If you’ve recently purchased or received a 3D printer, congratulations! If you’re looking for a printer, we’ll look at some factors to consider in the following.
Probably the first question most people ask about a 3D printer is “What’s the biggest object I can print using this machine?” Most inexpensive 3D printers have relatively small build volumes — around 4 x 4 x 4 inches.
For a larger build volume — something like 8 x 8 x 8 inches — the printer will be significantly more expensive. Build volumes larger than about 12 x 12 x 12 inches will only be found in expensive 3D printers intended for small business or industries.
Some other questions to consider are:
Note that fused deposition modeling (FDM) printers, which print using spools of plastic filament, are most suitable for beginners. If, however, you’re looking for something with a high amount of precision, consider a resin (SLA/DLP/LCD) printer. To get started, refer to our article on SLA Printing – 5 Tips and Tricks for Great Resin Prints.
Naturally, if you’re going to be using an FDM printer, you’ll need some filament.
Lastly, if you’re not yet ready to purchase a printer, you’ll be glad to know that there are service bureaus that will custom print and ship your models to your door for a nominal price. To find the best service for your needs, check out All3DP’s Price Comparison Service.
The easiest way to get started with 3D printing is to begin with 3D digital models that are available for free or for a nominal cost online. Perhaps the most popular site, with over one million models available for free download, is Thingiverse.
After you have a bit of 3D printing experience, you may be ready to design your own models. Your choice of software will depend on the type of model you want to design.
CAD software such as Tinkercad, Sketchup, and OpenSCAD work well for mechanical designs, such as gears, containers, and tools. Other software, such as Sculptris and Blender, work well for art and organic objects, such as people, animals, and monsters.
For more guidance, take a look at our article on the 30 best free CAD software tools of 2018.
Perhaps you have an existing object (art or antique) that you would like to reproduce. If you live in a major metropolitan area, you can probably find a 3D service bureau that can scan your object and provide you with a 3D printable model.
Your 3D printable models will most likely be STL (stereolithography) files, although you may encounter other formats. In some cases, you must first convert such formats to STL before you proceed.
Prior to printing, you must run software to slice your model (since 3D printers print one layer, or slice, at a time). The slicing software produces g-code specific to your printer and the print material you’re using. You can think of g-code like instructions for your 3D printer.
Unless your printer requires or recommends specific slicing software, Cura would be a good choice. The first time you use Cura, you will need to configure it for the specific model of printer you are using, such as the size of your build plate.
Here are some general steps to prepare your printer:
After you have completed your first few prints, especially if your prints are not coming out as well as you would like, you might want to calibrate your printer. For that, refer to our article 3D Printer Calibration Guide – How to Calibrate Your 3D Printer.
Allow the print bed to cool. PLA prints can usually be easily removed once the print bed is cool. If not, use a metal spatula to gently separate the print from the print bed.
License: The text of "How to 3D Print – Simply Explained" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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