Filament Diameters and Spool Sizes
The 3D printer filament is like a thin wire made from plastic and it is usually stored on rolls or the so called filament spools. The thermoplastic “wire” is wound on these spools and while the 3D printer uses it, it unwinds, thanks to a motor moving the filament inside the extruder, where it is melted and used to build something new. Although these spools contain a given length of plastic wire the filament is not measured in length, but in weight instead. A common weight for a filament roll is 0.5 kg, 0.75 kg or 1 kilogram (the weight if for the material only and not the spool), though some filament manufacturers also sell larger rolls at better price per kilogram.

When shopping for filament material for your 3D printer you should probably get larger spools with the more common colors you may use such as black and white for example and then go for smaller rolls of the less used colors. That though depends entirely on what and how you are 3D printing, but it is always good to have more black and white filament available as it is usually the one that end first.

Besides the size of the spool of the printing material there is one more key aspect that is very important regarding the filament itself. That is the diameter of the filament that your 3D printer uses. There is no single standard for the filament diameter defined, though there are two common sizes available – 1.75 millimeter and 3 millimeter (more like 2.85mm). So when browsing a store for 3D printer filaments you will notice that there are usually two variants of the same filament with the different diameters. Make sure you get the diameter that your device uses as getting the other larger or smaller one you will essentially not be able to use.

Even though a manufacturer may say their filament is at 1.75mm diameter there is a chance that they production facilities may not be very good and the tolerance is higher or the filament diameter is nor consistent. Although looking with your naked eye may not reveal potential issues your 3D printer may not be too happy with that kind of “problematic” filament and can give you trouble while printing or giving you more failed prints without apparent reason. So it is always good to test a specific model or brand of filament and see if it works well on you device. Note that going for a cheaper filament from an unknown company making it may not always be the best idea, so try first, filament does not need to be expensive to be good and to be working fine on your 3D printer.

My advice would be to first try a spool or two from different suppliers and settle for the one that works best for you before actually making a larger order of filament spools to have. I have tried quite a few different brands and my current preference for a supplier of the most common type of filament I’m using is ColorFabb as I’m happy with their wide range, good quality, price and quick delivery. I was happy with MakerBot’s filaments as well since my 3D printer was made by them anyway, though they do come a bit too expensive for Europe, so finding a good EU manufacturer like ColorFabb was definitely a better solution. I’m still ordering other more exotic filaments from many other places though, but I’ll talk about these in a moment.

When you start looking around for local and online shops selling different types of filament material for 3D printers you will notice that some of them are also offering the so called filament samples. These are small packs of thermoplastic wire with a length of just a couple of meters without a spool, here they are measured in length usually as their weight is normally not much. The idea of these so called samples is so that you can try multiple materials without having to purchase whole spools initially. They are a great choice for testing out if the specific filament will work fine on your 3D printer or to experiment with more exotic filaments that usually come more expensive for a full spool.

Again, be careful even when ordering samples that you observe what the filament diameter is as you need either 1.75mm or 2.85mm for your 3D printer and it will not work with the other size. Most sellers should be offering both sizes for their samples as well as for their regular filament rolls, but some shops may not be carrying both sizes. Apart from being able to order a short piece of single filament sample, some shops also offer sample packs that are either grouped by a manufacturer with multiple colors for a type of filament or are grouped with different types of more exotic materials from different manufacturers. These are also great for trying something different and maybe even finding something new and fun among these.

Alternatively, just like with samples, some manufacturers are also selling value packs that include multiple of their rolls of filament like a pack of all of their colors or as mentioned larger size spools. These can be a good deal and money saver after you have tried some samples in order to stock on filament spools on the long run after choosing your main filament supplier. Do note however that larger filament spools may require a bigger spool holder than what your 3D printer is equipped with, so make sure you can handle these, or you can just try and 3D printing a larger one… remember you already have a 3D printer that you can use to print upgrades on.

The Usual Suspects – ABS and PLA
I’m starting with the two most commonly used thermoplastic materials as filament for 3D printers, these are ABS plastic and PLA plastic. They are most widely choices for use as the build material that FDM/FFF 3D printers use as a source to create the physical representation of the virtual 3D model you want 3D printed. They are affordable and easy to get from many suppliers of 3D printer filament materials and while they both have a lot of similarities, there are also some important differences that you need to know about as well.

