Jun 29, 2017

MeshMixer Tutorial for 3D Printing Beginners

MeshMixer is a free open source software from AutoDesk. It’s one of the leading programs to edit and prepare mesh files like .stl and .obj. MeshMixer offers a large variety of different tools to prepare and improve 3D object for 3D printing.

Here is a list of the best tools MeshMixer offers to improve the quality of your 3D prints. Click on them to jump to a part of this Meshmixer tutorial on how to use the specific tool:

MeshMixer Tutorial – Tip 1: Easily Import and Export Mesh Files

First of all, you will need to download and install Autodesk MeshMixer. Next, you’ll need to import the 3D model file you want to optimize: Start MeshMixer and click on Import in the middle of the window.

Next, select the file you want to edit. Autodesk MeshMixer supports the common mesh file types: .STL, .OBJ, .PLY, .AMF and also .3MF, .OFF and .MIX. You can also simply drag and drop files out of the Explorer into the edit space. You can choose between the option to replace the current object or append to the model.

MeshMixer Tutorial – Tip 2: Setup of a Custom Print Space

When using MeshMixer, you can either choose your 3D printer from a list or, if not listed, enter the 3D printer properties manually. You can also disable the Printer Bed by clicking on View and uncheck Show Printer Bed. If you own a 3D printer or plan on 3D printing your object, you can choose your type of 3D printer in the top right corner. If your desired 3D printer is not listed or you built your own 3D printer, you can easily add your personal configuration.

  1. Click on Print in the bottom left corner.
  2. Select Printer Properties.

    You can add your own printer or select one from the list.

  3. Select Settings in the Printer Properties window.
  4. Now switch to the Printers tab and click Add New Printer. This will return you to the Printer Properties.
  5. You can now name the printer and select Process of printing.
  6. Set the size of your Print Space measured from the bottom center of the build plate or a bottom corner.

    MeshMixer Tutorial – Tip 2: Add the settings for your printer.

  7. Set the Thickness Threshold to 1.
  8. Click on Add to list your 3D Printer so you can work with it in the digital print space.
  9. To leave the printing area, click on the arrow in the top right corner.

MeshMixer Tutorial – Tip 3: Learn the Basic Movements

  • Pan across the current plane by holding the central mouse button.
  • Orbit around the center of the coordinate system by either holding down right mouse button, left mouse + ALT or middle mouse + SHIFT.
  • Zoom with your mouse wheel or by pressing right mouse + ALT.

When you get lost, you can click on View>Recenter View to focus on the center of the coordinate system again. If you are limited with your mouse, you can hold down the space bar to access all camera tools. When holding down the space bar, you can also change the visual style of your object. MeshMixer can smoothen the surface of your object or show all the triangles your object is composed of.

MeshMixer Tutorial – Tip 4: Translation and Scaling of 3D Objects

Use the Transform tool to move your model around. It is not final though and you can place it on the build plate later on.

Click the Edit button on the left and select Transform. Here you can change basic placement data of the object or move and rotate it manually.

Meshmixer Tutorial: Manual placement

When placing objects you can switch between two reference points. First, you have the World Frame which is defined by the center of the coordinate system in your build space. Every transformation or rotation will be in relation to the center. Secondly, you can work with the Local Frame. Here the translation is still relative to the center of the coordinate system. However, the rotation is now defined by the coordinate system of the object you are currently working with. You can also scale your object alongside the X-, Y- and Z-Axis. Switch between both frames via the Transform menu or the bubbles on the Transform circle. Use these basic steps to move and scale your selected object.

  1. Check the Enable Snapping box at the bottom of the Transform window. You can change the Snap Step to the accuracy you need for placing objects. Here you change the
  2. Click and drag one of the arrows to move the object alongside an axis.
  3. The quarter circles will rotate the object. Overlap the black increment circle to activate snapping.
  4. To scale your model, click and drag the withe cube in the center to scale it uniformly. To stretch the model to one side, click and drag the square at the end of the arrows.
  5. Shift your model alongside a plane by click and dragging the triangles.

Meshmixer Tutorial: Automatic placement

By using the Align tool, you can place a flat side your object perfectly onto the build plate. Select the object you want to align and set Base Point as source. Now set “Destination” to the axis of the world coordinate system you want to align. You can flip your object by clicking the blue arrow.

