MAKE things three-dimensional (3D)

The term “3D” gets spoken of a lot lately, especially “3D printing.” Though the term seems commonplace, sometimes we forget why 3D things are so cool and interesting. By turning something from flat 2D (two-dimensions) into a fully functioning 3D experience, we are not only engaging more senses (tactile touch) we are creating objects that have prescence from 360 degrees of viewing.

In order to expand this conceptual understanding of 3D printing, we challenge you to flip the term and consider what it truly means to “print in 3D.” Printing in 3D can be done with or without technology, as many mixed media artists will attest to the fact the amplifying their use of tactile textures is a favorite way to add the third dimension to their artworks.

To do this, we begin with hot glue…one of our favorite tools! Not only can hot glue be used to attach objects together or fix broken things, it is an amazing starting point for understanding 3D printing. After all a 3D printer is essentially a hot glue gun on wheels that is controlled by a computer.

Printing in 3D with Hot Glue Molds

Using a flexible silicone mold (i.e. Small ice cube trays and/or chocolate candy molds bought at grocery store for about $2 each, various shapes: hearts, stars, shells, mustaches, leaves, etc.) you can fill in with hot glue and small craft findings (sequins, glitter, etc.) to create your own 3D objects. Experiment with adding small amounts of paint or food coloring to change the color and texture of the hot glue. These objects can be displayed on shelves or turned into pendants and key chains by attaching yarn or cords. See more details in this tutorial (coming soon).

Drawing in 3D with Hot Glue

Using parchment paper (baking paper bought for a couple of dollars at grocery store) you can create 3D doodles and unique 3D objects. Experiment with drawing directly onto the parchment paper and see what happens when hot glue is added. Does the drawing transfer? Experiment with adding craft findings to the hot glue as you draw. Does the hot glue drawing have the strength to stand up on its own as a sculptural object? What can you do with these 3D hot glue creations? Use the dried creation as a printmaking stamp (cover with paint and press down on thick paper to make a print) or embossing tool (place paper over the creation and rub with crayon to create colorful textures). Attach yarn or string and turn it into a sun catcher for your window or wear it as a necklace, ring, or bracelet. See more details in this tutorial (coming soon).

Computer Modeling in 3D with Free Software

Using Autodesk 123D Design (free download for Mac, iPad, and Windows) or TinkerCAD (free web-based app used directly in Internet browser) you can create your own unique 3D models. The completed 3D models can be exported as “.STL” files and sent to a 3D printer and printed into a physical object. Don’t have a 3D printer of your own? Upload your file to and have them print it for you (costs vary based on the size of your model, which material you want it printed in, and how soon you want them to mail it to your home). Don’t want to wait for snail mail…search for a 3D printing service near your home on (enter in your zip code and a list of local 3D printing services are provided, rates vary). View our resources page for more related information.

Want more 3D activities? Check out our project page for more ideas.

Converting flat 2D files to 3D printable files

Ever wonder if there was a way to 3D print a flat clipart image? Well, there is. Thanks to the extra credit effort of one of our graduate students, you too can convert a vector based clip art file (.svg) into a 3D printable file (.stl). Follow these simple steps using free software (Gimp, Inkscape, and Tinkercad)*:

Step 1: Find or create a clean clip art style one color logo.

Step 2: Open image in GIMP or Microsoft Paint, which are both free, raster-based image editing software programs.

Step 3: Go to the “file” menu. choose “export.”  Make sure the file name ends in .png and select PNG file format from drop down menu. Select “save.”

Step 4: Open file in Inkscape, which is a free, open-source vector image software program.

Step 5: In Inkscape select the portion of the image desired.  Go to “path” menu. select “trace bitmap.”

Step 6: Next “check” the box at “remove background.”  Select “Ok.”

Step 7: Go to the “File” menu.  Select “Save as.”  Go to the “Save as type” drop down menu and select “Plain SVG.”  Select “Save.”

Step 8: In TInkercad or Autodesk 123D Design go to the file menu and select “import”.  select your SVG file and select “Open.”

Step 9: From there, you can further manipulate your 3D object.

