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3D Printing - 101

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4.98 (21 votes)
5 Aug 2018CPOL
The time is right to purchase that 3D Printer you've been looking at and I'll help you get started!

[Update 8/5/2018]

Added troubleshooting references, for those times when it just ain't right...or left!

Introduction

In the last couple of years the price of 3D Printers has droppped considerably and 3D Printing has become affordable for we mere mortals; with models ranging from less than $200 (think Wal-Mart) to many thousands of dollars. There are a lot of printers available offering various print volumes, configuations and options to choose from; so you really have to do some research before you make a purchase. When I got ready to buy a printer I did a lot of reearch and asked for advice from friends who had printers. Consequesntly, I narrowed my list down to two printers that would fulfill my requiredments:  inexpensive with a large print volume, easy to use out of the box and reliable.

The two printers that made it to my short list were the Prusia i3 MK2S and the Creality CR-10. Both models come in kit form, that includes all the tools necessary to assemble the unit. The Creality unit is easy enough to assemble, even for those with modest mechanical skills, and judging from all the videos I watched, I'll assume that the Prusia is just as easy. 

Below, in Table 1 is a comparison of some of the more importatnt features available on these two printers.

Name Price Build Volume Heated Bed Self Leveling Layer Resolution Print Speed
Prusa i3 MK2S $599.00 250X210X200 mm Yes Yes 0.05 mm + 50 mm/s max
Creality CR-10 $379.99 300X300X400 mm Yes No 0.1-0.4 mm 80-200 mm/s

Table 1. Feature Comparison of the Prusa i3 MK2S kit and Creality CR-10 3D printer kits

In the end, I went with the Creality CR-10; mainly because of price and the print volume.  Everything else was closely matched. While doing my research I did look at the Creality CR-10S, the upgrade to the CR-10 but didn't think that the features offered justified the $120 price difference.

Unboxing and assembling

So you see the FedEx guy walking up the drive with a big box and you know it's got to be the 3D Printer you've been tracking since the day you ordered it. You get the box in the door, open it up and start removing the pieces. At this point you need to decide if the you think you are able to assemble the printer, or not, with the instructions provided. If you don't think you can handle it or are not sure here's an Assembly Video that will walk you through it.

Next you need to level the bed, this is a critical step and I cannot overstate the importance of getting it right. The instructions and the assembly video I provided both say to use a single peice of paper as a gauge to level the bed. This works if you plan on printing on the glass or use hair spray, glue or something similar. I use a 3M Blue painters tape as my adhesion layer and find it works very well; unlike the masking tape provided.  I found the masking tape sticks so hard you have to use a chisel to get your part off. If you decide to use the masking or blue tape you need to provide a little extra space between the table and the extrusion nozzle to allow for the tape. For this, I use 2 pieces of PostIt slips and this gives just the right gap.

The 4 phases of 3D Printing

From concept to reality it's not as hard as it might seem. With a little imagination, the right tools and a willingness to learn, the road to success is a rewarding one.

  1. Dream it
  2. Draw It
  3. Prepare It
  4. Print It

The design process is different for everyone but basically it boils down to getting it out of your head and into your hands, how you do it is irrelevant. These four basic steps are only one path to make that happen, they just happen to work for me and I'm sure a lot of others. The tools used to achieve these goals also vary from person to person and there is a plethora of tools to choose from. My only advice is use the tools you're comfortable with and that you can afford.

Dream It

There's a quote by William Arthur Ward, "If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it." I thought this more or less appropriate as it seems many things are possible with this marvelous tool.

I find that keeping a note/sketch pad on my desk is helpful for when I have an idea that I think I would like to print. I think it out, on paper, first. Initially, I don't worry about dimensions or scaling I just put it on paper to see how it looks. This gives me the opportunity to not only to visualize it but also to work out some of the early design flaws and work towards a finished draft.

