Introduction: Understanding 3D Printing MakerBot Replicator: Setting Up and Printing

Written By Eva Marie Cooper
Coauthored by Jeff Wilson

If you would like more information or would be interested in hiring me to complete a project for you please email me at I participate in freelance work so if you would like something prototyped  then email me with information and I should get back to you within 24 hours! I also do the following services: embroidery services, laser cutting and etching, design work, and designing in Autodesk Inventor 2013.

I made this at TechShop San Jose.

* is a popular, free, design website where people share their programs which can be easily downloaded and 3D printed. Might be a fun option if using the 3D printer for the first time!

Table of Contents
1. About, Safty, and Diagrams
2. Software and Understanding Makerware
Includes Funcions, Slicing, Settings, Rafts, Supports, Infills, Layer Height, Number of Shells, Feedrate, Travel Feedrate,
3. Step to Step Guid to 3D Printing
4. 3D Printing Aftercare

MakerBot Replicator: About, Safety, and Diagrams

The 3D printing device I use is called the Makerbot Replicator and is located at the Tech Shop in San Jose. A MakerBot Replicator is a 3D printer that extrudes thin layers of plastic (ABS or PLA) one at a time. MakerBot has the ability to create parts as large as 9"x6"x6" and layers as small as .008". There are three 3D printers at the San Jose TechShop, 2 ABS and 1 PLA (both plastics have different characteristics i.e. melting point, durability)  though more/less at other Techshops.

ABS plastic has a higher melting point (so the extruders have to heat up at a higher temperature) and has higher capacity to bend than PLA. The following website gives more detailed information of the differences of ABS and PLA plastic:

The Makerbot Replicator is a pretty easy tool to learn and master, just follow the instructions posted and feel free to comment asking questions or adding to this Instructable. Just remember that all 3D printers are different though the process is very similar. Keep in mind the Makerbot's first couple of layers might be problematic, so an eye should be kept on it during that time. After everything seems to be in order (the first couple of layers are set), if is safe to leave the Bot to attend to other activities. The chance of problems occurring after the
first few layers is very minimal.

The MakerBot does generate high temperatures so be cautious after the platform has been heated. Taking the plastic side protectors of the Bot off, although is allowed, is not recommended; heat generated by the Bot would become lost causing the Bot to work harder increasing the likelihood of damage or failure.

The different parts to the front of the Bot include: dual stepstruder, attached to the mount; build platform,  what the part will be printed onto; filament guide tubes, the tubes on the top of the stepstruder that the plastic fliters though from the back to the front; and SD card slot. 
The different parts to the back of the Bot include: power switch, make sure you turn the Bot on and off; power input; USB-B input, although you can attach the Bot to the computer, it is not recommended  reset button; and left and right spool holders, the rings on the back which holds the spools of ABS filament.
See the pictures for a key.l 

The crystal is the object I 3D printed for this tutorial. 

Step 1: MakerBot Replicator: Software and Understanding Makerware

MakerBot Replicator: Software and Understanding Makerware

I used Autodesk Inventor Professional 2013 to model the crystal for this tutorial. Some free software programs you can use are Google Sketchup and Autodesk123 Design (websites listed below*). Make sure whatever program you are using will be able to save in .STL.
This is the only dot code Makerware will be able to import.

Makerware Functions:
Open Makerware and click "Add," the left button on the top 3 buttons (you can drag your object onto the Makerware platform too). Find your file and open it. In Makerware you will be able to scale, rotate, and move your object. I RECOMMEND YOU MAKE SURE THE OBJECT IS ON THE PLATFORM- if not your object will be cut off. . You can do this by clicking the "On Platform" button in the "Move" tab. This will not mess up your scale or change your model at all. It will just relocate it. Be sure to stay away from the edges of the platform when programming this. The Makerware program's platform is not exact to the MakerBots platform.

Makerware will save the file in .THING.

Slicing is when the computer breaks down your model to simple instructions the MakerBot will understand. These instructions are called GCode and this simply maps out your object to the MakerBot.
When you are completed moving and scaling your object in MakerWare, you can begin slicing. To start this, simpily click the middle top button in the Makerware window called "Make it." This will bring up a pop up window. Slicing may take a while depending on how intricate your program is. 

The settings you click in this pop up window are extremely important in determining the quality and speed the prototype will be produced at.


Be sure to be on Replicator Dual and ABS Plastic  *THIS DOES NOT APPLY TO EVERYONE. Check to see what plastic and what machine you are using first.