Here is our famous Texas State University bobcat logo redesigned as a 3D printable pendant: texas_state_university_bobcat_v2-3d-model

*If you don’t have the free software outlined in this tutorial, you can follow this link to accomplish the same effect using Photoshop and Illustrator:


MAKE things move with simple motorized circuits

Using inexpensive materials, you can MAKE things move by creating a simple motorized circuit. When you attach the motorized circuit to a base (a toothbrush head, plastic cup, etc.) you can make an analog ArtBot that is capable of creating a variety of randomized art. With endless possibilities, what will you design your ArtBot to do?

With all the digital technology around us, why would we want to make analog robots? Using inexpensive materials these little bots are a great introduction to circuits and allow for great engineering explorations involving simple design changes to experiment with cause and effect. There are even science competitions for these little bots: BrushBot Olympics, BristleBot Educational Robotics Competition, and many more. Even if you can’t physically compete in one of these competitions, try out some of their ideas and start your own competition with friends in your neighborhood or at your school.




  • toothbrush head (flat head works best)
  • scissors or pliers (have an adult help)
  • vibrating motor (tiny pager motor)
  • 3v battery (CR2032 coin size)
  • twist tie or rubberband
  • craft materials (pipe cleaners, foam strips, paper, etc.)


  1. Cut the toothbrush head with scissors or pliers.
  2. Attach the motor to the battery (align + and – sides).
  3. Attach motor/battery combo to brush with twist tie.
  4. Decorate the BrushBot.

Watch the Brushbots race.
Dip them in paint and watch BrushBots create art.
Tie a leash on them and take them for a walk.
Imagine where they would “live” and create them a habitat.

What happens if you add “legs?”
How can you control the path of the BrushBot?
Can you create an on/off switch to save the battery?
What happens when you use a different type of brush?




Using the same simple motorized circuit, you can make an ArtBot that can draw.


  • plastic base (cups and/or plastic containers)
  • scissors
  • vibrating motor (tiny pager motor)
  • 3v battery (CR2032 coin size)
  • drawing tools: pens, pencils, and/or markers
  • rubberband
  • tape
  • craft materials (pipe cleaners, foam strips, paper, etc.)


  1. Attach the motor to the battery (align + and – sides).
  2. Attach motor/battery combo to plastic base with rubberband.
  3. Attach drawing tools to make the base “stand up” on its own.
  4. Decorate the DrawingBot.

Watch the Drawingbots race inside a box.
Watch DrawingBots create art together.

What happens when you use a different type of base?
What other recyclable materials could you use for the base?
Can you create an on/off switch to save the battery?
What happens when you move the placement of the motor/battery?
How does the placement of the drawing tools impact its drawing?
How can you adjust the DrawingBot to draw circles? dots? straight lines? curves? dashes?

Share a photo of what your ArtBot can do!

MAKE things light up with simple circuits!

Circuits are all around us but we normally don’t pay much attention to how they work. A circuit is a loop that connects volts from a power source (such as a battery) to an output (such as a light or motor). Learn more about the technical aspects of circuits from this tutorial on SparkFun.

In addition to traditional electronic components, circuits can be made out of a variety of conductive materials, such as conductive thread, conductive tape, or even conductive ink.

Our favorite introduction to circuits is to make things light up. Combining an LED light and a coin-size battery (3 volt CR2032 batteries are our favorite) you can make a simple circuit connection that has a lot of creative potential. Simply attach tape or a binder clip to keep the circuit connected and consider what you can turn it into…a ring, a pendant, a bow tie, a hair bow? The possibilities are endless! Follow these simple steps to create your own: LED bling tutorial

Advanced electrical concepts can be explored by extending this same concept of simple circuits into soldering electrical components to a printed computer board. We like to start to learn how to solder with this tutorial that creates a blinking LED badge.

Soldering is serious business and needs to have a lot of safety considerations, but with the proper precautions we believe that children of all ages can successfully and safely learn to solder as long as they have appropriate adult supervision. Learn more about soldering basics here and be sure to check out our favorite one-page soldering guide here designed by Super Awesome Sylvia.

