Getting Started With 3D Printing

Welcome to the MakerSpace! The big day has arrived, you came in for your reservation and now it's time to do some 3D printing! This tutorial will help you get going as fast as possible.

Most people get started with 3D printing at the MakerSpace in one of two ways:

  • They can grab a ready-to-print design from from models sharing website Thingiverse. If that's what you want to do, go to Step 1.
  • They can also customize an existing design using TinkerCAD, a web-based 3D modeling tool. If that's what you want to do, go to Step 2.

Or you can just browse to the next step to read all of this tutorial!

Step 1: Finding Something to Print on Thingiverse

Thingiverse (URL: http://thingiverse.com/) is a website where people share models, designs and tools for 3D printing, laser cutting and all sorts of digital manufacturing tools. Historically, it's one of the biggest 3D models repositories around where a lot of people find the first object they want to print!

On the Thingiverse homepage, type into the Search field and press Enter to look for a model to print. If you can think of it, chances are someone else already shared it there, so take your time to browse through Thingiverse's search results and find something you like - keeping these tips in mind:

  • 3D prints build in layers so even if it looks small, a model could take a long time to print, even longer if your models have features that need support from the ground up to print correctly.
  • Prints with a flat bottom and a larger surface area work best - they are more likely to stay in place during your print.

Once you have found something you like, click on Thing Files to see a list of the files you need:

  • If you only have one or two files to print, it's easier and faster to click on each .stl file to download it.
  • If you have a lot of files to print, you can just click on the Download All Files button to download one zipped archive containing all the necessary .stl files.

If you downloaded a zipped file, find the folder in file explorer, click “Manage” at the top of the window, and then click “Extract all.” Your files will be in a special Files folder in your extracted archive.

Step 2: Finding Something to Print on TinkerCAD

TinkerCAD (URL: https://www.tinkercad.com/) is a free, browser-based 3D modeling tool that lets you make your own designs from scratch as well as download what other users have designed themselves!

The TinkerCAD website lets you browse the Staff Favorites gallery even if you don't have an account, but we usually suggest you use your grown-up's account (or your own) to search the TinkerCAD gallery of models for whatever you like!

Once you're logged in to a TinkerCAD account, go to the Gallery of Designs and type what you're looking for in the Search box. Scroll down past the list of users with a similar name, and start looking for a 3D printable design you like - but keep these tips in mind:

  • 3D prints build in layers so even if it looks small, a model could take a long time to print, even longer if your models have a lot of overhangs - features that need support from the bottom-up to print correctly.
  • Prints with a flat bottom and a large surface area work best - they're not likely to come off the printing plate mid-print.

If you want to customize your model, click on it then click the “Download and Tinker” button to make a copy to your own TinkerCAD account. When you’re ready to download your model, click the “Export” button and then select either .OBJ or .STL downloads. Make sure you know where you are saving the file so you can open it before printing.

Once you are happy with your model, click “Download” and choose either .STL or .OBJ. All we need to do next is open your design in the slicing program!

Step 3: Slicing Your Model With Cura

Now that we have downloaded your .STL or .OBJ file on your computer, we need to send it out to your 3D printer. A 3D model is something that we human beings get, but 3D printers need a little help...And that help comes thanks to programs called slicers, programs that turn your 3D model into slices of plastic to print on top of each other.

You could be tempted to just double-click on your downloaded file directly from your browser, but that actually could be a problem! Instead, double-click on the Cura icon - green from the TAZ5 printers, blue for the Ultimaker 2 Go printers and wait for it to load. A new window will display a representation of your 3D printer's printing platform: click on the top left "open folder" icon to load your file.

After your file loads, you should see a 3D rendering of your model.

On the left hand side bar, you’ll find options for:

  • Moving the model on the platform.
  • Changing the size (or scale) of the model to for your printing time and make sure it's as big as you planned.
  • Examining the layers of your model to make sure it will print correctly.

On the bottom right hand side, you’ll find:

  • Measurements of your model.
  • An estimated print time.

Any time you adjust what is on your printing plate, the program will “slice” the model again, giving you a fresh estimated wait time.

Step 4: Checking Your Settings

By default, your MakerSpace facilitators have tweaked Cura's "Draft" printing profile for the best speed/quality balance. Unless you have specific needs for your print, this profile should do the trick!

Of course, there are times when the basic settings won't do. Here are a few cases when you should ask a facilitator for help with different settings:

  • If your prints need a finer print resolution (for prints that need to slot or joint into other parts).
  • If you need a high level of detail (for prints that need a lot of smoothness like little statues or figurines).
  • If your prints need a higher amount of infill (for prints that need to be really solid or bear a lot of weight and stress).

In general, you shouldn't need to change the Profile settings your facilitators chose for you. If you have any doubts remember we are here to help!

There are some settings you should definitely keep an eye out for, depending on your print:

  • Supports will make sure that overhangs - features that are not directly connected to the printing platform and/or stretch between two parts of your print - will be supported from the ground up. Make sure to check this option if your print needs it, or expect plastic spaghetti everywhere!
  • Adhesion will make sure your print sticks to the printing platform. If any or all of your print has a very small surface, make sure to select a brim from the drop down menu.

