Diving into 3D printing

Few weeks ago, I dived into the 3D printing world by buying my first 3D printer. This invention is just fabulous. With a cheap 3D printer, you can make a lot of useful items for home or work. There is a lot of free resources on internet or you can also design your own pieces.

Why 3D printing?

First off, I had an idea on my mind that I wanted to build. So I made the prototype and then many idea came in my head. I searched Ecosia to see if there was somewhere to find or put designs and I found Thingiverse (See below). Many idea I had was already there so I was able to start printing them right away. There is so many projects available that have no commercial counterpart that my 3D printer just came handy.

It doesn’t exists? Great I can create! It does exists but it is not perfect? I can modify it to my needs and tastes. Otherwise, if it already exists and fits what I need, just slice it and print it!

Printer

There is several 3D printer on the market. It is up to your budget to determine what printer you wish to buy. I went for the HicTop CR-10 mainly because of its printing surface. It is a single extruder printer that allows printing up to 300x300x400mm. It is also widely community supported, so you can print your own upgrade parts to make it better. Having seen it before my order, I would have invest few bucks more to get the dual Z axis (elevation) motor to ensure a safer high rise printing. The dual Z axis ensure that both sides of the bridge rise straight instead of resulting in a small tilt if the bridge roller are not tight enough.

Software

To operate your printer with existing designs, you will need a slicing software. This software will generate the code required by the 3D printer to execute every moves. My CR-10 came with Cura. It is a good software for most users. It contains plenty of features to start. However, advanced users will soon see the limitations of the software and a rough quality in the prints. After a week, I wished to increase my prints quality but also allow more controls over my prints. I made a quick search and found Slic3r. One of the great advantage of Slic3r for me is the preview of the printing in 3D with supports. This allow the users to rotate their prints to optimize the supports for overhang parts before you start printing.

In the case of the CR-10, it is possible to print from an SD Card or  to connect it to a computer or a Raspberry Pi and print remotely. To allow remote printing I found OctoPrint. I installed it on my Raspberry Pi and I can control my 3D printer from anywhere in the world. See OctoPrint‘s website for more details on it.

If you wish to make your own designs, you will need a CAD software. Lots of software are available most are commercial, many are free. Make your own search and tests so you can find your perfect match software. However, I really like FreeCAD & SolidWorks.

Filament

Filament is the “plastic” wire that the 3D printer melt to make your designs. There are several brand selling filaments, but not every filaments are the same. So far I only experiment with PLA. Locally, there was very little filament available, so I had to test Dremel filament that is very disappointing in print quality for the price. I also ordered few spools online to compare. The best results came out of Hatchbox filaments. Without any software tweaks, the printing quality just went better with the use of the Hatchbox filament. Hatchbox sells PLA, PPLA, ABS, PETG and TPU filaments in various colors.

Online resources

You may not wish to design everything yourself, so you may just want to download already existing designs and print them. There is several websites already existing just for that. Thingiverse is one of the most known 3d printing community and contains about just anything you might think of. With your profile, you can save designs by collections for later reference. You can also upload your own designs and allow the whole community to print it.

Projects

Here is a small list of the few first projects I’ve printed for fun and learning.

Those projects are all pretty simple, but it gives a good idea of what a 3D printer can do. It also helps to tweak the settings and tests several solutions for common 3D printing problems. Warping is the most common problem you will encounter. Warping is the retraction of the material done while cooling down. To reduce or eliminate it, you must be using a good support material, a good quality printing material, a heated bed and a good design.

On more complex print, you will need to test so much variations of settings like supports, infill, shell thickness, speed, heat… Your own printer, your own environment means your own settings.

What’s next?

I am still experimenting a lot with PLA, but I am considering to soon start experimenting with ABS and PETG.  Due to there mechanical specifications, some projects requires more than just PLA to be executed. For example, ABS has more mechanical resistance than PLA. This can be useful for certain pieces..

Let’s show your projects!

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