Telios I

Wax Stamp

For the actual stamp process, skip to here.

The Problem

I am woefully under equipped. I lack the warm embrace of some sort of… machine… that allows me complete, unbridled, access, to anything I could potentially imagine. I lack the ability to create something physical.

I lack a 3d printer. My previous one, that I had… cough… inherited (long story, honestly), is a piece of crap. It was an FDM1 printer, but as far as I can tell, the model had long since been abandoned (despite being essentially a 1-to-1 copy of another 3d printer, just with unknown hardware changes (apparently, the company doesn’t want to share; I wonder why), and different firmware), with no recent firmware updates; and, unfortunately for me, had a failed proximity sensor in the head - resulting in the (active and heated) nozzle embedding itself into the sticker material on the bed. That… kinda sucked.

I wanted to produce things with fine details anyway, however, and FDM printers aren’t really known for their fine details; FDM printers are good at printing big, fancy things, like vases, casts, or small boats. But most of the stuff I would be printing require fine details, since I’d be wanting to work on small things anyway.

A small, 3d printed boat, with primarily a blue color for the housing, and a red trim. The print is a bit rough, with obvious layer lines and small bits of plastic sticking places.
A 3d print of "#3DBenchy", a boat model used for testing 3d printers. You can see the layer lines here; while not all FDM printers produce layer lines this pronounced, it is hard to get fine details with FDM printers.

The Solution

I bought a resin printer.

I’ve made worse decisions, honestly. In this particular case, the finances lined up quite nicely, as I had been given a gift of money in the exact amount required for the printer.

A resin printer, sitting atop a wooden table, with the red, translucent lid on; it's placed between a power brick and another device with a yellow, translucent lid.
The now-acquired resin printer. It's already seen some (ab)use, but I am very pleased with it so far; it's at least lasted longer than my previous printer by a long shot.

The actual description for a resin printer is SLA2, and there is plenty of content on the internet to describe what it is and how it works already - so here’s a brief summary.

Instead of melting plastic by layer into shapes on to a bed, we’ll selectively expose a photopolymer layer by layer to UV light, slowly pulling out the print as it progresses, eventually resulting in the print we want. This photopolymer is our resin - the resin liquid sits in a bed atop (in our case) an LCD screen (apparently, there is a variant that uses a UV laser instead, and that can get more precise corners due to less aliasing); images will be displayed on this LCD screen in the shape of the prints, and everywhere not blocked will be cured by the intense UV. At the start, the plate is 0.05mm away from the bed of the tank; as each layer is successively cured, the cured resin is pulled away from the bed, and up, into the plate3.

This makes it Really Nice for printing things with very fine details, but not that great for printing large objects. The upside is that print time is completely linear with the number of layers. The downside is that print time is completely linear with the number of layers. That means a tall, thin object will take the same amount of time as a tall, fat object, which takes more than double[citation needed] the time as a short object4.

This can be frustrating when you have to take a 6 hour print, only to find out at the very end that the print failed; or, the part was incorrect; or, some other reason why you might have to restart. Because it is incredibly difficult to tell if/when a part has failed mid-print - something that FDM printers have up on SLA printers. Sometimes you can tell, based on the sound that the printer is making when it’s lifting the print up; or, if the print is tall enough, you can see it from outside the plastic cover.

Anyway, now I have a 3d printer. Now I have to determine what to make with it.

Finding Things To Print; Or, How Do I Use This Thing

Now, I have a resin printer. It’s a pretty nice looking resin printer, if I do say so. And while I definitely 100% did my research on how to use one of these things (like any respectable consumer should do before purchasing something), I’ve not actually learned the process5.

So obviously the first thing I did was print… The Rook™. The Rook™ is a file that was included with the printer that was, as the name implies, a chess rook.

Two chess rooks, with an intricate inner pattern instead of a body, consisting of a stair leading to the roof; they are placed on a grid surface.
The first print. This was sliced by the manufacturer, using the provided resin, and turned out excellently. And, since build times only increase with vertical layer count, and not horizontal complexity, printing two was free!

This was (deceptively) easy. Apart from having to manage the resin, and cleaning the parts, and waiting for the print, I did not have to do a thing. I don’t know why everyone says this is difficult! …that’s mostly jest, of course.

So… of course my next step is far more complex. But first, a diversion!

