What is 3D Printing?

3D printing or additive manufacturing is the process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. The creation of a 3D printed object is done through additive processes. What is an additive process? In an additive process an solid object is created through layers of material being laid on top of each other consecutively. Each of these layers can be pictured as a thinly sliced cross-section of the solid object. Through well designed digital files, 3D printing can allow creators and makers to produce complex shapes much better than traditional manufacturing. 3D Printing is a process for making a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, typically by laying down many successive thin layers of a material. It brings a digital object (its CAD representation) into its physical form by adding layer by layer of materials.

History

The first 3D printer that was made commercially available was the BfB RapMan 3D printer. This was the start of a commercial industry of entry-level 3D printers. Although there were many manufacturers that wanted to keep the technology as open source and away from commercialization, the industry took off and developed into what we see it to be today.

Today, we see dozens of websites run by manufacturers themselves and each one of them with their own extensive line of printers targeting different industries.

3D printing technology has become way more accessible to small companies and hobbyists. This has given rise to the growth of many online groups dedicated to those that are passionate about creating things through 3D printing.

What is 3D Modelling Softwares?

Every 3D print begins as a 3D model generated in a modeling program. As of today, there are many free software options available for people who want to design different types of 3D solid objects.

For software that uses solid modeling, we call this type of 3D modeling “manifold” or “water tight”. What is a manifold model?

A manifold model is one in which all the walls of a 3D object have some thickness to it.

For beginners we would recommend starting with the free program, Tinkercad. Tinkercad is a web program that doesn’t require any download at all. There is a great supportive curriculum one can use to help increase your knowledge on the software as well. With their own personal library of millions of files, you can find amazing shapes and designs that you can modify to your own liking. Last but not least, it is extremely easy to export your model design into a .STL or .OBJ file.

These are the common file formats used to print 3D objects.

For Amateurs and more advanced users we would recommend the software called Blender.

Blender is also a free software, however it doesn’t offer solid modeling. It’s open source, so programmers continuously make changes to improve it. There are also a collection of amazing tools that include video editing, motion tracking and simulation.

One unique feature of Blender is how realistic the models look on the program display.

For those that are looking to take the next step and design much more complex models, this is the program that will keep you busy and learning for a while.

Another program that is great for advanced users is BRL-CAD. Initially developed by the US Army for ballistic and electromagnetic analyses, it is now an open-source software with ray tracing and geometric analysis capabilities.

Considering the fact that the US Army uses it to model weapons systems, this is a program designed for those that require an extremely high-level of precision when putting together intricate geometric shapes.

With over 400 tools included in its library, this is a very capable program that can also run extremely fast.

Now that you know how modeling programs prepare a printable file, let’s look at the programs that help to convert these models into a printing path for printers to carry out the build.

 

Slicing software basically slices up a 3D model into thousands of layers.

Once your file is sliced, it will be ready for your machine to carry out the print. This can be done through several ways such as USB, an SD card or Wi-Fi.

With that said, what are some slicer software available on the market?

Cura

Cura is developed and also constantly maintained by the 3D printer manufacturer Ultimaker. This software has been released to the public for free, and builds its presence in open source communities. What makes Ultimaker special is that they made Cura compatible with competitor 3D printers. This helped with building the support and following for their slicer software.

 

One great option with Cura is that it is a software compatible with many file formats. This will be convenient for those that don’t own an Ultimaker machine.

 

For absolute beginners, Cura will be able to walk you through simple things such as the printing time, toolpath and material estimates. With over 200 settings to play with, this is a program thats run fast, and also allows you to print with more than one material. Experts in the industry say that Cura provides good and consistent results!

 

Advanced users can also indulge in the Ultimaker Cura Enterprise, a slicer software that is created for professionals. The annual fee of $300 gives you full technical support, and allows you to add cutting-edge licensed plugins from the Ultimaker Marketplace.

Simplify3D is a software for professionals. It accommodates many 3D printer models, with over 100 3D printer profiles currently available. Even if your printer model isn’t on the official list, you can still add a profile of your own.

 

There is a high level of customizability with this program as you can import, scale, rotate and even repair your 3D model to perfection. Compatible with STL, OBJ and 3MF files, this software will load your printable files really fast.

 

For professionals, Simplify3D will be a delight to use as there are many advanced settings available. This includes the adjustment of extruders, layer control, temperature and cooling settings!

Materials

ABS stands for (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene). It has a long history in the 3D printing industry and was one of the first plastics that was used by industrial-level printers. Fast forward to our modern day, ABS is still an amazing material to be used because of its affordability and mechanical properties.
Many hobbyists and professionals will choose ABS because of its resistance to impact. This makes the material very suitable for objects that will be subject to a lot of wear and tear.
ABS plastic is also best suited for objects that will be exposed to the outdoors and high temperature weather elements. 
As you explore this material, do take note that it is best that you’re printing this material in a place that is well ventilated.
3D printing plastics are lightweight materials with a wide range of physical properties, suitable for both prototyping purposes and some functional applications.
Plastics are either thermoplastics (with FDM or SLS), which are generally more suited for functional applications, or thermosets (with SLA/DLP or Material Jetting), which are generally more suited for applications that require good visual appearance.

Examples of 3D Printing

3D printing includes many kinds of technologies and materials in a wide range of industries. In each industry, 3D printed objects are used in a variety of practical applications.

Here’s a quick overview:

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Dental Products

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Industrial part for the Automative Industry

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Medical Prosthetics

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Building Models for Architects

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Props, Home Improvement, Design

How does 3D Printing Work?

It all starts with a 3D model design. You can choose to create one of your own, or purchase or download a pre-designed one online. Let’s take a look at the software used to create 3D models!

Find a Design to print

What if you’re new to 3D printing and want to play around with well vetted and tested out designs? Here are some amazing online resources you should check out!

  1. Thingiverse → This website is extremely popular with hobbyists as it carries thousands of amazing 3D printable files.
  2. MyMiniFactory → Another widely popular online repository with free 3D models.
  3. Cults → This is an online marketplace that carries high quality models done by professional designers, and curated collections that are connected with big companies
  4. Pinshape → This is an online marketplace that sells 3D printable files, and also includes some free files as well. Their files mostly are targeted towards hobbyists. 
  5. GrabCAD → An online repository of many 3D models that also includes some 3D printable files, focusing mainly on engineering professionals.