ABS or Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene is a common plastic material used not only in 3D printing, but for many of the plastic things all around you as well. It is a petrol-based plastic and has been around for quite some time already, so it was no wonder that it was also one of the first materials to be used by 3D printers as well.

Do note however that 3D printing with ABS filament does have additional requirements from the 3D printer like having a heated build plate. The reason for that requirement is in the fact that when ABS is cooling down after being melted and extruded in the process of 3D printing it shrinks a bit. That shrinkage can lead to the material detaching from the build plate and you getting a failed print, so a heated build plate is required to keep the base hot and thus preventing shrinkage until the printing has finished (at about 100-110 degrees Celsius). The requirement for a heated build plate makes ABS not so friendly to printers without that option available, so not all devices are capable of supporting ABS printing.

The objects 3D printed from ABS filament are tougher and offer good impact resistance, can be used without problems in a wider temperature range, they start to soften usually above 100 degrees Celsius. They are however harder to print and considered to provide somewhat less detail to the finished 3D printed part compared to other filaments such as PLA for example. Another thing to be careful when using ABS are the smell and fumes it produces when melted at around 230 degrees Celsius in order to be 3D printed, these are not so safe and it is recommended to print using ABS in a well-ventilated room or have the printer well enclosed.

PLA or PolyLactic Acid is the other very popular and widely used thermoplastic material used by most consumer 3D Printers that rely on FDM/FFF printing technology. PLA is not pethroleum-based, but is instead a biodegradable thermoplastic material that is being derived from renewable resources like corn starch or sugarcane. There are also far less concerns about people’s health when it is melted like with ABS for example, so PLA is considered the safer and easier to use material for 3D printing in general.

Using PLA filament does not require a printer with a heated build plate as there is no shrinkage of the thermoplastic material when it cools down like in the case with ABS. Having a heated build plate and using it at about 50-60 degrees Celsius however can still be beneficial for PLA printing of large models helping their base stick better to the build plate, though again it is not necessary. PLA is generally considered to be easier to use and to provide better printing quality when compared to ABS, though results may vary depending on a lot of conditions.

One thing that is not so good with the regular PLA filaments is that they are a bit more brittle than ABS for example and also are not so much heat tolerant, they start to soften at just about 55-60 degrees Celsius. This means that if you leave a 3D printed model from PLA out on the sun or pour a hot liquid over, it will most likely start to soften and deform, so you need to be careful with that. Still PLA is the preferred choice for filament material for 3D printers in the last years replacing more and more ABS filament.

The good thing is that there are also newer interesting alternatives in terms of filaments for 3D printers that improve on the drawbacks that both ABS and PLA have, making 3D printing easier and safer as well as the 3D printed parts more usable. There are already a lot of exotic filaments as well that combine various thermoplastic materials with other things like metal, wood, carbon and other materials available as well as flexible filaments and materials with other unique and interesting features as well…

Other More Exotic Filament Types
These are too many to cover them all quickly, so I’ll be just mentioning a few interesting more exotic filaments and let you discover the rest yourself or maybe will do a more detailed Blog post especially about these at a later time. So what is so why would one need other filaments for a 3D Printer when there are already ABS and PLA? The answer to this is pretty simple, to either fix or to improve on some of the issues or limits that these filaments may have or to provide something entirely different as a material or features of a more common material. You simply get more flexibility and options for your 3D prints, though be aware that working with some of the more exotic filaments can often end up being a bit of a challenge.

Let us starts with the filaments that improve on some of the limitations that common ABS and PLA have. How about a combination of PLA and PHA bioplastic and as a result you get PLA filament that is a bit tougher and not so brittle like regular PLA, or how about a more environment friendly ABS filament? There are such filaments being offered like the PLA/PHA blend from ColorFabb, and the Enviro ABS biodegradable ABS filament. Maybe you want some PLA filament that can be Heat Treated for getting Higher Temperature resistance, no problem check the HTPLA filament from Proto-Pasta. Or how about some 3D printer filament that can be used to print flexible things, no problem Ninjaflex got you covered with their silicone like flexible material that can be bent and stretched almost like it is actual rubber. There are also companies making PLA and ABS filaments that can glow in the dark or that change their color when they are exposed to the sun (UV reactive)…

