3D printing is an ever-evolving and expanding field. If you’re a beginner to 3D printing, the number of possibilities and applications can seem so vast, it can be a bit overwhelming when you’re just starting.
In this beginner’s guide to 3D printing, we’ll explain what exactly 3D printing is, how it works, the best materials for beginners, and what you need to get started.
What is 3D Printing?
3D printing is the process of creating a three-dimensional object, usually done by systematically layering material on top of itself. The printer reads a digital file from the computer which dictates how to layer the material to build the object.
This is why 3D printing is also known as additive manufacturing. 3D printing and additive manufacturing are mostly synonymous, although you may hear additive manufacturing used more frequently in the context of mass consumption or mass manufacturing.
How to 3D Print
Depending on the specific print you are planning to do there could be more or fewer steps in your process. But in general, 3D printing involves the following actions:
Step 1: Create or Find a Design
The first step of 3D printing typically starts on a computer. You must create your design using a 3D design software, typically a CAD (computer-aided design) software. If you are unable to create the design yourself, you can also find many free resources online with free designs.
Step 2: Export the STL File
Once you have created or chosen a design, you must either export or download the STL file. The STL file is what stores the information about your conceptual 3D object.
Step 3: Choose Your Materials
Typically you may have an idea about what kind of material you will use before you print. There are many different 3D printing materials available, and you can choose them based on the properties that you want your object to have. We will discuss this more in-depth below.
Step 4: Choose Your Parameters
The next step is then deciding on the different parameters of your object and the printing process. This includes deciding on the size and placement of your print.
Step 5: Create the Gcode
You will then import the STL file into a slicing software, like BCN3D Cura. The slicing software will convert the information from the STL file into a Gcode, which is a specific code containing exact instructions for the printer.
Step 6: Print
This is when the magic happens! The printer will create the object layer by layer. Depending on the size of your object, your printer, and the materials used, the job can be done in a matter of minutes or over several hours.
Depending on what you want your final product to be or the material you used, there may be additional post-processing steps after printing, like painting, brushing off powder, etc.
What is 3D Printing Used For?
3D printing can be used both recreationally and professionally, across various industries. It has applications in many different fields and sectors, from the healthcare industry to engineering, and even fashion.
Increasingly, 3D printing is seen as a sustainable and cost-friendly solution for creating prototypes and tools for different manufacturing projects and processes. Traditionally, acquiring prototypes can be time-consuming and costly, requiring companies to depend on outside manufacturers. 3D printing allows companies to quickly make units of an object, tool, or prototype, all in-house.
A great example of this is shoe company Camper. In-house 3D printing has allowed them to transform their nearly month and a half long modeling and designing process into an operation that takes only several days.
Beginner’s Guide to 3D Printing: How To Get Started
So, what do you need to get started with 3D printing? Your specific needs will depend on why and what you want to print, but in general, there are three considerations for getting started:
- A 3D printer
- Slicing software
If you plan on creating your own designs you will also need the appropriate designing software. But, as we mentioned earlier, you can also find many free resources online to download designs.
If you have not yet purchased a 3D printer, we have a guide that can help steer you through the most important considerations.
The material, also called filament, you choose for your print will depend on many different factors. Do you want your object to be flexible? Heat resistant? Does it need to be very durable? These are just some of the factors to consider when choosing your filament.
In general, most beginners start with PLA. This is because PLA is cost-effective and typically easy to print with a standard configuration. Depending on your specific project, PLA could be good starter material.
PET-G is also considered a beginner-friendly material, although it is a bit more technical than PLA. However, it is great for industries like engineering and manufacturing. It is a good material for functional prototypes because it can withstand higher temperatures and has a different chemical makeup that is ideal for these uses.
There are two important pieces of software for 3D printing: CAD and slicing software.
Typically, you can use any CAD system that can create a functional model. CAD is essential if you want to create your own models and objects. You must be able to export an STL file from your CAD software.
The slicing software is the second part of the equation. This software translates the STL file into a language that the printer can understand. The Gcode contains movement information that tells the printer how and where to move its axis, as well as how much material to deposit. The Gcode is sent to the printer via an SD card or wifi.
3D printing is now more beginner-friendly than it has ever been. In the beginning, many people saw 3D printing as something inaccessible to the major public, but this sentiment is changing, and for good reason. While it takes practice to perfect your prints and technique, learning how to 3D print is an attainable skill.