MeshMixer Tutorial – Tip 5: Create a Plain Surface

Use the Plane Cut command to create a flat surface. This is a fast tool for creating a smooth and stable surface to print on. Like the transform tool you can move the plane in relation to world or local frame. Rotate and move the plane to the position. The blue arrow indicates the direction you are going to cut. Click on the blue arrow to switch directions.

MeshMixer Tutorial – Tip 6: Auto-Repair and Patch Holes in Your Models

Before 3D printing your model, you want to make sure, there are no unwanted holes or cuts in the object. You can simply check for irregularities with the repair feature. Click on Analysis>Inspector. After computing, you will see different colored balls pointing towards holes and gaps. The color of the ball symbolizes the severity of the hole. Blue indicates a minor error, which can easily be patched. Red stands for larger holes. MeshMixer will still fix them, but you might want to check these areas after repairing. Pink indicates an island which will be removed in the first step of repairing. You will have to run the Inspector tool a second time to fix the hole for good. You can either click on the balls to fix each error individually or hit Auto Repair All.

MeshMixer Tutorial – Tip 7: Create a solid model

It is now time to turn the mesh into a solid.

  1. Click on Edit, and then Make Solid.

    Select Make Solid to avoid paper-thin walls.

  2. Select Solid Type. Now you can decide between different levels of accuracy to transform the mesh. Choose Fast, as this is pretty precise and also fast to process.

    Higher accuracy requires more processing power.

  3. Set Color Transfer Mode to Automatic.
  4. You can now adjust Solid Accuracy. This setting will connect generated cells to each other. Higher accuracy means a better detection of gaps but it will also take longer to process. First, set Accuracy to about 100. You can either use the slider or click on the value next to it and change it by typing.
  5. Change Mesh Density to 100 as well. This will determine edges. If you enter a smaller number, edges will be projected as chamfers.
  6. Offset Distance allows you to make your object thicker or thinner. The filament you are printing is always going to shrink when it cools down. PLA shrinks by up to 1.5% and ABS in some cases by up to 5%! So if you know the percentage of how much your filament is going to shrink, you can add some material to your object. If accuracy is no big issue and if you have a rather small object, just leave accuracy at zero. Click on Accept to continue.

MeshMixer Tutorial – Tip 8: Hollow Your 3D Print to Save Material and Time

Sometimes when 3D printing big models with a big volume, you might want to save time and material. This step will show you how to hollow your object.

  1. Click on Edit, and then Hollow (right below the Make Solid command).
  2. After processing, you will see the object as a see-through and with black pockets, representing the hollowed out area.
  3. You can now change the Offset. This will determine the thickness of the walls. But remember: Do not make the walls too thin or else the print might collapse. Adjust the wall thickness to the properties of the printing process!
  4. Solid Accuracy and Mesh Density will improve the smoothness and the accuracy of the holes. The difference between a medium and a high-quality setting is a noticeable but not much of an improvement. Higher quality will take a lot longer to calculate, though. So for a fast and good result, best pick about 250 for Accuracy and 100-150 for Mesh Density.
  5. Leave the other settings at their defaults and click Accept to proceed.

    MeshMixer Tutorial – Tip 8: Hollow Your 3D Print to Save Material and Time

MeshMixer Tutorial – Tip 9: Create Custom Escape Holes

When you have hollowed your 3D object, it is not yet ready for 3D printing! Some 3D printing technologies like metal sintering use metal dust as material. With SLS printing you only need the shell of your model in most of the times, so it is great to hollow it. However, the powder material inside your model will still be your part of the bargain and will cost you a lot of money if it cannot be removed. If you are planning on sintering your model, you will need to create escape holes for the dust. Luckily MeshMixer offers an effective tool to create custom escape holes! 3D Printing services offer detailed information on minimum wall thickness and size of escape holes.

Execute the hollow command and set Holes per Hollow to 2. When 3D printing larger models you can also add more, but two is sufficient to remove all the dust from the inside. Now set the hole radius and if needed you can add a slight angle to the hole with the taper option. Click on Generate Holes when you have entered the desired settings. You can now reposition the holes by dragging the red dot. You can update the parameters by clicking on Generate Holes again and remove the holes by clicking on Remove All Holes.

MeshMixer Tutorial – Tip 9: Create Custom Escape Holes

MeshMixer Tutorial – Tip 10: Prepare for 3D Printing

Before 3D printing, you want to make sure your object is aligned with the ground plane. To check if your model is planar to the ground plane go to Analysis > Stability. This Meshmixer tool will calculate the Surface Area and Volume of your object. Furthermore, it will show you in red the contact area with the ground plane and if your object can tip. By adjusting the Contact Tol you give or take some clearance between the ground plane and the object. The red dot in the middle of your object indicates an unstable position. Green-lit, it’s a stable one. There is one trick to adjust your object perfectly to the ground plane without transforming in small steps.

