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A 3-D Christmas: Costa Mesa High School students print layered door designs

A 3-D Christmas: Costa Mesa High School students print layered door designs
Teacher Racine Cross and Costa Mesa High School Principal Jake Haley check out one of the 3-D Christmas scenes. (Photo by Spencer Grant)

Creativity and scientific know-how were put to the test in a holiday-themed 3-D printing project displayed this week at Costa Mesa High School.

Engineering teacher Racine Cross tasked her 10th grade students with decorating her classroom doors using 3-D software, which resulted in an imaginative array of designs.

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From classics, such as “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” to more modern themes like “The Office-Mas,” a riff on the NBC sitcom, all of the designs, which were graded, were displayed around the classroom on Tuesday.

Christmas reindeer bearing the logo of famous car manufacturers pull Santa’s sled in 3-D.
Christmas reindeer bearing the logo of famous car manufacturers pull Santa’s sled in 3-D. (Photo by Spencer Grant)

The class is part of the high school’s engineering design pathway, which helps students develop technical skills.

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“This project is a nice way to take a break from the building and do something more artistic,” Cross said. “I like it because it shows some kids that … an engineer doesn’t just have to build a bridge or design a machine.”

As 3-D printing becomes more affordable, more industries are adopting it, Cross explained, from fashion (think jewelry and shoes) to dentistry (think mouth guards).

Students in the engineering pathway begin using Autodesk Inventor, a computer-aided design application, in 9th grade, but this is the first full project most have actually printed.

Ryan Bourbeau, Chris Fletcher and Zach Fletcher worked together on the Charlie Brown display, which they chose because, according to Zach, “It was the most Christmas thing we could think of.”

Teacher Racine Cross with doors displaying “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and a traditional Christmas tree.
Teacher Racine Cross with doors displaying “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and a traditional Christmas tree. (Photo by Spencer Grant)

“You just create your own parts … you don’t have to follow strict guidelines,” he said. “That’s my favorite thing about this class — she just says, ‘Make something.’”

Ryan explained that they learned along the way how to judge the sizing of extrusions needed to create layered pieces.

“We normally find a picture off the internet, and we can paste that on, and then on top of that we can draw lines and then extrude from there,” he said. “On the computer our extrusions … were much [larger], but with the sanded down pieces, it nearly looks flat.”

Ethan Ervey and Ed Gaites work on their designs.
Ethan Ervey and Ed Gaites work on their designs. (Photo by Spencer Grant)

Chris seamlessly hand painted the details on the figures anyway, but their individual pieces got a little better with each print, the last few having clearly distinguishable layers.

Students completed a self-evaluation upon finishing the project and were graded on both the visual aspects of the design, such as their sanding and painting job, and their design work done on Inventor. This is the second year Cross has given the 3-D door decorating assignment, a holiday tradition she hopes to keep.

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