Finally, it's time to print!

  • If you are using a medium TAZ5 printer, go to Step 5.
  • If you are using a small Ultimaker2Go printer, go to Step 6.

Step 5: Starting Your Print

Your model is up, your printing profile is ready and you double-checked all your options? Good! Then you are ready to hit the Print via USB button at the bottom-right of your screen!

At that point, your printer will do the following all on its own:

  1. Reconnect with the computer to receive all the instructions for your model.
  2. Pre-heat the print bed for your print to stay in place as it goes.
  3. Pre-heat the print head and squeeze out some plastic to make sure the print starts correctly.
  4. Depending on your settings, print a skirt or a brim for adhesion to the printing platform.
  5. Start printing.

That's it! The 3D printers are the one tool in the MakerSpace you can let run without supervision after it starts going: feel free to stay and enjoy the first layers to make sure everything is alright, then leave if you have to, or go get some books or participate in one of our library programs!

Step 6: Starting Your Print on the Ultimaker2Go

Your model is up, your printing profile is ready and you double-checked all your options? Good!

Because the Ultimaker2Go printers are not connected to our computers, you will need to save the instructions for printing your model on an SD card. Ask your facilitators and they will show you how!

Once the SD card is in:

  1. click on Save to Removable Drive at the bottom-right of your screen.
  2. Eject the SD card once your file is saved.
  3. Put the SD card back in the Ultimaker2Go printer.
  4. Select Print using the spinning menu wheel
  5. Select your file and push the spinning wheel to start printing

At that point, your printer will do the following all on its own:

  1. Pre-heat the print head.
  2. Squeeze out some plastic to make sure the print starts correctly.
  3. Depending on your settings, print a skirt or a brim for adhesion to the printing platform.
  4. Start printing.

That's it! The 3D printers are the one tool in the MakerSpace you can let run without supervision after it starts going: feel free to stay and enjoy the first layers to make sure everything is alright, then leave if you have to, or go get some books or participate in one of our library programs!

Step 7: Removing Your Print

How do you remove your print when it's all done? Well, 3D prints are a little like pie: you have to wait a little bit for them to cool down when they're done! Your printing platform heats up during the print to keep your model in place. So you have to wait for it to cool down to at least 45 degrees Celsius to be able to peel your print off!

Once the printing bed has cooled down enough, you can try to remove your print using the tools available near the 3D printers. You might have to use some force, so be careful no one is in the way in case your removal tool rips out or goes out of control!

And of course, if it's your first time removing a print or if you need a hand, remember the MakerSpace staff is here to help!

Step 8: Would You Like to Know More?

The Library has a selection of books on 3D printing for all ages - find them using the links below!

Do you need a hands-on workshop to get the hand of 3D modeling and printing? Register for a seat at our free monthly 3D Thursdays workshop.

Interested in online resources? Your Johnson County Library card gives you free access to learning platform Lynda.com:

Step 9: Questions You've Asked Us

Q: Can I print anything at the MakerSpace?

A: Yes, as long as your prints do not conflict with the library's Patron Code of Behavior! For example, you are not allowed to print weapons in the library.

Weapons replicas, for example for cosplay, are allowed as long as they are:

  • in several parts.
  • assembled outside of the library.
  • not brought back inside the library after assembling.

If you have any doubts, just check with the MakerSpace staff!

Q: Do I have to be here while my project prints?

A: Yes and no! You will have to be here in person to start your print - you can't send one in online - but you don't have to stay during the whole process. Most people just like to look at the first few layers, especially if it's their first print, then leave! If you're not around when your print finishes, we will hold on to it for you for about two weeks.

Q: Can I pick a filament color for my print?

A: The MakerSpace only occasionally has colored filament for the printers: we mostly print in gray and black, because these are very stable plastic colors. But prints never look as good as when you paint them! A few layers of cheap acrylic spray paint will do wonders.

Q: Is there any way to print longer than two hours?

A: There is! If you reserve the last 3D printing reservation slots for the day, we will help you set up for an overnight print - anywhere between 6 and 8 hours, depending on your project.

Q: What if my print takes too long for my reservation?

A: If you downloaded a really big design, you might be able to print it in parts and glue it together later: the original designer might actually have set it up that way for you, or you can break the print down into parts yourself using TinkerCAD. Once you have finished creating smaller parts from your bigger design, you can print each part during your 3D printer reservation.

Another option is to reserve a printer for the last two hours the MakerSpace is open: we will let you print for up to six hours and a half instead of the usual two - but these slots are very popular!

If neither of these options work for your print, you may consider:

Q: Can I use acetone to smooth my prints?

A: Acetone smoothing is a very popular technique to finish a 3D print...But it doesn't work so well with the PLA plastic we use at the MakerSpace! Instead, you can use fine pieces of sandpaper - or even nail files! - to sand down your print, working from a coarse grit to a fine grit. You can also wet your sandpaper when you get to the fine grit to help even more. Printer filament manufacturer Rigid.ink has a detailed tutorial on sanding and finishing prints (URL: https://rigid.ink/blogs/news/how-to-smooth-pla-to...

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