My Hobbies; Or, I Am A Nerd

I have many hobbies. To note, I enjoy playing NeosVR with quite a few of my friends. To note, I have a… minor interest in stationery (I swear it’s minor. Don’t ask me about my fountain pen collection. Or ink collection. Or paper.)

So, on the first front, I happened to collect a 3D model of a friend’s avatar. (There’s a story there. I’m not going to tell it, but there is a story there.) On the second front…

I’d, at the time, been intrigued by wax seal stamps. The metal pieces, engraved with a design, that is pressed into molten wax (of a specific type, mind) in order to cause a design on the envelope.

A blob of wax that had a specific design imprinted into it.
The end result, sort of. Hey, did you know that the color of the wax used here originally meant something?6 How neat.

Now, I don’t actually know much/have much experience in this field. But! But… this seemed like something easy to dabble in. I just had to make a block with a design that would then be pressed into the wax. It shouldn’t be too difficult, right?

Designing the Block

I’ll admit first hand that the initial design I used isn’t my own. The design was borrowed from a game - Outer Wilds (which is an excellent game and a rabbit hole in and of itself)7. So, one of my friends produced the design for me, and after some editing and modelling… I stuck it on the end of a large cylender, and 3D printed it. Unfortunately, in my all-infinite wisdom, I did not take pictures of the process.

The First Print

The 3D printer pictured earlier; however, this time, two prints are attached to the plate, upside down, which is still wet with resin.  The vat, still containing plentiful resin, is included below.
The end result of my first sliced print. The slicer was set on the default settings which, well... made removal difficult. I've since learned. I've since learned...

My first print was, by most metrics, a success. Even with such a detailed print, it came out nice, and the stamp… well, it printed well, at least.

The same prints pictured as above, though this time right side up, up close, and... cleaned up.  The supports were... removed.
The end result. The model on the left is the friend's model. Yes, they are dabbing. Yes, they should be ashamed. No, they are not sorry. I did not do so well removing the supports here. There is a minor defect in the face of the stamp on the right; however, the design came out pretty well.

There are no obvious issues with it (apart from my exceedingly bad clean-up job and support removal), and by most metrics it was a successful print.

It’s just a shame the stamp didn’t work.

A series of attempts of sealing, on a few pieces of scrap paper, to test.  They all have varying issues with them, mostly that they were not complete.
Imagine having to try to clean gum out of your shoe. Multiple times. Because you keep stepping in it. Over and over again. Maybe don't.

Did I mention that I’m not particularly knowledgable about the topic of wax stamps? Yeah. There are a few issues here, as far as I can tell, but even on this I could be wrong8:

So, I revised the design. And I got confident. I reduced the depth to 0.5mm. I didn’t invert the design just yet, though, because surely, if I reduced the depth, it should be fine, right?

The Next Print(s)

I printed 6 of this. It did not go better.

Six stamps, derived from the one pictured above.  This time it is placed on a wooden disk, on top of some machine.
The six stamps, freshly printed, in the curing station. I'm pretty sure this is post-cure. I don't know why I thought this was a good idea. The lighting makes them look deeper than they actually are.
One of the above stamps on top of a piece of paper, on which two (failed) seals are placed.
The six stamps, freshly printed, in the curing station. I'm pretty sure this is post-cure. I don't know why I thought this was a good idea.

At this point I was a little bit frustrated. I mean, it’s totally expectable in retrospect - of course it wouldn’t work. But these things took hours to print - if I recall correctly, it was in the neighborhood of three to four hours each, and I had done more than just these two prints by now. So, I went to eat, cooled off a bit, and tried again. I got half way into my next print when I realized there was an issue.

The 3D printer, with a set of 3 prints.  The prints definitely do not look cylendrical, as specific layers of the print have been offset massively.
The issue. It looks kinda neat, honestly.

I’d… never seen this failure mode before. It looks like layer separation issues? They somehow drifted? Whatever it was, it was neat. After discovering the issue (points if you can guess the issue!)10 and fixing it, I finally printed the full object instead:

The same machine as the six stamps picture, except this time, it has... six prints.  The three failed prints from the previous image, plus three new stamps.
The new, completed stamps, now fully inverted, and with a better depth. And the cleaned up and cured failures from the previous print. They were too... interesting, to not keep, honestly.

After the intersting diversion of the failed print, here we are: the moment of truth. Would it stamp? Well, first, a quick diversion.

