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Seller :Pier Filippo Conti

  • Created by: Paul Murrin
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Making Vortex

What is Vortex?
Vortex is a 3D wall hanging artwork developed using simple algorithm. Five circles of equal radius are drawn such that the centre of four of them lie equally spaced on the circumference of the central circle. This forms a cross-shape (see below). The area of the cross shape is highlighted by another set of circles of varying radii all centred on the central major circle. Finally we twist each part around to give a spinning effect.

The algorithm above is used to produce a set of shaped parts that are 3D printed. Once printed the parts are carefully painted using acrylic paint, laid out and glued as required. The result is an eye-catching piece with a mathematical beauty that looks different from every angle.

What you’ll need: List of ingredients
• 3D printer or access to one from a hackerspace (I use an Ultimaker original)
• PLA filament (about 12m)
• A0 card (mount board) at least 50x50cm
• Acrylic paints of your choice
• Paint brushes
• Glue (Bostik all purpose is good)
• Cocktail sticks to spread the glue


Printing the parts
The 3D model needs to be interpreted by a “slicer” which is a piece of software that slices up the model and produces the tool path required for the 3D printer.

I use Cura as the slicer and slice at 0.1mm printing at about 70mm per second. The larger parts take about 30 mins to print and the smallest only a couple of minutes. I usually arrange 4 identical pieces on the build plate and slice to be printed one at a time. This yields good quality, yet saves time restarting the printer for every piece. For the smaller parts (vortex_40.stl, vortex_50.stl and vortex_60.stl) you probably need to print these in all-at-once mode otherwise the previous layer will not have time to cool before the next layer is applied and the shape will deform.

If you don’t have a heated print bed, you may find that some of the larger pieces warp slightly on cooling and won’t fit perfectly on the layout template. This doesn’t necessarily matter, either adjust the layout slightly or simply bend the piece as it is finally glued into place – this is quite tricky to get right, but with a fast grip adhesive such as Bostik it is possible.

Note the STL files provided produce a vortex with 40cm radius and this can be printed using a 3D printer with a 20cm x 20cm print bed (you may just manage it with 15x15cm).

3D printers can print using various coloured filaments, but the Vortex looks way better if the two main surfaces are painted in contrasting colours. Acrylic paints are easy to use and you can paint straight onto PLA that has been printed by a 3D printer. The surface finish looks much better than raw PLA too being matt and less reflective.

However, to carefully paint each surface of each part ensuring neat edges and brush strokes is very time consuming and requires lots of patience. Each face will need two coats of acrylic and expect it to take several hours to paint spread over multiple sessions to allow drying of each coat and each side. If you want to get a really good finish don’t rush it. It may take around 4-8 sessions of 1-2hrs each to complete.

Using high quality paint and brushes will lead to a good finish and is much more pleasant to work with. I use Liquitex or Daler Rowney paints and a Daler Rowney flat 6 brush for the large edges. You should be able to hold the part in a way that allows you to paint one face at a time without getting too much paint on your fingers.

For the really small parts, I find the best way is to form a handle from a piece of blue tac and stick that to the face that you’re not currently paining. Once painted, place the part on a piece of spare paper to dry and move it slightly after about 5 minutes to ensure it doesn’t stick to the paper.

Drying time between coats is usually about 1 hour.

Marking up
Cut the card to the relevant square size to comfortably fit the entire circle of the vortex. The actual diameter is 40cm so I would cut the card to 50cm x 50cm.
Laying out the pieces accurately on the board without marking the board is challenging. I find the best way to achieve this is to use a markup template and then push a pin through key points in that to mark the board where the start and end of each piece should be.

Unless you have access to a large printer or plotter, you’ll need to print out the markup template onto multiple pieces of paper and then cut and stick them together. Recent versions of Adobe Acrobat have a poster printing mode which allows you to print out in this manner and will print cutting lines too.

Once you’ve completed your template, attach it firmly to the board (tape one the back edge for example). Then methodically go around each part and push a pin through each start and end. Make the hole about 1mm inside each end so that the hole is covered and not visible once the piece is stuck down. You may want to practice on a spare bit of card to work out the right amount of pressure to apply to create a small hole just visible enough.

Once you’re absolutely sure that you’ve marked all of the pieces, then remove the layout template and prepare for gluing.



Each of the parts needs to be glued to the card in precisely the right place using your pinholes for guidance. Again this can be quite time consuming if you are very careful not to get glue anywhere but the part that needs to be stuck down.

I use Bostik All Purpose adhesive. This is quite rubbery making it good to work with and not too stringy. I squeeze a small blob (5mm diameter) into a plastic pot and then use a cocktail stick to pick up a small amount and apply to the underside of each painted part. Work on one part at a time it will take a minute or so to carefully apply a bead of glue to the underside of the part from one end to the other. The glue dries quickly, but will stick well (even when it is no longer tacky) when lined up and firmly pressed onto the card. Hold the piece on each end and aim to cover the alignment holes you made during the markup procedure above. Hold firmly in place for 30 seconds or more and then ideally place something heavy (some neoprene foam with a book on top works well) on it for a few more minutes to ensure it sticks well.

Note that on some 3D printers the larger parts may warp and no longer match up with the layout template.
If this is the case and you have followed the layout template then the part can be bent slightly and stuck down in the correct shape. You need to be very careful to achieve this and hold the piece for a little longer to ensure the glue has firmly bonded.

Note that you can’t reposition pieces once placed as that the glue may soften the paint and hence mark the board where you placed it. So take extra care when gluing and maybe print and paint a couple of spare practice pieces.

Once you’ve finished placing all pieces the design is complete! Leave it flat for a while for the glue to fully harden and then handle carefully as bending the card to much will cause the pieces to come loose.

I frame the pieces in an enclosed box frame. This protects and seals the work which otherwise will gather dust over time. I’ve found Picture Frames Express (https://www.pictureframesexpress.co.uk) to be very good, they do several deep box frames and produce custom frames to your specification with a wide choice of mount colours.
If you choose not to frame it I would mount it on a more rigid backing board – maybe glue the painted parts directly onto a board that you’ve prepared for hanging instead of onto card. Dibond board is good for this. When complete hang on the wall somewhere with plenty of light and where you will see it from many different angles.

And most of all, enjoy.

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