Here things start to get even more interesting when composite materials enter the arena, I’m talking about the usual PLA or ABS thermoplastic that is infused with composites of real metals, stone or wood giving you a filament material that looks and feels like the real thing, but still comes out of your 3D printer. These materials usually include a part of the original thermoplastic material that is mixed with very fine metal powder, stone pieces or wood particles. This way the printing head still manages to melt the thermoplastic and form the needed 3D model, but the resulting part ends up containing also not only plastic, but also wood, metal or stone. As a result a small box printed from a wooden composite material like the one on the photo above can not only look like it is wooden, but also feels lighter and to be made from wood and not from plastic. The same goes for metal for example, where the 3D printed part will weigh more because of the metal particles it contains, but depending on the metal used it may for example start to get rust or attract magnets and so on.

How about a carbon fiber filament for your 3D printer? There is such a thing, though using it is not just like what you are used to seeing with things made from carbon fiber material. Carbon fiber 3D filaments are usually made by mixing a thermoplastic with a set percentage of finely chopped carbon fibers. So while you still get nice lighter and tougher parts, you will not get them anywhere near as tough as real woven carbon fibers. Unfortunately with a regular 3D printer you cannot just use normal carbon fibers, but there are specially designed 3D printers that can do that (check MarkForged).

There are even more exotic 3D printer filaments that you can already find, many more to be exact, so once you start looking you will be really surprised how many different plastic materials are out there and how many mixed composite materials as well. As a result you can really unleash your creative side not only by designing interesting things and 3D printing them on your 3D printed, but also using an interesting material for them to be made from…

Making Your Own Filament and Recycling Failed Prints
With 3D printers you are essentially melting plastic and forming it into something else, so can you do the same and actually turn some plastic back into a filament material that you can use for 3D printing? The answer is yes, you can do that. There are devices called filament makers or filament extruders that are available for normal users that are interested in making their own filaments. There are of course much larger machines that essentially do that for the companies that are producing the filament material that you use for your 3D printer as well.

You can check Filabot or Filastruder for example to get an idea what these consumer machines actually are, or you can actually build one yourself if you are up to the challenge. These machines are designed to take small plastic particles such as a readily available plastic pellets and turning them to the plastic wire that your 3D printer works with. You can usually buy plastic ABS and PLA pellets from some filament manufacturers and other shops at a price that is significantly lower than that of a ready-made filament. To turn them into actual filament however you would need to also buy a filament maker machine of course, so it makes point in producing your own filament only if you need larger quantities to justify it.

The more interesting thing about making your own filament is if you can recycle old or failed 3D prints and turn them back into a filament that you can use. You can actually do that, though you need to first grind the failed prints into small particles similar to the plastic pellets used for making filament and you should be able to feed them instead of pellets. The grinding part here is a bit problematic as most filament extruders do not come with the ability to break down larger plastic things and use them as a source of material for making filament.

What is even more interesting about making your own filament and being able to recycle old or failed 3D prints is actually being able to recycle other things made from plastic that you would otherwise just throw away in the trash. I’m talking about old toys, plastic kitchenware, even the PET bottles you use for bottled water and storing other liquids and whatever else plastic you can think of. This is still a bit of a challenge, though it is apparently also something that should be possible with the right tools. When you manage to connect 3D printing and recycling together, things can really be much more interesting and fun, yet at the same time also being eco-friendly and even educating.

Leveling the Build Plate Properly is Important
The Build Plate is the surface on which the 3D printer builds the physical representation of the virtual 3D model, making this one of the most important components of the device. It is really important that you keep your build plate in good shape and even more important is to keep it properly leveled as otherwise you may have a ton of headaches, especially when you are starting up with 3D printers.

Different 3D printers come with build plates made from different materials – plastic, Plexiglas, metal or glass and so on. Furthermore the build plate can be covered with additional material that is used to ensure that what comes from the 3D printer’s extruder sticks well on the build plate and remains there until the print is finished. The most common one seems to be either blue 3D painters tape or yellowish scotch-like Kapton tape, though there are other alternatives also available and used.

