In my last post, i wrote about the most widespread printer, the FDM printer. I also talked about where you could actually find one of these machines.
Finding The Model
So, assuming you now have access to a 3D printer, how do you actually use it? How do you actually print an army of pokemons, or that action figure of yourself that you never knew you wanted? Well, first of all, you need a 3D model. There’s two ways of going about this, either you create it, or you choose a ready made model.
Choosing a ready made model is by no means a bad idea, and there’s a wide range of free models available on the internet. When i need to make something, i always check if someone has made something resembling what i have in mind. Either the object will fit my need just fine, or it can serve as inspiration for my own project. In either case, checking what others have already made can save you a whole lot of time.
The two sites i use the most is Thingiverse (https://www.thingiverse.com/) and youimagine (https://www.youmagine.com/). Both sites offer free STL files (the file format read by most 3D printing software) ready for 3d printing, making it extremely easy for a beginner to start out.
If you’re starting out, i recommend browsing these websites in order to see what is actually possible with 3D printing, and get some inspiration for your own projects. It’s a good idea to use a tried and tested model for your first print, in order to minimize the risk of any issues.
Once you get a hang of actually using a 3D printer, you can move on to making your own files.
When you do get to this point, you first of all need the right idea, and second of all, the right software. The right idea is tricky to explain, as it can be anything from jewelry, to toys, to tools, to art. I recommend that you start with something simple, and move up in complexity as your skill improves. It’s better to start with something simple and succeed, than to start with something complex and fail. When you have your idea, you need the right kind of software. Unfortunately, actually teaching animation will be way too advanced for a single post, so for now, i’ll stick to recommending software.
Personally, i really like fusion 360 (https://www.autodesk.com/products/fusion-360/overview), as it allows me to do a lot of stuff. It is both a CAD, CAM, and CAE tool, meaning that you can use it to design, test and fabricate your models. For most new users though, the software can be very advanced, and it can very easily become overkill. One the other hand, while it can seem unintuitive (which it is), the program has a whole lot of options behind it. once you master it, it will allow you to do a whole lot more than the other program i'll recommend.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have tinkercad (https://www.tinkercad.com/). This is a super simple browser based piece of software, that is extremely intuitive. You simply drag and drop shapes onto a surface. You can then combine them with other shapes, or cut shapes away, in order to create new and unique objects. There’s a large library of user generated models which you can import as well, and modify to meet your requirements, so all in all, it is a very nice program.
Although i have met a lot of people who disliked it for “being too simple”, i have always been a fan of keeping stuff simple. There is no need to choose the most advanced piece of software for the simplest problem, and you don’t exactly need to buy a nail gun for hanging up a painting. The simplest tool does not always equate to the worst result, so you should by all means go with the program you are comfortable with. Naturally, there are many more programs available. Once you have chosen one, and tinkered around with it, you should have something resembling a model. For starters, you could simply make a simple cube.
Moving to the 3D printer
At this point, you need to convert the model to STL format. Most programs have a built in feature for this, which also holds true for both Fusion 360 and Tinkercad.
In the last step, you send your model to a slicer, that slices it, and produces to GCode that is readable by a 3D printer. It is in this program that you decide the settings of the print (print speed, print quality etc.). In actuality, what this program is doing is figuring out the tool path for your 3D printer. This means that it decides the "route" for the print head, how much filament to deposit, how fast it moves etc.
Most 3D printers have their own slicer, so this step is dependent on which printer you buy. In actuality, you can use most slicers for a lot of different printers, but it is easiest to use the one made by your printers company.
In the last post i recommended Ultimaker and Craftbot, which both have their own slicing software known as Cura and Craftware. They are both easy to use, and i would very much recommend them for new users.
Once you are done with the slicer, you are ready to send it to your 3D printer to make your model a reality.
This is all for now. In future posts, i hope to go more in depth with actually modelling a model, but i need to go through the basics first. It is pretty tricky to cram enough info into a post, without it being too long, i hope to find the right mix in the future.
I hope you’re all safe and happy!
Until next time