Hey, Maybe You Should Actually Do Research?

…after printing these, I did some research. It turns out, wax can sometimes stick to the stamp! Who would’ve known. But… there are some ways to counter this! …Who would’ve known! Some suggestions I saw included:

So… in this run, I try this.

Two of the above stamps, on a piece of paper, upon which one complete and full seal was made, and one incomplete or failed seal had been made.
The seal on the left is the new result. The design had been inverted here, but more importantly, a light coating of canola oil had been made onto the stamp, which made the process easier. The seal on the left is the older design. The difference is stark.

Finally, a mild form of success! A seal that was… half decent. Wait, could I have done this the whole time?

Yes. D’oh! I didn’t… really need to change the depth… just the design and method of application…

Well, with that knowledge, I modified the design a bit. I put a ring around the edges to help catch some of the wax a bit. I increased the depth again. (I added some quality-of-life features to the stamp itself11, including a line along the side to show orientation, and a rounding along the base to make it easier to remove from the platform). And now, without further ado…

A wax seal, pressed firmly onto an envelope.  It includes the aforementioned design, with a circle around the symbol, and while the symbol is a bit rough around the edges, it is complete.
The final product. Sort of. Yes, it's a bit messy, but it had been my best seal yet.

Success! Mostly. It’s a marked improvement, I’ll tell you that. This is something I’d feel comfortable putting on a letter and shipping across the country. Which I did do. (It survived and made it to its destination unharmed. How’s that for sealing?)

Of course, it bugged me that I was borrowing someone else’s design. It couldn’t be used to represent me, and as we went over before, the symbol used should mean something12! So I designed myself a new one:

A stamp.  This time, it is solidly black, and has a completely new design on it.
The new design. I sketched this out pretty quickly, and I'll probably use it for now. Why not, after all? I might adjust it in the future.

And promptly tested it out. It came out perfectly, I think. I’ll probably make some minor tweaks to it as it progresses, but overall I’m proud of it.

I Thought This Was About 3D Printing!

Oh yeah. About that… well. This project did allow me to get used to parts of the process with printing! Honest! Well, enough to feel confident to try to take on something else…

A new, unspecified 3D printed part; however, there are clearly issues with the part, where layers have separated.
Oh god why.

  1. Fused Deposition Modeling; this is what most people think of when they hear the term “3d printer.” There is a nozzle, that pushes out molten plastic, layer by layer, to create a 3d model. 

  2. “Stereolithography.” Try saying that three times fast. 

  3. This does mean that the bed of the tank needs to be made of a material that cured resin will not stick to - this is the “FEP Release Film.” (Apparently the “FEP” stands for “Fluorinated Ethylene Propylene.”) This does need to be replaced over time, as wear and tear (or scratches, punctures, or general damage) makes it fail more often, resulting in` failed prints. 

  4. This does not apply for SLA printers that use a laser. The laser has to sweep along the screen, which also takes time; so for laser SLA printers, it’s also linear to the active portions of a layer. 

  5. There is a distinction between “knowing something” and “knowing how to implement something,” as any computer science student will tell you. Some things seem obvious when you talk about them in general. Thankfully, my concerns about this exact situation was not unfounded here. 

  6. Green was generally used for correspondance between friends, apparently. There’s a whole rabbit hole here, it’s seriously interesting - hell, even the symbol used here should mean something! …Though I don’t know if it’s really that important anymore. More info

  7. If you’re curious where the design is actually borrowed from, I’ll note the answer by necessity has to be a spoiler. With that in mind, it comes from the design just above the door on the simulation connection building - specifically, the river lowlands building. 

  8. Corrections can always be sent to I don’t claim to know these things, and I’m always interested in learning new things. Constructive criticism is welcome, destructive criticism can fuck right off. 

  9. I have considered getting a small CNC router, or a lathe, but honestly, I don’t know where I’d put it, and I worry I am far too unsafe to do so. Plus, those are tools in which you should really do research on how to use them (and which to get), before you get them, and I just… haven’t. 

  10. The answer: the build plate wasn’t firmly screwed down to the post, allowing it to move mid-print; thus, layers shifted and didn’t always get removed from the FEP during printing. 

  11. One attempt that didn’t make it into this post was when I tried adding a handle to the stamp, so I wouldn’t have to print so much. It did not go well

  12. It is known.