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Getting Started in 3D Printing Made Easy
April 19, 2016
Yesterday, the great folks over at 3DPrint.com posted their coverage of a guide to 3D printing created by AstroPrint. It is an extremely comprehensive guide, giving everything from suggested brands of printers to where to turn for new information and everything in between. Beginning first with some solid brands, among those listed are:
For most of these vendors, you should be able to find a printer that meets your needs. Many of them offer open build platforms which could be customized to a specific user’s needs, provided s/he is so inclined. A few names missing from the list that may be worth noting are MakerBot and Micro3D which also, we believe, warrant some consideration.
One of the best things about the world of 3D printing is the community that has built itself up to share design successes and failures. While an open web search using Google may be sufficient initially, notes 3DPrint.com, there are several sites that serve as dedicated design platforms. At the top is certainly MakerBot’s Thingiverse which recently celebrated its 1,000,000 upload of a design to their site. The next one mentioned by the folks at AstroPrint is STLFinder which is an aggregator and pulls in designs from a variety of other sites. Two others worth noting are MyMiniFactory and Youmagine. Of these, the MyMiniFactory prides itself on hosting designs that are guaranteed to print, and Youmagine places its emphasis on open-source designs. For a list of several more repositories, please refer to the original 3DPrint article.
As with any technology out there, sometimes the best answers are found by consulting users just like themselves in forums. The first forum the guide mentions is 3DPrintBoard who boasts roughly 15,000 active users whose collective genius users can consult. Second on the list was a Reddit subforum, r/3Dprinting who also has a large amount of expertise among users. Among others considered to be solid are those from Shapeways, Lulzbot, RepRap, and 3D Hubs.
As far as slicing program goes, AstroPrint recommends Cura as their program of choice, and backs up the statement by making it available through their website as part of the AstroPrint platform. Another top choice is Simplify3D, a standalone software program that will run users $149 for a license. If that is too much, other recommendations from AstroPrint include Slic3r (also available from AstroPrint with no download), CraftWare, and KISSSlicr.
Realizing that not every print is going to come out perfect each time, it is important that users can rely on various tools to help get their designs right or at least back on track. The top two suggestions offered are Blender and NetFabb. Both are free, with Blender offered as open source software, and NetFabb providing cloud-based options as well as the downloadable NetFabb Basic. Other options for your consideration include MeshMixer, Tinkercad, and Simplify3D.
Another concern with 3D printing for some might be the intersection between the technology and CAD, or computer-aided design. According to Dilanka of AstroPrint, "Once you get decent at CAD however, you will never look at the world the same way. It’s almost a superpower that will enable you to create literally anything—your imagination is your limit. Not to mention, you won’t have to spend a single dollar on manufacturing!"
Recommended tools for help with CAD include again, Blender, OnShape, and FreeCAD. OnShape was developed by former Solidworks employees and is designed to provide an intuitive user experience. FreeCAD on the other hand is another open source platform that provides parametric 3D modeling. Once again, refer to the full article for another slew of the best options for CAD software.
If you aren’ ready to make the investment in an actual printer right now but still want to see your designs come to life, there are several services that will handle that part for you. At the top of the list is Shapeways that allows you to hire a vetted designer to create something for you, a set of tools for creating your own simple designs, or a place to upload your own completed designs. Further, there are tons of designs that others have created and shared for you to print your very own copy if you so choose. Another popular service that, in essence, allows you to "rent" or borrow a personal 3D printer, is 3D Hubs who has contracted with over 29,400 local printers who will either prepare your design for pickup or print it out and ship it directly to your house. Some other services worth noting here are Sculpteo and iMaterialise both of which are solid choices for custom designs.
When it comes to filament, there are also several choices which may seem a bit overwhelming. Many 3D printer vendors may in fact sell their own printer filament, so it is certainly worth checking out their offerings. However just like with ink and toner, it is not necessary to use their own brand of filament with their printers. For standard ABS and PLA filament, two sides recommended by Dilanka are HatchBox3D and PrintedSolid. For more custom filaments, try colorFabb and ProtoPasta. At Castle Ink, we’ proud to carry a wide variety of ABS and PLA filament in a 1.75mm width for your 3D printing needs. As with our ink and toner, all of our filament also carries our 100% satisfaction guarantee.