Learn to 3D Print in 7 Days With 7 Awesome Projects




Introduction: Learn to 3D Print in 7 Days With 7 Awesome Projects

About: Software Engineer

This article will teach you the basics to start printing 3D models at home with a 3D printer. First, we’ll go through some history and background on 3D printing technologies. Then, we’ll explain how the process actually works and the basic steps required for every print job. Finally, we’re going to show you how to print seven (7) different 3D objects which you can use in your daily life.

This is one of our 7 in 7 Challenges! What can you make in 7 days?

We’ll walk you through the steps and explain any issues we ran into in the process. Plus, each of the seven different models has already been designed for you – all you need to do is download the files and print them! More advanced users should see our How Does it Work Section for our software recommendations.

For our prints, we are going to use the Tiertime UP Mini 2, an affordable (under $600) and portable desktop 3D printer with a wireless print function, perfect for both beginners and experts. We did our research and this was the best bang for the buck.

PS - we had no prior experience in 3d printing this was just a few guys venturing into the unknown. This is our journey...

Step 1: The Basics - a Brief Introduction to 3D Printing

3D printing is an additive manufacturing process. This means that objects are created by adding materials layer by layer until the desired object has been fully built. This process almost always involves a computer which sends data on what is being made to the printing machine. Additive manufacturing is not actually as new as you might think – an early form of the technology called stereo-lithography was actually developed in the early 1980s by a man named Chuck Hull. Hull started 3D Systems, the first company to offer a commercially available additive manufacturing machine.

The majority of consumer 3D printing machines today have moved away from stereo-lithography. Most now use a material extrusion technology called fused deposition modeling, or FDM, which extrudes thermoplastic filament materials like ABS or PLA to create objects. FDM technology became commercially available in 1991, but patents for this technology didn’t start to expire until 2009. That’s why it seems like 3D printing only recently became popular. When the patent for FDM technology expired, it meant more companies could start developing 3D printers. This drove prices down to the point where today, you can buy a good 3D Printer like the Tiertime we used for under $600.

Today, 3D printing is on the verge of another major breakthrough as the original patent for 3D printing metal objects expired in December of 2016. This means that, just like what happened with FDM technology for printing with plastics, 3D metal printing could become cheaper and more widely available. All we can do is wait and see what comes next. Very exciting time in this developing area.

Step 2: How 3D Printing Works - the Process

The 3D printing process starts by creating a 3D model on a computer using a CAD software program. CAD stands for Computer Aided Design. There are many CAD programs available and many 3D printers come with some form of this software included so you can make or edit models before sending them to the printer. For beginners, Tinkercad is a good quality, free CAD program. We recommend using that as they have some built-in tutorials that show you the ropes. Most 3D printers are compatible with .STL files which can be made in most CAD programs.

Once you’ve made a 3D model in your CAD software, the next step is to prepare the model for printing using a process called slicing. Slicing basically takes the 3D model you’ve made and “slices” it into 2D layers. The printer will print each 2D layer and over time, a 3D object will be created. If your 3D printer came with its own software, it will likely do the slicing for you once you load your file into the software and prepare to send the job to the printer. Our UP Mini 2 includes UP Studio software which does all slicing and prepares the model to print at the click of a button. If you get one of these see our disclaimer below on how important using the right software is. Will save you a ton of time!

After slicing and sending the job to the 3D printer, the next step is to wait. 3D printing takes time – depending on what you’re printing, some models can take over 10 hours to fully print. This depends on how complex the item you are printing is. Fortunately, most of the models we printed for this article took much less time, from 14 minutes to 4 hours! We are just starting out, we want our prints done fast! Once the printing process is completed, the next step is to remove the object from the printer’s print surface. Since 3D printing with plastics requires high heat, be careful when touching the model and printer immediately after a job is completed, as they may be quite hot. It’s a good idea to have a chisel or putty/spackling knife on hand to help you scrape the object off the print bed since the hot plastic will start to harden and stick to the print bed as it cools.

The final step in the 3D printing process is to remove 3D printed support structures from your model. Depending on what you print, your printer and software will need to create support structures while printing in order to support the material of the object. Our printer has something they call Smart Support Technology which automatically generates support structures, making this process super simple. Support structures are typically very light and weak structures which are easily removable by hand or with basic hand tools. They help to support the object and its materials during printing while the plastic filament hardens. Without them, most objects would likely collapse during printing under their own weight.

