5 Things to Know about 3D Printing

Keenan Ngo
Aug 25 · 3 min read
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1. It’s not very expensive

3d printers are relatively cheap to purchase and even cheaper to operate. The Creality Ender 3, which many consider the best bang for buck is just $300 and not even the cheapest on the market. A 1kg (2.2lb) roll of filament cost around $30 and is 330m long. This works out to about 10 cents a meter (3 cents a foot). Since most prints are between 5–10 meters, that’s about 50 cents to a dollar.

2. It takes time

3d printing is a quicker way to make models but still takes longer than expected. Compared with paper or wood model making, 3d printing is very fast for prototyping because a small print can be done in 30 minutes but larger prints can take upwards of 12 hours or more. Whereas the time it takes to make a paper or wood model is largely dictated by the intricacy of detail, 3d printing is slowed based on size. The larger the print the more material needs to be placed layer by layer which takes time.

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3. Scale Matters

There is an optimal size to 3d printing. The standard layer height of 0.2mm makes a bottom limit for the resolution where minute details get lost. Conversely, the extrusions of material become more visible at larger scales which means that 3d printing has an optimal range for making objects.

4. Bed leveling

Bed leveling is perhaps the most frustrating part of setting up the 3d printer. Bed leveling is to ensure that the nozzle is close enough to the bed surface to ensure proper adhesion on the first layer. It is commonly explained as pinching a piece of paper between the heated bed and the heated nozzle. What isn’t explained is how much to pinch the paper or what to do if the bed is concave or convex.

I use 24lb (90g/m2) regular printer paper for bed leveling and pinch the paper to leave a scratch in the paper as I drag the nozzle between the four leveling points. I also check the center of the bed and make adjustments to the corners to account for the convexity of the bed. It is better to have the center properly leveled than the corners because that’s where most prints are made.

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Bed leveling is also something that needs to be done regularly. Ambient temperature and thermal expansion affect the bed level so it’s important to check before printing if the printer hasn’t been used recently.

5. PLA is stronger than you think

PLA is the most common 3d printing plastic. Many prints suggest infilling the 3d print for strength. This can be 10% or up to 100%. For the most part, infilling is a waste of time and material. Anything decorative doesn’t need infill since it won’t be pulled, twisted, or bent. Unless you’re making a tool there’s no point on infill.

Additionally, since PLA becomes a brittle plastic there are diminishing returns to the amount of infill meaning that a low percentage of infill (2–10%) will give a big boost in strength but adding more infill (70–90%) won’t give a linearly equivalent increase in strength.

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