We Are Learning 3D Printing Through Our Personal Experience…
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.
When we have decided that we wanted to get a 3D Printer to test and experiment with we were faced with the hard task of choosing the make and model and believe us this is not an easy thing do to with so many available options. There are already quite a lot of cheap Chinese made 3D printers available, however looking for support and information as well as replacement or upgrade parts could be a problem with these and many users are often reporting reliability problems. Then there are of course some very expensive printers as well as there are a few different types of technologies available for 3D printing, though the most accessible and easy to use is the fused deposition modeling (FDM) where the 3D printed part is produced by extruding heated thermoplastic filament material which hardens immediately to form layers. The thermoplastic materials used as filament for 3D printers can vary, but they are all a type of plastic which becomes moldable when heated to a specific temperature and then returns to a solid state when cooled down. Such thermoplastic materials used by 3D printers that rely on the FDM principle are for example ABS, PLA and others.
When we were choosing our first 3D printer we had a few important requirements – reliable hardware, larger user base, support for more common filament types, wider software support and not too high price. Obviously the low price was not among the most important things we wanted, we preferred to go for a more expensive and proven to be reliable hardware, but not too expensive as this was our first 3D printer and we did not want to invest too much in hardware that we might end up not very happy with. We did not want to go for a just released new model of 3D Printer as although these can be quite attractive specifications wise, you usually cannot find a lot of user feedback about them and they could have various issues that need to be fixed before they are really working well. So after reading various user opinions and checking around the most recommended models we have settled to go for a MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printer as being available already for quite some time. It is one of the most recommended choices for a first 3D printer, though it might still need some extra work and is far from perfect, but being often recommended as a good choice and it pretty much covered our requirements, so we’ve settled for the Replicator 2. After using it for a while already and trying and learning a lot of things on the go while printing various things we still consider it as a good option for a first 3D printer, even though MakerBot already has some new more advanced models available, the Replicator 2 is still a good starting point.
So do have that in mind when you are considering what 3D Printer to go for, though there are other alternatives that you may want to check as well that may be more interesting for your needs like the Ultimaker 2 3D printer or the 3D Systems Cube series of 3D printers or the Leapfrog Creatr. Do note that probably not only the Replicator 2 3D Printer has its drawbacks, the same could probably be said for the others mentioned models as well, though we are already very familiar with what you can expect from the MakerBot product and we are going to be talking sharing a lot of information along with tips about it, so stay tuned for more…
3D printing is something that a lot of people are interested in already or are just starting to and no wonder as there is simply a lot of hype surrounding it. In the last few years 3D Printing has become much more affordable and thus widespread with many devices and printing consumables (filaments) from various manufacturers available. So you can get yourself a 3D Printer quite easy and without having to pay a lot for it and there are many options, but the real question you should ask yourself first is if you really need a 3D printer or not. A lot of people fall victims of the hype, get a printer and quickly find out that it is just too hard for them to use, because the easy part is to just get some already available 3D model and print it on your device.
The harder thing however is when you get tired of printing already prepared stuff and you want to print something that you need, but first you need to design the 3D model yourself and then to print it. This is the harder part and it is hard for a reason – not everyone has the skills for 3D modeling already available, sure you can learn, but not everyone wants to or can get the hand of things. Even if you make the perfect model in the modeling software, then you still need to manage to print it the way you want it to and that sometimes is not an easy task as well. In short, 3D printing, while it may already be quite affordable for normal users, is still something that needs learning and if you want to get into it you should be prepared to spend a lot of time trying out different stuff, reading tips and tricks from other users and learning a lot of new stuff.
So be prepared and know what to expect before you start, otherwise you might end up disappointed victim of the hype surrounding 3D printing. We just recently started getting in the world of 3D Printing and are ready to learn, but moreover we are ready to share what we learn as we go with you – the people that are considering getting in or are already learning on the go as we do. This is precisely why this website was created, as a means to share information and help each other, so feel free to share something useful or interesting you have discovered as well.