Step 3: Getting Ready to Print: Materials & Cost

We used the following materials for our 7 in 7 Challenge:

  1. 3D Printer - UP Mini 2, its under $600 bucks and the site we bought this at has seasonal sales which makes this an even better buy. If you like making things they have a ton of cool tools. Link to printer: http://www.tequipment.net/Tiertime/UP-Mini-2/3D-Printers
  2. Macbook Pro - Our computer for most prints. We also used a Windows 10 laptop, no issues. PS - the printer has wireless printing, can even print from your phone. They have an app which we downloaded it but we didn't print from there. It's too small to see, but might be a good party trick?
  3. Up Studio Software - This is very important. 3D printers are notorious for having buggy software. This one works very well BUT you MUST GET THE LATEST VERSION! We went through all the issues / headache and found it for you: http://up3d-dev.github.io/support.html
  4. Filament: Tiertime PLA & ABS
  5. Putty Knife - they include this with the printer otherwise Amazon it - they're cheap.
  6. Wire Cutters - same as above

Total Cost for Printer and Filament: $600 (ours came with a roll to start, we used about 100 grams which translates to roughly less than half of the roll, so there's more to print - it is actually addicting!)

Step 4: Let's Print! Project 1 - AA to C Battery Adapter

Difficulty Level: Easy

Link to file - https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:566112

Print Material: PLA

Print time: 14min 15sec per adapter piece

Layer thickness: .15mm


This was our first print job with our printer. The small, simple design made it perfect to test out the printer’s functionalities because each print didn’t take very long to complete. We loaded the file into the UP Studio Software which allows you to edit parts of the object file. When we found the file on Thingiverse, the author said he used a layer thickness of .75mm. So for our first print, we changed the layer thickness to .2mm in the UP Studio software (the UP Mini 2 has a max layer thickness of .35mm). The result came out sloppy and was actually too thick to even fit over a AA battery. A layer thickness of .15mm was perfect for both fit and rigidity. After that small issue, we printed two of these adapters. They came out nicely and fit perfectly on a AA battery.

Step 5: Project 2 - Customizable U Hook

Difficulty Level: Easy

Link to file - https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1367661

Print Material: ABS

Print time: 34min 56sec

Layer thickness: .15mm


We found this fully customizable project file on Thingiverse. We wanted to use the hook to hang headphones from a monitor mounting bar so we measured it (in mm) and put those dimensions into the customizer. Turns out, the customizer wasn’t using millimeters but luckily, our hook still fit where we wanted to place it. We were surprised how well the hook came out on our first print attempt. Going forward, if we print this again we will take some time to figure out how the customizer is measuring the object so we can perfect the sizing.

Keep in mind, the hook must be at least a minimum size and thickness to maintain its strength. Also, it must fit onto the print bed. We had to take both of these into account when sizing our hook.

Step 6: Project 3 - Flex Door Carabineer

Difficulty Level: Medium (removal was challenging, assembly needed)

Link to file - http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1008943

Print Material: ABS

Print time: 1hr 34min 38sec

Layer thickness: .15mm


This print actually includes two pieces, but both were able to fit on the print bed during one print. While printing the object, we had no issues. However, once the object had printed, we found it difficult to remove the objects from the print raft (that’s the large base area of the object which the printer creates on its own to ensure the object prints level). Other than that, this was an easy and straightforward print. It was very easy to attach the two pieces together once we removed all support structures.

Step 7: Project 4 - One Handed Bottle Opener

Difficulty Level: Easy

Link to file - http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:403031

Print Material: ABS

Print time: 2hr 18min 5sec (fine quality)

Layer thickness: .15mm


For this print, we tried the fine quality print setting on our UP Mini printer (on all the others, we left it at normal). We had read some suggestions that this would make it easier to remove the object from the print raft after printing. Unfortunately, this actually made it more difficult to remove the object from the raft. The object quality was noticeably better, but the print time was slower. This would be more useful for a highly-detailed print job.

We did test this bottle opener and it does work on standard plastic water bottles, but you have to apply some downward pressure on the bottle. Be careful not to spill your drink when opening it with this tool!

Step 8: Project 5 - Money Clip [OUR BEST PRINT]

Difficulty Level: Easy [this is our favorite print]

Link to file - http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1385206

Print Material: ABS

Print time: 41min 28sec

Layer thickness: .15mm


This was the easiest print we did. It required no support material and took about 40 minutes to complete. It came out looking very good, to the point where it almost didn’t look 3D printed. This is definitely something you could use every day because the object’s thickness gives it good durability. We were very happy with the software improvements which helped us print this so easily.

Other Notes: the $100 bill, we are still not sure where that came from

Step 9: Project 6 - Cable Hive

Difficulty Level: Easy - Takes a while though!

Link to file - http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1738640

Print Material: PLA

Print time: 3hr 54min 36sec

Layer thickness: .15mm


We saw several cable hives available on Thingiverse for download, however many of them were too big for the print area on the UP Mini 2.

TIP: Know the area of your printer and how large the prints are.

