From Flat to Physical: 3D Printing a Logo

I recently had the fun opportunity to do something I’d never done, take a 2d logo and turn it into a 3d physical object. I was looking to create something for a friend of mine using my 3d printer for their Christmas present. They were the one that bought the kit for me, so I figured it was only fitting to give them an example as a thank you. I struggled for a while thinking of what to make, but ultimately decided it’d be fun to create the logo for his consulting business and make it into a sign for his home office. A business isn’t official until it has a sign.

Now the logo already existed, and was something we’d created for him at Figoli Quinn & Associates, so I had access to the Illustrator file for the logo. But how to get that to the 3D printer? The 3d printer needs an STL file, not an AI file. Also, how do I visualize the following into a 3d object?

I decided to keep it pretty simple. The entire logo would have a flat backing that could be wall mounted, with the outline of the fish, and then the inside of the fish and the letters all stacking on top of this is 3 or so layers. Basically, a simple three dimensional extrusion of the flat logo. This meant working in a 3d program, but first, I needed to get the curves from the logo into my 3d program which in this case was MODO. While I could remodel the entire thing in 3d, why go through all that trouble when the curves were already built?

MODO actually makes this a pretty easy process. First in Illustrator, you need to expand everything within Illustrator as curves. This includes text, groups, compound curves, etc. Everything needs to be broken down into just basic curves. Once you’d done that, export the file as an EPS file, but make sure it’s a version 3 EPS. I honestly can’t tell you if that’s actually something that’s vital, but I remember hearing before it was, and you know what, it’s worked for me.

With the Illustrator work exported, that EPS file can be imported straight into MODO via the File > Import command. When it’s brought it, the curves will look more or less like they did in Illustrator. You just need to go into item mode, select the curve you’d like to fill, and go to Geometry > Freeze. Make sure that it’s set to fill curves with faces, and if you have holes you need to preserve, check the box to make holes and select the appropriate axis for the holes to be created in. You can do that for all your necessary curves. Once that’s done, you can use the Thicken tool to start thickening these flat faces. For the sign here, I needed to make sure the outline of the fish was one layer, and the inside of the fish and text were different layers that stacked. With those correct, I added a simple beveled box in the back to act as a backing for the pieces. I then added some simple holes in the back corners to act as mounting holes. With that done, here’s what I ended up with:

With the model complete, I then cleaned this up just a little more to make it easier to print. The plan was to print each of these individual pieces separately and assemble them back together afterwards as I wanted to print this larger than my printer could handle. So with that in mind, I made sure each piece was it’s own mesh item in MODO , and then I split the back piece in two because I knew it’d be too big to print in a single piece. With all of those items separated, I just selected them all, right clicked, and exported the layers. Make sure it’s set to export each layer as a separate file, and as an STL file.

That’s all for MODO. With MODO done, the next step was to send it over to the 3d printer software for slicing. Since I didn’t model in MODO at any specific scale, this was my first chance to see how big it’d actually print out. Much too small, but that’s OK. Since everything from MODO was to scale in comparison to itself and the other pieces, I just needed to scale it all up in the slicing software before sending it to the printer. After that, it was just printing each piece individual (well, I could print several at a time).

It’s off the printer, all done, right? Not quite. The first step was coating the “top” side (the side that would be visible when done) of each of the small pieces in a little bit of liquid putty filler. This would help fill in any lines left by the printing process and give it at smoother finish. The back took a little more work since it wasn’t just filling in some lines, but joining two separate large pieces into a single item. First, I ran some Krazy glue down the edge that would be joined and glued the two pieces together. It wasn’t very strong, and there was now a big line down the middle.

Rather than simple model filler, this was solved using all purpose Bondo. Just slather on a side and use a spatula to spread it to the thin finish. Once one side dried, I went ahead and did the same to the other side. While it make things pretty smooth, there were still some rough patches here and there, so it was onto sanding the Bondo down. I started with 80 grit sand paper and eventually worked up to 150 grit until the surface was flat and smooth end to end. I went ahead and did the same to the smaller pieces from before, giving them a nice smooth finish. After that, I coated each of them in some XTC-3D epoxy which helps smooth out their coat and give them a bit of a finish, and once that was dry they all got some fine grain sanding, giving everything a nice smooth matte surface.

Next, painting. Everything except the inside pieces of the fish was either black or white, so they got a quick coat in spray paint. The fish, to give it a nice gradation effect, was airbrushed using the airbrush system I had for my Copic Markers. If I had an acrylic airbrush system I would’ve used that instead, but this was all I had. With all of the pieces painted, it was time to glue them together, and then give them a final coating in varnish to help seal the paint in. Looking back, I should have either used a spray varnish (I painted mine) or just not used the Copic Markers as the ink ran quite a bit during the varnish process. Oh well, you live and learn.

And here’s what we ended up with. All the way from a flat 2d image on the computer to a 3d object ready to hang on the wall using some 3d printing, and a good amount of hand crafting. I hope this helps you see how you can do something similar whether it’s doing a prototype for something that will be make into a larger sign, or just a fun project at home.