Unstable Placement
Contact Tol set to 100
  1. Go to Edit > Create Pivot. Set the Placement Mode to Surface Point and Coordinate Frame to Geometry. Now click on the plane of your object you want to align. This will place a pivot which functions as an independent coordinate system. Click on Drop Pivot to confirm the placement and click on Done to exit.
  2. Now go to Edit > Align, set the source to pivot and click on the pivot you placed before. Set the destination to one of the Wold Origin coordinate axis. You can also use Flip to turn your model.
  3. Check the placement of your model again by using the Stability tool. It should now be placed perfectly aligned to the ground plane.

MeshMixer Tutorial – Tip 11: Stability and Thickness Analysis

Sometimes you want to do a fast analysis of your 3D objects geometry. MeshMixer can not quite compete with industrial FEM-Analysis programs but does a great job in computing properties like volume surface area and mass. The Stability Tool of Meshmixer will calculate these properties for you. Learn how to check the stability of your object with Meshmixer by reading tip 10.

Analyze the Thickness of your model with Analysis > Thickness. You can now set the minimum thickness to the printing service or your own requirements and MeshMixer will highlight the thin areas. When you click on the Balls indicating thin spots, it will select the area and you can edit the area.

MeshMixer Tutorial – Tip 11: Stability and Thickness Analysis

MeshMixer analyses the wall thickness by shooting rays from each vertex through the object and measures the closest intersection of rays. You can adjust The number of rays with cone sample. You will get a higher accuracy but it will also take longer to calculate. Cone angle sets the angle between the rays from one vertex. If you want to analyze a wall in every direction and if your object is built out of big mesh tiles, set this angle to high. If you are just interested in the overall wall thickness you can let them on Default. Grazing Angle is the threshold for intersecting rays to define the maximum detection angle. Again, if you are working with a low poly mesh it is best to use a high angle.

MeshMixer Tutorial – Step 12: Automatic and Custom Supports for your 3D Print

MeshMixer offers the great tool to create your own supports. It can also generate supports automatically. Do not generate supports when you plan on printing your model with a 3D Printing service!

  1. You need to place your object on a ground plane as stated in Meshmixer Tutorial Step 10. Then go to Analysis > Overhangs. You can now set preset to one of the listed printers or choose Custom Settings.
  2. Adjust Angle Thresh to set when an overhang is detected. An overhang is defined when the angle of the perpendicular vector on each mesh tile compared to the vector pointing straight to the ground is less then the set angle.
  3. Contact Tol is the threshold between two faces. If the distance between an overhang to another fave is below this value it will not be detected as an overhang.
  4. Y-Offset is the distance between the ground plane and overhangs. It works like Contact Tol but in reference to the ground plane.
  5. Adjust the dimensions of your supports below Support Generator. Max Angle is the maximum angle of overhang supports are allowed to have. This angle however is in relation to the ground plane. So 1o° is a close to horizontally support structure, which is not very useful as you would generate more overhangs. The best supports are at more than 45° depending on your Printer.
  6. Density sets the spacing between the supports. If you need supports for big and heavy overhangs set this one to a lower value.
  7. Layer hight needs to be set to the layer thickness of your 3D printer.
  8. By adjusting Base, Post, and Tip Diameter, you can design very small or huge support structures.
  9. You can now click onto a red marked overhanging area to create a support with the selected setting. When you change the settings, the next placed support will adopt these properties. You can delete supports by clicking on them while holding CTRL if you made a mistake. Remove Support will delete all support structures! You can also drag supports in the direction you want them to face.
  10. Click on Place Supports to automatically place support structures with the selected settings.
  11. Create Solid will transform all the support structures into a solid model.

MeshMixer Tutorial – Tip 13: Print your 3D model

Now your 3D model is optimized and ready for 3D printing! You can now export your object by clicking on Export. If you own a listed 3D printer, you can send it directly to the 3D printer’s original slicing program by pressing Print. You can also export the file and open it in the slicing program of your choice. Autodesk MeshMixer also has the option to directly send the model three online 3D printing services: Sculpteo, i.materialise and Shapeways.

Congratulations! You have finished this MeshMixer tutorial.

License: The text of "MeshMixer Tutorial for 3D Printing Beginners" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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