This might seem unrelated, but I promise it's not... I proposed! And she said yes!

Despite how "random" this seems, it's extremely relevant to this series. In the process of working up to the proposal, I had the idea to create a custom 3D-printed Pokéball as the ring box when I proposed (specifically, a variant called a "luxury ball").

The process of designing the Pokéball took quite a bit of effort, much of it hard-earned and hard-learned; the only way I figured some of this out was to simply try things until it worked as I needed it to. While I tried to use online resources for FreeCAD, I found them often lacking in crucial detail.

This is the inspiration for this series. I hope to help others gain a usable understanding of how to create things in FreeCAD, starting with the Pokéball in this series.

This guide assumes no prior knowledge with FreeCAD and is intended to be useful for first-time users and novices (such as myself).

Don't sell prints of this on Etsy, or anywhere else. The Pokémon Company expressly-forbids selling of anything related to their content, derivative or not. You may see many unlicensed products related to Pokémon being sold on platforms like Etsy, but it's likely The Pokémon Company simply hasn't gotten to sending cease-and-desist letters to many of the vendors.

I don't keep up with it, but I imagine there are vendors routinely being forced to stop selling unlicensed products. I do have to concede that I don't know for sure - maybe The Pokémon Company turns a blind eye to the little sellers on such platforms - or maybe they don't. I personally would not risk it.

Due to The Pokémon Company's license, they automatically own any fan art as soon as it's distributed online. This just means that, should you create some kind of Pokémon fan art and display it on an image sharing service, they (The Pokémon Company) can take it and use it however they want to without ever contacting you for permission; their license clearly states they own any sort of derivative work:

Distribution in any form and any channels now known or in the future of derivative works based on the copyrighted property trademarks, service marks, trade names and other proprietary property (Fan Art) of The Pokémon Company International, Inc., its affiliates and licensors (Pokémon) constitutes a royalty-free, non-exclusive, irrevocable, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license from the Fan Art's creator to Pokémon to use, transmit, copy, modify, and display Fan Art (and its derivatives) for any purpose

The key things to note here are:

  • "Distribution in any form and any channels..."
    • As soon as you distribute your fan art anywhere, The Pokémon Company owns it
  • "...constitutes a royalty-free, non-exclusive, irrevocable, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license..."
    • The part that says they own your derivative work

The license ends with the most-important bit of information (and is the part that Etsy sellers are violating):

In no uncertain terms, does Pokémon's use of Fan Art constitute a grant to Fan Art's creator to use the Pokémon intellectual property or Fan Art beyond a personal, noncommercial home use.

This last bit expressly-forbids commercial usages; I'd imagine selling your fan art on Etsy would constitute such a usage. If you want to avoid the legal thermonuclear warhead that The Pokémon Company could summon (with the assistance of Nintendo, I might add), don't sell prints of the Pokéball covered in this series, ever.

Things needed

In order to follow along with this tutorial, you'll need the following:

  1. FreeCAD - Parametric 3D modeling Computer-Aided Design software (that's free!)
    1. I'm using version 0.21.2
  2. Stereolithography (SLA) 3D Printer
  3. Slicer software compatible with your 3D printer
    1. Chitubox - Freemium slicer, no ads
    2. Lychee - Freemium slicer with in-app ads
    3. Slic3r - Open-source slicer (recommended for advanced users only)

Why FreeCAD (instead of Blender)

If you're familiar with 3D modeling at all, you may be familiar with the popular 3D modeling tool, Blender. It's a fantastic modeling tool, but one that's better-suited to "creative" modeling, especially when it comes to modeling organic objects. It's certainly not impossible to model precise objects that you intend to manufacture within Blender, but it would be disproportionately-difficult to do so; it's simply not the purpose of Blender.

FreeCAD differs from Blender ("direct modeling") in that it leverages "parametric modeling". This means that objects are modeled by setting parameters such as edge lengths, circular face radii, hole threads, and more. Furthermore, there is no mesh for parametric models (unless you intentionally create them). This affords a number of advantages when modeling manufactured objects (compared to Blender):

  • Easy and quick to update parameters
    • If you link things correctly, a single change can be propagated across the entire model, making precise tweaks much easier in FreeCAD than in Blender
    • Some updates can take a bit to load, but even with that delay, it's exponentially-faster than doing the same thing in Blender
  • No meshes means much simpler and faster rendering of in-progress models
    • No need for the GPU to calculate face-based logic since it's not rendering meshes

Use a Stereolithography 3D printer

Do not use an FDM printer ("filament-based") for the Pokéball created in this tutorial; it won't break anything, but FDM printers don't have the precision required to print the fine detail on some of the parts. You'd simply waste time creating a sub-par print due simply to the fact that FDM printers can't print at the resolution required for this model.

