Four Ways to Win a MakerBot Unicorn Pen Plotter!

Posted by on Friday, November 26, 2010 in Uncategorized

unicorn-beauty-shot-1 copy

Have you seen the sharp hooves on the fine filly above? This MakerBot Unicorn Pen Plotter could be yours on the 11th of December.1

Charged with setting up a Unicorn station at Botacon2 , I decided I would take this opportunity to give away four of these kits as prizes for making contributions to the MakerBot Unicorn/pen plotting community.3

So the goals of this contest are two-fold —

  • to encourage coders and scripters to make the process of designing for the Unicorn4 easier by making the pipeline from drawing to printable design simple, and
  • to encourage artists/designers to create work to be plotted on a MakerBot Unicorn Pen Plotter

The winner of each prize will be announced during Botacon 0 on Dec. 11th.

Inkscape-to-Makerbot-Gcode Challenge

Goal: Create an open source Inkscape plugin or extension allowing a MakerBot Operator to take a 2D SVG vector-based image and create printable MakerBot Unicorn gcode in one step. Share your code/extension at with the tags “unicorn” + “inkscapechallenge”, perhaps linking to a project page explaining how to use your tool.

Right now, the best tool for translating vector-based images into printable gcode is Scribbles5. One of the best open source, cross-platform tools for creating vector-based art is Inkscape, a fabulous SVG editor. Currently, optimal workflow for connecting these two tools is rather complicated.

There is already work going on to generate gcode from Inkscape. The Eggbot community are really pushing Inkscape-for-pen-plotting really far, even using Inkscape as its host printing software. So jump in and bring all of these initiatives together by create a single, optimized tool.

Fill/Tone/Crosshatching Tool Challenge

Goal: Create an open source Inkscape plugin that makes life easier for designers by helping them to generate and manage hatches (one direction), crosshatches (two+ layers of lines), and other line patterns as a means of simulating tones and solid blocks when pen-plotting. Share your code/extension at with the tags “unicorn” + “crosshatchchallenge”, perhaps linking to a project page explaining how to use your tool.

You cannot use a fill command with a MakerBot Unicorn, only the path of the pen tool itself, so creating rich vector-based art on a plotter requires the “fill” elements to be re-interpreted as hatches, crosshatches, dithering, pebbling patterns, and other marks that through direction and nearness of lines create the sensation of tone and saturation of color. This is a similar problem to how Skeinforge 3D prints volumes by converting “solids” into a labyrinth of lines to match the density requested in the “fill” settings.”

I’m a massive fan of the Inkscape Eggbot Extensions and use them all the time in my Unicorn design work. Look to the official plugin that assigns preset values to the Inkscape “Hatches (Rough)” Path Effects tool to tame it for plotting — a great place to start! Bonus points if your tool can be used by the Eggbot community as well as the MakerBot community.

Favorite Robots Design Challenge – Single-Pass & Multi-Pass

Goal:  Create a Creative Commons-licensed portrait of a favorite robot (real or imaginary) and post jpg/svg/gcode to between Nov 26th and Dec 10th with tags: “favoriterobot” + “unicorn”. One Unicorn will be awarded to a “single-pass” (i.e. single pen) illustration, and one to a “multi-pass” (ie swapping tools for multiple colors) illustration.

Those participating in the visual design challenges will get this additional bonus: I have, as far as I know, the only herd of Unicorns6 currently out there in the wild. So as the contest continues, I will be making use of this herd to print and share work submitted to the contest on Thingiverse and on the blog here. And I am arranging a Botacon 0 Thingiverse Unicorn-art gallery show, so even if you don’t win the challenge, I will be happy to show off your work.7

As the work to be judged will be printed on the Unicorn Herd from the files you supply, make sure to include a jpg, svg, and gcode version of your art (even if you can’t print it!) by following a process similar to this tutorial. Learn more about the MakerBot Unicorn on our wiki here and with these tutorials-in-progress.

  1. Or rather a kit to allow you to create one like this. []
  2. I’m bringing 3 Cupcakes configured for pen plotting-on-demand during the event. []
  3. And anyone in the MakerBot/ community can participate in this project whether or not s/he yet has a Unicorn Pen Plotter. []
  4. and other gcode pen plotters []
  5. a Python script adapted by the inventor of the MakerBot Unicorn, Will Langford, from MakerBot co-founder Zach’s Lunchlines script for the Frostruder []
  6. Well, if three makes a herd. []
  7. And I will have the gcode handy for the Unicorn Herd to print your work as well. []
Tagged with , 10 comments

10 Comments so far

  • Nick
    November 30, 2010 at 3:54 pm


    I’m one of mentioned above gocodetools extension developers. I wonder how can I take part in this challenge? Because gcodetools is an ready extension that could work with plotters that are controlled with Gcode. It can even deal with plotters with tangent knife on the fourth axis.

    Also Gcodetools do have some features that can make it easier to fill the area of the path using either Inkscapes’s extension or it’s own one.

    Currently filling the area with parallel strokes or with a spiral being developed.

    PS I applause hard work that you’ve made to bring cnc theme closer to the people.

    PSS Sorry for my English :).

  • Matt
    December 1, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    Hey Nick, Not only can you enter, you can demolish the competition! The goal of this competition is to get folks working with/pushing/adjusting the MakerBot Unicorn pen-plotter, while also offering useful tools for Inkscape, Eggbot, and otherwise pen-plotter/drawn-illustration projects. I am completely fascinated with Gcodetools and would love to see what you folks would cook up!

    What you would need to do is share a plugin/extension or configuration that will work for a MakerBot Unicorn to before Dec 10th. I’ll be happy to go through and test projects to help those who don’t have a MakerBot stay competitive.

    Already, I have a number of Inkscape Extension for Eggbot coders and MakerBot Frostruder users jumping in on this Unicorn competition and creating tools — there is no need to already have a Unicorn, or even have a MakerBot at all!


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  • Nick
    December 10, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    Hi again!

    You do not need any special configuration to use Gcodetools with Unicorn pen-plotter.
    Just draw whatever you want, assuming the left bottom corner as (0,0) point.
    Open Gcodetools – Path to Gcode.
    Write down the directory for the output, open Path to Gcode tab and press ok.
    (If you are working in inches you should choose inches in Path to Gcode – Preferences tab.)

    And that’s it :).

    All default values should fit the Unicorn pen-plotter requirements.

    I have just returned from business trip and it’s 6:58 AM 11th here in Russia, but I think it’s still the 10th of December somewhere in US. But I wont be upset if I’m late for the challenge :).

    Sorry for my English.

  • James
    December 13, 2010 at 8:52 am

    Is there going to be an announcement of the winners?

  • Matt
    December 13, 2010 at 10:45 am

    Yes, I’m going to print out a new set of all of the work and scan them in for Thingiverse first, then blog an annoucement linking to the Thingiverse entries. Sorry for the delay folks. Botacon was a much wilder event than I expected!

  • Erik
    December 13, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    Do you need the CupCake CNC to use the Unicorn or is the Unicorn a separate Machine

  • Matt
    December 14, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    The MakerBot Unicorn is a swap in tool-head designed for the Cupcake that uses Generation 3 Electronics and MakerBot Cupcake body itself as a pen plotter. We are looking to assign a port in the Gen4 electronics as well so that people can use the Unicorn with the Thing-O-Matic (which will be an even better pen plotter!). By the way, the winners have been announced on the blog!


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