To me this is the most creative phase because it gives me a chance to express myself. I'm not very good at sketching, although I am getting better, but I still get a general idea of how it will look when it is complete. I haven't really found much to help with sketching, other than some kind of straight edge. I do most most of my sketching freehand but I find that a straight edge helps at times. My hands are getting a little shaky so the ruler helps keep the lines on the paper.

Draw It

The drawing phase is where you take your preliminary sketch and actually fill in the details. There are many tools to help you accomplish this, some are better than others, some require a steep learning curve and this is probably where you will experience the most frustration. As with most anything the more money you have to spend the better the tool. I use TurboCAD and have had several versions on my machine for the last few years. During this time I have made a half-hearted attempt to learn how to use it; but, the learning curve for any CAD program is steep and I'm impatient so I kept kicking the can down the road, so to speak. Once you start learning how to use the CAD sodtware it is rewarding but getting there takes a sailor's vocabulary.

The following list, while not complete, references some of the resources that can be accessed to help in the design phase. What program you use depends on what you intend to create. As I stated previously, I use TurboCAD because most of what I design is mechanical in nature.

  1. SketchUp

    There is a free online version of SketchUp but it's pretty crude and the pro version is $695. I can't say much about this application. I've not used it, but a lot of people who do use it think it is great., So I'll bow to their expertise.

  2. TinkerCAD

    Another online CAD application that is also fairly crude; but, you can get things done with a little effort. I have used this application and did a couple of simple projects. But, I found that the workarounds for doing more advanced things requires a lot of extra work. There seems to be a large community of users so there is plenty of help to get up to speed.

  3. TurboCAD

    As I stated earlier, I've had several versions of TurboCAD and it's very powerful but the learning curve is very steep. The Deluxe version is around $150 and for an inexpensive CAD program it has a lot to offer. I found that I could do anything with it that I wanted but some things would have been a lot easier with the pro version, which BTW is around $1600. But, determined and broke I went on ebay and got a 2016 Pro Platinum version for around $95 and with it I have been able to amaze myself at the things I've been able to do.

  4. Other free and paid programs

    Pretty much any drawing program that outputs the .stl file format can be used for printing. Cura will accept other file formats, see[1d] for further details. After Cura "Prepares" the file to be printed it outputs a gcode format file.

Prepare It

Now that everything is assembled and the bed leveled you'll be wanting to print something...anything. (Well, that was me anyway.) We still have to have a way to convert the .stl file output from our favorite CAD program into a gcode file format that the printer will understand, For this we need slicing software.

There are several good slicing applications to choose from, all are very good. Being new to 3D printing I tried Simplify3D and was very impressed with the first print.  It was easy to configure with lots of options but with a much simpler UI, for a beginner like me. But, the second printable I loaded was about 80% transparent and I wasn't able to print. At that point I downloaded Cura and while not as pretty as Simplify3D I was able to complete the print. While doing research for this article I found and downloaded the Slic3r software and plan to evaluate it in the near future. It looks promising!

The following list contains the links to the most popular slicing software.

  1. Cura by Ultimaker (free)https://ultimaker.com
  2. Simplify3D ($149)https://www.simplify3d.com
  3. Slic3r (free, open source)http://slic3r.org

Print It

As with most things you learn in the tech world, there is always a "Hello World" hands on to get you started and 3D printing is no exception. When I got my printer assembled, leveled and configured the manufacturer recommended the 3D Benchy project to determine if the assembly was successful and the printer working properly and this project gives the printer a pretty good workout.

Image 1

The list that follows contain links to a few of the more popular printables download sites, there are literally thousands of free projects you can download ready to be sliced and printed.

  1. Thingiverse https://www.thingiverse.com/
  2. GrabCAD https://grabcad.com/library
  3. MyMiniFactory https://www.myminifactory.com
  4. Youmagine https://www.myminifactory.com/
  5. Repables https://repables.com

3D Printer Filament

An analogy comes to mind when talking about 3D Printer filament, it is like the arrows that you purchase to shoot with your bow. Ones not very useful without the other and the quality of both is of prime importance. Would you spend a lot of money for a bow with all the latest technology and purchase cheap arrows?  You might, but your accuracy would suffer. The same is true with a 3D Printer and the filament that you are going to use to create that high tech widget that you've been dying to get out of your CAD program and into your hands.

