Your Top 5 3D Printing Questions — Answered

3D printing opens up a world of creative possibilities and practical applications, whether you’re a hobbyist or a professional. Understanding the basics can significantly enhance your experience. This guide aims to answer the top five questions about 3D printing, offering insights from 3D printing manufacturers to help you make informed decisions throughout your project.

How Do I Know If My Design Is Printable?

  1. Check Dimensions and Printer Capacity
  • Ensure your design fits within your 3D printer’s build volume.
  • Verify that the smallest features of your design (like tiny parts and gaps) meet the minimum size your printer can accurately produce.

For a comprehensive look at preparing your designs, take a moment to read our ‘3D Printing STL Files: A Complete Guide,’ which will provide you with the necessary knowledge to get your designs from the screen to the print bed successfully.

 Ongoing SLA 3D printing services

  1. Assess Overhangs and Supports
  • Identify parts of your design with overhangs greater than 45 degrees.
  • Plan to use support structures for these areas or modify your design to reduce the need for supports.
  1. Evaluate Wall Thickness
    Make sure all walls in your design are thick enough to be printed sturdily. Check your printer’s specifications for the minimum wall thickness.
  2. Consider Part Orientation
    Think about how you’ll place your design on the print bed. Some orientations might reduce the need for supports but could affect the final strength and finish.
  3. Select Appropriate Material
    Choose a printing material that suits the functional and aesthetic requirements of your design. Consider factors like flexibility, strength, and temperature resistance.
  4. Use Slicer Software for Previews
    Import your design into slicer software to preview it in layers. This will help you spot potential printing issues and adjust your design or print settings accordingly.

Start with these steps to tackle the most critical aspects of 3D printability. Once you’ve considered each, you’ll be in a good position to proceed with printing or to make necessary adjustments to your design.For a comprehensive breakdown of best practices to ensure your designs meet these standards, delve into our article on ‘What Are the Design Rules for 3D Printing?

Which Material Should I Use for My Design?

  • For Strong and Durable Parts: If your design needs to withstand stress, impacts, or wear and tear, choose ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) or Nylon. These materials are robust, making them ideal for functional parts or mechanical components.
  • For Flexible or Bendable Parts: TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) is your go-to material. It’s perfect for parts that require flexibility such as phone cases, wearable devices, or hinges.To gain deeper insights into this versatile material, discover how it stands against PU, including its key properties, applications, and comparative advantages in our detailed exploration of ‘TPU and PU in 3D printing
  • For High Detail and Aesthetic Projects: PLA (Polylactic Acid) is excellent for detailed models, decorative items, and prototypes. It’s easy to print with, available in various colors, and provides a smooth finish.
  • For Heat Resistant Applications: If your part will be exposed to heat, consider PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol) or ABS. These materials can withstand higher temperatures without deforming.
  • For Outdoor Use: PETG is also suitable for outdoor applications due to its UV and water resistance, making it great for outdoor gears, planters, and outdoor fixtures.
  • Environmentally Friendly Option: PLA is biodegradable and made from renewable resources, making it the best choice for environmentally conscious projects.

To decide, first identify the primary requirement of your project (strength, flexibility, detail, heat resistance, outdoor use, or environmental impact). Then, select the material that best aligns with this requirement. Always ensure the material is compatible with your printer’s specifications, especially concerning the required printing temperature. This approach should help you confidently choose the right material for your 3D printing project.

What Type of Paint Can I Use for My Plastic 3D-Printed Part?

  • Acrylic Paints: Widely recommended for 3D-printed objects because they’re water-based, making them easy to work with and clean up. Acrylic paints adhere well to most 3D printing plastics like PLA, ABS, and PETG. They dry quickly and offer a wide range of colors. While choosing the right paint is important, selecting the appropriate material for your 3D printing project is just as crucial. To better understand the materials you’re working with, particularly ABS and Polypropylene (PP), read our analysis on ‘ABS vs. Polypropylene (PP): What Are the Differences,’ where we explore their unique properties and applications in depth.
  • Spray Paints: Convenient for applying even coats on your parts. When using spray paint, choose a type formulated for plastics. It’s important to apply a primer designed for plastic surfaces before spray painting to ensure good adhesion and smoother finish.
  • Epoxy Paints: Offer a very durable finish and are resistant to chemicals and wear. Epoxy paints can be more challenging to apply but are excellent for parts that will be handled frequently or exposed to harsh conditions.
  • Automotive Paints: These are designed to adhere to plastic car components and can be a good choice for durable and high-gloss finishes. They usually require a primer and possibly a clear coat for the best results.
  • Model Paints: Specifically made for painting plastic models and figurines, model paints come in small containers and are ideal for detailed work. They’re available in both acrylic and enamel formulations.

