download the 3D model files for any of the Pokemons…

In this example I’m using the Pokemon Evee that I will be 3D printing, there are a number of files that you will find in the archive for each Pokemon – 3D models in different format as well as textures. What we are going to be needing is the 3D model in OBJ format as that is the more commonly supported format from most 3D printing software and you should be able to directly open the OBJ 3D model. You need to open and inspect the 3D model with the preview functionality of the 3D printer software to make sure that it is rendered properly, otherwise you may need to do some fixing first before you go to printing.

Automatically Fixing Problematic 3D Models
If you have been following my series of Blog posts about 3D printing on Steemit you should already know how to easily and automatically try fixing issues with 3D models that may not be suitable for direct 3D printing. I’m talking about the free automated online service for repair of 3D models offered by Trinckle that works fast and provides very good results. Since the service does not support OBJ 3D models you will have to first export the OBF file you have opened with the 3D printer’s software in STL format that you can upload and repair with this service.

Do note that this may be an optional step, but the Evee 3D model was a non-manifold one and passing it through this automated repair service actually fixed the problem, so the Pokemon was ready to be 3D printed after that.

Getting Ready to 3D Print the Model
With most Pokemon 3D models you will have to use Support material in order to have the print successful, depending on the size of the print you will want to get you may need to reduce a bit the 3D printing speed as well in order to get good results. Using medium to higher level of detail would also be good if you are looking for a smaller in size 3D print in order to get better details on the model. The support structures will be used to make sure that the 3D printer will not try to print things in the air such as parts of the bod or the tail, after the successful print you will need to remove the support material by hand.

Do note that the 3D models of the Pokemons linked are not the most detailed ones you can probably find, they use less polygons, so some additional tweaking such as smoothing might help you get even better results though even without that they still do look pretty nice when 3D printed even in small scale. The only drawback that you should be aware of before 3D printing is that the 3D models do rely on textures for things such as eyes, mouth, nose etc. of the pocket monsters so these will not be available as details on your 3D prints. For the ones among you that are familiar with 3D modeling software it might not be that hard to add these details as a part of the 3D model based on the data from the textures, but for most you will have to do with what you get.

The Resulting 3D Pokemon Print
My first test for a quick print using small size model of Evee and 0.2mm layer height clearly shows that I should be using slower printing speed to avoid getting these very thin lines left from the printing head as it moves to a different position to resume 3D printing. Other than that in just about 40 minutes of time I did get a 3D printed model of Evee the Pokemon with a pretty good quality (after removing the support structures) and 5cm x 5cm in size, so not that small actually.

Here are some more photos of the 3D printed model of the Pokemon after cleaning up the support and other artifacts, again pretty good quality, though some tweaking can help even more. Some more postprocessing work on the model can bring a bit more detail and improve the quality, then maybe even painting it by hand and drawing things such as the face of the Pokemon can make things even better. Not sure if I will be doing that anytime soon, but the 3D print is ready and I can do extra work on it whenever I feel like it.

So happy 3D printing of Pokemons… I know that I will be printing some more for sure.

A Problem with a 3D Model Can Cause a Failed Print
Two of the most common issues with 3D models that are giving you problems to print, no matter if you designed them or somebody else did, are the presence of Non-Manifold Edges and Flipped Triangles. There are of course some more issues that may be present as well, but I’ll be talking about these two as they are the most common cause that may result in you 3D print looking not as it was supposed to be.

Non-Manifold Edges are parts of the model that have holes in them or unwanted faces, often this is referred to as the 3D model not being water tight as if you pour water in something with holes it will just get out.

Flipped Triangles are parts of the object geometry that is facing the wrong way, it is normal for connected triangles to be facing the same direction, however often when you design a 3D object you may end up with triangles that are facing different directions.

As a means of demonstration I’ll be using two cubes drawn with SketchUp (go back to Part 4 of the series to learn more about that software) and in these two I have intentionally created issues, so that you can easily see the problem and how it may affect your 3D print. The cube on the left is with a flipped triangle on the side and a surface on the top and the cube on the right is not watertight (has some holes on one of the sides). Notice how SketchUp uses different colors for the two triangles on the side, this is a hint for the user that there might be something wrong as they seem to be pointing at different directions. The large holes, intentionally left big, are clearly visible as well, though imagine if you have many of these and they are very small or the flipped triangles are small and you need to zoom in a lot to notice the color difference.

Depending on the 3D printing software you use the standard 3D model preview might or might not show any problems, often flipped triangles are not being shown in the default preview and as I said holes in the models might be too small to notice. When you generate the Print Preview however and the software actually slices the 3D model to a layer by layer structure you can see weird things happening to your models such as strange deformations or missing parts. This happens as while the slicer is working the problematic geometry actually confuses the software and it just gives weird results. Of course depending on the object and the issue sometimes even with a non-water tight model you can still get a good print without problems.

When you see that something is wrong the best thing to do is go back to the 3D modeling software and try to find the problem in your 3D model, then fix it and open it again in the 3D printer software. In case you noticed a flipped triangle somewhere it is very easy to fix it in SketchUp for example, just select the problematic face, right click with the mouse and choose Reverse Faces. If you found a hole somewhere you can just add some extra geometry to fill it in and make the 3D model solid again. Of course at times finding these issues can be a problem, especially if you have problems that are not easily visible from the outside of the 3D model.