You can purchase 3D Printer filament in a variety of colors and compositions for just about any job you have in mind. Proper care and storeage of the filament is important as a lot of the types described in this article are Susceptible to moisture. If they pick up enough moisture from the air, it makes them very hard to work with.

Below, in Table 2 is a listing of some of the properties of popular filaments, with a few exotic ones thrown in for good measure.

Material Strength Workability Flexibility Durability Printing Temp Bed Temp
PLA Medium Easy Low Medium 180°C - 230°C 20°C - 60°C
ABS Medium Medium Medium High 210°C – 250°C 80°C-110 °C
PET High Medium High high 230-255 °C 55 °C-70 °C
PVA High Easy Low Medium 180°C – 230°C 45 °C
PETT High Medium High High 210°C – 230°C 45 °C
HIPS Low Medium Medium High 220-230 °C 50 °C-60 °C
Nylon High Medium High High 210°C – 250°C 60 °C-80 °C
Wood Medium Medium Medium Medium 200°C - 260°C 90°C-110°C.
Sandstone Low Medium Low Low 165°C – 210°C 20 °C-55 °C
Metal Medium Hard Low High 195-220 °C 50 °C
Magnetic Iron PLA Medium Hard Medium Medium 185 °C 20 °C-55 °C
Conductive PLA Medium Easy Medium Low 225°C-260 °C 90 °C-110 °C
Carbon Fiber Medium Medium Low HIgh 195°C-220 °C 50 °C
Flexible/TPE Low Hard High Medium 210°C-225 °C 20-55 °C
Glow in the dark Medium Easy Medium Medium 185°C-205 °C 70 °C

Table 2. Common 3D Printer Filament Properties 

Review

Now that I've had my Creality CR-10 3D printer for a couple of weeks and run a couple of spools of PLA filament through it, I can honestly say I'm glad I bought it. I had heard that this printer was not a printer for beginners; but, I'm finding just the opposite.  It pretty much worked right out of the box. There wasn't a lot of assembly to do.  The little that was needed was easy; with instructions that were fairly straight forward. It arrived with: all the tools you need and even enough tape and filament to get started.

So far I've only used PLA filament in an effort to learn the art of 3D printing and PLA, from what I've read is the easiest filament to work with. Once I got past the "fear of breaking the thing" stage, I started tweeking the slicing options to suit the different projects I've been printing; and therein lies the art. To get the object that you're printing to look good and be functional takes some practice and with practice comes perfection. I'm a ways on from that point.

The Creality CR-10 is a good machine for a person, like me, who is new to 3D printing.  It is easy to use out of the box and while it doesn't have all the bells and whistles of some of the more expensive units, it is a solid, reliable and fun machine to learn with. Don't get me wrong I've created some serious gear with this unit and had a lot of fun doing it.

In my opinion, the Creality CR-10 is the best bang for the buck that I found in my research. I did look at the Creality CR-10S while doing my research but most distributors wanted another $120-$150 for the upgrades. Quite honestly, since I've been using my printer, I can't see that the upgrade is worth the money they're asking.

As an aside, my friend bought a Creality CR-10 about a year before I did and he wanted to test the Creality's reliabliity and see if it would handle a long print. He chose an RC boat that took 5 days and 17 hours to complete. He had to restart twice because he lives in the country and power went out on him two times. Not sure I would of stuck it out, if it were me doing it; but, the boat turned out nice and we now know that it can indeed handle long prints.