The version above is for a 4.7x4.7 or smaller area, also mich lighter than the others. It was a perfect fit and printed well on our printer. This was another very smooth print with no issues, however the print time was quite long. In total, it took just under 4 hours.

Please note that for this print, we selected the “no support” option in the UP Studio software which removes all support structures. They were not necessary and made the printing and finishing much easier.

Step 10: Project 7 - French Bulldog

Difficulty Level: Medium

Link to file - http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1105643

Print Material: PLA

Print time: 1hr 42min 18sec

Layer thickness: .15mm


This print was a way for us to challenge the capabilities of the UP Mini 2. We weren’t sure if the printer could handle the level of detail and definition that this print had. That said, the resulting object came out extremely well with a high level of detail and very few imperfections. Plus, it only took about 1 hour and 40 minutes to print.

For this print, we did need to scale the object down to .6 of the original model size using the UP Studio software included with our UP Mini 2 printer in order for the object to fit on the print bed.

Other Notes: This item came out very well but like all 3d printed objects they need some love to really "shine".

To finish prints we used the below guides (choose and pick how thorough you want to be, read all safety precautions)



Step 11: Software Considerations

As we mentioned in the materials area, it is very important to select the right software to use with your printer. Even though everything worked fine here is a scenario we encountered during the first 2 projects:

We had difficulty removing our first 2 prints, searching all around for a solution returned few results that actually applied to us. So we contacted the experts at Tiertime and after a quick discussion we were told that that we had downloaded an old version of the UP Studio software. We were directed to the correct download page and installed the latest version of the software.

Their Github Page here: http://up3d-dev.github.io/support.html

After this, we noticed that removing objects from print rafts became much easier. We also noticed a slight improvement in overall print quality and slightly smoother software operation.

So moral of the story, get your software right and everything else is a breeze.

Step 12: Printer Considerations

We wanted to stay at a lower budget for this project. We were just getting into 3D printer and needed a printer that:

  1. Didnt break the bank
  2. Had all the bells and whistles as the $2000 ones or close to that
  3. Good software (3d printers are notorious for having buggy software)
  4. Had a light to see what we were printing
  5. A screen to make see if errors occur - The 3d printers for $100-$200 are garbage. No Screen = good luck figuring it out.
  6. Was relatively quiet
  7. On board camera
  8. Easy filament replacement

We did some extensive research on different providers. With 3D Printing you have to be careful. You can find a ton of cheap printers, looks like anyone is making and selling them. However, when a part breaks or you need help, you need a REAL company. We had our fair share of disappointments.

What We Actually Got:

  1. At $600 bucks it worked well and we got free filaments and tools to start immediately.
  2. The surface area wasn't as big as the more expensive Makerbot or Airwolf printers but it was perfect for getting into 3D Printing.
  3. Good Software - after finding the right one...
  4. WiFi Connectivity - didn't need this but we will take it!
  5. Has a built-in HEPA filter so you don't get that gnarly smell of burning plastic
  6. Nice touchscreen, can reprint a saved print without a computer
  7. Quiet - it's an enclosed printer so works well. However, it's not completely silent - understandable, parts are moving!
  8. No onboard camera....ok maybe we were pushing it here
  9. Comes with a cool filament holder but it only fits Tiertime Filament. No problem there, 3D print a spool holder and use any you like! We did this after the fact. We can add the filament holder on our next series.

Step 13: Tips & Tricks for Best Results

  • Print in normal quality mode to shorten print time and save filament. If your object has a high level of detail, the fine quality mode may be better.
  • If you have an UP Mini 2, you have to use Tiertime’s filament unless you buy the 3rd party filament holder option or make it yourself.

  • Make sure you have the latest software version for your printer to avoid issues.

  • Be careful when setting the layer thickness of your print. Larger thicknesses will result in shorter prints and stronger objects, however choosing too large of a layer thickness could cause undesirable results in your print (like for our AA to C battery adapters).

  • Certain objects must be a minimum size/thickness to be strong enough for their intended uses. Keep this in mind if your printer has a small print area.

  • 3D printers can get very hot – be careful when touching the printer/model immediately after printing.

  • Keep a putty/spackling knife and some wire cutters handy to help you remove support structures and print rafts.

  • Just have fun with it. If the print fails as the first may, you're in good company :)

Hopefully this inspires some of you to start your own 7 in 7 challenge.

Design Now: 3D Design Contest 2016

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Design Now: 3D Design Contest 2016

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    4 Discussions

    Nick Catucci
    Nick Catucci

    3 years ago

    That photo with the hand in it. Literally the most beautiful hand I have ever seen!


    Reply 3 years ago

    haha yes! 3d printed too


    3 years ago

    Lots of great info! Thanks for sharing :)


    Reply 3 years ago

    thank you! had a lot of fun