3D printed multi colored owls
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How to 3D Print: A Beginner’s Guide from Start to Finish

With the 3D printer, the power of creation is finally in the palm of your hands. However, we know starting can be slightly overwhelming. For this reason, we have put together this beginners’ guide on how to 3D print. 

Here is how to 3D print. First, create the model using a 3D design software. After that, export the model as an STL file to a slicing software. The slicer converts the STL file into the Gcode, which you can transfer to your printer via USB, SD card, or even cloud storage. Once successfully transferred, all left is to select your materials, input the parameters to the printer, and print. 

It is pretty straightforward. The steps to follow depend on the object type, material type, and 3D printer type available.

Step-by-Step Process on How to 3D Print

3D printing doesn’t have to be difficult, and we’ll prove this in this section. We’d start by introducing you to the tools, materials, and software you need to 3D print before we move on to the steps on how to use a 3D printer.

Tools you need for 3D printing

Essentially you need two groups of components to begin 3D Printing using FFF (fused filament fabrication) technique:

  • Hardware
  • Software

Essential Hardware

  • The 3D printer
  • Printer materials 

Essential Software

  • Modeling software
  • Curating software 
  • Slicing software

We’d go into details on choosing these hardware and software components in a later section of this article, but here is the breakdown of the how-to 3D print.

Step 1: Choose a reliable 3D printer

Before you begin 3D printing, you need to choose the best 3D printer for the job; this might involve doing much research on quality 3D printers. There are several factors to consider, which could be individual-based or device-based. The individual-based factors are questions you need to ask yourself. 

What is my priority? 

Priorities include refinement, convenience, reliability, print quality, accuracy, speed, automation, and material versatility. 

Which, out of these, is most important to you? Individual preferences and purposes for 3D Printing determine how vital each need would be. 

How much do I have? 

3D printers were initially expensive. But recently, getting one has reduced so much that with a $500 budget, you can get a printer and other essential tools you need to get started. 

What do I need 3D Printing for? 

A hobby? Then you do not have to break the bank to purchase one. A mini 3D printer would do just fine. For business? Then you might need to get something bigger and more “state of the art.”

What is my skill level?

Identifying your level of expertise can help you decide between your purchase options. You can either purchase a fully assembled printer, a kit of parts, or build from scratch. We advise newbies who just got their hands on their first 3D printer to opt for fully assembled 3D printers. Also, these printer types save you much time.

Apart from these questions, you also need to consider the device’s features. Some of the more essential factors to consider include;

The build volume of the 3D printer

This has to do with the object’s magnitude that a printer can make in a single print. Build volume is crucial if you’re making large parts or objects. You would not want to compromise on quality, accuracy, and reliability. So size is essential. 

The 3D printers’ layer height

This is the distance between successive layers. For optimum quality on the Z-axis, a range of 0.05mm to 0.5mm is typical. Layer heights depend on the type of projects you’d be making. 

QualityType of projectLayer Height (mm)
HighIntricate designs for aesthetic purposes, requiring little or no post-production steps0.05-0.15
StandardThis is the normal working range for all kinds of projects and purposes.0.15-0.25
LowFor projects where functionality and speed are of utmost priority. Requires post-production steps.0.25-0.5

Extruder Gear

You also need to determine the type of extruder suitable for your needs. Because it determines the kind of materials you can use, it is essential you find out the size of the hot end and the size of the nozzle.

When you put all these into perspective, you can easily make a selection from the wide range of devices available. 

Step 2: Choose suitable printing Materials

Printing materials are of varying types, colors, brands, and applications. They include plastic, metal, paper, glass, polymers, and even chocolate. 

Polymers, especially plastic-derived ones, are the most preferred material for use. They come as thermoplastic filaments. Examples are polylactic acid (PLA), acrylonitrile butadiene (ABS), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), HDPE, acrylic, nylon, polystyrene, and polypropylene, to mention a few. 

PLA, the best material for starters, has a melting temperature range of 1300C-1800C, a good range. It also has high surface energy and comes in a variety of colors. All these give PLA excellent printability quality. PET and polystyrene have a similar melting range as PLA and can also be used. 

Step 3: Choose a design software and model software you are comfortable using 

It would be best to have the right software to design your model and convert it into a format your computer can read. Various software applications are available to help you along each step of your 3D printing journey. 

Modeling software

A computer-aided design (CAD) software helps you create the 3D model of your object. Typical examples of CAD apps are Blender, ZBrush, and Autodesk Inventor. 

TinkerCard by Autodesk is a more straightforward option. It is perfect for beginners with little or no design skills. 

Curating software

Peradventure, you do not want to create a new design. Instead, you can get a suitable model by accessing the millions of resources on software like Thingiverse, My Minifactory, Cults 3D, CG Trader, and Prusa Printers. Thingiverse and Prusa Printers are free repositories. Others have both free and paid versions. 

Slicing software

This software converts the 3D model into a language your printer can recognize by slicing it into layers. These layers comprise the instruction lists called the Gcode. 

This code details specific parameters like layer height, printing speed, and infill percentage. 

The slicer also generates support material needed for your model. These supports are essential for special features like overhangs. 

Cura by Ultimaker is an excellent slicer for beginners. Other slicers you can use are Slic3r, MatterControl, and IdeaMaker. 

Step 4: Design the Model and Convert it to STL

Now that you’ve chosen your 3D printer based on your needs and features. It’s time to begin designing the object you intend to print. 

You can either create your design or find a suitable one from millions of online resources. In addition, several software applications can help you draft your models, such as TinkerCard, or curate one like Thingiverse. 

When you have your designs ready, export the model as a stereolithography (STL), OBJ, or any other printable file. 

Step 5: Slicing

In this step, you prepare your designs in the STL file for Printing by slicing it up into layers using slicing software like Cura, Slic3r, and Matter Control.

