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What You'll Learn

By the end of this lesson, you will have answers for all of these questions:

You can print this document for reference by clicking on the "Print" icon above.
You can click on the "Menu" icon above to quickly find your way around.
There is a quiz! It will help you review the material below. If you have any more questions, please direct them to library@terracelibrary.ca.

From 2D to 3D!

A standard printer can print documents, lovely photographs, signage, and all other kinds of useful papers.
A 3D printer brings us to the next dimension: it molds plastic to create models and simple objects that you can take home!
2D Printer vs 3D Printer
It prints one layer. It prints many layers, in order, until the model is fully formed.
It's safe to touch. It gets super hot sometimes, ouch!
It prints many colours at once. It prints one colour (two, if you're very patient).
It uses ink and paper. It uses plastic.
It only prints pictures. It can print any shape you can imagine.

Everything in the box was printed right here at the library. What will you create?


3D Printing - The Future!

The future?

How is 3D Printing affecting industries?



What Do We Use?

The Printer

Our printer is the Ultimaker 3 and was purchased with funds donated by Dr. Colleen Froese in memory of her parents, Emil & Mary Froese.

It sits in a protective case that controls for temperature and humidity (a must-have for careful work).

Printer layout

The bottom display shows all your options. You can select different options by rotating the dial.


The Computer

The Creation Station works great! Open up Cura and select any model file (from a USB stick or Downloads for anything from the internet).

Cura software

Staff will log you into the computer.

We use Cura to print the models, but the model files can be made with any 3D studio.

TinkerCAD is the most popular choice, since it's so easy to use and intended for beginners.


The Plastic (PLA)

Spools of coloured plastic

The 3D Printer uses a very special plastic: Poly-lactic Acid (PLA). It's:

PLA also comes in many colours, sometimes with special additives so it can glow in the dark, or change colour in the heat, or give it a metallic sheen, or smell like wood, etc.

The Plastic (PVA)

We also use PVA (Poly-vinyl Acid). It has one job: to make sturdy support structures.

When you are printing weird or delicate objects, you'll need supports to hold the model in place while it's printing. Otherwise it could fall over!

Why use PVA? It's water soluble! With a thorough soak (and about an hour), the support structure comes right off and leaves your model in pristine condition!



How Does it Work?

Cura can read almost any kind of 3D file. In our experience, STL is the safest choice.

Once the model is loaded into Cura, it gets sliced into layers that our printer understands. Each slice goes to the printer, where it will print each slice one at a time, layering carefully, until the model is complete.

Layering and Dissolving Demo

Layers and layers!


More layers and layers!

The Extruder

All of these parts come together to make the Extruder.

It can reach over TWO HUNDRED DEGREES CELSIUS. It's hot enough to burn you, so be careful around an active printer!

Fun fact: the print-core runs on guided rails using rubber belts. It offers a surprising amount of precision!

The Second Extruder

We also have a second extruder. This means you can use two separate materials for a single model. It's very useful for support structures.

If you can, we recommend you avoid using it. Why? Using both extruders can double the time taken for the job and it can be tricky to set up each part of your model for the right extruder. If you're planning to get this fancy, don't do it with your first project.


When Can I Print?

The 3D Printer is first-come, first-served. However, it's possible to book an appointment with the front desk and we will make it available for you at the specified time.

Make a reservation if you're planning a very large print.

So when's a good time? Well, 3D Printers are slow. They are very slow. Printing something as simple as a small action figure can take an hour. For big projects, it could take the entire day!

We don't mind letting a long print run overnight, but there are no guarantees. If it all goes horribly wrong, nobody will notice until the next day!

If your model is large or has many intricate details, book an appointment in the morning.

No matter what you print, keep an eye on it for the first fifteen minutes. If the print is destined to fail, it usually happens right away.



Step 1: Find a Model File!

You've come in, the 3D printer is waiting, and you're sitting at the Creation Station. Let's find a model!

Thingiverse These can be found all over the internet. The best resource we've found (and rely on quite a bit) is Thingiverse.

