What is 3D printing
3D printing is a process in which objects are made by fusing, or depositing materials, such as plastics, metal, ceramics, and powders to produce a physical 3D object.
3D printers work much like inkjet printers. Instead of ink, 3D printers deposit a material usually a PLA type of plastic filament. This filament is laid down in successive layers to create a physical object. The printer gets an idea of what you want it to print, via a set of instructions called G-code, this is given to the printer via a digital file. This file is either sent straight from a computer using a USB cable, or via an SD card. The SD card is inserted into a card slot that’s found on the printer itself, then the file is read by the 3D printer, then the magic happens.
Buying your printer
You can now easily purchase a great range of very good 3D printers from the likes of Amazon (seen here), and Aliexpress here. You will find more to choose from, if you go to Aliexpress, but your wait will be a little longer, as most are sent from China. But don’t let that put you off. I brought my last printer from China and it was delivered to my door in four days.
Obviously, Amazon is quicker, and comes with the usual Amazon customer service. I think it’s important to say, that going direct to Aliexpress is a great way of getting a printer that you really want. The choice is amazing. If you pay using a credit card you have the benefit of the cards built in, insurance too.
Most of these printers will be “self-build” types. That means you are going to get your hands dirty, actually building it yourself. This is nothing to be worried about. The instructions you are sent, which come pre-printed, are very good, but expect to spend a good few hours during the build. Look on the bright side, you will learn a lot about 3D printers, and about yourself, so it’s a win win situation. Just take your time, read the manual. A couple of times if needed, and you will do just fine.
If you do run in to difficulties, look for the user forums that are dedicated to your particular printer. There will be loads of them about. Users there are more than happy to help, and will either help you straight away, or direct you to a place, or forum that can help you. The whole 3D printer (RepRap) community was built on people helping each other, to get their printers up and running. They will be happy to help you too.
You can print with different colours, more colours that you can shake a printed 3D stick at, in fact. There are different types of filament that you can use. PLA is by far the most widely used, but harder more robust plastics are constantly coming to market. These different types, allow you to 3D print objects that you need to have more strength. Or be immune to chemicals. There are even filament types that bend like rubber. A good example of this is “Ninja Flex” so making things like flexible toys and phone cases is now within easy reach.
Here is a list, of the most used filament types. What it’s used for, and printing temperature. It’s far from, exhaustive, but you can always look into it a bit more if you’re looking for something specific.
ABS – Making durable parts that need to withstand higher temperatures – 210°C – 250°C.
PLA – Odourless, Low-warp, Eco-Friendly, Less energy to process – 190°C – 230°C
PET – FDA approved for food containers and tools used for food – 230-255 °C
NYLON – Strong, lightweight, durable, flexible, wear-resistant – 210°C – 250°C
WOOD – Versatility, Real wood scent, Durability, contain real wood fibres – 200°C – 260°C
If you want things to print, you are going to find millions of them on Thingiverse, found here. There are other sites like Thingiverse, just waiting for you to peruse their library of objects, the following are only some of the places that you can go to find more things to waste your plastic on.
Designing your own objects
There will come a time when you need something printed, and you are just going to have to bite the bullet, and design it yourself. This isn’t as difficult as you may think. Even if you have never done anything like this before, we now live in an age of the internet. YouTube is probably your best resource for leaning anything new.
I suggest, if you have never used a CAD package before, head over to www.tinkercad.com this a good way to get into the wold of 3D design. It’s free to use. All you have to do is create an account. Tinkercad has some really nice, and easy to understand tutorials that you should try. They will show you the basics that you will need to get started. By the end of the tutorials, you will have the basic grasp of what CAD design is all about. Once you know a little, you can go create! If you get into trouble you can always reach for the “Undo” button. The CAD software equivalent of “Have you turned it off and on again”
By far, the most important question is…
Now you know what 3D printing is, the next question will be. “Do I really need one”
Although not as expensive as it once was, owing a 3D printer does require, time, effort and some more money. You need to understand that this is classed as “Scientific equipment“. But it’s what you get back that’s most important. So, let me try to answer your question the way I now see it. After having brought two, myself.
I thought, a 3D printer would just be another toy, another bit of tech to play with. To some extent this is true, but it also enabled me learn a lot of new things. As I got more and more into it, I wanted to know more and more about it. I could see the possibilities of making a lot of useful things, things that I just could not get in the shops. If you are into any type of hobby, or have a pastime that you like to spend time doing. A 3D printer will be like having a small fabrication factory within easy reach. Making things that you suddenly noticed, you now need.
I soon realised that owning one wasn’t enough, I had to understand the complexities of calibrating it, and looking after it. I had to learn about the way it moves and how it does its calculations. The heat settings of the different filament, and the different types of filament used, depending on the objects I intended printing.
I had to design and figure out the process of making my own objects. But the pride I felt when I successfully printed out my first object that I had designed was fantastic. This feeling never gets old, no matter how many things you print. Every time it goes wrong, you learn a little more about getting it right.
All this may put you off wanting to purchase a 3D printer. But, if you have the slightest interest in this sort of thing. Or perhaps you have thought in the past of an idea, but never found that parts required to make that idea come to life. You will be doing yourself an injustice, if you don’t get one.
It will stretch you, frustrate you, annoy you, at times it will anger you. Now and again it will depress you. But that will only be 5 to 10% of the time. The rest of the time, you will learn a lot of new things. Not only about 3D printing, but about yourself too. You will be pleased with your accomplishments. Look forward to seeing your objects coming to life as you watch them being built, and grow on the build plate of your 3D printer.
But above all, you will look back at your learning curve during your journey with your 3D printer, and realise that you are a more knowledgeable person. Able to use, and design, multiple objects with a myriad of uses. To be able to understand the workings of some wicked, fun, tech. Above all this though, will be a feeling of pride, in and of yourself. I personally think that anything that makes you feel proud, especially of oneself, is a good reason to be part of it.