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3D Printer Time-Lapse Video – How Best to Capture Prints

Picture of Jaime Rios Velasco
by Jaime Rios Velasco
Mar 11, 2019

Would you like to see your 3D printer print an 8-hour long object in a matter of seconds? Keep reading and you'll learn how to make an awesome 3D printer time-lapse video.

Making a 3D Printer Time-Lapse Video Good Things Take Time

A time-lapse video of the Sagrada Familia.
A time-lapse video of the Sagrada Familia. Source: WildRose Builds / YouTube

A time-lapse video refers to a set of pictures or video, taken at a slower speed than the average recording. The result is a faster pass of time during the playback of the video.

Let’s say you are recording a normal video with your phone of your 3D printer printing an object. You will need to leave it recording for 8 consecutive hours in order to capture everything, and then you would have an 8-hour long video!

Alternatively, recording a time-lapse video will be the same as recording a video, except frames will be taken at a slower speed, condensing for example, a 2-hour-long print into a mesmerizing 30-second film.

Now that you know what time-lapse videos are and how they work, let’s get on with how you can start making them!

Making a 3D Printer Time-Lapse Video Things You Will Need

Fotopro Tripod product from Amazon.
Fotopro Tripod product from Amazon. Source: Amazon

In order to make a time-lapse video you don’t need a lot of equipment. A phone and a simple DIY-made stand can be everything you need. But for more professional videos, there might be a few more things you need to get quality recordings.

Either way, the basic equipment you need to make a 3D printer time-lapse video are:

  • A 3D printer
  • A recording device (smart phone or camera)
  • A stand or tripod

One of the simplest ways to do a time-lapse video without professional equipment is to use your phone. Some phones come with the option built-in, but if not, you can easily download an app.

The stand you need with depend on where you have your 3D printer set up. A simple tripod might be all you need. If you’re using a smart phone stand, make sure the stand holds the phone at the right angle. 3D printing one is a great way to ensure you get exactly what you need!

Lastly, we recommend you leave your recording device charging while recording if possible, as some prints can take quite a long time. The last thing you want is the battery to run out and to lose the entire recording!

Making a 3D Printer Time-Lapse Video Configuring the Time Lapse

Screenshot of a Windows interface showing time-lapse options.
Screenshot of a Windows interface showing time-lapse options. Source: Windows central

Depending on what software you use to control your camera, the interface for the program will be different. However, they all share one thing in common: the “frame interval” (or “interval”). You can choose between several “frame interval” timings based on how long the print takes and how long you want the end video to be.

The frame interval is the time that the recording device will take between taking pictures of your 3D printer. A low frame interval will result in more frames taken during the entire process, which will give you a longer time lapse, whereas a bigger frame interval will give you a shorter time lapse overall.

For long prints we recommend setting a high frame interval, such as 30 seconds between pictures.

At 30 fps (frame per second) and an 8-hour long print, the result is 960 total frames (pictures) taken during those 8 hours. Replaying the video at 30 fps will make the time lapse be 32 seconds long.

If your printer is going to take less, let’s say an hour, you will want to set a lower frame interval, such as 10 or 5 seconds, as using 30 seconds frame interval like in the example above, it will make your time-lapse video last only 4 seconds!

An easy way to help you decide what frame interval to choose is by looking at this equation:

Final playback time = Total time of recording / frame interval * fps (usually 30)

Once you properly set the frame interval, make sure your 3D printer is ready to go. Once it starts printing, don’t forget to click the recording button!

Making a 3D Printer Time-Lapse Video More "Professional" Settings and Equipment

A MakerBot 3D printer near the end of a print.
A MakerBot 3D printer near the end of a print. Source: ZDNet

We showed you how to start making time-lapse videos with basic equipment, but what if you wanted to go a bit more on the professional side?

Worry not because we’ve got you covered.

More things need to be considered when making good quality time-lapse videos, such as the lighting, camera positioning, the movement of the 3D printer, background, etc.

This will also require better equipment. For the recording device, we would recommend using a Go Pro. It’s small and light-weight, making it easier to mount onto a 3D printer or stand and already has built-in settings to record time-lapse videos.

You will still need a tripod or solid stand on or somewhere around your 3D printer. Make sure it is stable and won’t move or break during the recording as it can spoil the entire time-lapse recording.

You may also want to consider lighting. Studio lights will be more than enough to get a “professional” lighting setup for your 3D printer. Usually, they’re not used in time-lapse videos, but because 3D printers are operated inside a building, these lights may be necessary in order to get good quality recordings.

Two lights should be more than enough. It is important to make sure they remain on and at the same intensity during the recording as any changes will be noticeable on the final video.

The last thing to take in mind, the angle of recording. If your 3D printer can print tall or large objects, make sure your camera is recording at a suitable distance and angle to capture the entire printing field.

Placing the camera too close can cause the printed object to go out of the camera view, placing the camera too far will make it hard to properly see the object. Therefore, make sure you calculate how big the object is going to be beforehand to place the camera in the most suitable spot.

Some cameras, like the Go Pro we recommend, already have settings to adjust the focal length without having to move the camera back and forwards. Whether or not it does, you may need to take this into consideration with your set up.

Making a 3D Printer Time-Lapse Video Lighting

Diagram of a lighting setup.
Diagram of a lighting setup. Source: 48 Hour Film Project

Let’s start with lighting.

Lighting is a key factor for good time-lapse videos and visual recording in general. Without good lighting the camera might struggle to perceive the object and it will be hard to see it on the playback, as well as lower the quality.

Good lighting should illuminate the object being printed from many angles. Although, as long as the side the camera is recording is correctly illuminated, it won’t be necessary to illuminate the entire object.

This lighting shouldn’t be too bright nor two low. As mentioned above, poor lighting will cause your time lapse to look worse. However, too much lighting can also saturate the object and make it look too bright, losing detail on the object being printed.

These can be tuned by modifying your physical lighting (lamps, room lights, etc.) or in your recording device if it has the option for so.

Making a 3D Printer Time-Lapse Video Printer Movement

Diagram of the movements in a 3D printer.
Diagram of the movements in a 3D printer. Source: Zendesk

Next thing to take in mind is the printer movement.

Not all printers are the same. For example, Delta printers have a baseplate which sits still, while other printers, like the Prusa i3, have a moving baseplate.

For printers with a steady baseplate it will be much easier to record, as placing your recording device on a stand near your 3D printer should be more than enough.

But if your printer has a moving baseplate, things become a little harder. Setting the same setup as mentioned above would give horrible results as the object being printed will be constantly moving in and out of focus. The final video will end up looking like a blurry mess.

In order to fix this, you should mount the camera on the baseplate of the printer. The best way is to manually find a way to do this depending on what 3D printer you have. Just make sure it is possible to do so without interfering with the parts of the 3D printer. Having your camera collide with the extruder for example wouldn’t be good for anyone!

Making a 3D Printer Time-Lapse Video Background

Example of a homemade green screen background.
Example of a homemade green screen background. Source: I Found Something

Although it’s a less important aspect, it’s always nice to make sure that your printer and its surrounding won’t distract the viewer from your awesome 3D printing time-lapse video.

To tidy up your 3D printer, make sure there are no wires or pieces moving around while recording, with the exception of the extruder.

If necessary, you can also set up your own background just with some colored paper. Mount it in another stand, and the background will always be the same and won’t cause any distractions.

You can even use this technique to create a “green screen” and later add your custom background image with a video editing software.

Feature image source: Jaime Rios / All3DP

License: The text of "3D Printer Time-Lapse Video – How Best to Capture Prints" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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