3D printers are the exciting part of the technology that we’ve all been waiting for. It’s exciting to see something you’ve designed slowly being built right in front of you. 3D printers have no limits, they’ve given you the freedom to hold a physical 3D model of literally anything.
You wouldn’t have to call multiple stores asking if they can custom-make something that you’ve always wanted, you can do that yourself in the comfort of your own home and in a matter of just a few hours.
Using 3D printers is simple, if you understand what they are, you’ll be able to use them as easily as you use a traditional printer. In three simple steps, you’ll be able to print your first 3D model, so let’s dive right in.
Step One: Understanding The Process
You don’t just press print and the 3D printer starts working and it’s all good. There’s a whole process starting from designing your model to actually printing it.
Computer-Aided Design Model (CAD Model)
Before you can print, you need to have a softcopy of what you’re aiming to print. Software programs like AutoCad and Solidworks are two of the most popular CAD software programs. However, you can find other programs that are easy to deal with and are made for beginners.
Also, you can find a wide range of files that you can print directly without having to draw them yourself.
Converting Into STL
We know that JPG is a format of images and Docx is a format of text files. Well, STL is also a format; however, it is a format of files that can be 3D printed.
After your design is done and ready to be printed, it has to go through slicing software before the printing itself. The word ‘slicing’ implies exactly what it does; it slices your design into thin layers that the printer can understand. Also, the slicer software adds any additional or missing foundations that your design may be missing.
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Step Two: Knowing What You’re Dealing With
There are different types of 3D printers and different techniques for printing. In order to operate the 3D printer, you have to know what it is, what it does, and how it does it.
Techniques of 3D Printing
- Stereolithography (SLA)
Con: Limited materials.
- Digital Light Processing (DLP)
Pro: High speed.
Con: High cost.
- Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
Materials: Thermoplastic filaments.
Pro: Wide range of materials.
Con: Low accuracy.
- Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
Materials: Thermoplastic powders.
Pro: No need for support material.
Con: Requires a lot of power.
- Material Jetting (MJ)
Materials: Photopolymer resin.
Con: High cost.
Now that you know a brief idea about 3D printing techniques, you should be able to tell whether the printer you’re working with is suitable to achieve what you’re aiming for or not.
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3D Printer Components
- The Print Bed
Defines the maximum size of the object that you can print using that 3D printer.
- The Hot End
The part where the liquified plastic (or whatever material you’re using) is being disposed into the print bed.
- The Nozzle
The tip of the Hot End and the part where liquefied plastic is actually coming out. The size of the nozzle is a factor in determining the finish, accuracy, and speed.
- Cooling System
After the material has been disposed into its path, it needs to cool down enough in order to solidify so the printer can proceed with printing the following layer. Cooling the material down is performed by a cooling system that can be as simple as a fan.
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Step Three: Setting Up The Printer
Leveling The Bed
You have to level the bed with the executor. Most 3D printers can auto-level by just pressing a button or two. If your printer doesn’t have that feature, you’ll simply have to screw or unscrew the edges of the bed accordingly.
Adding The Filament
Make sure you load your filament of choice into the printer. However, not all filaments work with all printers. Make sure the diameter of the filament fits into your printer and that the material of the filament itself is supported by your printer.
Preheat Before Printing
While 3D printing is as easy to process, it is not a quick one. Before using your 3D printer, make sure that it’s heated to avoid any jamming of the filament.
Before going straight into printing your design, try a test design to make sure that everything is working smoothly and also to get used to how the printer works and how long it takes.
After you’re done printing and you want to remove your model from the bed, you need to be cautious. Some techniques of printing leave the model hot after they’re done. Be patient and be careful. If your model is big or hard to remove, try using a plastic spatula or anything similar. Just make sure that whatever you’re using is not sharp enough to scratch the bed or your model.
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Using a 3D printer is not considered a difficult process, just follow the steps mentioned above, read the user manual for any extra precautions that your printer may require, and most importantly, have fun.
Fascinated by science from an early age, Jason has always been drawn to learning and experiencing technology. From learning about light through his passion for photography, building out PCs, and printing 3D models life couldn’t be better. When he isn’t writing about all things 3D printing related he enjoys reading, watch soccer and enjoy with his family.