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3D Printing 101 with Dave Miao

3D Printing 101

3D printing has become a game-changer in various industries, from healthcare to manufacturing and even fashion. Its ability to quickly and cost-effectively create complex objects has revolutionized the way we design and manufacture products. If you're new to the world of 3D printing and are eager to learn more, you've come to the right place. This introduction to 3D printing will walk you through the basics like getting to know different types of printers, materials like PLA and PETG, popular repositories like Thingiverse and Printable, as well as essential concepts like 3D modeling and CAD software. By the end of this guide, you'll have all the knowledge you need to confidently dive into the world of 3D printing and a few ideas for how to make some money doing it as well!

But first…

To fully appreciate the wonders of 3D printing, it's important to understand the basics of the technology behind it. At its core, 3D printing is an additive manufacturing process that creates three-dimensional objects by building them layer by layer. This is in contrast to traditional manufacturing methods, which involve subtracting material through processes like cutting or drilling.

The most common type of 3D printing technology is fused deposition modeling (FDM). FDM printers use a filament of material, usually plastic, that is heated until it melts and then extruded through a “hot nozzle” as Dave from @3d_DIY_Dave puts it. The melted material is then deposited layer by layer until the object is complete. FDM printers are known for their affordability and versatility, making them a popular choice for beginners.

Another popular 3D printing technology is stereolithography (SLA), which uses a liquid resin that is cured by a laser or ultraviolet light to create solid objects. SLA printers are known for their high level of detail and accuracy, making them perfect for intricate and delicate designs.

Understanding these basic principles of 3D printing technology will provide a solid foundation as we dive deeper into the world of 3D printing. In the next section, we'll explore the different types of printers available and discuss their pros and cons. 

Choosing the right 3D printer for your needs

When it comes to diving into the world of 3D printing, choosing the right printer is crucial. With so many options available, it can be overwhelming for beginners. Here are three different types of printers and their pros and cons.

One popular type of 3D printer is the Cartesian printer. These printers use a Cartesian coordinate system to move the print head along the X, Y, and Z axes. They are known for their accuracy and reliability, making them a great choice for beginners who want consistent results. Another option is the Delta printer, which uses three triangular arms to move the print head. These printers are known for their speed and ability to print large objects. However, they can be more complex to set up and calibrate. The third type of printer is the SLA printer, which we briefly mentioned in the previous section. SLA printers are perfect for detailed and intricate designs, thanks to their high level of accuracy. However, they can be more expensive and require additional safety precautions. 

Dave makes a clear recommendation for a few great printers to look into if you are a beginner and he doesn’t recommend going with the cheapest one, since he believes there is more troubleshooting involved with the lower-end models.

Preparing your design for 3D printing

There are various software options available, ranging from beginner-friendly to more advanced programs. It's important to choose one that aligns with your skill level and the complexity of your design. Some popular software options include Tinkercad, Fusion 360, and SolidWorks but keep in mind, there are a lot of open source options available.  If you aren’t ready to dive into learning the design side of things, you can purchase files and just focus on learning what settings work best for your machine and its environment.

Keep in mind that 3D printing has certain design limitations, so it's important to familiarize yourself with these constraints. Pay attention to factors such as overhangs, wall thickness, and support structures.

After you have your design or file ready to go, it's time to prepare it for printing. This involves converting your design into a file format that the 3D printer can read, such as STL or OBJ. In some cases, you may need to use slicing software to optimize your design for printing. Slicing software allows you to adjust settings such as layer height and support structures. Beyond this, understanding the materials available will be essential in choosing the right one for your project and achieving the desired results.

Materials and filaments for 3D printing

Let’s delve into the world of materials and filaments. In 3D printing, the material you choose plays a crucial role in determining the quality, strength, and durability of your final printed object.

There is a wide range of materials available for 3D printing, each with its own unique properties. Some of the most common materials used include PLA (Polylactic Acid), ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol), and resin.