No matter what the build plate is from and what extra cover it may have, it needs to be with clean and with even surface and properly leveled or with other words at just the right distance from the extruder of the printer in order for you to get optimal results and no problems while printing. More than half of the failed prints with 3D printers are caused by problems with the leveling of the build plate relative to the printer’s head, so if you are having trouble 3D printing something this is a good place to start from. Having a good and clean build plate at just the right distance essentially means you get good adhesion of the object being printed to the surface of the build plate.

There are some 3D printers that save their users a lot of potential trouble by offering some sort of a mechanism for automatically leveling the build plate, so that the user can forget about this as a possible issue. However most consumer 3D printers come without this automatic function, so you need to do the leveling by hand usually using a mechanical solution of some kind that moves the build plate up or down with very small steps. With the leveling of the build plate you are tuning by hand something pretty precise as the adjustment may need just a part of millimeter to be moved for optimum results.

If you don’t level up the build plate properly and instead of it being the right distance from the nozzle of the printing head, they end up too close to each other (essentially rubbing) the results might not be very pleasant. If there is not enough distance between the two the printing head may actually damage the build plate by scratching it or even breaking it in some rare cases. So you might want to avoid that at any cost, the less problematic outcome will be it just tearing the painter’s tape that is placed on top of the build plate.

In this case the filament that is supposed to be coming out of the print head will not be able to stick to the build plate as there is just not enough distance and it can either jam up the extruder (it is more likely to jam it, but more about filament jams in a bit) or it will just stick around the nozzle of the extruder and collect there as a ball of plastics. In both cases you will need to clean the nozzle, but if it is outside it is easier, just make sure that you do it carefully as the printing nozzle is hot and it needs to be hot in order for you to clean it good, otherwise with the plastic solidifying it will be hard to properly remove it.

In case the leveling process is not done properly and the printing head is too far from the build plate what will happen is the extruded thermoplastics will have a hard time sticking to the build plate. It may stick briefly, so that the printing process will seem to start normally and there will be a base of the model start forming, but soon after that you will see that the base had detached from the build plate. As a result you get a failed print and if the distance is a bit more it will most likely not even start to create the base of the model at all and will just place some lines of material moving them all around over the build plate.

This is why it is very important that you carefully monitor the start of the printing process and if you notice that something is wrong to cancel it before it gets too late and some damage is caused. The good thing is that as the printing process moves the print head gets further away from the build plate, so the chances of a further serious damage to either of the too is less likely after the initial chance for this to happen.

There are some people that often resort to extra tools to precisely measure the distance between the nozzle of the 3D printing head and build plate. This might be helpful if you manage to perform everything precisely and correctly, but it is not needed as there is a much easier way to do it pretty good. A good tip to help you properly adjust the distance between the build plate and the printing head’s nozzle is to use a piece of thin paper like a plain sheet of paper for your regular printer.

If you put the sheet of paper between the head and the build plate it should be able to move just about freely without much effort in between. Then you can try to print something small and if need just do additional fine tuning up or down at a very small steps. Don’t worry in a bit of time and experience you will be able to do the build plate level adjustment without any external help all by feeling. So it is usually frustrating only at first, though the tip with the sheet of regular printer paper (just make sure it is not too thick!) should help save you some of that frustration when your 3D print just does not start properly.

Filament Jams Can be Really Annoying
The filament material (the thermoplastic roll of wire) that the 3D printer uses to melt and build new things with getting jammed in the printing head is probably the second most annoying issue that new users face when they start 3D printing. There are many things that can cause a filament jam, so you need to figure out the exact cause and resolve it, so that you can avoid any further problems. Doing that may require a bit of getting to know the hardware of your 3D printer up close and personal as you might have to disassemble some parts of the extruder in order to remove the jammed filament, though that is not always necessary.

Do note that disassembling the printing head to resolve a jam may result in the voiding of the warranty of your device, unless of course it was a DIY model that you already build yourself. So do check your warranty terms before doing it and resort to disassembling hardware only if there is no other way. Alternatively you might send the whole device to the service center where a certified technician will fix the problem for you, but that usually takes some time and if you have to do it often just for something like a filament jam that you can fix yourself it gets annoying.