Regardless of the paint type, proper surface preparation is crucial for achieving a good finish. This usually involves cleaning the part, sanding it to remove layer lines and smooth the surface, and applying a primer. A primer specifically designed for plastic will improve paint adhesion and result in a smoother, more professional finish.

It’s always a good idea to test the paint on a small, inconspicuous area of your part or a similar material to ensure compatibility and satisfaction with the finish before proceeding with the entire piece.

How Do I Hollow Out My 3D Model?

Hollowing out a 3D model can save material, reduce print time, and decrease the weight of the final print. You can hollow out your model effectively by:

  1. Using 3D Modeling Software
  • Open your model in a 3D modeling software like Blender, Tinkercad, or Fusion 360.
  • Select the object you want to hollow out.
  • Look for a function or tool specifically designed for hollowing. In Blender, this could be achieved by using the “Solidify” modifier, where you can specify the thickness of the walls. Tinkercad and Fusion 360 have similar features.
  • Adjust the thickness of the walls according to your needs. Remember, too thin walls might not print well or could be fragile, so consider the material and the capabilities of your 3D printer.
  • Ensure there are holes or escape vents in the design if you’re using a material that requires removal (like resin in SLA printing) or to prevent pressure build-up during FDM printing.
  1. Using Slicer Software
  • Some slicer software (like Ultimaker Cura or PrusaSlicer) offers an option to hollow out models as part of the print preparation process.
  • Load your model into the slicer software.
  • Look for a feature labeled something like “Infill” or “Shell.” Adjusting the infill percentage to a lower value effectively makes the model more hollow, but to fully hollow out the model, look for an option that allows you to set the wall thickness directly.
  • Use the slicer’s preview feature to ensure the model is hollowed out to your satisfaction, paying attention to wall thickness and structural integrity.
  1. Considerations for Hollowing
  • Support Structures: Hollow models might need internal supports to prevent collapse during printing. Your slicer software can generate these supports based on the model’s geometry and orientation.
  • Drain Holes: If you’re printing with a resin printer, make sure to include drain holes to allow excess resin to escape. Even with FDM printing, small holes can help relieve internal pressure or provide a way to remove support material.
  1. Test Print

Before printing the final version, consider doing a smaller scale test print to check the structural integrity and the effectiveness of the hollowing, especially if you’re working with a new material or model.

By following these steps and paying attention to the specific requirements of your model and printer, you can effectively hollow out your 3D model for a more efficient and material-conserving print.

How Is the Price of My 3D Print Calculated?

The price of a 3D print is typically calculated based on several key factors:

  • Material Cost: The primary cost component, depending on the type of material (e.g., PLA, ABS, Resin) and amount used. Prices can vary from $20/kg for basic PLA to over $100/kg for specialized materials.
  • Machine Operation Costs: Includes electricity and the depreciation of the 3D printer itself. Costs are relatively low per print, contributing a few dollars up to $10 for long, intricate prints.
  • Print Time: Longer print times increase costs due to longer machine operation. Depending on the complexity, this can add anywhere from $5 to $50 to the cost, considering electricity and depreciation.
  • Post-Processing: Additional labor or materials required after printing (e.g., painting, sanding) can significantly vary, adding $10 to $100 or more, based on complexity and finishing quality desired.
  • Design Time: If pricing includes 3D model creation or modification, this can be a significant factor, potentially adding $50 to $200 or more, depending on design complexity and designer expertise.
  • Energy Consumption: The energy needed, especially for high-temperature materials, can add a minimal cost, often within the $1 to $5 range for most projects.
  • Failure Rate: The risk of print failures and subsequent reprints can add a variable cost, typically accounted for in operational margins or as a percentage of the overall price.
  • Market Factors: Prices can be influenced by local demand, service availability, and competition, leading to significant regional price variances.

For personal projects, focusing on material cost, print time, and energy consumption can give you a basic cost estimate in the range of $10 to $50 for small to medium prints. For commercial services, the pricing can generally range from $50 to over $1000, significantly depending on the project’s complexity, size, required materials, and the level of detail and post-processing needed.

The Bottom Line

With the right knowledge, tackling a 3D printing project becomes much more straightforward. From ensuring your design is printable to selecting materials, applying paint, hollowing out models, and understanding pricing, every step is essential. 3D printing manufacturers recommend paying close attention to these elements to achieve the best balance of quality, durability, and cost-efficiency in your projects. Whether for personal or commercial use, 3D printing allows you to bring your ideas to life with precision and creativity.