If you like vintage vinyl, prepare for the future with your own 3D printed records and players! Read everything you need to know.
Everyone can now make and customize things easier than ever thanks to 3D printing. From laptop stands to tools and even a replica of yourself, affordable manufacturing is on the rise.
Since all these plastic parts are made by enthusiasts, one might reasonably wonder, “What about records?” After all, they're made of vinyl, so we should be able to create our own custom albums out of different types of plastic, right? ?
In this article, we'll take a look at what's been achieved so far, as well as projects you can tackle today in your quest to 3D print almost anything, even a playable record.
Although vinyl records are making a comeback, their production has always been beyond the reach of hobbyists. Makers and audiophiles are now wondering if 3D printing is the answer.
The good news is that 3D printing technology can and has been used to print records! But we can't start printing your favorite tunes just yet… There are a few things to keep in mind and some pretty big challenges you'll have to overcome before you can play a successful audio track.
First, it's called vinyl, but in reality the vinyl used in traditional records is polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a thermoplastic polymer. It is a type of plastic that becomes flexible and moldable when heated, allowing it to be formed into a plate during the manufacturing process.
PVC is a popular choice for vinyl records because of its desirable properties such as durability, flexibility and good sound quality when handled properly. Many filaments used in 3D printing are selected for similar attributes but differ in composition such as PLA, PETG, TPU and ABS.
Traditional vinyl records are produced by injection molding: Vinyl pellets are heated, injected into a mold, and pressed into the shape of a record.
On the other hand, 3D printing with fused deposition modeling (FDM) involves depositing layer by layer your chosen materials, usually on a roll of filament. The flexibility and durability of the PVC used in the plates is particularly suited to audio reproduction, while the FDM filaments have a variety of qualities that can be used for many types of applications (whether you choose PLA , PETG or ABS , for example ).
The intricate and subtle grooves found on traditional vinyl records are critical to faithful audio reproduction. Achieving this level of precision and maintaining such tight tolerances is challenging, especially for hobbyist FDM 3D printers. Your average Creality or Prusa printer has limitations in resolution and layer height, which directly affects the level of detail achievable in the grooves of the printed record.
Creating a 3D printer recording with satisfactory audio playback quality is difficult (to say the least) due to the likely introduction of surface imperfections and layering artifacts during the printing process. These imperfections can disrupt the smoothness and consistency of the grooves, resulting in distorted audio fidelity during playback, resulting in poor sound quality at best and incomprehensible noise at worst.
Let's say you're ready to move forward, but then you run into a host of other issues common to 3D printing—ones that can doom your record before it's ever released. Solving these problems involves finding a delicate balance between various factors.
The right material
The material issue is an obstacle that cannot be underestimated. PLA may be easy to print but won't last, while TPU may be flexible and durable but may not achieve the required detail. PETG or ABS may be strong and sufficiently detailed, but without the required finish.
As we've pointed out before, records are vinyl for a reason. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), PVC is not a commonly used material in 3D printing due to its toxic emissions, high printing temperature requirements, and corrosiveness. Honestly, there are safer 3D printing materials out there.
The right print and adhesion settings
Balancing print speed with layer height is critical as it affects timing and detail, but can be challenging to optimize. Choosing the right material is also important as it must strike a balance between durability, surface finish and printability. Achieving a smooth surface on the 3D printed record, vital to reproduction quality, often requires meticulous post-processing techniques.
Additionally, ensuring proper adhesion to the print bed and minimizing the risk of distortion during printing are common concerns that must be carefully managed. These problems aren't isolated to record printing, of course. But some can be more of a challenge to overcome than others.
The right post-processing
What post-processing technique will you use to ensure a clean recording with good playback? Again we run into a series of problems. For example, sanding and painting are poor approaches that can compromise the possibility of slab quality.
Some may wish to try chemical ironing or steam ironing. Only some materials can be chemically ironed. More importantly, however, the smoothing process can improve the overall appearance of the 3D printed record, but at the same time make it impossible to reproduce.
In general, post-processing your recording will be difficult, if not impossible, for the most commonly used methods.
How to create your own
But let's assume that you manage to overcome all the obstacles described above. What exactly will be the steps to create and print your own record?
Creating a suitable STL file for 3D printing a playable recording involves converting the audio data (in WAV format) to a format that represents the channels of the recording. The process typically uses a technique known as audio lithography. This is both easy and a bit difficult:
- First, you use RIP software to convert the audio WAV file to a high-resolution image (such as PNG or TIFF). The brightness of each pixel represents the amplitude of the audio waveform.
- You then need to convert the high-resolution image to an STL file using specialized software that converts the image's brightness levels to depth, creating a 3D representation of the audio waveform.
- You then change parameters such as groove depth, width, and overall design to suit the playback speed (eg 33 rpm or 45 rpm).
Sounds easy enough, right? Well, there are quite a few steps before you even get near a 3D printer: audio sampling, audio quantization and normalization, image creation, and finally converting the image to STL.
As you can see, the process of printing your own record still has quite a few obstacles. A much easier challenge for today's vinyl enthusiasts would be to print a turntable or related accessories. While by no means an easy task, both spare parts and entire turntables are achievable on most consumer FDM printers.
Below we present to you the brilliant work of some makers who have decided to rise to the challenge and create their own 3D printed records, as well as amazing turntables and accessories.
The world's first 3D printed record
The world's first 3D printed record was produced more than 10 years ago on an Objet Connex 500 resin 3D printer by Amanda Ghassaei. Although successful, the resolution was nowhere near high enough to reproduce the same sound quality as a commercially produced vinyl record. This recording plays a Nirvana song that was digitized with a process developed to convert audio files into 3D recording models. At the time, it took over 1GB of storage to convert an MP3 song to a track like this!
This Instructables project hasn't been updated in a while, but it gives a detailed look at the process, with a few links already broken. Regardless, if you follow the instructions on Instructables combined with the information available on GitHub , you'll find what might be a fairly thorough guide to creating your own playable if you can navigate around the dead links.
The designer has created a number of other works, including a laser-cut version of a recording.
Fisher-Price Custom Disc
Maybe you want to print a record, but use a slightly simpler approach. This 1970's era Fisher-Price 3D printed custom "turntable" disc is an excellent project that we just had to include here. If you have one of these old toys at home and want to use the creator software to make your own custom disc, it's pretty handy.
The creator of this project, Instructables user fred27, made a CD that plays the theme music from Star Wars and another rocking Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven."
We think being able to play your own custom tracks on something like this really shows what 3D printing can do for old technology. Just imagine what other old stuff is lying around that we could print custom accessories and even songs for!
Powered by an Arduino Uno, this fully functional turntable is made from 3D printed parts and 3D printer parts. By utilizing TMC2209 drivers known for their advanced stepper motor control features, the design emphasizes precision and efficiency in turntable operation.
This project is valuable for enthusiasts, home hobbyists who want to understand and build a functional turntable or incorporate such components into their custom audio setups, in line with the growing interest in analog audio experiences.
The turntable is quite affordable as it is printed from ABS and TPU. The designer provides a complete list of all required parts. They even link to GitHub for the Arduino source codes and a few additional details, as well as YouTube videos for testing.
If you've printed your own record player, or have attempted to print your own record, you probably won't let go of this in-depth compilation.