Thingiverse

They have a rich offering of models and artists, and if you like what you see, you can leave a small tip for their work!

Any website with 3D model files should have them available in STL, 3MF, or OBJ format. STL is best.

You can use Autodesk Meshmixer to change any 3D object into an STL.



Step 2: Fix the Model!

You've downloaded the model file and you've opened it with Cura. Boy, it looks good! Well hold on there, don't print just yet. Sure, the model might look great... in the program. But turning it into a real model means we have to answer a few questions.

a) How Big Is It?

Is it even possible to print all of it at once? Perhaps you need to split the model into smaller pieces, gluing them together later.

If it's bigger than 30 centimetres on either side, you should split it up (bisect the model) into multiple print jobs.

Scaling

First, click on your model. Then click on the icon in the picture to bring up the scale window. You can now scale the model however you like. By grabbing any of those coloured blocks with your mouse, you can stretch or shrink it.

Bigger objects take much longer to print than you might expect.


b) How Small are the Details?

Nozzles spit hot plastic like a hose spits water: the larger the hose, the faster the job. But fast also means sloppy. We recommend the AA 0.8 (millimetres) for big stuff and the AA 0.4 for small stuff.

Sweating the Small Stuff!

When you really need it, we can use the AA 0.25, which is our smallest nozzle.

Details take time, often quite a lot of time. Going down one size will double the amount of time:

If there are many intricate details (like tiny writing) upon the surface, you'll also want your object to be as sturdy as possible.


c) How Thick is Each Slice?

The nozzle size controls details in the X and Y direction. Because we're working in 3D, we have one more direction to consider: The Z! (up and down)

The printer's base plate controls the layer height, starting at 0.2 millimetres. Each time it finishes a slice, it drops the plate by this amount and starts printing the next slice on top.
As you can imagine, this also has a large effect on the print time. For highly detailed objects, you'll want to use a 0.1 millimetre layer height and perhaps (gasp) even smaller!

The Ultimaker 3 can go all the way down to 60 microns (0.06 millimetres), for the finest details on the smallest objects.

Thicker slices print the model much faster, but leave behind noticeable tracks.


d) How Strong Is It?

Strength comes from Infill. What is Infill? It's the plastic fibre hiding inside the walls of your model, holding its shape together. If you cut one open, you can see the scaffolding criss-cross from side to side like a honeycomb.

20% is actually a pretty good number for a sturdy object. If you want a stronger model that can survive more pressure, you can increase the Infill. Keep in mind that 40% is more than enough for almost anything and it will double the time it takes for the print to finish.

The stronger you make it, the less flexible it will be.

Infill and layers

You can play with the layer and infill sizes using the sliders in Cura as demonstrated above.

Stronger objects can take double the time!


Flat vs Edge

e) Where are the Edges?

When printing a coin, it's better to do it flat. This is true for any model: Find the flattest possible side for your object, to reduce the risk of gravity.

Gravity is your enemy and it will be pulling down on all that hot goo to create a mess.

Rotation in Cura

In Cura, your main tools are Translation (moving it around), Scaling (make it bigger or smaller), and Rotation (what we're doing now). Click on the blue outline to manipulate the X direction, on the red outline for the Y direction, and the green for the Z direction.

Make sure the flattest part of your model is sitting on the base plate.


f) Do I Need Supports?

For delicate objects, like the wings of a dragon, you'll need this trick to keep it from falling apart.

Unfortunately, supports are a slow process, often doubling or tripling the total time for the print job. When printing with PVA (the water-soluble material perfect for supports), it's best to use the Type-B Nozzle (we have just the one).

Supports

Supports don't need any details. They're just glue to keep the job together.

For overhangs, web-like patterns, or anything else vulnerable to gravity, it's best to use the support structure.

If you instead use PLA for the supports, you'll need to shave them off later.

Turn on supports in Cura

Just put a checkmark next to "Support" as shown in the picture. Cura will automatically generate whatever you need. Make sure you choose the right extruder!

Using a support structure will double the time.


g) Is It Fancy?

