3D Printing Frequently Asked Questions
3D Printing is a new way of manufacturing custom designed
objects. CIRT houses a Makerbot Replicator 2, which is an additive manufacturing 3D printer. An additive 3D printer is basically an intelligent, robotic glue gun that
follows the ‘commands’ of your model and builds a solid object in layers from the bottom up.
How does it print?
The Makerbot melts PLA (cornstarch based) or ABS (plastic
based) filament and extrudes it into thin, defined lines through a heated
nozzle. It gradually builds the melted material into an object layer by layer.
This process often takes a significant amount of time, but allows for
exponential levels of customization.
How does it know what to print or where?
Just like a regular printer needs an image or text to
print, a 3D printer needs a model to give it the right information to build
an object. A computer generated 3D model saved in .stl, .obj, or other common
formats, informs the printer of the desired end result. The model is sliced
into even layers defined by the user (the thinner the slice, the greater the
amount of detail, but also the amount of time it takes to print) and the
slicing software generates Z-code which is what controls where the print nozzle
goes (and the pattern it runs in) to
What are the limitations?
Just because you create a beautiful, seamless 3D model in a modeling software,
does not mean it is able to be 3D printed successfully.
There are certain guidelines to keep in mind when designing & modifying an
object to print. Following these pointers will increase the amount of
– “Watertight” is a term
used to describe a 3D mesh suitable for 3D printing. It means that there are no
holes, cracks or missing features on the mesh. The easiest way to describe a
good mesh for 3D printing is to think of it as a skin, and filling the inside
with water. It is important to create watertight meshes, so that it is clear to
the 3D printer what is the “inside” (which needs to be made up of 3D print
material) and what is the “outside”.
– Additive Manufacturing printers build from the bottom up. There is little allowance for overhang, due to
gravity. If you are printing a giraffe for example, its neck has nothing to build
upon because it is out in space. You can either create thin supports to hold
the extended piece (or have the software do it for you automatically) & then
remove them later, or you can have a very gradual build up at an angle to
support the object as it extends upward.
The latter is a more challenging technique than the former, but gives a
of Objects on Print Bed – The printer moves on X, Y, & Z axes. With
that in mind, certain angles are more difficult for the printer to manage. You
will want to avoid jagged lines leading into curves or extremely small circles
without using a raft (rafts are thin bottom supports for the printed model).
Keep It Simple – Do yourself a favor, keep your models simple at
first. This means using basic shapes to build objects. It is surprising how
many designs can be created from combining shapes & it also orients you
into the 3D landscape. It takes time to get used to thinking in 3
dimensions—practicing is the key!