The 4th of July is almost here, which is Independence Day for us in the US. 3D artist, graphic designer, and all around “diagram guy” Don Foley is paying tribute to the American holiday with a 3D print of the Customs House at Ellis Island. Noting that 3D prints of the Statue of Liberty have been done to death (Literally! Chuck Berry of Racine, Wisconsin 3D printed one so big, it crushed him! God rest his soul), Foley opted for something he was pretty sure no one had yet printed.
Foley had wanted to print a model with both a detailed exterior and interior, one that could be taken apart to reveal the insides of his print. Because he had already modeled the Ellis Island Customs House for the National Park Service, the building was the perfect choice. Crafting the Customs House from scratch in Lightwave 3D, the model was made up of four different parts to take up the entire area of his print bed. Included in his design were two types of stilts and stilt holders that would allow for proper alignment of the various parts upon printing. One stilt assembly could be used to connect the model normally, so as to give you an assembled Customs House. The other would allow the pieces to be connected in such a way as to give an exploded view of the building.
Printing the Customs House on his Wanhao Duplicator 4, Foley adjusted his print settings to accommodate the large number of unsupported features and ensure that his details were fabricated in tact. He lowered the temperature of his hot end from 205° to 200° and slowed the printer’s speed from 60 mm/s to 40 mm/s, printing with a layer thickness of .1mm. Foley says that each layer would take about 12 hours to print. I hope he means each floor or else I won’t get my print done in time for the holiday!
The print was performed on a glass plate coated with painter’s tape, but Foley has said that removing prints has become the hardest part of a print job and that he even impaled himself with the knife he normally uses to pry objects off of the printbed. This time, the designer opted for a hot water bath, which he says made the print much easier to remove.
If you want to build your own 4th of July diorama, you can download the Ellis Island Customs House print for free for the next two weeks. Foley has created the following image, which includes some important instructions for printing the building, as well as a historical context for the iconic landmark.
I can’t think of a better model to 3D print for the holiday. Unlike the Statue of Liberty, drenched in symbolism about the “Land of Opportunities”, the Customs House reflects the reality of migrating to the United States, an often grueling, sometimes humiliating, always life-changing process. As the holiday approaches, it’s important to remember that all US citizens were immigrants at some point, who came to a country, already inhabited, looking for a better life.