Fancy stuff Nested Features - Some 3D Models might be very complex on the inside (like a labyrinth or the hinges for a toy).

If some important part of the model could be trapped, you'll need to split your file into multiple print jobs.

Multiple Nozzles - If you're using two materials to achieve some effect (or you need the supports), you'll be using both nozzles.

The raft

Delicate Legs - If the bottom of your model is very delicate, you might need a brim or a raft. This will add support, so the model doesn't warp under its own weight.


h) Special Materials?

Basic PLA comes in a lot of colours, but maybe you're in the mood for something special.

You'll find that each special material has its own quirks. Here are some examples:

You'll learn about these quirks as you go. Remember to talk with the staff to learn about these special cases before you start printing.

Many model files come with printer setting suggestions. Pay attention to these, they are sometimes crucial.



Step 3: Get That Printer Ready!

Now that the model looks good in Cura, we need to prepare the printer so it can do your job. Here are all the things you need to check:

a) Do you have the right nozzle?

The nozzles are kept locked under the printer, inside the cabinet. We have a variety of AA nozzles (meant for printing PLA) and one BB nozzle (which works best with PVA).

Printcores

Keep the print core vertical to smoothly slide it in and out.


b) Is the right filament loaded?

We have plenty of filament options available. Just like the nozzles, they're kept locked in the cabinet under the printer. Pick out the one that suits you best (we have demo prints to show off our various colours and styles) and then get ready to load it!

Loading filaments


c) Do the print options in Cura match up?

It'd sure be embarrassing to hit print, only to realize that your model is set to print on the wrong extruder. Yikes!

Check your model's structure and make sure that any piece of it that is supposed to print on extruder #1 will actually go to extruder #1.

Double-check your settings!

You can right-click each separate piece of your model. This will bring up the menu above. Make sure it's set to the right extruder!

Now is a good time to double-check all of your work from Step 1, just to make sure that you're absolutely prepared.

Don't waste time over a silly mistake!



Step 4: Time to Print

Please fill out a Pre-Print Checklist to make sure you know the time, the price, and the settings.

All right, you're sure about this? Hit Slice! Cura will perform all of its calculations and eventually let you "Print Over the Network". That's the final button!

The nozzles will light up, the print bed will warm, the filament will load, and the build plate should rise all the way up to the nozzles.

But don't go anywhere just yet! Catastrophes usually happen in the first fifteen minutes. Stick around until you're confident the printer is working well.


Payment

Cura will tell you the cost of the print job. This price covers the cost of the filament and any wear and tear.

Like everything else in the library, this is payable only in cash.

Please pay directly to any staff member present.

Waiting

Cura will give you an estimated time when you print. Mark down the time so you remember to come in and pick it up!

Finished prints are placed on the Holds Shelf.


Let It Cool

The model is finished, sitting on the plate and waiting to be freed. Finally! Now just hang on a second. It's still warm, let it sit for about five minutes. Okay? Great!

Remove the Model

Remove the model carefully

Use the scraper to simply lift it off the glass plate. It should come without any fuss. If this is your first time, staff can help you out!


Step 5: Time to Finish!

The print is done, but that doesn't mean the model is done! It still looks a bit rough doesn't it? If you really want that model to shine, you'll need to 'finish' it!

There may be stray 'hairs', dangling supports, a flimsy brim, and other little nubs that need trimming. If you used PVA for the support structures, the model will need a good long soak before you can do anything else.

Suggested finishing tools list:


Painting

Painted models

Once your model is smooth and clean, a paint job can really do wonders.

Model paints

In this case, paints from any model kit (the Creative Zone has plenty) will certainly do the trick.

Painting a model!



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When It All Goes Wrong

Hopefully you now have everything you need to print and finish the model of your dreams. Of course, it doesn't always end well. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, the print job goes entirely awry.

When this happens, refer to these questions to see if you can clear things up.

The filament didn't load all the way?

That happens a lot. Using the dial, go to Material and select Move. You can then rotate the dial to move the filament back and forth in the tube.

Cura is complaining about build volume? What's that?

