3D Printering Getting Started Guide
How to get started
If you are interested in getting started with 3D printing but don’t know where to begin then start here, this is a guide for someone coming in flat footed. First we’ll cover some jargon you need to know and then guide you to the best printer for your needs. At the end of this document we have a link to a follow-on with more specific information.
- 3D printer: rapid prototyping machine that uses additive manufacturing techniques
- Additive manufacturing: any manufacturing technique where material is built-up-upon to create a 3D object. Our printers currently all use plastic extrusion.
- CNC: Computer-Numerical-Control - any machine driven by a computer and using G-code is a form of CNC
- G-code: low level machine control language, an STL is converted into a string of G-code commands to drive the 3D printer
- Filament: plastic “string” which the 3D printer uses to extrude into three-dimensional parts
- STL: an object file which describes a 3D object, usually exported from a CAD designed 3D part. Normally parts which can be 3D printed are traded as STL files.
- Hot-end: the part that heats up the plastic and extrudes it
- Build-plate: the plate that the plastic is extruded onto
- Heated bed: a build-plate that has a built-in heater; this is necessary for some filaments to prevent them from warping or lifting during the print
- Blender: an open source 3D modeling program - it includes every kitchen sink ever
- FreeCAD: an open source 3D modeling program - it’s focus is on recreating an AutoCAD-like experience in open source
- OpenSCAD: an open source 3D modeling program - its a 3D modeling program for programmers
- TinkerCAD: a web-based commercial but free to use 3D modeler
- Alibre, Autodesk AutoCad Inventor, Dassault SolidWorks - commercial 3D modeling programs which cost money to use
- Slicer: any program that converts a model file (STL) into actual machine control commands
- Cura: a slicer program, it converts an STL into G-code for your 3D printer
- Slic3r: a slicer program, it converts an STL into G-code for your 3D printer
- PLA: 3D printer filament made from corn (polylactic acid), it’s non-toxic and easy to work with but not as strong as other plastics
- ABS: 3D printer filament, it’s very strong but puts out toxic fumes and has a very high melt temperature
- PET-G: 3D printer filament, it’s stronger than PLA and non-toxic, higher melt temp, but it is very stringy
- RepRap: the original open source 3D printing machine design, parent of most hobby printers on the market today
- Octoprint: a web-based print server for 3D printers
- Cartesian printer: a 3D printer with a square print bed which usually employs an X-Y coordinate system and an overhead gantry of some form, simplicity is cheap
- Delta printer: a 3D printer with a round print bed and 3 posts which suspend the print head system. Uses a completely unique geometry coordination system using movements of three servos which translate into head movements over the bed. Their benefit is that it's cheaper to make the printer taller (taller prints) with the trade-off of a smaller usable print bed.
From idea to printed part, how does it all work?
3D printed parts all start as an idea in someones mind. First a part must be modeled in 3D modeling or CAD software of some kind like Blender, FreeCAD, OpenSCAD, etc. Once a part is modeled it must be exported as an STL file. Places like Thingiverse and Yeggi.com have STL files which people can trade and download for free, so if you find an STL for a part you want to print you don’t have to start with modeling.
Ok, so lets say you have an STL file, how does it get printed? You need to load the STL into a slicer program like Cura or Slic3r. This software needs to know the specific features of the 3D printer you intend to print with, most of these programs now include standard definitions for most printers on the market. Also you need to know what filament material will be used as the slicer settings will vary greatly from filament to filament (PLA, ABS, PET-G, etc.) Once you have your slicer program setup and have the printer loaded and filament selected, you can THEN load the STL. The Slicer will output a gcode version of the same file.
So now you have a g-code version of your STL. Now you can print the part. But wait, how do you connect to the printer? See the How-to-print section.
How to print
There are three different ways to drive a 3D printer, and all of them are available here at Bloominglabs.
Octoprint - the web-based print server for 3D printers
Our Makerfarm_12-Inch_Pegasus_3D_Printer is driven by Octoprint. Send your web browser to the ip address listed on that printer. It has an integrated slicer so you can avoid dealing with a slicer and trying to figure out all of the settings of the Pegasus. Just upload the STL and then load it into the on-board slicer. The slicer is hidden behind the right-most tab in Octoprint. Or, you can upload a g-code file you’ve already sliced.
Direct printing from a computer using a slicer
With this method you connect the 3D printer to your computer with a USB cable and use your slicer program to directly drive the machine. Your computer/laptop is tied up the entire time the machine is working.
Our PrintrBot_Simple (inside the wood enclosure) has a workstation attached to the enclosure with Slic3r installed. Copy your STL over to this workstation with a USB stick and then load it up in Slic3r. Slic3r should already have the correct settings to drive this printer.
SD card printing
You can load up your model in your slicer on your laptop and generate a g-code file from your STL, then copy it to the SD card which goes into the printer.
Our Anycubic_i3_Mega has a built-in SD card reader and also a control panel on the front which you can use to select your g-code file and then print it. Technically you can do this on any of our printers, but those without control panels require that you connect to the USB serial port and use manual G-code commands to locate the file and tell the printer what to do with it. If you are comfortable doing this that is fine, but you can also damage the printer doing this if you are not careful so I would only recommend SD card printing from the Anycubic I3 Mega.
Information for each printer at Bloominglabs
Each printer at Bloominglabs has further directions which are linked here.
- Anycubic i3 Mega - large heated bed and most reliable printer we have, you supply your own slicer.
- Makerfarm 12-Inch Pegasus 3D Printer - large 1' square AC heated bed. Octoprint interface makes it the easiest to use though as you don't have to install a slicer on your laptop.
- PrintrBot Simple - Small non-heated bed, printer is inside an enclosure to retain heat so prints still come out ok. This is fine for small PLA prints, has a printing workstation ready to use.
- PrintrBot Play - Small non-heated bed, printer, you supply the slicer. Communication with it is 115,200 baud 8n1.
If you are ready to move forwards we have more information about 3D printing on our wiki: