3D printing is a very exciting hobby to have. Not only can you impress your friends, but it has very practical uses, like fabricating repair parts for nearly anything. 3D printers have been used to repair nearly everything, from automobile parts to prosthetic limbs. The possibilities are endless.
There really isn’t very much you need to start 3D printing. Here is what you need to get started:
- 3D printer (Or borrow one, read on to find out what I mean)
- The material
- 3D modeling software or a saved 3D model
- Slicing software
That’s it! We are going to go through each one of these items, to be sure you know what you are doing before you go out and spend tons of money on a 3D printer. I’m also going to recommend a printer, and only one. I do this because 3D printers have distinct advantages and disadvantages. This makes it difficult to compare multiple options, so I’m saving you some sanity.
Buy or borrow a 3D printer
I’ll start by noting that you can use printers in several locations. If you live near a college, vocational school, large high school, or library, you can access 3D printers in some of these locations. UPS and Staples also offer 3D printing in some locations. Often times the cost is only the cost of materials. There are also places called FabLabs. FabLabs are places all over the world where you can go use a huge variety of machines, like 3D printers, CNC machines, etc. www.fablabs.io/labs/map has a wonderful map of most FabLab locations around the world!
The printer I recommend for the absolute beginner is the Monoprice Select Mini. It only costs $220 from Amazon with free shipping. You can’t beat that deal for a 3D printer, and it’s better than some more expensive printers in my opinion.
Other than some minor hiccups with calibration, when using anything other than PLA or ABS, and at faster print speeds, this printer has been nothing short of outstanding. The quality is fantastic and it’s very easy to use. For $220, I think everybody needs to own this printer.
Get the material
Poly Lactic Acid (PLA) and Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) are the two primary plastic materials used in 3D printing, and the only two I recommend with this 3D printer. PLA is of lower quality but should be used at first until you get some practice. ABS, on the other hand, is a high-quality and strong plastic. Below is an image of the PLA filament. ABS and PLA look identical, so there’s no need to waste the space on a second picture. Amazon has tons of PLA and ABS filament to choose from.
Download a 3D modeling software
I’m going to give two drastically different options here. If you’re looking to do more symmetrical objects with edges, I recommend Google Sketchup. It’s free to use and is very easy to get the hang of. You will have to install a plugin to be able to export to .stl though. If you’re more into creating characters or little plastic dolls, 123D from Autodesk is the software for you. This software is incredible for creating beautiful models. Give it a try.
Slicing software is used to “slice” you’re model into hundreds or thousands of layers. This is how it tells the printer how to print the object. Typically, you’ll need a .stl or .obj file for this software. There are hundreds of slicing software. Most are reliable and fairly easy to use. My favorite is Craftunique for its simplicity and ability to switch to expert mode. This will not be required if you’re using a public 3D printer.
Go crazy with your designs and get creative. 3D printers are extremely versatile and can print nearly anything. If it can be modeled, it can be printed. Obviously, scale is a limitation, but that is the only limitation. If you’re 100% new to 3D printing, be sure to check out “How does 3D printing work?” where we go over the basics of how 3D printers work.