3D printing refers to the technology used to create 3D objects in the real world from digital 3D files. The objects are typically created layer by layer using a 3D printer. There are two main types of 3D printers available on the commercial market, FDM and resin printers.
3D printers work by interpreting a 3D file and recreating its design one layer at a time using filament or resin. Most 3D models need to be prepped for printing in a process called slicing. Once the 3D model is "sliced" it can be printed on a machine.
FDM 3D printing
FDM printers use spools of material called filament. Filament can be made from a range of plastics like PLA and PETG to ABS. You can read more about FDM printer filament in our guide.
Resin-based 3D printing
Resin-based printers typically use liquid resins, like photopolymer resin for UV curing. To learn more about resin (SLA) printing, check out our resin printing FAQ page.
If you're excited to learn a bit more about both types of printer, take a look at this reveal of Anycubic's newest line of FDM and resin printers!
3D prints can take as little as a few minutes to multiple hours, even days. The amount of time it takes will depend on the size of the object you want to print, what kind of printer you choose, the type of printing material, slicer settings, and local settings on your printer. One of the common mistakes beginners make is trying to print with too much "infill" (material filling up the interior of the 3D print). Printing with less infill can make a project weaker, but it can also make the print time way faster!
It's important to familiarize yourself with all aspects of the printing process to optimize your workflow.
You can print almost anything that you can create a 3D design of with a 3D printer. 3D printers are useful for a huge range of applications—from functional prints to artistic creations. If you use the right filament, you can even print food-safe items to use as kitchen tools.
To 3D print, you must first prepare the 3D model you want to print by slicing it. This process prepares the file for the printer, designating elements of the design into specific layers to be printed.
When the file has been sliced to your printer's specifications, you need to transfer the sliced file to the printer. You can usually do this with a flash drive or SD card. If you set up your printer with OctoPrint, you can transfer the file over your network.
Make sure the printer is loaded with the right printing material (filament, resin, etc.). When everything is ready, start the print job.
You can find FDM printers on the low end of around $150. More expensive devices can reach up into multiple thousands.
Resin printers are typically more expensive, costing around $250 on the cheaper end while reaching into thousands for high end or industrial-grade machines.
How much can you expect to spend as a 3D-printing beginner? Aim for mid-range products to save yourself future grief, so expect to spend at least $300 on the printer, and another $20-60 on one to three spools of filament (for FDM), or enough resin to start off with some serious practice.
You can make money 3D printing through a variety of channels. You can sell things that you've printed, you can print things for people as a service, you can even use your prints as tools for another business. Check out our guide on how to make money 3D printing for more info on how to get started.
Metal can be 3D printed using metal 3D printers, but these aren't usually within the range of average hopbbyists. The process typically involves melting metal powder with a laser beam to construct objects. If you are really excited for printing your own metal parts, and happen to have an extra $5,000 handy, the Onyx One (Gen 2) from Markforged is absolutely your best bet for just starting out.
If you want the look of metal, you can always try using metallic infused PLA filament. This has a shiny metallic look without the need for a metal 3D printer.
You can easily paint your 3D prints when they're completed. Most 3D printing materials can be painted, like PLA filament. It helps to sand your prints smooth before painting to help the paint adhere. Be sure to wear a mask or respirator when sanding to avoid inhaling filament particles.
The paints that work best can vary from print to print, but acrylic paints usually work really well. Just make sure to be patient, and let the paint dry completely in each area before moving on to the next. Acrylic paints work best on prints when painted in layers, to create a great textured effect.
3D printable models can be designed with almost any 3D design software. As long as you can export the design to an STL file, you can slice it for printing.
If you're looking for an application to use, here are a couple of popular options to help your research:
- Blender - A free, open-source application for modeling and sculpting. Why pay for premium when premium is already open-source? FOSS is always the better option.
- If you really want to burn your dough, though, you can grab Fusion 360 - A paid professional tool used for 3D modeling. You can use it for free if the design isn't for commercial use.
3D printer filament is readily available from online platforms like Amazon and eBay. You can also buy filament directly from some manufacturers and specialty shops.
If you're lucky enough to live near a brick and mortar 3D printing business, you may want to investigate whether they sell 3D printer supplies like filament.
3D printer nozzles will become clogged with filament over time as it continuously cools and heats with use. Eventually, you will need to clean it.
Remove the nozzle from the printer and soak it in acetone for 10 - 15 minutes. Wipe off the nozzle when done. If necessary, you can use heat to soften any remaining filament debris.
Most objects printed with FDM and resin printers can be smoothed by sanding. Acetone can be used to smooth objects printed with ABS. When exposed as a vapor, it will gently break down the outer layer leaving a smooth finish. Too much acetone will cause ABS printed objects to deteriorate.