If your model is too big, it will have grey stripes to indicate that it doesn't fit. Scale it down and try again!


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The filament stopped moving and my print job is falling apart!

Sometimes the feed gets tangled up. Perhaps it gets stuck on the roll, or is hooked onto the equipment, or who knows what.

When this happens, you'll need to unload the PLA. Check it for any grooves or dents that will stop your next attempt. If you find such defects, take a pair of scissors and chop them off!

Now check for any obstacles that could stop the plastic from feeding nicely into the machine. Once you're confident that the coast is clear, reload the material into the printer and try again!

Oh no! It fell apart while it was printing!

Sometimes a model has a delicate structure (like a dragon, with its wings spread apart). And, like baking a cake, it's possible the poor thing will collapse on itself before it has a chance to cool and set. This is what support structures are for! Turn them on and try again!

Remember, models with delicate legs need a brim or a raft.


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The model doesn't look... good.

Yes, that can certainly happen. If the nozzle settings are too high, you may not get the detail you're after. Cut your layer height in half, reduce the nozzle size, and try again!

If you have a lot of small details, you can optionally adjust the nozzle speed to below the standard settings. It will take a lot longer, but will result in a smoother print.

The model won't come out of the printer!

If it feels stuck on, don't panic! Rinsing the plate with water will often get the model right off.

If that doesn't work, we have stronger stuff: a little isopropyl (which you can borrow from the front desk) goes a long way. Spray the edges of the model and wiggle it gently with the scraper until it comes free.


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The model looks very rough or warped.

Every PLA roll comes with its own suggested temperature (written on the roll itself). Most will do just fine at the default 200 degrees C. However, there are a few (like the wood-grain) that require more heat to get the job done right. You can set the heat of the nozzle using the Cura program before you print.

Setting temperature

You'll need to click on "Custom" settings to pull up everything. There's a lot here (feel free to poke around and learn), but we're focused on the Material setting. This will let us set a new temperature as demonstrated above.

The tubes / plate are really dirty.

When you don't have a temperature-controlled cabinet (and we do have one of those), humidity can play havoc with your poor machine. The bowden tubes get clogged, the feeder grinds everything, the nozzle is spraying plastic at a weird angle, or things seem clogged up. All you can do is clean every part of the machine!

Cleaning the machine is beyond the scope of this document, but feel free to ask about it later. We clean it every month to make sure it's still in good shape! Thanks to the cabinet, the cleaning is mercifully quick.

The printer doesn't recognize the printer core at all!

When you load the new printer core, the printer scans the back. If it's dirty, that won't work. Use a non-water cleaner (alcohol is best) and gently dab the metal strip on the back of the printer core until it looks clean.

Uh... the model still doesn't look right. I used two materials...

Yep, that might be it. If everything else is correct, the two nozzles still might tangle with each other. Perhaps they are not be calibrated. Over time, they drift apart from their default positions. This means they aren't exactly where the printer thinks they are, especially in relation to each other.

If you think the calibration is wrong, the staff will fix it. If you're very curious, it's as simple as selecting Calibration from the printer settings and then following the instructions with a calibration sheet printed on paper.

Place the plate with the calibration model over the calibration sheet and adjust the offsets to match the directions.

The printer complains that it can't level.

The Ultimaker has one nice user-friendly feature: auto-leveling. This means you don't have to level the base plate on your own before every job.

Unfortunately, the sensor wire (used by the printer to find the plate) can occasionally come undone. If this ever happens, you'll need to wait for staff to come and help. Depending on the situation, the printer might be out of commission for a few days. (Sorry!)



Resources

[Free] TinkerCAD

Autodesk TinkerCAD is a popular choice with us, intended for absolute beginners and children alike. This is perhaps the best program to begin with and comes highly recommended. All the work is done freely online, with a large library of tutorials to help you get started!

[Free] Ultimaker Cura

You can download and play with the software at home. Everything covered here is simply the basics. There's a lot more to it, if you're interested! The tutorial below will run you through every setting imaginable. By the end, you'll be an Ultimaker Expert!

