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  • Writer's pictureTony Land

3d printing and scuba diving

I will begin this article by saying the Venn diagram illustrating the audience for this article admittedly might be a little on the narrow side. That said, a few months ago I was a guest on Mike Pedersen of Dive Right In Scuba’s weekly Facebook live show. One of the topics we discussed was 3d printing, and I was surprised by the response I received about the topic. Post-show I had a number of private and semi-public facebook chats about the 3d printing. 

When someone learns of my 3d printing hobby, the first questions I usually get is “What do you make with it?” The short answer is “anything I want.”

The long answer is a little more involved. 3d printing enthusiasts generally print one of 2 categories: toys, figurines and models, or practical and useful parts. 

When you live on a Caribbean island, it’s hard to get things here. International shipping and customs/import duty add significant costs to any part we need to get. Not only that, it adds significant time to getting something here. The rule of thumb is twice the cost, 6 weeks to get a part. So the ability to make our own repair parts is invaluable. For example, I own a Sous Vide cooking machine. I’ve had this device for the better part of 7 years and I cook with it 3 times a week on average. I love this thing. So naturally I was devastated when a critical bracket that held it in place broke. But with my printer I was able to design and make a replacement, and have it back in service in 3 hours. 

So how does 3d Printing relate to scuba diving? There are many times I’ve thought, “I wish I had a bracket that held this piece here,” or “I need a custom mount to hold my GoPro there.” I could try to describe what exactly I'm up to, but as they say a picture speaks 1000 words, so I’ve compiled a photo list of my favorite 3d prints here:

I publish many of the files I create for free download, and if you’d like to see the complete catalog, please visit our Divetech 3D Printing Page.

Focus gear for camera lens - I’m an avid underwater photographer, and when I lost the focus gear for my Canon 100mm macro lens, I was less than happy. A replacement gear runs about $210 USD, without shipping or duty to the Cayman Islands. I designed one in Solidworks, and printed it out using 20.1 meters of filament at a cost of $.61 cents, and 3 hours of my time. (The software used to run the printer tells you exactly how much it will take and how much it will cost.)

CCR GoPro Mount - This particular item is by no means my best idea, but it clearly illustrates how the ability to make something custom can help you out. For a video I made, I needed a way to mount my GoPro to represent a first-person diving shot. Normally someone would do this by mounting it to their head using a strap, however none was available to me. So in about 5 minutes of design I came up with this bracket to mount the camera to the mouthpiece of my rebreather. I only used this one time, but it worked.

Sorb pour - The Sorb Pour is my nickname for the most useful (for me) and ridiculous thing I’ve ever printed. It is an iris-type gate valve that screws onto a keg of rebreather absorbent. It allows the keg to be mounted upside-down, so that all you have to do is hold your scrubber under it and pour the sorb like it’s from a faucet. It’s an amazingly lazy invention and I love it.

Recently, I just published it on a rebreather forum and the response to it was unbelievable.

The water pour cap - This was to solve a nagging problem with the shower water on our dive boats. The deck fills for the freshwater tanks are located directly underneath the dive benches. Not a problem if you're filling from a hose, but when our boats are in West Bay, we don't have a hose. Shower water is carried by hand in repurposed sorb containers. This custom cap allowed us to clamp a 7/8" hose to the water jugs and stop balancing multiple funnels when trying to fill shower water.

Women's Dive Day 2019 was a massive undertaking. Divetech organized a world record of 107 women holding hands underwater, in an effort to raise money for charity. The event organizer, Julia, needed a way to signal the entire line of women that the event was underway, while underwater. The idea was for her to scooter down the line of women with a large slate, however this would have been difficult. We designed and printed a custom set of brackets to hold the slate on the scoter for her.

Strobe snoots - For those unaware, a snoot is a shade that is placed over a camera strobe to direct or restrict the radius of the light being emitted. Essentially, it shapes the strobe’s light pattern to a small dot - very useful for macro photography, although very tricky to master. A snoot of this exact design, using the same parts is sold commercially for $300, which is what my British friends would call "taking the piss." Not to mention no version was made for my Z330 strobe. This version was printed and made for $10.

Optical strobe snoots - I quickly learned the fiber optic snoots that I made above are very difficult to shoot with. So after some reflection, I came up with the idea for an optical snoot. This design uses a convex lens (stolen from a cheap magnifying glass) to focus the light of the strobe down to a spot. It's far more efficient, and it also allows the use of the strobe's internal spotting light to help you aim - far easier to use. If you're a photographer interested in snoot photography, I have an article coming soon!

Tinted diffusers for Inon Z330 strobes. I wrote a whole article about this in June of 2019. The short version is that using blue tinted diffusers in combination with red tinted filters on your camera creates a pleasing effect for certain types of photography.

This actually worked amazingly well for me, and I continue to use these in my photography.

Organization racks - In keeping with the camera theme, I love organization of my gear. As an underwater photographer for more than 15 years, I have no shortage of equipment. My printer allowed me to make custom racks to hold and organize all of my stuff. This rack demonstrates one for my strobe arm holders, but each part or my camera rig, including the lenses has something similar. Now my gear is in perfect-OCD organization.

The diving helmet - for some reason, I guess cause I'm a diver, I've been fascinated by brass and bronze items, and have always liked the old diving helmets. So I created one as a goof. My first version was made from plastic, but the one I am working on now is printed from Colorfab's Brassfill and Copperfill materials. These are printer filaments that have a large amount of brass and copper filings in them. After printing, they can be polished, and the end result is a striking metal-like appearance.

I have printed hundreds of other items as well, and this list could literally go on and on. I have tried to limit this list to projects that are scuba diving related, and of the most interest. The intent of this post up until now, was to illustrate some of the things one can do with time on their hands and a 3d Printer. So if you are a casual reader, you can stop now. 

For those that want to know a bit more: 

3d printing is an interesting hobby. Also known as Additive Manufacturing, the technology has been around in concept since the late 1970’s while the first prototypes were developed a few years later. In the mid-2000’s it began to become more widespread, but then the parts produced by these machines were only suitable for prototypes, and not functional parts. 

Reef Net of Ontario Canada was 3d printing accessories for scuba divers and underwater camera setups as early as 2008, which is really impressive, given the level of technology at the time. Back then, consumer-level printers were unheard of, and the professional grade printers were quite expensive. Not only that, but the quality of the products they made was rather poor. During this time, 3d printing was used more for rapid prototyping rather than production level parts.

Since then, 3d printing as a hobby has exploded. As the technology advances and becomes easier to use, more and more people are getting involved in it. FIle sharing, is another reason for the massive growth. One no longer needs CAD design skills to make something. File sharing communities like Thingiverse, and PrusaPrinters, GrabCad, and many others allow designers to share their creations for free. And there is no shortage of things to print. If you think of an idea, chances are someone else has already designed it and posted it for you to download and print.

As the hobby advances, more and more divers are getting into it as well. A new Facebook group now has divers sharing their scuba-related 3d printing files, and there lots of great ideas shown there.

If you're a geek like me, I highly recommend checking it out!

Happy diving and printing!

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