Beetleblocks and Watercolorbot Experiments


Lately we've been experimenting with a new program by Tinkering Studio collaborator Eric Rosenbaum (who also created makey makey, mmmtsss, and glow doodle) called Beetle Blocks. Beetle blocks allows you to use SCRATCH like programming to create 3D designs drawn by a little "beetle". Its a really nice way to start thinking about programming to create a tangible object out of the digital code. Luigi and Sebastian made some 3D printed objects from the API, but that takes quite a long time for each design. We also experimented with laser cutting 2D versions but we wanted something a little more artistic!

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Enter the watercolorbot, a creation of Super-Awesome Sylvia and Evil Mad Scientist! We got our hands on one and started playing around with converting the beetle block designs to the water color bot software. It took a little bit of experimentation but we figured out a system that seemed to work pretty well for a starting point.

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For the beetle blocks code to work it has to be in two dimensions. This means that the main blocks to use  are "start drawing", "move", "rotate z" and "go to an xy coordinate" for the designs. There are also a lot of interesting blocks to play with in the "operators" sections to introduce randomness to the system or add commands involving math.

In the "colors" section it's possible to adjust the hue and saturation. We found that the watercolorbot responds best to colors with the saturation dialed up to 100. Combining this selection with "repeat" blocks (found in the control section) offers endless possibilities for tinkering.

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When you get something you like, you can export the file to a 2D SVG and save it to the computer.

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Then, in the robopaint program (the software that comes with the watercolorbot) you can open the SVG file. You need to press the "fit content" button to get the design centered on the paper. The lines look very light in the editor but the watercolorbot can pick them up.


When you print the designs, it's  really interesting and beautiful to see how the watercolorbot interprets the code. There's a lot of tweaking that can be done to optimize the hardware to make aesthetically beautiful paintings. And I felt that there is something really addictive about the combination of these two techologies. As soon as I saw the finished painting, I wanted to go back into the code and adjust the blocks to change the design.


Each drawing takes about 5-10 minutes depending on the complexity of the program which could even work for us to try with visitors to the Tinkering Studio. It would be great to have lots of different options for people to make different physical objects from a piece of code that they created using a 3D printer, laser cutter, vinyl cutter, and of course the watercolorbot. There are so many possibilities for further experimentation and we're all looking forward to continuing to tinker with these ideas.



If you start to experiment with combining beetleblocks and watercolorbot let us know. We'd love to see what everyone comes up with!

Hi. You don't have to go through the export-SVG thing; you can control the WaterColorBot directly from Snap! (, which is also the language behind BeetleBlocks.

Hi Ryan and Brian Harvey - Ryan - beautiful documentation! Brian how do you get Snap! to talk directly to the watercolor bot?
(I've been using turtle stitch and its wonderful)

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