If you’re new to 3D printing, it may all feel overwhelming. There’s always something new to learn in this craft. I’ve learned many things going through this route which would take you so much time and experimentation to learn. Knowing them earlier wouldn’t have cost me so much stress in the long run.
To make your 3D printing journey smoother, I’m sharing 13 things I wish I know before getting into 3D printing.
Let’s get started!
1. This is a Hobby
Unless you have other reasons, you should treat 3D printing like any other hobby. There will be failures and there is nothing to worry about. You’re doing this for fun and learning. A few failed prints shouldn’t stop you from trying new things with your printer.
3D printing is also a skill you will eventually improve at the more you do. Getting frustrated at your prints won’t make them any prettier. So be patient, keep learning, have fun, and most importantly, keep printing.
2. Filament Maintenance
These are what goes in your printer. Filaments can become old and snappy. When that happens, you will not get the expected quality from your prints. There are many ways your filament can get ruined. This results in dry, broken, and brittle filaments.
You can prevent your filaments from getting dry by putting them into air-tight bags. Put some silica gels inside, push out all the air, and zip it tightly.
3. Slicing Matters
Slicing is the process by which your 3D model is converted to code that the printer can understand and work with. A 3D printer can’t work directly with the STL files and needs them to be changed to G-code. The whole model is sliced into thin layers then each layer is printed.
For newcomers, all the print settings may feel daunting. And a common mistake they commit is to set everything to default. You should learn how to tweak the printing settings and control the slicing to get the best print out of your printer.
Based on the shape, size, and material of your model, you need to adjust the speed, temperature, and print paths. Use good slicing software to complement your printer.
4. Print profiles
Coming from how important slicing is, did you know that slicing software have print profiles? Print profiles allow you to set default settings for a particular type of print. This means you won’t have to change your settings every time you want to make that type of print. You can just save those settings as a profile.
Print profiles can save you a lot of time and brain cells. Not having to start from scratch means you’re more likely to get optimum print quality for that print since the saved settings already gave you good results previously.
The best part is that you can have multiple print profiles and adjust each accordingly when you need to. You can also export your profile to use it on another computer.
By ironing, you can make the top layer of your print smooth and glossy just like you see on ironed clothes. So how is this done? The hot end of the printer goes over the top surface to melt any unevenness from it. If there are gaps, a small amount of extrusion fills that up.
You can find this ironing option in your slicer software. Cura is well known for this feature.
While ironing does give you a better finish at the top, it takes a significant amount of time and may even ruin the quality if you didn’t use the correct settings.
6. Materials matter
As 3D printing enthusiasts, we work with various types of filaments—namely PLA, TPU, ABS, Wood filament and so much more. Each type of filament has its strengths and weaknesses, making each suitable for different prints. You can’t just use any filament and expect it to produce a perfect model.
For example, ABS is strong, lightweight, and durable, making it the perfect choice for electronic housing, toys, and kitchen appliances. PLA is a good fit for consumer products and surgical implants, because of its biodegradable nature. TPU fits best for prosthetics and orthotics, sporting goods, and phone cases. Wood filament is used mostly for decors, figurines by people who want a wood feel and smell.
7. Understanding support
Not all 3D models you wish to print are going to be symmetric or in regular shapes. So how would you print a small part that is overhanging in mid-air from the actual base model? That’s where support comes into play.
Support is the extra printing you add with the original print so that it can hold the overhanging structure of the model. When the printing is finished, you can cut off the support parts from the real object. Remember though, not all overhangs or bridges need support. It depends on the angle and width of the overhang or bridge.
8. Bed leveling & The first layer squish
Bed leveling can make or break any 3D print. If you can get this right then the rest of the print comes out smoothly automatically(provided you didn’t make other mistakes).
You need to measure the distance between the nozzle and your printing bed. If the bed is wrongly leveled, the filament won’t stick well. There will be gaps in some areas. The first layer will not have consistent height and weight.
You can easily level a bed. There are many techniques like using a paper or business card to see if there’s too much or too little gap between the nozzle and the bed.
9. 3D Printing Pen
Ever thought it would be possible to turn your 2D drawings into 3D? That’s what a 3D pen does. Draw anything you wish, in mid-air, and it takes real shape and form.
If you’re an artist or designer and you’d like to remove the whole “software part” from 3D printing, 3D pens are what you’re looking for. Put your imagination in the air and draw 3D objects just like you’d draw on a canvas.
3D pens have a nozzle that extrudes melted plastic. After a few seconds, the plastic solidifies and becomes a model.
10. Bed Adhesion Types
Bed adhesion assistants are a great way to test out your extruder. It also ensures your first layer prints well and stays on the bed.
There are 3 main types of bed adhesion—Brim, Skirt, and Raft.
A Skirt is a simple, single-layer perimeter that is printed around the base of the model. Its purpose is to prime the extruder, stabilize the temperature and check if there is any filament flow problem before printing the actual model.
Raft is a dense network of lines printed underneath the model. It’s thicker and wider than a Skirt and provides more stability and adhesion. It’s particularly useful for models that have a small base.
A brim is a border built around the entire model to provide a greater surface area to hold onto the bed. When printing huge flat-area objects, this protects them from warping or lifting. After printing, the brims are simply removed.
11. Clean Your Bed
If you don’t keep your 3D printer bed clean, your model parts may get detached from the bed while printing, causing a failed print. Keeping the bed clean can improve bed adhesion and consequently, the print quality.
Cleaning the bed isn’t complicated either. You can use isopropyl alcohol with a microfiber cloth to remove finger grease from the bed. However, do check the device manual to see whether you can use isopropyl alcohol or not. Some beds can’t be cleaned with it in which case, you can use other cleaning products like a glass cleaner.
12. Monitoring and Kill Switch
Let’s face it, we can’t stay with our 3D printers the whole time even if we want to. But monitoring your 3D printer can be crucial especially when you’re printing. So how can you do that? Security cameras! And they can be cheap. You can connect them to the Wi-Fi and monitor your printers from anywhere.
So there goes monitoring. But how can you remotely turn off the printer if something goes wrong? You can add a smart plug when powering the printer. This will let you turn it off from your phone even if you’re far away.
13. Learn 3D Modeling
Printing someone else’s model is all fun and games. But creating your 3D model? That’s where the real test lies.
As a 3D printing enthusiast, you should be able to make your models. Not only it’s fun, but it’s also an essential skill as a maker. You don’t have to fully rely on others’ designs. You can tweak them at will or build your own from scratch. Not everything you want to print has ready models available on the internet either. So the next time you want to print something, you can just use your 3D model for that.
3D printing is a fun and long journey. There’s no limit to how much you can learn and experiment in this field. I just shared 13 tips that I believe will save you a lot of time, money, and effort. Do you have things you wish you knew before getting into 3D printing? Let us know in the comments below.