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Getting started with 3D Printing

Ever wanted to get into 3D Printing?
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3D Printing...What even is that?

3D printing is a pretty awesome technology. It can produce some gobsmacking products, but there is lots of terminology thrown around the bandwagon. This short guide aims to give you a basic understanding of different types of 3D printing, terminology to understand and more importantly, how to get started including our recommendations. 

Types of 3D Printing

3D Printing is a generic term, it basically means building things layer by layer. Within 3D printing, there are two streams. Industrial and Desktop.

Industrial printing has developed in industry and is capable of more complex and detailed prints, but are expensive to do.

Meanwhile desktop 3D printing was made by hobbyists, it’s completely open-source, develops faster and is much cheaper (like the3DStore). This is likely the type you are familiar with.

Let's dive into different types of 3D Printing:
Powder up plastic, spread it out in a thin layer, then only melt together the bits you want with a laser, then repeat process of applying another thing powder layer.
Direct Metal Laser Sintering is in essence SLS for metals.
Trace out a 2D Shape using an Infrared Laser into a bath of resin that cures when exposed to that IR Laser. Then move up, redip the part into the bath of resin and repeat.
Basically SLA but instead of using a laser to trace the outline, a projector image projects the entire traced outline at once, meaning it's quicker than SLS but requires slightly different resin which cures with type of light.
Pipe out hot material along a 2D Path many times, moving up each time. This is low cost, easy to user, lower quality and means recycled materials can be used. This is synonymous with 3D Printing, they are essentially used as one and the same.

Get me 3D Printing ASAP!

Finally, how to get started with FDM printing. To 3D print something, you essentially need 3 things.
1. A File to Print. (In .STL file format)
2. A Software to turn the file into special code the printer can run. (A Slicer)
3. A Functioning 3D Printer (FDM).

Finding your file

If you have no 3D CAD (Fancy computer drawing software) Design Skills, all is not lost.

We have a dedicated free Fusion360 License and there are some other websites too.

For functional and tested parts, we recommend checking our 3D Files Category.

Other sources include Thingiverse and Pinshape but beware not everything you find on there will actually print well.


Want to design your own parts?

Not to worry. If you're not using your parts commercially, you can get a free Fusion360 Licence and learn how to use it here. There are other free CAD softwares too like Draftsight or Draftsight but we recommend Fusion360.

SolidEdge Professional CAD Software

Slicing your file

Once you've got your file, you need to convert the STL file into something your printer can use.

Slicers work by taking your 3D file, splitting it into lots of 2d shapes and then stitches the 2d shapes together using certain settings to change how your machine will print out those shapes. This is then converted into special (GCODE) code for your printer.

There are now a bunch of free slicers available. Simplify3D used to be the paid favourite, but nowadays Cura and PrusaSlicercan do everything it can for free. For ease of use, we would recommend Cura to get started, it has an easier interface and less settings to be daunted by.

You can download and ‘purchase’ the latest Cura for free from our website. Any 3D Printers you buy from us, will come bundled with already tuned slicer settings, which allows you to print high quality, easily without any faff.

Slicing can appear daunting but the above video should help! Remember that you want to think about orientation, support and layer height as the main settings to decide upon for your print.

If you use the tuned profiles we provide, you should be able to print good prints with little difficulty.

Selecting the right printer

Finding your printer

There are many similar machines out there. The most common style is based off of the Ender 3. This was a smash hit printer, but since many have now improved upon the machine, it doesn’t make sense to get one. The Biqu Bx or Biqu B1 are good alternatives, slightly more expensive, but they have fixed all the issues the Ender 3 range had.

Alternatively, if you want something stiffer which can do higher quality prints, the Prusa Mk3S or i3 Mega S are good alternatives, albeit less value for money.

If you're willing to go around Prusa Pricemark for even higher quality, QidiTech offers a wide range of printers which are capable of printing nearly any material on the market, at high quality for an extremely reasonable price.

Understanding Bowden VS Direct Drive

One of the first things to get your head around when learning to 3D Print is Bowden VS Direct Drive. This essentially whether the printer pushes the filament through a pipe to the extruder (Bowden) or if it instead pulls the filament through the pipe, and then pushes directly into the nozzle (Direct Drive).

Bowden V.S. Direct Drive 3D Printing

 Direct Drive Bowden
  • More Control of filament, meaning less stringing
  • Allows you to print flexibles 
  • Ideal for clogging filaments
  • Higher quality finish
  • More expensive
  • Higher weight, meaning slower printing
  • Cheaper
  • Easier access to loading filament when in an enclosure
  • Suits PLA but less so advanced materials
  • Lower weight, so can printer faster
  • Less Control over prints so more stinging / lower quality
Essentially this comes down to what you intend to do with your printer. 
If you're new to printing and you expect mainly to print PLA, then Bowden is by the best for you.
It's easy to tune for PLA, cheaper and comes by standard on most printers. You can still print PETG or PLA with Carbon Fibre (If you have hardened nozzle) with a bit more tuning. Likewise, if time is a factor, then this is the fastest option.
However if you want to do flexibles (TPU), Carbon Fibre, or any more tricky filaments that tend to clog, this is ideal for you. It also provides higher quality prints at a cost of being about 40% of the speed.

Connecting your printer to the internet

Often overlooked by new 3D printer enthusiasts, connecting your 3D printer safely and securely to the internet can be one of the best ways to make your printer accessible.

Few printers, as current, can connect to the internet directly, but do not fear, there is several solutions.

The first solution is by far the most popular, and if we were to recommend any single upgrade to your 3D printer, this would be it. Octoprint is a piece of software that runs on a small computer called a Raspberry Pi. It hosts it's own mini-website which only your wifi network can access (it is possible to get it so you can see from anywhere but not recommended without security).

Octoprint can be downloaded here with more details found at their website. It is relatively simple to set up. We even offer Octoprint Bundles, with the software installed, all you have to do is change a .txt file by plugging in the Raspberry Pi with your wifi details, and then plug it into your 3D printer.

The second solution is for those willing to do a bit of work. Octoprint by Biqu is a new 32 bit board (meaning it's fast and can produce higher quality prints as it can control printer more finely) with a Raspberry Pi built in, this means that by swapping out your printer mainboard with this, you can instantly connect to the internet, and your printer remains compact. It comes preloaded with Octoprint on it.

I hope this article has shown you enough about 3D printing to know what are the big steps you need to take when 3D printing.

We want to be with you every step (or layer) of the way, that's why you can discover cool projects, in-depth lessons on 3D printing techniques and even little known 3D printing gems on our blog!

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