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If you’re the new owner of a 3D printer, a new world of learning and discovery has just been opened up to you. There are many lessons and new skills you will learn in the coming weeks and months. What follows are a few of the things that I have learned in the past three years of working with such printers.

3D Printing Tips

    • An unleveled build platform will cause many headaches during a print. So you’ll want to monitor this situation closely. You can quickly check the platform by doing the paper test:  use a single sheet of paper to judge the height of your extruder nozzle over the build platform. Set the extruder height at first layer height, then move it to all four corners and the center with the paper between the platform and the extruder. You want to be able to move the paper at all five positions but you also want the tip of the extruder to touch the paper at all five positions.
    • Regularly clean your build platform with rubbing alcohol. The oil from your hands will not allow the object you’re printing to stick to the build platform.
    • When you are printing in ABS plastic, make sure you preheat your build platform to its max temperature as preheating will help prevent edge curling.
Kapton, or "Polyimide," tape use in 3D printing.

Kapton, or “Polyimide,” tape use in 3D printing.

    • When printing in PLA, on unheated build platform, cover your platform with blue painter’s tape. It is cheaper and better than Kapton tape for PLA adhesion.
    • For a heated platform (used for printing in ABS), Kapton tape is best for covering the platform because it can withstand the heating and cooling of the platform better than painter’s tape.
    • Are your prints still not sticking to your Kapton? Or do you have blue painter’s tape covering the building platform? Try using hair spray on it. Many people have tried this solution and have seen increased adhesion between the object and the build platform.
    • When you are printing an object for the first time, do it on the lowest quality setting of the printer. You do not want to find out after hours of printing that the object is 1mm too small!

 

  • Know the plastic with which you are printing. The two most popular types are ABS and PLA. Each plastic has its own characteristics, like melting temperature and extruding speed.  Make sure your printer’s profile is right for the plastic you are using.

 

Quick 3DP Glossary

The following are some key terms you need to know.

Raft – A technique used to prevent warping. Instead of directly on the build surface, parts are built on top of a “raft” of material that you remove and dispose of post-print. The raft is larger than the part and so has more adhesion.

A raft being printed on a build platform.

A raft being printed on a build platform.

Support material – For any part of the model where there is an overhang or gap between parts, a support material is laid down (as it would be impossible to print into thin air). The support material is removed once the print has finished, revealing the desired print. This removal can be accomplished by washing, dissolving, or breaking the support material off of the object.

G-Code – The common name for the most widely used computer numerical control (CNC) programming language, which has many implementations. Used mainly in automation, it is part of computer-aided engineering. G-Code is sometimes called G programming language. In fundamental terms, G-Code is a language in which people tell computerized machine tools what to make and how to make it. The “what” and “how” are mostly defined by instructions on where to move, how fast to move, and through what path to move.

STL files – Standard Tessellation Language or Stereo Lithography, STL is a file format native to the CAD software created by 3D Systems.  This file format is supported by many other software packages and is widely used for rapid prototyping and computer-aided manufacturing. STL files describe only the surface geometry of a three dimensional object without any representation of color, texture, or other common CAD model attributes. The STL format specifies both ASCII and binary representations. Binary files are more common, since they are more compact. An STL file describes a raw unstructured triangulated surface by the unit normal and vertices (ordered by the right-hand rule) of the triangles using a three-dimensional Cartesian coordinate system.

If you’re looking for objects to print, check out Thingiverse.com. There, you can search through all of the objects people have uploaded and then download the STL files to your printer.

Good luck and, above all, have fun with your new printer!

Also: Be sure to check out of 3D Printing FAQ on the support pages for our Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing.

2013 MAKE Ultimate Guide To 3D Printing

  • 3D Printers Buyer's Guide — 15 Reviewed
  • Getting Started in 3D
  • Learn the Software Toolchain
  • 3D Design for Beginners
  • 3D Printing without a Printer

Buy now!

Just Released! 2014 MAKE Ultimate Guide To 3D Printing


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Comments

  1. Joseph Scott says:

    A really good guide. Thank you!

  2. FredB says:

    I would like to print with something more structurally durable than ABS, glass filled nylon, for example. Any options there?

  3. [...] most coveted of items carefully wrapped. But I can always hope, can’t I? And I can always read MAKE’s tips for the new 3D printer owner and, y’know, pretend. Writer Michael Overstreet is practically a historian on the subject, [...]

  4. Michael Overstreet says:

    I know that people are experimenting with polycarbonate and nylon filament. I am very interested in stronger materials too as I am now printing out entire humanoid robots.

