Who remembers those crazy anti-piracy ads they aired in the 90’s? They included a line that went “you wouldn’t download a car?”
While that technology wasn’t available at the time, with the commercialization of 3D printing, now you can very well print anything you please. Recently there has been news of people printing cars, houses and baby Groots, amongst all the cool stuff they want. In the 3D printing domain, people are firm believers of “if you can draw it, you can print it”.
Like any other domain, getting into a new hobby, without any prior knowledge, can be a daunting task. If you are just looking for one or two 3D prints for your projects, you are probably better off finding a friend with a 3D printer, but if you are looking to buying a 3D printer and wondering if you’ll be able to get your money’s worth out of it, read ahead.
Do you need to know 3D software to start with 3D printing?
No, you don’t need to know any 3D software to start with printing. If you lack the technical expertise to model the design by yourself, you can simply head over to any of the online model repositories and download a pre-made one. These repositories exist just to collect 3D models specifically for this purpose.
However, there is a lot of 3D modeling software available. Some have a steep learning curve while others are so easy that anyone can pick them up and start using them.
You can learn 3D modeling by starting with any of the basic tools listed below. It can take you from a couple of weeks up to months to get familiar and proficient on these tools. To become a professional, you’ll need at least a year’s worth of practice.
- Tinkercad (Free): Designed with kids in mind, this free and easy to use tool allows you to combine basic shapes like cones, spheres and boxes.
- Sketchup (Free): A free and easy to use tool, but the models created in it need a bit of tinkering in order to print them.
- Meshmixer (Free): Similar to Zbrush, this tool employs a clay modeling approach for 3D model creation.
- Fusion 360: Designed for students and educators, this tool helps you model geometric parts to be used in engines or machines as well as organic shapes such as helmets and similar props. It is free for students, educators and startups, you’ll have to purchase a license otherwise
The tools listed here are perfect for people with an established knowledge of 3D modeling.
- 3DS Max ($3,675 one-time fee or $185 per month): This is the best tool for mesh modeling, used across many industries.
- Solidworks ($4,000-$8,000 along with an annual renewal fee): Top of the line product, loaded with all of the features you can need for 3D printing.
Are some 3D printers easier to work with than others?
Yes, there are a couple of printers out there well suited for beginners. The ones targeted towards beginners require less assembly, allowing for quick and easy setup. Let’s explore some of them:
One of the easiest printers to assemble you can be up and running in under around two hours. Several parts come pre-assembled. Everything you need for the setup comes packaged with the box. It goes through a rigorous testing process before packaging to ensure your safety.
Making it one of the smoothest and quietest printers out there. To top it all off, it comes loaded with features that make the whole ordeal easy and quite bearable. Resume Print allows you to resume printing of a model after a power outage or a lapse causes a disruption.
Many customers have commented that they bought their unit after hours of cumbersome research online, and have been very happy with their decision.
This small 3D printer is the perfect one for beginners. Featuring a futuristic design, it comes loaded with features to get you print-ready in no time. As it uses only the company’s proprietary filament for printing, you don’t need to worry about material setting or any such thing. There’s enough filament included in the box to help you get started. The cherry on top, it is a non-toxic, bio-compostable PLA filament derived from natural elements such as corn starch and sugarcane.
The hassle free XYZ software suite allows you to model and design your prints accordingly. With their own comprehensive knowledgebase, XYZ offer a lot of resources to learn and get the most out of your purchase. Also, there is a massive library of ready to print downloadable models, all available free of cost.
Geared towards beginners, the Monoprice select mini provides with a bit more advanced experience that’s simple enough for beginners to learn. It ships ready to use, with a filament spool to start you off. You’re not just limited to the filament shipped with it, you can use a wide variety of other printing material with this one.
It is worth mentioning that this one ships without an enclosure, so it’s not the best option to use around kids. But it’s pretty great if you are looking for something for just yourself.
What is the best way to learn 3D printing?
3D printing involves a series of steps that require a varying degree of knowledge to get through effectively and efficiently. You need to be somewhat tech savvy and know the basic terminology. There are plenty of resources available online that can help you get started on your 3D printing journey.
Read a book
Reading a book on the topic can help you greatly. Depending on your understanding of the domain, you can easily pick up any book and start learning the process, but be careful since the book references the technology available at the time of writing. For instance, the “3D printing for Dummies” is a very good place to start.
Watch YouTube videos
Many channels on YouTube have uploaded a whole library worth of videos to help beginners understand the process. Simply searching for 3D printing on Google provides you with a plethora of options to go through.
Take a beginner’s course
With the rise of online education, there have been a lot of repositories for complete courses on a variety of topics. Websites like Udemy and Lynda have multiple courses on 3D printing, with learning curves suitable for people of all levels of expertise. Now bear in mind that these websites charge a monthly subscription fee, but as video content has been proven to be much more effective than written content, I would highly recommend going for a video course.
With question forums like Quora, you can simply go on there and ask a question about anything you are having problems with. There are dedicated forums where people can simply log in and ask questions about anything, they’re having problems with.
How do 3D printers print?
3D printers take a blueprint file (.stl), which instructs the printer on how to build the model. The printer heats up the filament, starts extruding it in a series of layers. It keeps on creating a layer on top of the other until the design is complete. Some blueprints require additional support (additional structures to be cut away after the model has been completely printed), in order for precarious parts to be created without angling the parts dimensions.
How does the printer know what to print?
Using any of the 3D model software, models are created on the computer and then the models are run through a slicing tool to generate the machine code to move the print head accordingly. Computers are either directly connected to the 3D printer through a USB cable or the instructions are transferred onto an SD card which is then inserted to transfer the directions to the printer.
How long does a print take?
A print can take hours to complete. It mainly depends on the level of detail included in the blueprint file. Larger more precise models take significantly longer to print.
What type of filament is supported by my 3D printer?
Your printer usually comes with a filament spool in the box. That should give you a pretty good idea. Also, make sure to read the included documentation in the box. It will definitely include a list of all the supported material for your 3D printer.
What do I do when I run out of filament?
You can easily procure more spools of filament from Amazon or your local 3D printing shop.