3D Printing Guide

In this guide, you will learn the basics of 3D printing, from creating a 3D design model to learning how to 3D print something. The best part is you don't even need to own a 3D printer to get started.

This 3D printing guide will teach you everything you need to know about making your ideas into reality using the incredible technology of 3D printing.

Step 1

Starting out

3D printing is becoming more easier and available to do, even if you don't have your own 3D printer.

There are many ways you can get your ideas turned into reality. Online 3d printing services can help you out with this. Even if you are not experienced with modelling software, there are different sites that can help you out with any problem you might have.

Step 2

List of sites

Here is a list of 3d printing providers that can help you out.

3D Hubs: an online 3D printing service platform. It operates a network of 3D printers with over 20,000 locations in over 150 countries, providing over 1 billion people access to a 3D printer within 10 miles of their home.

Find the closest 3D printer to you, send them your model and they will print it out and send it back to you. It's that simple.

Shapeways: Dutch company with headquarters in New York, where users design and upload 3D printable files, and Shapeways prints the objects for them or others. They offer almost every available material you can imagine, and are ideal for some of your final prototypes. Delivery time may vary depending on your location.

MakeXYZ: Similar to 3D Hubs, MakeXYZ connects people who have 3D printers with those who need something printed out. You can have MakeXYZ do all the work for you (send your file to the closest printer, print it out and then send it back to you), or it can help you out in finding the closest business in your area with which you can connect.

You3Dit: Designed for people who are not experienced with 3D modelling. You don't need your own drawings, models or anything like that - just an idea of what you would like to have made. Team of designers will help you out and when everything is ready, connect you with the 3D printing provider.

Step 3

Ready to print models

For those of you who just want to print out already made, ready to print models, there are a few sites that can help you with this.

Thingiverse is a website dedicated to the sharing of user-created digital design files that can later be 3d printed or sent to a CNC machine.

GrabCAD: Cambridge, MA startup that has created a free cloud-based collaboration solution that helps engineering teams manage, view and share CAD files. Their large libary of free models is very helpful, and required registration is definetly worth it.

SketchFab: A website used to display and share 3D content online, it features their 3d model viewer based on the WebGL technology that allows to display 3D models on any mobile, desktop webpage or VR headset.

Step 4

Online modelling service

If you do not have any of the 3D modelling software installed, or you just want something quickly done, without spending time on learning how to use one of them, here is a list of websites that offer easy, online modelling.

Tinkercad: Autodesk's Tinkercad is one of the most popular classroom tools for creating simple designs from scratch, quickly modifying existing designs. It’s a free online 3D design program that you can use in your web browser without downloading any software. Tinkercad is extremely intuitive and easy to use, and has built-in Lessons to help you learn the ropes, making it perfect for beginners both young and old.

Basic models such as name tags, furniture, houses, snowmen, vases, keychains, and cups are easy to create quickly with Tinkercad. Design by selecting, dragging, and placing basic shapes and then combining and manipulating them to create 3D models of whatever you like.

Clara.io: Clara.io is a full-featured cloud-based 3D modeling, animation and rendering software tool that runs in your web browser. With Clara.io you can make complex 3D models, create beautiful photorealistic renderings, and share them without installing any software programs.

3DTin: 3DTin is a 3D Modeler that runs in your browser.

Sketchup: Although not an online service, SketchUp is a 3D modeling computer program for a wide range of drawing applications such as architectural, interior design, civil and mechanical engineering, film, and video game design. It is available in a freeware version, SketchUp Make.

Step 5

Tips and tricks

Some of the tips that you might find useful before printing your model:

  1. Print out a 20x20x20mm cube as a test print, to make sure everything is running smoothly and is well calibrated,

  2. Feel free to use glue stick on your printing platform to make sure that your print does not move,

  3. Depending on the type of your prototype (is it for your eyes only or is it a prototype in a final stage?), make sure to choose the right printing speed, layer height and quality of the print.

    Layer heights vary from printer to printer, but mostly they are between 0,2 - 0,5 mm, with a huge time difference between them.

    For your first stage prototype, where you will test the size, how the object feels in space, etc, there is no need for precise printing, so choose 0,4 or 0,5 mm layer height. For more precise objects, when you feel that the design is coming together, use more precise printing (0,2 or 0,3 mm will do the trick),

  4. If your printer has two extruder heads, for higher quality prints use the smaller extruder, and for lower quality make sure to use bigger extruder,

  5. 45 degreee rule is a common way to model something when you do not want excess supports. This will greatly improve surface finish.

    0.25 mm tolerance is used when designing two objects that will fit together. For example, if you have a 10 mm diameter hole, the tube that will fit inside it should be 9.5 mm (0.25 mm on all sides),

Step 6

Exporting your model

After covering all of the possible excuses about not having your printer or a place to print, let’s do a simple tutorial on how to export your own model (in this case, I will use the models that were created in another tutorial).

After you are satisfied with your model, you will need to export it into a readable format that the 3D printer can open and read.

Most of the printers out there are able to read .STL (STereoLithography) files.

With the part of the object you want to print selected, click on Application icon in the upper left corner, and go to Export - Export selected. Enter a name, and from the drop-down list, choose .STL as an extension.

Do this for every part of your object (in this case, we have 3 parts). Once finished, import the .STL files into the software that came with your 3D printer and follow the simple instructions.

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Tutorial Forum

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SketchUp Export





Hi Haris, I usually use SketchUp, but have an issue with STL export. Could you help? Thank you!