Slicing converts the design from the STL file into a series of instructions called the Gcode. This code details the exact instructions that the 3D printer reads as it prints. 

After slicing, transfer the sliced file to your printer. You can use a USB, SD card, or even get the file from cloud storage if you have that set up and connected already. 

Step 6: Print

Select your materials from the several types available based on the results you desire. Also, choose the size, placements, and other parameters of the printing materials, and you are ready. 

The 3D printer will print your object by adding layers of materials upon layer as specified in the GT code. The printing process can take minutes, several hours, or even days, depending on the size of your object, the type of printer, and the variety of materials. 

Post-production steps may be for more complex objects like painting, polishing, removing support material, and brushing. But, again, it all depends on you. 

This video below explains the process of 3D printing from start to finish and the essential tools you need. 

Key Video Takeaway

  • There is no need to create your object from scratch; Thingiverse and MyminiFactory have many things you can print. 
  • You’d be proud to show off for prints; ensure that you use the least amount of support possible.

What is 3D Printing?

3D Printing is an additive manufacturing process that involves the creation of 3-dimensional objects from a created digital file.

Traditionally, you cut out, drill, or remove parts of a piece of wood, metal, rock, or other material to get your desired results. In 3D Printing, the 3D printer creates the object by adding the raw materials. 

Parts of a 3D printer

There are various types of printers out there, each with unique features. 

All 3D printers using the FFF technique operate using the typical basic principle described 

The 3D printer has the following parts:

A frame that moves along three axes: X, Y, and Z axes

  • The X-axis denotes side-to-side movement (width of the object).
  • The Y-axis represents back and forth movement (depth of the object).
  • The Z-axis indicates up and down motion (height of the object).

The build platform (bed) for the printed object.

The extruder 

The extruder comprises two components: the cold and hot ends. 

  • The cold end includes the motors, drive gears, and other parts that grip the material and feed it to the hot end. 
  • The hot end has a heater, sensor, and nozzle. The heater melts the solid material and extrudes it through the nozzle, whose aperture is about a millimeter. The sensor is for temperature regulation. 

The power supply unit conveys power to the machine.

The Main Board

This is hidden away from your view and is the brain of your printer. It has the input and output terminals, connectors, and microcontrollers. 

Here is a video with a simple explanation of how a 3D printer works. 

Key Video Takeaway: 

  • Always have an SD card to load sliced models on your printer handy. 
  • For complex designs like intricate curves, the printer adds extra material as support which you can remove after the printing operation is complete.

Maintenance and Storage of the 3D Printer

As with every other tool, 3D tools require regular maintenance. Now and then, you need to inspect your tools and care for them to function optimally. 

Here, we’ve set down rules you should abide by to keep your 3D printer well maintained. 

Get a Toolkit

It is good to have a tool kit handy. You need tools to maintain your device, keep function optimal, and also for some post-production steps. A basic toolkit should have the following:

  • Pliers (needle nose and wire-cutting pliers), a pair of tweezers, screwdrivers, and a file. 
  • After printing, a spatula (or a putty knife) to remove the object from the bed.
  • A deburring tool to smoothen out print edges or spots. 
  • A small brush for dusting off electronics
  • Grease or lubricant for axes and guides
  • Cleaning materials, like needles for flossing nozzles, cloths, and IPA.
  • Masking tapes to glue your print to the print bed and protect the bed surface (or glue sticks, if you are using a glass bed).

Clean Regularly

Before and after each usage, check for spills or any residue and clean them up. Check the bed, the nozzle, and other machine parts. A simple cotton wipe can help prevent troubles like clogging, messy prints, and untidy platforms. 

Oil and Tighten

After cleaning up the parts, periodically oil the steel rods and other metal moving parts to reduce friction and maintain optimal productivity. Occasionally some nuts and bolts may become loose. This is normal. Once discovered, tighten them. Be careful not to over tighten them lest they become stiff.

Unclog after every use

Bits of plastic may block the nozzle or any parts of the extruder. So check this part of your machine regularly and floss out any bits found where they shouldn’t be.

Do not forget to perform updates

You should not limit maintenance to the hardware alone. Always check for updates for your software or printer firmware. 

Replace worn out parts

If you find any damaged parts, do well to replace them. 

Store properly

Keep your printer away in proper Storage if you wouldn’t be using it for a while. Also, store your filaments properly. Dust and moisture reduce the quality of filaments. So, you must prevent them from absorbing water or becoming dusty. 

You can buy custom cases or store them in airtight plastic containers. You can also purchase filament dryers to help remove any moisture inside your filaments.

It is noteworthy to mention that when 3D Printing, you don’t rush. Read the enclosed manual before starting anything. Lastly, do not ever presume. Always check that calibrations are correct.

FAQs

Q1) Do you need to know CAD for 3D printing? 

CAD is crucial to 3D printing of objects as the CAD file is what instructs the 3D printer on how to apply the chosen specifications like height, thickness of the prototype or product. One popular CAD software that has seen great use in 3D printing is the AutoCAD software.

Q2): How can I make money with 3D printing?

3D printing of products and prototypes can fetch you thousands of dollars if used the right way. You could; 

  • Sell readymade 3D products on online sites like Etsy
  • Sell your 3D designs or models
  • Startup a local 3D printing business
  • Start a 3D printer Youtube channel where you’d discuss on everything 3D printing and printers
  • Set up a specialized 3D printing service.

Final Thoughts

Owning a 3D printer is a lot of fun, you can create a variety of objects with little to no design skills. All you need is the guide above and you’d become an expert with the 3D printer. Remember proper maintenance practice means your printer will serve you well and longer so do well to abide by the rules slated in the 3D printer maintenance section of this article.

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