Some 3D printer software like the Simplify3D slicer I talked about in the previous part of the series has additional tools for detecting problematic geometry in the 3D model that may be helpful in figuring out what is wrong. It even has some automated tools to help you try and fix the problem without having to edit the actual 3D model, though these may not work very well or as intended some of the time. There are also alternatives available for different software and even online services that offer to fix common issues in 3D models without you having to actually edit the 3D model.

Automatic Repair of Problematic 3D Models
Since there are quite a few options for automatic fixing of problems with 3D models that need to be repaired in order to be 3D printable I will not be covering them all. However I want to point your attention to a free online service for 3D model repair that in my experience has been giving some of the best results in successful repair of various issues after quite a lot of testing of different tools and methods. The service is being ran by a company called Trinckle that apart from offering to freely repair your models also provides 3D printing services, though you can just download the fixed model and print it yourself. So you might want to give it a try before going into manual fixing mode trying to figure out where the problems in the 3D model might be and how to fix them yourself, especially if you are new to the whole 3D printing and 3D modeling thing.

Sanding and Painting 3D Printed Models
One of the “problems” of the consumer 3D printers is the fact that when you get a 3D print ready you can usually see the lines that build up the object (these are the printing layers), though that is not actually a problem, but just the way these devices work. The higher the resolution you print with, the thinner the layers are and the visual quality is better, but that is achieved with more time needed for the printing. There are ways however that you can improve further the final quality of a 3D print with some additional post-processing work after it is made by the 3D printer. This is achieved by using sanding paper to take away some of the outer surface of the model and/or by using paint to fill in some of the gaps between the layers and make them less distinguishable.

The sanding process does require some effort and time and is not always applicable as some objects have way to complex form and many small details, making it very hard to sand by hand (a rotary tool with a fine tip could also be used at low RPM). Furthermore the sanding process requires you to use sandpaper with different grit size, starting from a rougher lower number and going in a few steps to a much finer higher number. This way you essentially start by taking more material from the object smoothing the differences between layers and then moving to a finer grit to actually smooth out and polish the surface. You may need a little practice for this to get the hang of things, but the final results could be well worth it.

The alternative option is to use paint to cover a sanded on non-sanded 3D printed object, it is a good idea to use paint that can provide thicker layers such as spray cans of paint for objects that are not going to be sanded as it covers better and gives better results. If you have sanded the object you may as well go with a thinner paint cover such as the one achieved with an airbrush for example as you already have a pretty smooth surface. Furthermore, depending on the paint used you can get either a matte or glossy look, this can be further strengthened if you decide to apply some clear coating on top of the paint. You can get creative here and the results can be quite nice with some paint. Using paint also gives you the option to overcome some of the limitations in terms of colors that the filament you use has. You can of course use some acrylic paint to hand paint a figure that you have 3 printed for example, that way you will get a better looking “full color”-like print from a 3D printer that can work with single color filaments only.

Other Ways to Improve Visual Quality
The commonly used 3D printer filaments such as ABS and PLA have a hidden weakness, they can very easily be dissolved by some strong chemicals, but you can use that fact to your advantage. Some people are using the vapors of strong chemicals such as Acetone and THF to actually smooth the outer surface of 3D prints as these are essentially melting the outer perimeter of the layers and are giving them nicer and smoother look and feel. A word of serious warning here, these chemicals can be dangerous to your health and should you decide to use them you should be very careful not to get them on a bare part of your body or to inhale any of the fumes from them. Because of the possible danger to your health these methods are not that popular as for example using sandpaper or painting your 3D printed object.

Anyway, if you want to try, then you should go for Acetone for ABS plastic as it melts it and creates a smoother and glossy looking surface. As alternative to Acetone you might try smoothing ABS 3D printed objects with the use of Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) with good results. Have in mind that Acetone and MEK are not suitable for PLA 3D prints like with ABS ones, so do not try them for smoothing PLA 3D prints. For PLA plastic smoothing you need to go for Tetrahydrofuran (THF) instead. Another dangerous solvent that needs to be extra carefully handled and also very flammable like the other two chemicals also mentioned already!

Another, much more safer alternative that could be used for smoothing of all kinds of 3D printed objects is the Smooth-On XTC-3D coating.

Protective coating for smoothing and finishing 3D printed parts that does not melt plastic. XTC 3D fills in 3D print striations and creates a smooth, high gloss finish. The need to post finish is almost eliminated. XTC 3D can be applied to both SLA and SLS prints. It works with PLA, ABS, Laywoo, Powder Printed Parts and other rigid media such as EPS, EPDM and urethane foam as well as wood, plaster, fabric, cardboard and paper.

I have tried this solution where you mix two components and then apply a thin coat of the material over the 3D printed object, then wait for it to cure and you get pretty good results. So it works pretty good, though you may need some getting used to working with the coating in order to be able to achieve consistently satisfying smoothing of different objects.

In the end you have multiple different variants for additionally improving the look and feel of your 3D printed parts, it is up to you to choose what works for you should you even need to do this extra work at all.