How to start 3D-printing?
Why should I get a 3d printer?
You will need to answer this question by yourself. If you’re a creative design- or a tech person, I am certain you’ll find lots of applications.
I, myself use 3D printers mostly for rapid prototyping. Quite often, I have random, silly product ideas… 3D-printing helps me bring them to life almost instantly.
I made a short video explaining everything you need to know to get started. You can either watch the video or just continue reading below - your choice : )
A brief history of 3d-printing
3D Printing technology first emerged in the 1980’s. Some company set up a patent which gave them exclusive rights for that tech. In the early 2000s 3D printing was open-sourced, which made it available to creative people like you and me.
What is 3d-printing anyways?
3D Printing is a additive manufacturing technique. Additive essentially means, you only have to pay for the material that’s actually in your model part. CNC machines like this one are examples for subtractive manufacturing, which means you take a piece of wood and carve out your final model or product.
Common 3D-printer types
Most common printers are built with stepper motors, a microcontroller and some metal frame to hold it all together.
There’s essentially two kinds of printers you could: FDM printers and resin printers. FDM stands for Fused Deposition Modeling, which is the kind of printer I got. With FDM, you use a filament, which is a long string of material, usually plastic. The printer melts it down, extrudes it through a nozzle to build up your model layer by layer, bottom to top.
Resin printers use a liquid resin, which is hardened using light from a laser beam or an LCD display. Resin printers allow for higher accuracy, but they develop very unhealthy fumes you wouldn’t want to inhale.
Resin-printed parts also require some post processing, which takes some extra time after every print.
Which 3D printer should I get?
The first 3D printer I got, is an Anycubic Mega S* which I ordered off their website for 207 Euros. This post isn’t sponsored by them, I’ll just use it to show you what to look for when buying your own printer, no matter the brand.
I recommend you to buy an existing printer rather than building one from scratch. I first tried to retrofit my CNC machine by modifying a very cheap 3D Pen. Don’t try to do that, it’s a mess. Professional 3D printers are way easier to level and work with. Those 207 Euros for a new printer are well invested.
An important metric you should look for is the printers print volume, in this case 210 x 210 x 205 mm. There’s way larger printers out there. However, I’d recommend you to rather buy two small printers than a large. Printing can take multiple hours or days, so with two printers you could print twice the amount of parts.
Make sure to also inform yourself about your printer’s audio volume while printing. It will run for long time-spans, so you’ll be glad if it’s locked away in your cellar - or just very quiet by itself.
The printer has a heated extruder with a brass nozzle and a heated bed, which I consider a must requirement when buying a printer. It helps your prints to stick better.
Some printers have multiple nozzles, which enables you to print in multiple colors. This feature is pretty expensive, which is why I wouldn’t recommend you to get it on your first printer.
Also check that the printer you buy has end-switches. This is necessary, as the printers stepper motors could destroy your printer, if they are controlled in a wrong way without knowing they can’t move any further.
I really like the way the Anycubic 3D Printer’s controls are set up: You just have to insert an SD Card containing some printable G-Code files and it prints the files you select on the touchscreen.
Which Filament should I get?
There’s different Filament Materials you can use with a printer like this one: There’s PLA, Polilactide, which is a biodegradable plastic I use in most of my prints. It’s not very heat resistant though, should not be exposed to to bright light for too long. You can find the Filament I first got on Amazon*.
ABS is the plastic used in Lego bricks, more durable than PLA. It, however, also produces bad fumes, which is why I do not use it regularly.
There are many other types of Filament, even some with Metal, Wood or Carbon Fiber in it.
Setting up your printer (FDM)
The setup of the Anycubic Mega S was incredibly simple, if I compare it to other machine builds like my CNC which came as a package unassembled parts. Just unpackage it, screw it together and choose a place to put it.
Leveling your printer
Before your first print you will need to level the printer. Leveling means that you make sure the printer’s nozzle has the same distance from the heated bed everywhere on the bed. Just use the homing tool and a piece of paper to confirm the distance is the same everywhere on the heated bed.
You can adjust the height with the screws below the print bed.
Some printers use sensors for automatic leveling - but once again, we’re trying not to spent much money on the first printer.
After leveling, you will only need to insert the filament into your printer.
Time for your first print!
The process of printing something can be split into three parts: Modeling, Slicing and Printing.
Modeling. To model an object you want to print, you will use a CAD (computer aided design) software. There’s many of those, I often use Blender, which is free and open-source software. Other softwares include TinkerCAD, Fusion360, Sketchup, Rhino. Many tools are proprietary and commercial, which is why I try not to use them.
You can also skip the modeling part by going to a website like Thingiverse.com and downloading the models you want to print.
The model you saw earlier is called Benchy, it is probably the most famous 3D-print. (Attribution) It was created by Creative Tools, you can download it from their 3D-Benchy website.
At the end of the modeling-part you will want to end up with one or multiple .stl files. If you used some CAD, there will be an option to export as STL. STL means, that your model is stored as a mesh of triangular surfaces. It’s an acronym for stereolitography.
Slicing. When you completed the model, it’s at the time to slice it using a slicer. Slicers do as their name suggests: they slice your STL model into layers that will be printed later. More specifically, it turns your STL file into a G-Code file. G-Code contains machine-specific commands that operate your 3D printer.
As it’s machine-specific, you will need to make sure your Slicer program knows which printer it is compiling the GCode for.
I usually use ULTIMAKER CURA, which is a free and open-source tool. There’s many alternatives, if you want some, just search for 3D slicers. In the slicer you can customize some settings like the extrusion temperature, layer height et cetera.
My only advice: Just google whatever you know, you don’t know about.
Printing. The GCode then can be transfered to an SD Card, which you insert into your printer. Then you just hit print and let the Printer do its thing.
Your first print will likely fail. There might be too much space between the bed and nozzle. In that case, Just turn all screws a little in the same direction. Too much space is better than too few, as with no space between the nozzle and bed, the bed might get damaged and the print will possibly fail.
All you need to get right is the first layer. Generally speaking, you can leave the printer after the first layer is completed. You should still make sure to check on the printer, so you don’t end up with it burning down your workshop or house. That’s very unlikely but don’t forget the high temperatures it operates at.
Whatever your error is, look it up or ask in forums like the 3DPrinting sub-reddit - other people will have encountered it before. You will risk being down-voted, but by asking others you may end up solving the problem quickly.
I hope this post was useful to you! If it was, make sure to follow my Twitter @finnmglas. If I got something wrong, reach out to me : )
- Finn M Glas, 2021-05-05 14:27:06 GMT+2
* The links above include affiliate commission and referrals. I’m part of amazon’s affiliate network and receive commissions from them for sales… nothing so far to be honest : )