Signs, Signs – Everywhere 3D Printed Signs

The University has slowly moved into the modern age, folding various technologies into the classroom setting as we are trying to encourage with 3D printed items and tools within the SOLID Learning effort. One of the most desirable technologies in classroom settings is the Smartboard, a high-tech evolution of the Whiteboard (which could in turn be thought of as a more modern version of the chalkboard from my own days in school). Where a whiteboard uses erasable markers, the Smartboard integrates an overhead projector to display media content from an attached PC and allows the use of marker-like controls to “write” atop the displayed media. After a class session, the combined content can be captured for students to download so that students can spend class time focusing on the lesson being presented instead of trying to write fast enough to take down all of the professor’s notes as he moves through them. 

This is a fantastic capability, but the Smartboard’s appearance looks just like a common Whiteboard when the projector is turned off and faculty or students who are not made aware of its status may use whiteboard markers on the display surface. The residue from these markers can corrupt the surface and requires careful cleaning with solvents to return the Smartboard’s display surface to its original state. During a STEMulate Learning workshop with teachers in a room that was Smartboard equipped, we were discussing additional uses of 3D printers in the educational setting and I displayed several items including a name plate. One teacher asked if we could make a magnetic sign that would stick to the Smartboard and not damage it, noting that it was not in fact a whiteboard.

10 Rare Earth Magnets from Harbor Freight

A few minutes in CAD and by our next break, we had a sign that could fit three of the small rare earth magnets I use in many STEM classes for strong but removable connections. With these Super-glued into the slots formed in the back of the sign during its production, plus a scrap of self-adhesive craft felt from an earlier art project, the sign easily held onto the Smartboard’s ceramic-coated steel backing but could be easily removed when it was time for a professor to use the board. I used a metallic Sharpie pen to color the letters for greater visibility. The $1,500 board was now protected against potential unknowing misuse by $0.45 worth of magnets, a few pennies worth of plastic, a few cents worth of felt scraps and Super-glue from the robotics course. A few days later, I was contacted by an administrator who had been shown the sign.

It turns out, this administrator was the reason the Smartboards were being installed in many classrooms around campus as part of an ongoing facilities update. He asked if I could create several more of the signs for other Smartboards around campus and asked to see the 3D printer in action. Several members of the faculty whose rooms were being equipped with these boards came to the next session, watched the 3D Printer demonstration and took pre-printed signs back to their classrooms. One very large board needed a larger sign, so I simply doubled the scaling factor when printing it out and used two magnets in each of the sockets – an $8,400 Smartboard is now kept clean from accidental misuse by less than $1’s worth of materials and a couple hours’ time on a 3D Printer. And the file has been shared for free download and re-use through the Thing-i-verse site.


  • “Not a Whiteboard” Sign (Thing #33944):
  • Self-adhesive felt: Available from any craft store in packages for under $2 USD.
  • Rare Earth Magnets: (Harbor Freight #67488) Available in a package of 10 for $1.49 USD.
  • Super-glue: Available from any craft, hardware or general goods store for under $2 USD.
  • Metallic Sharpie marker (or other contrasting permanent marker able to write on plastic): Available at any craft or general goods store but probably found in your classroom already.

Comments are closed.