3D Printer ProjectsA Comprehensive Guide to Kick-starting Your First 3D Printing Project

If you are reading this, it means you have already heard about additive manufacturing and the creative powers it bestows upon anyone who owns a 3D printer. So now, putting those powers to the test by digitally manufacturing your unique ideas is of interest to you. However, before you can make realistic sculptures that will put Bernini’s Madonna to shame, you must first acquire the technical knowledge required to plan and execute a 3D printing project. So this is where this guide comes into play. So, sit back, relax and take notes as we explore every aspect of additive manufacturing!

What do you think is the best way to get started on a new project? From experience, gathering all the required tools in a conducive workspace, setting up the instructions you intend to follow before plunging into it works. It is important to note that 3D printing is no different. To simplify the different phases, you would go through during such a task; they will be categorized under these three main activities that define the life-cycle of a 3D printing project:
• Pre-Production
• Production and
• Post-Production

The 3D Printing Pre-Production Cycle:
Asking and finding answers to your questions is generally the best way to get started in the pre-production phase. So the critical questions to ask when starting out are; how does the 3D printing process work, what 3D printer should I use, and what additional accessories/tools should I have?
The 3D printing process basic steps involve; getting a digital 3D model of the object you want to 3D print, slicing the 3D model into a language the 3D printing software understands and hitting play. Quite easy, isn’t it?

Now, the next challenge is choosing a 3D printer with easy to use features. In the 3D printing community, these 3D printers are generally known as entry-level desktop 3D printers. I recommended that you choose a printer that makes use of Fused Deposit Modelling (FDM) technology.
Choose a printer that gives you enough build space as this further simplify the printing process. Do not fret, for there are a plethora of options with these specifications currently on the market which you can choose.

Here are three great options under $300 which you can purchase:
1. Creality 10S
2. WanHao Duplicator i3
3.  The FlashForge Finder 3D

Lastly, there are a couple of accessories and tools you will need to have at hand before starting your project. An essential accessory is the material or filament you intend to 3D print with and for an FDM 3D printer, you should start working with thermoplastics such as; polylactic acid (PLA) and Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS).

These filament types are easy to use, and moreover, they work with almost every FDM 3D printer currently on the market. Also, ensure to get yourself the following;
• Tapes or Adhesive sheets
• Scraper
• Tweezer
• Extra filament and a
• Cutter
• Painting Set
• Sandpaper

Having these accessories and tools in your workspace will go a long way in providing you with a successful first 3D printing project.

Note: slicing a 3D model is done by uploading the model into a slicing software—Slic3r, Cura, etc.— and the application does the rest.

The 3D Printing Production Cycle:
Once all your tools are in place—set up in a well-ventilated room—and prepare to get started. As stated earlier, the first step is getting a digital 3D model of the idea or object you intend to manufacture and there are three ways to go about getting one.

So here you have them listed in descending order according to the difficulties involved in acquiring the 3D model:
• Modeling: A computer-aided design (CAD) software such as Blender, can be used to design 3D models. CAD comes with a steep learning curve.
• Downloading: You can download free 3D models—from thingiverse.com, turbosquid.com, etc.—but free designs are usually generic.
• Hiring a freelancer: A freelance designer can easily model your ideas once paid.

Now you have your 3D model. The next step is slicing the model and prepping the 3D printer to produce high-quality prints. This is also an activity for a variety of software applications have been built for this specific reason. Although most 3D printers come with their own slicing software, you can still choose to download and install Slic3r or Cura due to the level of features and functions they integrate.

The next step is ensuring the calibrations of your 3D printers settings is appropriately done. As a beginner, relying on the instructions provided by the 3D printing software of your printer is the best way to go. This is because the slicing software intuitively tells your 3D printer the best settings to use in printing the 3D model it sliced. So as you gain more experience, you can then begin to recalibrate; extrusion speed, temperature, wall thickness and other settings according to your 3D model’s specific needs.

Lastly, ensure that your 3D printer has enough filament to start and complete a project—a full spool should be enough—and hit play. This kick-starts the 3D printing process and gets the machine to follow set instructions when manufacturing your object.

Tips: when 3D printing intricate designs, reducing the extrusion speed will increase the 3D printer’s accuracy and precision levels.

The Post Production Cycle:
As with all creative endeavors, it is highly likely that you will end up grooming the 3D printed object before perfection is reached. Just like a diamond in the rough, most 3D printed objects need some finishing for the beauty you were aiming for to shine through. It is essential that you know this, so you do not get confused by the final object that comes out of your 3D printer.

Why is post-processing or finishing required you may ask? It is required because, a 3D printer produces excess material as support for certain parts of your model. For example, when 3D printing a character holding a sword horizontal or perpendicular to its body, the 3D printer will 3D print extra supporting material running from its print bed or base to support the overhanging part.

Beautifying your 3D object by removing these supporting materials as well as other blemishes or errors as well as adding a coat of paint, is why post-processing is essential. To do this, you can make use of the cutter, scrapper, and tweezers contained in your tool set. Making use of sandpaper is also another option which can be employed to smoothen the surface of your 3D print. Lastly, you can consider painting the 3D print to add some color as well as fill up holes where and when needed.

Tip: wet sandpaper with water before applying it to your PLA or ABS 3D prints

It is important to note that any idea you can conceive and create a 3D model of, you can 3D print. So, do not let a few hitches discourage you from achieving your 3D printing goals. Always remember that the timeless saying ‘practice makes perfect,’ also applies to additive manufacturing and the more you use your 3D printer, the more experienced you become.