10 Things I’ve Learned About 3D Printing

Since I picked up an inexpensive 3D printer from Monoprice, and have been printing all the things. Getting started in 3D printing isn’t as daunting as you’d think. I was even able to start getting decent prints the first week. It’s getting from “decent” to “good” that take some work. Getting to good has been a learning process, and these are the ten lessons I’ve picked up during that time.

  1. Nothing is Quick – I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve said “I’m just going to do something on the printer real quick,” only to have a few hours go by. Nothing on a 3D printer is quick. Even just putting a design into a slicer (software that tells the printer how to print) can lead to many tweaks that take longer than you think. Give yourself plenty of time.
  2. Loading filament is harder than it should be – One thing you might try to do “real quick” is loading filament. It can never be done quickly. It shouldn’t be too hard. Put it in the extruder, turn the knob, and go. But for whatever reason it takes a minimum of five tries. Nothing has been this tricky since plugging in a USB device.
  3. Design is hard – I knew design was going to be hard. For me, difficulty is compounded for me by the lack of books on the free solutions such as 123D Design and Tinkercad. I tend to prefer books for learning, so I don’t get distracted by the rest of the internet. I’ve had to adjust my learning process to YouTube videos, and learn how to ignore the Honest Trailers in the sidebar.
  4. But so is printing other people’s designs – While I expected design to be hard, I wasn’t expecting downloading designs off of Thingiverse to be so tricky. I’ve had objects I’ve tried to print multiple times, where it became a challenge to see if my printer could do it. Finding the right filament, the right cooling solutions, the right settings, the right everything to get a successful print is more of a challenge than you’d think. It’s a lot of troubleshooting and trial and error.
  5. Post results with details – When you finally get your print right, post it. I use Thingiverse to find deigns, and when I have a successful print I take a quick picture and post a “made one” with print details for the community to see how you made the print work. These makes function as reviews for a design, they say “hey, this thing works!” As well as being documentation for how to get a successful print.
  6. Read other people’s solutions – There are tons of 3D print communities and blogs out there. You can find groups based on your printer, your design software, or your printing interest. Each source will be a wealth of information. Everyone has different ways they’ve made 3D printing work for them, ways you can try to make it work for you. Read through these situations to learn new approaches for printing.
  7. But come up with your own – After reading what everyone else has come up with, think about how to apply this best to your situation. For example, most the posts I saw on keeping beds clean was to use a razor blade to scrape off glue. For me, this led to several torn sheets of Kapton tape. When I switched to the more expensive BuildTak, I didn’t want to take this risk. I found that using rubbing alcohol to clean the glue every few builds worked better for me. My bed was clean, and my expensive base layer remained in good condition.
  8. Run test prints – “Your first prints should be a 20mm x 20mm cube.” I saw this recommended all over the place and still ignored it. Mistake. This is the quickest and easiest way to find out how well your printer is calibrated, and what settings to print your filament at. It won’t reveal all your problems, but it will make you aware of major issues. This is now the first thing I do when I receive new filament.
  9. Maintenance is required – I was running the 20×20 cubes above, and kept noticing that i had “waves” in one side. It’s usually a rigidity issue. I started reading about how to make my printer more rigid. While not a bad idea, it wasn’t the place I needed to start. I was removing a print, and found the printer was wobbly like an Ikea end table. This is how I learned you need to do some maintenance to your printer. Simple things like releveling the bed and tightening screws can make a big improvement.
  10. Never be satisfied – This is probably the biggest lesson. As I said at the beginning, I was able to get decent prints off the bat. And for a $300 printer, I figured they were good enough. There is no “good enough.” By reading and tweaking I was able to make my prints even better. I found that 25% made the “pillowing” go away. I learned that some filaments print better at 210, and some at 190. I bought some feeler gauges and was able to level my bed well enough I no longer had adhesion lines on the bottom of my prints. Never stop looking for improvements.
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