Filament jams can be caused by a problem with the proper leveling of the build plate for example as I already explained in the previous section, but there are more causes for that as well. Another common cause for the filament to jam inside the printing head is if the printing settings are just not the right ones for the material you are using. This usually happens if the temperature is not high enough for the filament material to properly melt and extrude, but could also be a combination between wrong temperature and speed of extrusion as well. The most common ABS and PLA filaments usually need about 230 degrees Celsius operating temperature for the extruded of the device, but if you try to print them at too fast or too slow speed you may still get a jam even with the right temperature.

If you are using a more exotic filament like a flexible one or one that consists of thermoplastic material mixed with fine particles of something else (there are many more exotic filaments available already) you need to refer to the specific printing settings for that material. Usually these may need a different, lower or higher operating temperature, as well as they often require to be printed at slower than the usual printing speed to get a successful print. Sometimes even this may not work, even though you seem to have done everything that is needed, this could be as a result of having some sort of incompatibility between the hardware of the printer and the specific more exotic material… can happen as there are way too many strange filaments out there and way to many different 3D printers available. Usually softer flexible filaments and ones that are easier to break due to the specifics of their structure are causing most headaches to users.

So what to do if you experience a filament jam? Don’t go disassembling your extruder yet, there are other things that you need to try first, opening it up is the last resort if nothing else helps. First you need to completely pull away the line of filament that gets into your printing head, make sure you do it with the printing head hot, so that it will actually come out. If the head is cold or even more than 20-30 degrees lower than the recommended operating temperature you may not be able to easily plug back the filament or not able at all. When you pull out the filament line from the extruder if you see a larger amount of material collected at the very front you might have already resolved the problem with the jam. Just break away a part of the filament and try to insert it again and see if the printer will start up printing normally, make sure the printing head is already at the needed temperature when inserting the filament back to the printer.

If the above tip does not help, then you might have to leave the printer with a hot printing head for a few minutes without any filament in order for any remaining filament inside to be melted, so that it can go through when you insert back the filament line and get pushed through. If that does not help of the filament line just does not want to get back inside the printing head all the way down to the extruder, than it might have broken somewhere and a part of it could still be inside the feeding mechanism. This usually requires the disassembly of the printing head in order to clean things up and then you need to reassemble things back carefully (or let a technician do this for you).

Sometimes there is no need to disassemble the whole printing head to fix a filament jam, if the situation is a bad one you may have to just unscrew the printing nozzle, clean it up manually and then screw it back. This is much easier to be done, however note that since you need to do it with the printer operating with the nozzle hot you need to be extra careful not to burn yourself. When you remove the nozzle you may need to heat it externally in order to be able to clean any filament from inside it. You will also get access to the heating chamber of the printing head and you need to check if there is some remaining filament that may also need cleaning before you reassemble things back.

Here is another useful tip, always have a spare printing nozzle handy (make sure you get one that is made for your 3D printer as there are different models). Printing nozzles are not expensive and they do wear off with usage, so even if you don’t happen to damage it while trying to clean a filament jam, you may still have to replace it after a while of usage. There are some companies making higher-end nozzles that do come with a special coating, these are also a good idea although they do come more expensive than a normal nozzle as they have less friction and last much longer. As a result of using a specially coated printing nozzle you may also reduce the chances of getting a filament jam and even if you still do, it should be easier to resolve it by just plugging out and reinserting the filament again.

Print Yourself Some Upgrades for the 3D Printer
Ok, so you’ve already got a 3D printer and one of the coolest things you can actually do with it is to print yourself some additional parts and even upgrades for your device. These can improve your experience using the 3D printer, make the device less problematic or even improve the printing quality or the capabilities of the device, this can be especially true for some of the DIY models out there.

The best thing is that you don’t have to play engineer or design something yourself since you are probably not yet ready for that anyway. You can just browse the parts that were designed by other users of the same 3D printer based on their longer experience with the device that you just got. Most of these are usually posted and freely available for download, a good place to start looking for is the official support forum of the printer manufacturer (if there is such) or websites where people share their 3D designs for free like on Thingiverse for example. You will be pleasantly surprised finding how many tweaks and upgrades are already available out there and many of them can be available to you in minutes now that you have a 3D printer to print them on.

Of course there are also companies that sell more serious upgrades for various devices that you cannot just 3D print and install on your device. Upgrades for the electronics, stepper motors, printing heads, nozzles, bearings, build plates and so on and so on. So looking around for such upgrades if they are recommended for your specific 3D printer model is also a good idea as you may also get extra features or better performance and reliability with some of these.