Fortunately, stereolithography (SLA) 3D printers have become much more affordable in recent years. I myself have been using a Longer Orange 30 2K resolution printer, which is a bit of an older SLA 3D printer, but more than adequate for printing the Pokéball modeled in this tutorial. The Orange 30 is no longer available, but the modern equivalent is the Longer Orange 4K which is currently priced at $199.99.

SLA Safety

Underlying all of these guidelines is this: uncured resin is dangerous. Especially when heated, photopolymer resins release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), but will do so even if passively sitting while exposed to air.

Cured resin does not pose the same risk since the toxic aspect of the resin largely stems from the photoactive molecules that are rendered inert once cured with UV light. Uncured resin, on the other hand, has a sensitizing effect; the more you handle it unprotected, the more likely it is that you will have a negative reaction. Some people have reported their eyes swelling shut after exposure due to so many prior years of unprotected exposure; do yourself a favor and use adequate protection when handling and/or working around uncured resin.

Only cured prints are safe to handle without gloves (though, as with all plastics, you should assume there is always some risk posed when handling).

As a general golden rule, never use 3D printed objects for food surfaces, whether it's an FDM print or an SLA print.

Printing & handling guidelines

  • Keep printer in well-ventilated location
  • Do not handle liquid resin without gloves (nitrile, latex, etc.)
  • Do not handle uncured resin prints without gloves (nitrile, latex, etc.)

Curing and post-processing guidelines

  • Do not sand uncured prints
  • Only wet-sand cured resin prints to reduce dust
  • Always wear a respirator when sanding cured resin prints (even if wet-sanding)
  • Always wear eye protection when sanding cured resin prints (even if wet-sanding)

Cleanup guidelines

  • Do not discard unused resin in drains, garbage or recycling bins
    • Leftover/unused resin should be brought to a hazardous waste disposal location
    • Many municipalities offer drop off locations at their recycling centers (but the recycling trucks don't pick up such materials)
    • Odds are, the place you can take old oil to is the same place you can take old SLA resin to
  • Cure all easily-accessible SLA resin before discarding at hazardous waste center
    • You can't cure all of the residual resin in the original bottles; they are designed to keep UV out to protect the resin in storage/transit
    • You can still shine a UV light down into the bottle, but there will always be a small uncured amount left
  • Treat alcohol wash solution as though it were uncured resin (even if you've attempted to cure it before discarding)
    • In addition to unused resin, the alcohol wash you use to rinse the excess resin from fresh prints should be handled with caution
    • Even if you've cured it, odds are good that there is still a good amount of uncured resin in the solution that the light couldn't get to
    • This solution is likely toxic and should be brought to the same location as discarded resin

Picking a Slicer

In my past experience with 3D printing, Chitubox has been more than adequate for my needs. However, it doesn't seem to work with my current SLA printer; it does show the Orange 30 as a supported printer, but it fails to export the sliced models to the correct file format.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other Slicers around. I ended up finding Lychee and now use that instead of Chitubox solely because it can export to the file format I need.

If you have a preferred slicer not mentioned in this guide, that shouldn't be a problem! In fact, it will be better for you to use what you're already familiar with since each of these applications behave slightly differently under the hood. If you have a slicer that works for you, stick with that one.

If you don't have a slicer you're already using, I recommend Chitubox over Lychee since Chitubox doesn't enforce an arbitrary 15 second wait (with ads) before exporting files like Lychee does. However, if Chitubox doesn't work for you for whatever reason, Lychee is a solid backup.

The last option I mentioned, Slic3r, is an open source slicer application. I have not had time to poke around with it, so I can't make any meaningful recommendations around it. I only mention it here as the "open source option" for those interested. With that said, I do not use Slic3r, and don't have any plans to.

Next time

That's it for now! This is just the series introduction, so I wanted to limit it to simply introducing the core pieces, as well as some best practices.

In the next series article, I will cover how to use FreeCAD to create the first half of the Pokéball shell. See you there!