As with any skill, there are techniques and approaches that are seen as standard. Sometimes, these techniques are discovered, but if you’re lucky, you’ll be introduced to them by somebody with a little more experience in the craft.
To help you on your journey to expertise, we’ve compiled our list of top tips to help.
Calibration is crucial if you want your prints to be precise and an accurate representation of your design. What is calibration? It’s basically ‘tuning’ your printer. This includes ensuring the extruder is accurate (both physically and in relation to your software), ensuring the bed is level and that the general functions of your printer are stable and precise. Without correctly calibrating your printer, you risk warping, sticking on the print bed and general blob-like prints.
Calibration can be a simple fine-tuning exercise, or it can be a little more comprehensive. As it varies slightly for each printer (and software you use), we recommend finding a guide online that you can refer back to each time you need to tune up your printer.
One of our favourite guides is this one from Reprap.
Get a digital caliper to check your print accuracy
Digital calipers go hand-in-hand with calibration of your 3D printer. They’ll allow you to check the precision of your prints, as well as the set-up of your printer. Invest in a pair, you’ll need them sooner or later.
Start small. Print simple shapes to get to grips
It can be easy to get carried away when you get your 3D printer – you’ll have seen some of the incredible 3D prints already out there and be eager to create something equally as ambitious.
Yet, as much as you might resent hearing it, you’ve got to learn to walk before you can run. We recommend starting with small objects to get familiar with your software and printer.
Because there are simply innumerable things you can create with 3D printers, it’s not uncommon to feel a little paralysed by choice. For the times where you just can’t decide what to start printing, an online community is invaluable to your inspiration. If you’re stuck with a technical issue or your creative streak is hitting a wall, a forum is one of the best places to seek help. Here are our favourites:
Don’t neglect the software
While your 3D printing machine is the heart of the activity, its operation feeds off software on your computer. CAD (computer-aided design) software varies, so it’s best to do some research as to which will be best for you and your equipment.
Remember that .stl and .obj are the primary file extension, beyond that, it’s down to preference. Check out software like Cura, SketchUp and FreeCAD and go from there.
Be responsible when you print
Heated filament can emit fumes that aren’t too tasty to breathe in, so remember to always print in a well-ventilated area, rather than an enclosed room.
Start with simple filaments
There are numerous filaments to print with, from plastic-like to wood-like, all with unique characteristics. However, some are easier to print with than others - varying melting temperatures and different needs (like whether bed needs to be heated) can be a little overwhelming to begin with.
We recommend beginning with PLA, arguably the easiest to use filament, and then moving on to ABS which is slightly more challenging.
Learning how to print with filaments one-by-one will be much more manageable than jumping straight into advanced ones.