PLA is a popular choice among beginners due to its ease of use and biodegradable nature. It produces high-quality prints with great detail and vibrant colors. ABS, on the other hand, is known for its strength and durability. It is commonly used in functional prints that require robustness. PETG offers a balance between strength and ease of use, making it suitable for a variety of applications. Resin is a liquid that is photoreactive and yields good strength but tends to be more expensive and have a stronger odor.

It's important to consider the specific properties of each material before deciding which one to use for your project. Factors such as strength, flexibility, heat resistance, and even environmental impact should be taken into account. Additionally, different materials may require specific printing parameters, such as bed temperature or nozzle temperature and you may benefit from using a charcoal filter to reduce unpleasant smells. Dave gives a great tip in this video and recommends a way to buy filament that cuts down on waste and is a better bang for your buck.

The process of 3D printing a design

The process of 3D printing typically involves a series of steps, starting with setting up your printer and ensuring it is properly calibrated. Once your printer is ready, you'll need to load the chosen filament into the printer's extruder. This filament will then be melted and deposited onto the build plate layer by layer, following the instructions provided by the design file.

During the printing process, it's important to monitor the printer to ensure everything is running smoothly. Some key factors to keep an eye on include the print speed, temperature, and layer adhesion. Adjustments may need to be made throughout the print to optimize the quality and accuracy of the final object but remember, the filament is hot and the nozzle may be moving quickly so don’t burn yourself or risk injury!

Once the print is complete, it's time for post-processing. This may involve removing any support structures that were used during the printing process, as well as sanding, polishing, or painting the final object to enhance its appearance. If you have to glue pieces together, be sure to use an adhesive that works well on plastics.  Cyanoacrylate is a popular choice among makers.

Troubleshooting common issues in 3D printing

While 3D printing can be an exciting and rewarding hobby or profession, it is not immune to challenges. One of the most common issues is poor print quality. This can manifest as rough surfaces, gaps in the print, or layers that don't adhere properly. In such cases, it is important to check the printer's settings and ensure that the print bed is properly leveled. Additionally, adjusting the print temperature or increasing the print speed can also help improve the quality of the print.

Another issue you may face is filament jams or clogs. This can occur when the filament gets stuck in the extruder or nozzle. To resolve this, you can try manually removing the filament and clearing any obstructions. Regularly cleaning the extruder and using high-quality filament can also help prevent jams.

Lastly, 3D prints can sometimes warp or deform during the printing process. This is often caused by uneven cooling or poor bed adhesion. To prevent warping, it is important to ensure that the print bed is clean and properly heated. Adding a brim or raft to your print can also improve bed adhesion and reduce the chances of warping.

Monetizing 3D printing

By now you have all the kinks worked out and you are a 3D printing pro, right? Well if you aren’t quite there yet, just keep this in mind.  3D printing can be a real money maker and there are various ways to capitalize on this.  

The most common way people make money with 3D printing is by making a physical product and selling it.  Sometimes they are just cheeky and adorable and other times they are pragmatic and useful.  If a popular new tool comes out, could you design and print an organizer for that tool?  Dave encourages people to look closely at their own niche and find a way to solve a problem creatively.

Another popular way to make money with 3D printing is by simply selling digital files.  If you can take the time to learn the 3D modeling aspect of it, you could get yourself set up to create a digital product one time and sell it many times over using platforms like Etsy or Printables to create a nice stream of passive income.

A more custom option would be to create molds or jigs that help others go on to create something.  Tapping into an architectural firm to help them create corbels and other custom molds for their own manufacturing is a unique way to utilize your 3D printer in a way that expands into other mediums.  Dave suggests ideas like using the printer for a rapid prototyping service, catering to niche markets to provide replacement parts, or even making cosplay accessories as more ways to turn that 3D printer into a printer for dollar bills! 

What do you want to learn about next? Drop us a comment below!


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