We Are Learning 3D Printing Through Our Personal Experience…
If you have already 3D printed some models that you have downloaded or has designed some yourself while learning to work with a 3D modelling software or a CAD application you might have experienced trouble getting the damn things print right. Repeating the print process and ending up with the same problem and the object print failing can be caused by issues with the 3D model that you are trying to print – often an issue with the 3D model that may not be easily noticeable or visible at all when you open the model. When you put that problematic model in your 3D printing software such an error in the model can cause the slicing software to do a mistake giving wrong instructions to the 3D printer and when you try to print the 3D model to end up with a failed print. Some times if the mistake is bigger you might be able to spot it upon a closer inspection of the 3D model, but sometime the problem might be very small and still cause an issue or to remain unnoticed by a not so experienced person.
A wall too thin and troublesome to print, a small hole between parts of the model, unconnected planes or flipped normals – different issues, but all of them can lead to trouble getting your 3D model to print well. Some times the software you use to print on your 3D printer may have some options to help you identify such more common problems before starting to print, but even if it does they are usually just to identify the presence of an issue and not to fix it automatically. You however may not be aware of the availability of such options or have software that is not designed to check and maybe fix problematic 3D models before exporting them for printing, so you need to look for alternatives. If you look around you may find some commercial products available that are designed specifically to help you with such problems, but if you are using your 3D printer just for fun at home learning and playing with it they may be too expensive for you.
Fortunately there are free alternatives available, one such that is web-based is provided by the German 3D printing service Trinckle. Their solution requires you to upload the model you want checked for errors and you will get either some advice to optimize some possible weak areas such as too thin walls that may be hard to properly print or have some issues (if any) with the model fixed such as flipped normals for example or another of the already mentioned common issues. The 3D model repair service is completely free and after the analysis and fixes to your model are applied you can download back the fixed 3D model or make an order for Trinckle to print it for you and send you the final object. When you download the fixed file you can of course print it yourself, no obligations to use the services of the 3D printing service if you use their free 3D model repair service. The service is completely automated and quick and easy to be used, you can upload 3D models in PLY, STL or 3DS format of up to 32MB to have them analyzed and fixed for you if you think they may have an issue. Be aware however that while the service does pretty well it may also be unable to fix some more serious problems, so there is no guarantee that it will solve all of your problems, but it should do just fine in most cases.
If you are new to 3D printing and 3D modeling in general it is normal to start your first steps in 3D printing by downloading and printing models that other people have shared on the Internet. But soon enough you would want to start doing more like doing small modifications to models that you have download and even designing your own simpler 3D models to print. A good starting point to people that have no previous experience is 3D modeling is the SketchUp software, previously owned by Google, but now a part of Trimble. The good news is that there is still a free version of the software called SketchUp Make that can be used for any educational purpose, available for both Mac and Windows. There are also many other options available but based on our experience SketchUp Make could be a great first step in the world of 3D modeling for most people before going to something more powerful and serious in terms of features.
Downloading and installing the free SketchUp Make software however is not all that you will need in order to be able to edit already available 3D models for printing or create and export new designs that you make. You will also need an additional plugin that will provide support for importing and exporting files in STL format – probably the most commonly used file format for sharing 3D models for 3D printers. STL (STereo Lithography) is a file format developed by 3D Systems, one of the pioneers in the 3D printing industry and it offers an easy and suitable solution for the needs of 3D printing. STL files contain only the surface geometry of a 3D object, there is no extra information about things such as color, material or texture available like in other 3D model files as you normally do not need such information for 3D printing. Of course you can also import more complex 3D models designed 3D visualizations and animations and convert them to a format that is suitable for 3D printing.
How to download and install the SketchUp STL Extension:
– Start the SketchUp software
– Open the Window menu and select Extension Warehouse
– Use the search to find the SketchUp STL extension
– Click on the red Install button (you will be required to login using Google account)
After the SketchUp STL Extension is installed you will be able to import and edit as well as export STL files that you can after that import into the 3D printer software you use to print the actual object. You should be able to see STereo Lithography Files (*.stl) option in the dropdown box for file type when you go to File / Import in SketchUp Make and also should have another option called Export STL… directly in the File menu (it is not inside the standard Export option of the software). With this you should be able to start making your first steps in modifying an imported STL 3D model or creating your first own 3D model to print later on with a 3D printer. Do note that the SketchUp software comes with a template designed to make it easy for you to consider the available printing space, the template by default is made to cover the available printing size of a MakerBot Replicator 2X 3D Printer, so do not rely very much on the scale you have if you are using a different 3D printer.