    1. ElectroNick says:

      Can we see your robots by chance? I’m very interested, having been involved with some robotic art myself (here is a sample: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=166123510071203&set=pb.166114016738819.-2207520000.1361902398&type=3&theater )
      I would love to see what other people have come out with!
      Cheers!

      1. Michael Overstreet says:

        Here is a link to my Instructable on how a printed out and built my DARwIn-OP clone!

        http://mike-ibioloid.blogspot.com/2013/02/how-how-i-made-my-darwin-op-clone-is.html

        I should be at Robogames and Bay Area Maker Faire if you want to see them in person!

  5. [...] that most coveted of items carefully wrapped. But I can always hope, can’t I? And I can always read MAKE’s tips for the new 3D printer owner and, y’know, pretend. Writer Michael Overstreet is practically a historian on the subject, having [...]

  6. Peter says:

    Beware of cyanide outgassing with Nylon and PTFE.. Anyway, no mention of borosilicate glass for ABS and PLA as a bed, odd to leave out the most popular choice now days for Repraps.

    Also setting the heated platform to the ‘maximum temperature’ ? (some platforms can reach above 100c easily)

  7. Dan says:

    Love Peace

  8. TropicWheels says:

    Also, people have started using diluted PVA glue (wood glue) to help PLA and ABS stick to the build platform. Havn’t given it a go myself but apparently it works well.

  9. rocketguy1701 says:

    A few items:
    -Printing in ABS, enclosing the printer, even with saran wrap and masking tape, will yield better results due to draft mitigation. I put an old T-shirt over the top until I got the acrylic panels for the Rep1. Heating the bed for ABS I find (YMMV) around 120C to be ideal on kapton tape. It was far more important to enclose it than just increase bed temperature.

    -Adding glass to the plastic is a bad idea, if for no other reason than the nozzle will likely get trashed and/or jam. If you need that kind of strength, consider a composite approach like a layer of carbon fiber or fiberglass over a plastic structure.

    -Nylon 618 is now available, but while I did get a spool of it out of general curiosity, I haven’t tried it yet. I’d probably use it for an application where ABS isn’t tough enough(as opposed to strong enough). ABS can be pretty sturdy with a proper design, I might try it for an application just to see if it works, unless you’re positive the strength/weight ratio isn’t high enough, or you need more toughness. Playing with shell and fill settings alone can dial in the ideal weight vs strength in some applications.

    -You can always print another one, so don’t be afraid to break it. (rapid iteration prototyping FTW).

    1. rocketguy1701 says:

      Forgot: borosilicate glass is a nice idea.

  10. [...] days ago, MAKE magazine published an article Helpful Tips for the New 3D Printer Owner. While the eight tips mentioned may be helpful, I have a few [...]

  11. [...] via MAKE | Helpful Tips for the New 3D Printer Owner. [...]

  12. Cheers! Very helpful and easy to understand guide here.

  13. laser tek says:

    I’m not really sure I’m having a 3d printer because I still don’t see the need. But I’m still interested with any news about it.

  14. J. McGirr says:

    I have had good results on my printrbot using aqua net on bare glass for both PLA and ABS. (Aqua net has a formulation containing acrylates, which appears to help.) Be sure the bed is cold, aqua net is highly flammable (used for combustion fuel in spud guns for just this reason).

    -With the bed COLD, wash the glass with an alcohol wipe. Allow to dry.
    -If you are not removing the glass from the bed, cover the mechanicals with a thick cloth or cardboard so you don’t “gum up the works”
    -Spray one thin coat (hold the spray about 8 inches above the bed) left to right on the bed. Allow to dry (10 minutes or so)
    -Spray one thin coat from top to bottom (this helps to get an even coverage).
    Allow to dry thoroughly (20 minutes or so)

    I get 5-6 prints before I repeat the process…I could probably get more, but aqua net is under $2.00 a can, and I’d rather waste it than ABS…at least until I start recovering it and making my own filament. ;)

  15. J. McGirr says:

    Clarification: the bed needs to be cold during application….once it is dry, heat the bed as needed!

  16. Michael Overstreet says:

    Cool, thanks for the information on how to use hair spray to increase adhesion to the build surface. I know that a lot of people have had a lot of luck with it.

  17. budstoner says:

    just to throw in my two cents, I have had very favorable results by simply applying a layer of 3m adhesive (like is used to fix lcd’s in phones), on top of the kapton film.. You can buy these in pre-cut sheets of say 6″ by 8″, and I just stick it on the platform and go.. I haven’t tried the other methods, but then I haven’t needed to! The adhesive stays intact well, and when the platform is heated it stays soft enough to peel off the build, without getting damaged itself, so it will last multiple builds, eventually it gets dirty and I change as necessary, 3m and kapton.. but I haven’t had a build come loose yet..

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