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3D Printing for Fun and Education (And Profit?) - Part 2 - What?

Okay... yes, I know my finger is in the picture. Had a good laugh?

Take your time.

It's okay... laughter is the best medicine.

Ready to move on? Okay, then.

See that center cap on that wheel? The thing in the middle. It's gold, and has some kind of chicken logo on it in black. See it? That's 3D printed. Yes. I have 3D printed center caps on the wheels of my car. Intrigued? Let's keep going.

There are so many parts to the what question when you are talking about 3D printing. What are you going to print? What printer are you going to buy? What filament are you going to use? What slicer? What 3D design software?

Wait... What IS a slicer?

So, as with the rest of my posts here, your mileage may vary. That being said, I'm going to share what works for me. It is not the only way to do it. It is not even close to the only solutions out there. Let's tackle some "whats."

What #1 - What are you going to print? Really. You need to ask yourself what you plan to make with your printer. Is it for classroom use? Are you going to design custom jewelry? Do you need to print in particular materials? You need to answer these questions before tackling what #2, the printer.

What #2. The printer. In my lab, we have six printers. The first we bought is a Prusa i3 MK2s. The genuine Prusa printers are generally considered a leader in the sub $1000 price range for FDM (FFF?) machines... that is machines that squirt layers of molten plastic on top of eachother to create your thing. Our Prusa has been rock solid. It is the workhorse of my lab. If I have a long, complicated print that must not fail, I will use the Prusa. Our largest and newest printer is a Creality CR-10S. Honestly, I don't think I have enough experience with this one yet to provide an unbiased opinion. There is some "uniqueness" to each printer out there, and I'm still learning the particular traits of our CR-10. We also have FOUR incredibly budget friendly printers in the lab. These little beasts (I mean that in a good way) are Monoprice Select Mini printers that I bought refurbished for around $160 each. They are small, with a build volume that limits many of our class assignments, but what they lack in print volume available, they make up for with a relatively simple design and low price of entry. When I have students that are particularly enthusiastic about 3D printing, I recommend they ask Santa Claus for one of these. Once set up, they print reliably all day long. Setup is fairly straight forward. The biggest limitation is materials. I would not recommend using anything but PLA in them.

What #3. The material. In 3D printing, there are a ton of options for what kind of raw material to feed your printer. Some printers use resin, some printers use powdered metal. All of our printers use filament. The most commonly used filament in our lab is PLA. There are tons of other options. I have printed with PLA, ABS, PETG, NinjaFlex, Armadillo, and Cheetah in more colors than I can remember. Getting started in 3D printing? Stick to quality PLA. There are tons of reviews of brands of filament out there. Get on YouTube and look it up. We use several brands. I've had a ton of good experience with Hatchbox.

What #4. The Software. 3D printing typically uses two pieces of software (although some companies are trying to change this.) Generally you need something to design the model you want to print, and then you need to feed that model to a program called a slicer. Let's start with the design software. We use a web based design solution called Tinkercad. Tinkercad uses a simple drag and drop interface. You can resize shapes, add them together, subtract them from eachother... look, just go to tinkercad.com, make an account, and try to make something. It's pretty fun. There are tutorials to show you the basics. Once you have created your object, you have to feed that object to a slicer. A slicer does what its name implies, it takes your object, and slices it into many thin layers. Then it decides how to most efficiently draw each layer. In our lab, we generate .stl files in Tinkercad, then feed it to the slicer which generates a gcode file. All our printers understand gcode, but the slicer takes care of making sure the gcode written will work properly on each different machine. The ease of switching between machines led me to use a slicer called Simplify 3D. Simplify 3D is not free... err... it's not even what I would call inexpensive, but it solved a problem I had at the time. I wanted one slicer that worked well with all of my printers, and Simplify 3D offered that. If I were only using one model of printer, I would probably be using either Slic3r (yes... Slic3r... that is correct) or Cura. Slic3r and Cura are both free (at least they were last time I checked) and both perform very well.

Wow. That was a lot. If you're still with me, you owe yourself a cookie. I'd give you one, but they don't taste so good when sent via email.

If you want to get into 3D printing, or if you have any questions about it, drop a comment below. I get notified by email when you comment. I'll get back to you. I enjoy printing, and enjoy helping others get started in the hobby, or in teaching 3D design and printing.


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