Maker Play Workshops at San Marcos Public Library

Join us at the San Marcos Public Library for “Maker Play” workshops on July 10, 17, and 24 from 2-4 pm. Explore technology including 3D printing and simple robotics to bring your imagination to life with hands-on projects! This workshop is free and geared toward kids ages 7-12. Space is limited so please register through the SMPL website here.

This is a series of annual workshops that are in collaboration with Maker Camp, which supports a unique global summer camp experience for young artists and inventors ages 7-12. This year’s themes include: Far-Out Future, Flight, Fun and Games, Fantasy, Funkytown, and Farmstead, which will challenge every participant to learn new skills across a wide range of interests.


Have you ever wished that an awesome DIY project would arrive on your doorstep complete with everything you needed, including instructions and materials? With TinkerCrate that is possible! You can choose from age appropriate DIY projects to spark creativity and awesome learning experiences with one simple monthly subscriptions. Once you subscribe, a box filled with awesomeness will arrive on your doorstep each month!

Check out the TinkerCrate family:image

  • KoalaCrate hands-on playful crafts for ages 3-4
  • KiwiCrate hands-on creative science for ages 4-8
  • TinkerCrate hands-on building and experiments for ages 9-14+
  • DoodleCrate hands-on art techniques and crafts for ages 9-16+

LED Binder Clip Bling

LED binder clip bling-ringBecause we just LOVE creating simple LED circuits, so we couldn’t help ourselves when we stumbled upon the idea of the LED Binder Clip Bling tutorial created by Jessica Henricks on the MAKE: magazine website (view her original tutorial here). Using simple materials, you can create an LED circuit with an easy on/off switch (the binder clip) to conserve the battery and transform it into wearable art.

Here is our modified one-page tutorial handout: (shared GoogleDoc)

Consider adding a magnet and turning it into electronic graffiti (Make Your Own LED Throwie).

STREAM Fest 2015

stream-logoLooking for some free fun activities to do with your family this weekend? Well if you live in Central Texas you should bring your family to our STREAM Fest 2015 Saturday 1/31/15 from 11-4 at the San Marcos Activity Center and San Marcos Public Library.

The purpose of the festival is to provide hands-on activities that demonstrate how artists draw upon the other disciplines to create a variety of art. We will have 20 hands-on booths ongoing throughout the day at the Activity Center and 5 performances scheduled at the Library, including concerts and puppet shows. It is a great FREE creative opportunity for kids of all ages. I hope you will consider attending with your family and/or telling a few friends about the event.

Ongoing at Activity Center from 11-4:

Rock Salt Watercolor Painting
Color Mixing with Light and Transparencies
Abstract Drawings from Microscope Projections

Imagination Station’s Stop Motion Animation
3D Printing demonstration

Comics and Manga
Paper Engineering: Pop-up Card-making and Shadow Puppets
Storybook Character Face Painting

Freestyle Building Station
Make and Take Structure Building
Artistic Robots

Freestyle Art Space
Collaborative Drawing (a.k.a. exquisite corpse)
Reflective Drawings

3D Modular Kirigami Paper Puzzles & Tangrams
Photo Symmetry
Inkblot Mandalas

Scheduled Events at Library:

11:00-3:00 Scott Wade with Dirty Car Art demo
11:00-12:00 Terri Hendrix kids concert
12:00-1:00 Anasi and the Talking Melon Puppet Show
1:00-2:00 Science Sensations Stations
2:00-4:00 Lego Mania

Inkblot Mandalas

Mandalas are a spiritual symbol that represent the Universe. Traditionally they consist of radial balance with at least four lines of symmetry. Inspired by Margaret Peot’s Inkblot: Drip, Splat and Squish Your Way to Creativity, we invite you to try to create a mandala using blots of ink or paint.


  1. Fold a piece of paper in half. Apply a dot or two of water, and a dot or two of ink or paint.
    • inkblot1
  2. Fold the paper, and apply pressure with the palm of your hand. Unfold.
    • inkblot2
  3. Finally, fold the paper horizontally, apply light pressure, and unfold. Now, what do you see?
    • inkblot3

Make historical and cultural connections by including additional instructional information about mandalas:

Incorporate more inspiration by including additional artistic design concepts, such as those from our favorite inkblot artist: