Painstakingly laying out multi-colored plastic beads (also known as Perler beads) to create mosaic images can be a relaxing way to unwind. It’s a long process, though, and if you don’t have the patience for arts and crafts, you can always dedicate your free time to finding a shortcut as one clever hacker did by building an automated Perler bead printer.
The machine started out as a RoStock Max V2 3D printer but was repurposed and given a new lease on life after extensive modifications. The most common examples of Perler art you’ll find online are recreations of 16-bit video game pixel art, and it can take hours to lay out all the colored beads into the appropriate pattern by hand. By comparison, converting this 3D printer to a Perler printer took about nine months from the initial concept to the final working machine.
The heavily modified printer also runs its own custom software that takes any image from the internet and downgrades it to 64 colors to match the array of Perler beads available in the machine’s complex hopper mechanism. Once an image is processed, it’s sent to the printer which generates the mosaic by sending the appropriately colored bead down to a special gripper, which carefully arranges it in a grid while making sure not to disturb other beads already laid down. As with a 3D printer, you’d want to make sure nothing accidentally bumps into the table while this machine is at work.
Depending on the size of the image being created—artwork larger than 45 beads tall or wide needs to be broken up into multiple print runs and re-assembled afterward using a custom fusing process—the final step involves the printing bed heating up which gently melts the underside of the beads so they all stick together to produce a single artistic masterpiece. But as with most hacks this complex, the thing that gets the person excited is less what the machine can do once it’s done and more about the long process of perfecting what it can do.