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Top tips for 3D printing

Published: Apr 21, 2016 7 min read

STEM learning

The countless capabilities of 3D printing seem to grow by the day. 

Whether it’s improving production processes for manufacturing - such as replacing CNC and milling as is achievable with a Markforged Mark Two 3D printer, or encouraging children to take an active interest in additive manufacturing - as is achievable with a BEEINSCHOOL 3D printer, 3D printing has the potential to touch an unlimited number of industries and improve an unlimited number of design, engineering and manufacturing applications. 

If you are only just starting to explore the possibilities that 3D printing can provide, what do you need to know about design, sizes, and materials? 

To help out, here are some top tips for 3D printing:


1. Don’t expect amazing results straight away

No matter how well you prepare yourself for the first time you use a 3D printer, your first print isn’t going to be amazing. At best, it will resemble what you envisioned in your head, and at worst, it’ll look like a lump of awful melted plastic.  Typically this is caused by the orientation or the design of the object you wish to print.

The key to 3D printing is to take your time and play around with your printer’s settings and your own design files. Most people will actually benefit from practicing with open source design files first, such as those that can be found on Thingiverse. There are some incredible parts, models and objects you can print from here, and all for free too.


2.Use your build area to its fullest

Despite the fact that your 3D printer’s build volume does not have to limit the size of your final creation, you’d be surprised how many people let it.

You should pay close attention to your build area during the design process, in order to use your build area to its fullest. To maximise this area, don’t measure from top to bottom or side to side. Instead, utilise the diagonal space from opposite sides of your build area, as this will give you the largest build volume from your 3D printer.


3. Don’t be afraid to over-emphasise the finer details

Even though your virtual model should reveal an extremely accurate depiction of what the final print will look like, it never hurts to over-emphasise the finer details and this is especially true when sculpting small parts, as they will appear much more intricate on screen than in real life - and even with extremely low resolution settings.

When it comes to the surface details of your model, aim for deeper cuts and more pronounced textures during the design process. You may also want to make slender parts a bit thicker, as this should guarantee a cleaner print with better strength too.


4. Know your filaments, and when to use them

Most fused filament fabrication printers can print two materials; ABS and PLA. Some of the more expensive ones can also print nylon.

While for some applications these filaments are interchangeable, the reality is that they are each better suited to certain tasks. Here’s what you need to know:


ABS, or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, is a manmade material which has good tensile strength and good impact resistance. Parts printed with ABS are sturdy and have a long life span. ABS parts are also resistance to heat, thanks to a high melting point, although because of this you need a heated print bed to print with it. You should use ABS if you need your parts to be strong and cheap to produce.  If you are printing in ABS ensure you have good ventilation and that your 3D printer is enclosed and includes a HEPA filter, such as the Afinia H800.


PLA, or polylactic acid, is similar in appearance and feel to ABS once extruded however PLA is softer and more environmentally-friendly, being bio-degradable and sourced from plants. PLA experiences less warping than ABS and parts are generally smoother and more detailed too. However, it needs to be actively cooled for the best results. PLA is a better, safer, alternative to using ABS, although it is not as strong.


Nylon is a more specialised filament than ABS and PLA, although if your printer supports it and strength is critical to your model, you should choose nylon. Nylon is stronger than ABS and it prints odourless. Nylon is widely used for mechanical parts and components. For example, you can 3D print robust wheels, gears, seals and gaskets with nylon. It also boasts better machinability than ABS and PLA filament. 


5. Take care when removing a part from your print bed

Amid the excitement of your completed print, remember to exercise caution when removing your part from the print bed. It is easy for parts to get stuck to the print surface and when this happens, removing them can be difficult. 

To minimise this risk, adjust the temperature of the heat bed to around 60°C or wrap a pair of pliers in a rag to get some extra leverage without damaging the print. You can also use a plastic chisel to work a corner of your part off the surface, but again you should wrap it in some soft material to prevent damage and scratches. 

Alternatively, and preferably, coat your build plate with a PVA-based glue so that you have an easy surface to remove your part from. 


6. Take care when removing your print’s supports

Unless you have a Blueprinter M3 which uses thermoplastic powder as its filament and can print without support, or a Zortrax Inventure printer with a dissolvable support system, you are going to be removing your print’s supports manually. 

The key to doing so without damaging your model is to take your time and use the right tools; a sharp pallet knife or scalpel is a fantastic tool to this end. You can sand down any areas that show where supports once were, and buff them to a smooth finish.

As your printing skills get better, however, you can start to increase the air gap between supports so that they snap away easily. It takes some time to perfect your designs to this level, but when you do, removing supports will be a piece of cake. 


7. Be aware of how models warp

If the base of your part starts to warp, it could be because your heat bed is not hot enough, because there is a breeze or draft blowing across your printing area, or because of a poor connection between your bed thermistor and the bed itself.

Warping can also occur with wide and thin models. To combat this, add little pads to the corners of your 3D design file, which can be used as anchors to support your part. You might also like to try printing with PLA rather than ABS, which as discussed previously, is less prone to warping because it doesn’t have to be heated as much. 


8. Prevent cracking by increasing the extruder temperature

Taller prints may suffer from cracks because at higher layers, the part cools quicker and has less ‘help’ from the heated bed. In turn, subsequent layers will cool down faster, which causes poor layer adhesion. 

One way around this is to increase the extruder temperature by 10-30°C. 

You can also try increasing the bed temperature too, but only between five and 10°C. Remember, though, that higher temperatures can affect the quality of your final part. The best way to prevent cracking is to closely monitor the printing process, and make fine adjustments to the extruder temperature as your model progresses.


Anything else?

We hope you have enjoyed reading our article about 3D printing. If we have missed something from our article that you were hoping to find out, please do register and drop us a comment below. We look forward to helping you get 3D printing!

Written by David Whitehouse at GoPrint3D.  Follow them on Twitter, @goprint3d

Email contact: David Whitehouse david@goprint3d.co.uk

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