References

Creality CR-10 Upgrades

  1. [1a] Kevin, CR10 / CR10s Upgrades (Mar 6, 2018) http://makerfun3d.com
  2. [2a] Upgrades for CR-10> https://macewen3d.com

Design Software

  1. [1b] SketchUp, https://www.sketchup.com
  2. [2b] TinkerCAD, https://www.tinkercad.com/
  3. [3b] Max von Übel, 30 Best Free CAD Software Tools 2018 (2D/3D CAD Programs) (Jul 20, 2018) https://all3dp.com

Cura Slicing Software

  1. [1c] Cura 2 Manual, https://ultimaker.com
  2. [2c] Mastering Cura, https://all3dp.com
  3. [3c] Dibya Chakravorty, 2018 Cura Tutorial - Deep Inside the Cura 3D Slicer Software (Feb 9, 2018), https://all3dp.com
  4. [4c] Dibya Chakravorty, 3D Printer G-Code Commands – 2018 Tutorial for Beginners (July 9, 2018), https://all3dp.com
  5. [5c] Dibya Chakravorty, The Most Important 3D Printer File Formats of 2018 (Jun, 16 2018) https://all3dp.com

3D Printer Filament

  1. [1d] Fused filament fabrication, https://en.wikipedia.org
  2. [2d] 3D Printer Filament Types Guide of 2017 https://www.allthat3d.com
  3. [3d] Sean Rohringer, The Ultimate Filament Guide 25 Best 3D Printer Filament Types of 2018 (May 21, 2018) https://all3dp.com
  4. [4d] Widipedia.com, 3D Printing filament https://en.wikipedia.org

Troubleshooting

  1. [1e] Alastair Jennings, 2018 3D Printing Troubleshooting Guide: 41 Common Problems (Jun 27, 2018) https://all3dp.com
  2. [2e] A visual Ultimaker troubleshooting guide https://support.3dverkstan.se
  3. [3e] The Ultimate 3D Print Quality Troubleshooting Guide 2018 https://rigid.ink
  4. [4e] 3D Printer Troubleshooting Guide https://www.matterhackers.com
  5. [5e] How to Solve the Most Common 3D Printing Problems https://3dprintingforbeginners.com
  6. [6e] Troubleshooting Guide to 19 Common 3D Printing Problems|Part One http://www.geeetech.com

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

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About the Author

Mike Hankey
Retired
United States United States
Currently enjoying retirement and working on projects without pressure, deadlines or any kind of management.

Comments and Discussions

 
QuestionGreat write-up Pin
jhfw5817-Sep-18 19:32
professionaljhfw5817-Sep-18 19:32 
AnswerRe: Great write-up Pin
Mike Hankey23-Sep-18 11:07
professionalMike Hankey23-Sep-18 11:07 
GeneralMy vote of 5 Pin
C. Gierbauer9-Aug-18 4:55
memberC. Gierbauer9-Aug-18 4:55 
GeneralRe: My vote of 5 Pin
Mike Hankey14-Aug-18 11:37
professionalMike Hankey14-Aug-18 11:37 
QuestionVery Informative! Pin
Member 104156116-Aug-18 7:38
memberMember 104156116-Aug-18 7:38 
AnswerRe: Very Informative! Pin
Mike Hankey14-Aug-18 11:37
professionalMike Hankey14-Aug-18 11:37 
GeneralMy vote of 5 Pin
Gary Wheeler6-Aug-18 5:18
memberGary Wheeler6-Aug-18 5:18 
GeneralRe: My vote of 5 Pin
Mike Hankey14-Aug-18 11:33
professionalMike Hankey14-Aug-18 11:33 
PraiseVery Cool Pin
Slacker0072-Aug-18 7:34
professionalSlacker0072-Aug-18 7:34 
GeneralRe: Very Cool Pin
Mike Hankey3-Aug-18 4:02
professionalMike Hankey3-Aug-18 4:02 
Question3-D Printed WMD Pin
Vivic2-Aug-18 3:21
professionalVivic2-Aug-18 3:21 
AnswerRe: 3-D Printed WMD Pin
Mike Hankey3-Aug-18 4:06
professionalMike Hankey3-Aug-18 4:06 

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Posted 2 Aug 2018

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