Hand tools and fabrication machines
This is an excellent technique for travel! You can store these flat and then use them whenever you like... or form them instantly for a custom jewelry piece in 30 minutes flat. On a recent trip, I brought two pages of 3D-doodled designs, then peeled them off, shaped them, and wore as needed.
Once you're done with these pieces, because they're made of PLA filament, they are actually recyclable AND compostable!
First, sketch your design on a piece of paper. Pretty much any paper will do, but the smoother the surface, the better this will work. I recommend sketching with a pencil. Try to keep everything well connected, since free-hanging bits may not wrap around objects correctly.
If you're drawing a ring or bracelet, make a long flat shape and embellish. You might want to add notches or hooks on the end, so that it stays put.
For a necklace, make the lines longer and a bit curved. Practice and experience will help here.
Fire up your 3D printing pen and trace over the tracks. Go over it a few times, to make sure your piece is robust and the lines are fairly smooth. Reinforce the connections. At this point, you can leave the pages as-is and stick them in your suitcase for travel!
Once you're ready to wear them, peel the piece off the paper backing. Really, you're peeling the paper off the piece; pull it away at a sharp angle, so it's less likely to stick to the plastic or break it.
You might end up with some paper bits stuck to the piece. Try and get the big ones off, but small ones should soften and dissolve off pretty easily in the next step.
I've used heat-formed plastics before, and I figured we might be able to use the same effect here. And we can! Here's how it works:
- Select a mold – an object about the same shape as your body part (for example, solder tube as a stand-in for a finger)
- Boil water
- Dip (part of) the piece in the cup
- Remove and immediately wrap around object
- Repeat as needed
Be sure to form it as quickly as possible. The plastic hardens again very quickly, and will not stay if you bend it into another shape afterward. This is why I recommend using a mold: when pliable, it's still too hot to wrap around skin. (It's really not worth toughing it out.) You also need to actually put the piece in the water; simply wrapping it around the mug will probably not work.
The piece can be re-dipped and formed a number of times, and will revert to flat when it's dipped. It will also have some natural springback, so you might want to use a mold that is slightly smaller than your target size. Check the fit, and re-dip it if you need to.
Once you're happy, you can use a fingernail to scrape off any remaining paper scraps. They'll come off easily after their water bath.
By the way: this process works by bringing the PLA to its glass transition point, which is well below actual melting point. That's how it can be so soft and floppy without falling apart. (Thanks for the tip, Andy!)
At this point, you can use your piece as a base for wearable electronics! Check out my LED tattoo, which uses a formed-PLA double-finger ring.
You might also be able to use this along with my 3D printed fingernails project.