One of the most common and actually useful aftermarket upgrades for 3D printers is the addition of heated build plate, if you got a device that does not come with such preinstalled. The heated build plate allows you to extend the range of materials you can use on your device such as being able to print with ABS filament for example and some other more exotic materials that will simply not stick well to a cold build plate. Using a heated build plate can also help your PLA prints to stick better to the base while they are printed if you might be experiencing issues with that. So the adventure in 3D printing does not end with you just buying a new 3D printer, it is just starting and there are a lot of things that you need to learn and explorer.

3D Modeling – A Need to Learn Skill
3D printers were originally meant to be used as rapid prototyping solution that would allow product designers to relatively quickly get a physical model from the virtual 3D model of something they are designing. These are people with the right set of skills needed to create a product including 3D modeling that use the 3D printer as a helpful tool.

With the boom of interest in 3D Printers in the recent years and these devices getting widely available and at attractive prices for home users one of the most overlooked things is that you will need some skills to properly use these devices. 3D printer manufacturers conveniently forget to mention that it will be good to have at least some basic 3D modeling skills in order for you to be able to create things that you can them print on the 3D printer they sell you.

Surely there are already a lot of 3D models available for you to 3D print and use, but that is not the whole idea of the 3D printer and is most certainly not the best way to take advantage of one. The best thing about having a 3D printer at home is that you can quickly design new things that you may need at home and then start using them, it could be something basic, it could be something more complex… it does not matter. You design it, you print it and there it is doing something useful already and it all happens in a couple of minutes or hours, depending on what you do.

In order to do that however you will need to know how to make virtual 3D models of the things that you need to use the 3D printer for building. That is a new skillset that you need to acquire and the nice thing is that the basics are actually not that complex and you can quickly get into it. Of course you will not be making complex and very realistic 3D characters for use in movies in a couple of days, I talking about much more basic things as a beginning. Then if interested you can continue building on top of that and go to the more complex stuff, it is up to you, but you need to start from somewhere. All that is needed only if you don’t already have the required skillset for 3D modeling, if you do, then you can probably just skip this post.

Why Use SketchUp for 3D Printing
SketchUp is a great tool to get started with basic 3D modeling for use with your 3D printer. I have mentioned it already in one of the earlier posts of the 3D printing series, but now I’ll be going into a bit more details about the software and how to get it ready for use specifically for 3D printing.

Why SketchUp:
There’s a reason SketchUp is synonymous with friendly and forgiving 3D modeling software: we don’t sacrifice usability for the sake of functionality. Start by drawing lines and shapes. Push and pull surfaces to turn them into 3D forms. Stretch, copy, rotate and paint to make anything you like.

Professional tools that can be used for 3D modeling such as AutoCAD or 3D Studio are usually way too complex and confusing for people that are new and are just starting with 3D modeling. Of course these are much more powerful and allow you to do more complex things, if you know how, but getting started with them is much harder than with a simpler and more user friendly tool like SketchUp for example.

There are two different version of SketchUp – Make and Pro. The first one is completely free and can be used by anyone for personal projects and educational purposes, though you should know that SketchUp Make is not licensed for commercial work. For professional work you would need to go for the commercial version SketchUp Pro. The good news is that the free SketchUp Make is more than enough for your needs to get started into modeling 3D objects that you will later on 3D print.

Apart from being licensed for commercial use the Pro version has some extra more advanced features, once you install the Free Make version you will also get a 30 day trial of the Pro functionality, so you will be able to explore these as well. More details about the extra features available in the Pro version are outlined in the table above, again the basic functionality is available in the free Make version, so no need to buy anything.

Configuring and Setting Up SketchUp for 3D Printing
When you start SketchUp you get a choice of multiple startup templates available to use that may help you based on what you are planning to be modeling inside the software. There are two Templates available for 3D printing as well that might be somewhat handy initially for some users.

The templates are called 3D Printing – Inches and 3D Printing – Millimeters and apart from setting your working units inside the software for the object sizes (Inches or Millimeters) they also give you another helpful tool – a box that represents the available build size of a MakerBot Replicator 2X 3D printer.