What Extruder should I use?
This really depends on your options you have. You can look at the back of the MakerBot and see the left and right spools to determine which you would like to use. Sometimes there will only be one spool of plastic there, so you would only have one option. Other times there are two spools both with different color plastics, then you can choose which color you would prefer. Maker sure you set the extruder to the side preferred. 

What are Rafts and Should I check it?
Rafts canvases to the prototype. It is an initial layer that the extruders set on the platform to prevent the prototype from warping. Warping occurs occasionally to prototypes, that means the edges of the object on the platform curl upwards. Rafts usually prevent warping from happening  Rafts can be easy to peal off; caution must be used however. I personally have used and recommend Rafts every time I 3D print objects because it is nice to have a base layer. 

What are Supports and Should I check it?
Supports are thin layers of plastic web around the object to protect it and support it. Supports are generally not needed if printing small non-intricate objects. Intricate objects, i.e. a crystal with railings on it, would benefit greatly from supports to protect the print.
Supports can sometimes be difficult to peel off, if the object is small you would have to use caution or it might break if you are too rough trying to peel off the supports. I do not always use support because unless the object is intricate, then is would be essentially useless. It wouldn't hurt to add supports if you are unsure.

What Quality Should I use?
This really depends on the time you want to spend and the quality you would like to receive  If it is your first trial then I would recommend a low quality. This ensures that you will get a basic prototype out in not a lengthy time. The higher quality you go then the more time it will spend printing out the object.

Object Infill (%): I would recommend at least 25% (10% is the original settings). Do not go over 75%. This controls the density of the support structure inside the project.
Layer Height (mm): How thick the layer is going to be.
Number of Shells: Makes it denser on the outside of the part. 3-4 shells is a good amount (2 is the original setting), do not go over 5. The more shells it has the stronger it is. 
Feedrate: Controls how fast the machine moves while printing.
Travel Feedrate: Controls how fast the machine moves while not printing.
You can tweek temperature and speed though there is no real use unless you are an expert on the MakerBot and need something very specific.

*Google sketchup free download and information-
123 Design free download and information-

Step 2:

MakerBot Replicator: Step by Step Guide to 3D Printing

1. Turn on the Makerbot Replicator
Before you begin just glance at the back of the machine to make sure there is enough filament (plastic roles) or else it might run out mid print and ruin your print job. Pick the side you would like to extrude it from (the left or the right- usually there are two different colors or only one filament on there) and remember that for when you are preparing your file on the computer.

2. Clean the Platform
The ABS plastic leaves a oil residue on the platform which, when built up for a long time, will mess up your 3D print by causing the plastic to not stick. You can simply clean this by spraying the platform off with a cleaner and wiping it off with some napkins. Do not clean anything else such as the extruders, only clean the top part of the platform.

3.  Level the Platform
This is done by using the knobs at the underside bottom of the platform. There are four knobs, two in the front and two in the back.  Click the Utilities option in the option box and then there is a Level Build Plate option that will take you through the process. As the Bot moves the extruders across the platform, make sure you can semi-easily put a business card under the extruders. The extruder should not be touching the platform though it shouldn't be too far away where the plastic will not stick. The Bot will move to different part on the platform, make sure you level it out so the tip is barely touching at each place (business card).

4. Preheat the platform and extruders (Will take about 7-10 minutes)
This 3D printer uses ABS plastic (not PLA- PLA requires a higher heating rate). The extruders heat up so it will melt the plastic as it is being pushed out. The platform has to be hot or the plastic will not hold onto it. When you start the printing process the ABS might not stick to the platform the first couple of times so you might have to start over frequently in the beginning.
Some people have told me they like to level the plate after the Preheating though I do not prefer this. The platform is hot and when you open to clean the platform everything looses heat. I found my objects to mess up more when I leveled the platform after I preheated it.

5. Printing.
Put your SD card (or you can directly connect it to the computer though that is not recommended) into the left side of the bot. Go to the option to build from the SD card and click enter. The Bot should start printing now. Watch the first couple of layers because that is where the mistakes will occur if there are some. It is not rare for the ABS plastic to not stick to the platform, so you might have to restart it a couple of times. When you do that just scrape the plastic off of the platform and hit start again.

Step 3: MakerBot Replicator: 3D Printing After Care

MakerBot Replicator: 3D Printing After Care

Many people use accutane to clean there object off. Although I have not done it, the process seems simple enough and seems to work very well. Be sure to turn the 3D printer off.