From 3D printing to laser cutting, make custom gifts right here on campus

Every year, it can be tough to find the perfect gifts for your loved ones, regardless of the occasion. Fortunately, there is a creative solution within your reach if you are a student. If you’re in need of a gift for someone that’s unique and has a personal touch, look no further than RMCAD’s very own FabLab.

The FabLab – or Fabrication Laboratory, if you want to sound fancy – is a place where students and alumni of all majors can converge to make some pretty awesome things. The FabLab offers a variety of cutting edge technology capable of bringing your dream projects to life!

The FabLab is located on campus on the second floor of Texas, in room 207. Anyone is welcome to walk in during open hours to look around and ask questions. Please keep in mind that you must consult the FabLab employees before beginning a project, as several of the machines can only be operated by them.

The vinyl cutter is a neat machine that uses a blade to rapidly makes cuts into sheets of vinyl. A vector-based design is required in order to create shapes or letters on the surface of the vinyl. The vinyl sheets function very similarly to stickers, as the shapes cut into the vinyl can be removed and adhered to a variety of surfaces, such as plastic, metal, glass, walls, etc.


The laser cutter uses a strong laser to make clean, precise cuts through a material, and can also be used to create detailed engravings. Only certain approved materials may be used in the laser cutter, as some materials are inherently more flammable than others. Always double check that your desired material is compatible before using the laser cutter!

Commonly referred to simply as the vacuform, you may want to bring earplugs if you plan on using this machine – it gets pretty loud! The vacuform functions by taking a sheet of plastic and heating it to the point where it is flexible enough to create a mold, and then forces that sheet of plastic overtop of an object of your choice. This is a great option if you need to create molds of something fast.


This mold of Majora’s Mask was created by first 3D printing each half of the mask using plastic filament, and then using the whole mask as the object that the vacuform molded the sheet of plastic to.


3D printers allow you to print digital models of anything you can find online, or sculpt yourself if you’re familiar with software like Maya and Zbrush. 3D printers work by building up your design layer by layer starting from the base, similar to how a 2D image is printed on a paper printer. The type of plastic used for the print is superheated as it is fed into the printer, and extruded through a small nozzle that moves back and forth to build up the print.

Anything you want to print must be submitted as an STL file along with the desired dimensions in an email to either Ian Southwell or Cooper Owen. After receiving your email and calculating the volume of your print, you will be sent a link to fill out a simple Google form that is then sent to the Spectrum School Store where you can ask the employee there to forward that form to the FabLab employees for documentation. Then they can begin printing your project!

Those little spikes holding the print in the air are called supports, and they serve as a sort of scaffolding that can later be removed and sanded down.

There are two kinds of prints you can make in the FabLab: filament prints, and resin prints. Filament prints are available in a variety of colors, and are 100% free. That’s right, free. The only downside to these prints is that they cannot capture extreme details due to the nature of the material, but they work best if your print does not have microscopic details, or if you want to create an inexpensive prototype.

These little filament bees were printed by RMCAD staff member Tya Anthony!

Your other option is to print your model using resin. Acrylic paint adheres well to these prints if you want to add a further personal touch. While these prints are not free, they are capable of capturing a much higher level of detail than the filament prints can. The price of these prints are calculated by the volume of your print, so if you plan to print something rather large, it may be beneficial to hollow out your model in order to save time, material, and money. If you choose to hollow out your model, be sure to leave a hole so that any resin trapped within the hollow part of your model can flow out. Remember, you must pay for your resin print at Spectrum before it can begin printing!

On the left, an example of a resin print by RMCAD professor + FabLab guru, Ian Southwell. On the right, a couple of things modeled, printed, and painted as gifts for friends made by Sam Kapral.

You don’t have to be fretting over finding a gift for someone in order to use the FabLab. You can use the FabLab for class, or for personal projects, too. Or maybe just try something new simply because you can! The FabLab is a wonderful resource available to all students, so be sure to take advantage of it!

In addition to providing access to all these marvels of technology, the FabLab hosts a large format printer as well as a laminator available for student use. The FabLab also frequently holds workshops throughout each term involving demonstrations of these machines, as well as interactive workshops involving activities such as glass etching. The schedule of workshops for each term can be found on the door of the FabLab.

The FabLab’s hours may change per semester, but the hours will always be posted on the door of the FabLab. 

This article was written by Sam Kapral from The Student Learning Center (SLC). The SLC welcomes students from all programs both on-campus and online who strive to do better in the classroom while perfecting their craft. You can click here to learn more about this excellent resource!