You can use the box as a guiding point for the size of the 3D object that you are designing if you have a 3D printer with a similar maximum build size or if you got the Replicator 2X. If you don’t need that extra guide (it is essentially a 3D model) you can just click on it to select it and hit the Del key to remove it from the workspace. Alternatively you can easily design a similar 3D model that reflects the actual build size of the 3D Printer you have available, so that it will be more useful as a reference.

Initially when you start SketchUp you get it configured with a simpler line of tools at the top of the software, however I don’t find that one very useful, so I prefer to switch to a different and more functional one. To do that you can either use Right Click on the toolbar or go to the View menu and then select Toolbars

The standard one is called Getting Started and the one I’m using is called Large Tool Set, you just need to right click on the line with the tools and select the Large Tool Set (it will show on the left side) and then do the same, but unselect the Getting Started one to remove it from the top. There are more Toolbars for you to choose from and you can experiment by turning on and off some of them until you customize the workplace you find that is most convenient for you. What I prefer is not to over complicate things and the Large Tool Set is enough for me most of the time.

The Large Tool Set gives you an easy access to the selection tools, the basic shape drawing tools, the object manipulation ones, the measurement and tools for changing the viewing position. These tools are also accessible via the menu of the software as well as via a special shortcut keys that you can learn while using the software to make switching even faster without having to use the mouse to click on different tools.

Extension Warehouse and 3D Warehouse
The Extension Warehouse is a place you need to get familiar with as you need to start with the installation of a very important Plugin from there that is required for you in order to be able to import and export STL files (the file format used by most 3D printers). By default SketchUp does not come with that Plugin and there is no support for STL, so one of the first things you need to do is to add that support.

You need to call up the Extension Warehouse from the Window menu of SketchUp, it will open in a new window and you need to search for the SketchUp STL Plugin and install it. It is a free plugin, and even though the Extension Warehouse does also offer some plugins you need to pay for, there as a lot that are free to use like the SketchUp STL.

Once the SketchUp STL extension is installed you will get the ability to import STL files from the File / Import menu as well as to save STL files via the File / Export STL… option that will become available. Prior to installing this plugin STL files are not supported by SketchUp!

The 3D Warehouse works in a very similar way to the Extension Warehouse, however instead of giving you access to additional plugins you can install, you get access to many free to use 3D models. This might not be that useful when designing a 3D model for 3D printing yourself, but you might still want to check if there isn’t a 3D model of the thing you are trying to do that can save you some time. Also if you are designing some scene that included multiple items in it can be handy just to import some readily made 3D models in it.

Note: The 3D models available in the 3D Warehouse are not designed primarily for 3D printing, so some of them might not print without problems or at all due to various reasons, so do have that in mind if using them!

Now is the Time to Finally Make Something
It is time to start playing around and experimenting with the basic drawing shapes such as the Line, the Freehand tool, the Rectangle, the Circle, the Polygon, the Arcs and the Pie. After you draw some 2D shapes you can try the Push/Pull tool to turn them in 3D objects, you can further move them around, rotate them, scale and offset and so on. Do try adding some 2D text first, and then try using the option to Extrude it and have it in 3D. You can also import 2D vector shapes made in another software and have them become a part of your own 3D objects. As I’ve said these are the basic building block of 3D modeling, but after a while you might be surprised to see how powerful they can be and what kind of things you might be able to make using only the simple forms and shapes.

I’m not going to go into too much details about using the SketchUp software now that you are ready to play with it, instead I’ll leave it to you do play around and discover things.

Check the official video tutorials for learning SketchUp…

YouTube is also a great source for finding many other video tutorials on how to design various things in 3D using the software, so go learn something else new…

Once you have designed a 3D model that you want to try 3D printing what you need to do is to just select the geometry of the object you want to export (no need to select anything if you are exporting everything) and go to File / Export STL.

Here you can select if you want only the selected geometry to be exported or the whole scene from SketchUp. You can change the type of units used for the exported STL, essentially scaling up or down the model, though normally you don’t want to play with this settings if you used the right type of units designing the 3D model. The third option is to have the exported STL file in Binary or Text format, choosing either should work, unless of course your 3d printing software supports only one of the two types of STL files.

Note: Make sure you have selected something if you are not exporting the whole scene, as if there is nothing selected the resulting STL file will be zero in size (there will be nothing inside it).