Find the Cura tutorial here!

Watch the action online!

Webcam Stream

A fun feature is the webcam. It's on our website right now! Using that webcam, you can watch the print job from anywhere, using the internet.

If the job fails, you'll still need to come in physically to restart.


Cleaning Models

A Guide to Smoothing

This series of tutorials will teach you how to properly clean and care for your model.

A Guide to Painting

This series of videos will show you how to paint your finished models.


More Model Resources

Thingiverse may be our choice, but here are a few more!

Pinshape

Pinshape is another excellent collection of free models (and also provides some for a price). This website focuses on developing a community of artists. If you're looking to create your own model files, this community could be a great way to start that journey.

Turbosquid

Turbosquid is intended for professionals, providing highly detailed models for a price. They have an excellent gallery, mostly for realistic model reproductions (like scale cars).


Outsourcing

If consumer 3D printers don't cut it, you might try a prosumer service for a professional job. Many of these print shops print industrial-ready parts (for example, printing with titanium to create adjustable thrusters for NASA) and will provide quotes. If you need a professional engineer's touch, you might try:

3DS Hubs

3DS Hubs does injection molding, metal materials, surface finishing, whatever you need they'll cover it. This company is absolutely only for high-end models. If you're decorating a car or building a robot, this should be the first place on your list.

3DS Hook

If you're looking for simple useful things, fun toys, or decorations around the home, 3DS Hook does fine work and will even print your custom models to specification.


3D Printers

When you're comfortable with our printer, you might decide to buy your own. What are some good choices?

Creality

The most popular choice for printers under $500. The bed is small, but has all the features you need for simple jobs.

TierTime

The Up Mini series of 3D printers come with their own enclosures, keeping your printer safe. But more than that, these printers are aimed at children and beginners for under $1,000.

Ultimaker

The most powerful choice, clocking in at over $6,000! Their latest model can print in nylon, glass, carbon fibre, with a resolution of 20 microns! That's amazing!


Finding the Inner Artist

If you're feeling ambitious, why not try out your artistic skills? There are plenty of 3D modeling programs. Here's a small summary of the most popular choices.

[Paid] Autodesk Maya

Wow, what a choice! This is the most professional (and most expensive) option on the market. AAA video game artists use this program, and many VFX studios rely on it for blockbuster movies.

Find Maya tutorials here!

[Free] Blender

The original free program, designed by Pixar's best artists. It's intended for professional work, but remains a popular choice for amateurs.

Find Blender tutorials here!


[Free] Wings3D

This is a program for beginners, like TinkerCAD, meant to help you learn from the bottom. This is a good place to start for any novice.

Find Wings3D video tutorials here!

[Free/Paid] SketchUp!

This is Google's SketchUp!, intended for beginners. It's quite good at modeling simple objects and will quickly get you started.

Find SketchUp! tutorials here!


Lithophanes

Would you like to print a painting? Lithophanes are thin and flat, using the plastic to create gradient shading on the surface. Place a light nearby and watch the magic!

Creating Lithophanes

[Free] 3DP

Using this tool, you can take any photograph or picture and create a lithophane model. You can then print this model using any 3D printer!


Photogrammetry

Perhaps you're a better photographer than you are an artist. It is possible to "scan" an object into your computer, turning anything you can pick up into a 3D model file. It's a lot of work: you need proper lighting, a plain background you can key out, and many pictures from many angles.

[Free/Paid] 3D Zephyr

3D Zephyr is very approachable and gives you complete control over the entire process. You can even create your own masking on each picture you add to your project. It costs money for more complex projects, but it's highly recommended (and has a vibrant community).

Find 3D Zephyr tutorials here!

[Free] Meshroom

For a totally free solution, Meshroom seems to be the friendliest program out there. It's not as feature-filled or as friendly as 3D Zephyr, and it's a bit more picky with the photos. It doesn't have in-program masking, so you'll have to do it on your own (using photoshop or something similar).

Find Meshroom tutorials here!

There's a lot to know about Photogrammetry!

This tutorial series will show you the way.