3D Printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a means by which machines deposit and solidify material (usually some sort of plastic) in layers in order to form a solid object. A machine that does this is called a 3D printer.
Our 3D Printers
Bloominglabs has 4 3D printers. In descending order of usefulness:
How to 3D Print
Get a Model
To 3D print an object, you must first have a 3D model of it. Specifically, you want an .stl file with the units in millimeters. You can obtain this model in one of 3 ways:
Download a Model from the Internet
There are many websites where users upload 3D-printable models they have designed for others to download and print.
- Thingiverse is the most popular.
- The RepRap wiki has an excellent list of websites.
- The 3D Printing subreddit also has a good list.
Scan an Existing Object
Real-world objects can be converted into 3D models using either photogrammetry or a 3D scanner. Note that current consumer-level scanning technology is still in its infancy, and scans often require cleaning up with external software like MeshLab.
Design a Model
You can create 3D models yourself using:
- Professional (and costly) software like Autodesk's AutoCad, Inventor, or Fusion360, or Dassault's SolidWorks.
- (If you have an email address that ends in .edu, many of these products will be available to you for free or reduced cost, so long as you do not use them for commercial purposes.)
- Freeware like Trimble's Sketchup, Onshape, or Autodesk's Tinkercad.
- (Onshape and Tinkercad are both web-based. Rather than installing the software, you use it online in your web browser.)
- Open-source software, including Blender, SolveSpace, OpenSCAD, FreeCAD, LibreCAD, BRL-CAD, and others.
Slice into G-code
The model needs to be divided up into many layers, and an exhaustive list of instructions for producing each layer needs to be produced. This is done with a program called a slicer. There are several good free slicing programs, including Slic3r, Cura, and KISSlicer. These slicing programs will allow you to choose the orientation of the model on the printer, and to set many variables which will affect the success, speed, cost, and quality of the print.
Settings for these variables are often organized into "profiles". This allows you to choose, for example, the "low-quality but fast" profile or the "incredibly slow but impressively high quality" profile.
Picking settings for these profiles is very fiddly, and often requires experimentation. Here is an excellent guide suggesting which variables to change in response to various common problems with 3D prints.
The end result of slicing is g-code, a semi-standardized form of instructions for computer-controlled manufacturing machines.
Send G-code to Printer
The next step is to get the g-code to the printer. This can also be done in one of 3 ways:
- Use a web server. The Makerfarm 12-Inch Pegasus 3D Printer has an AG150 attached to it running OctoPrint. While on the Bloominglabs WiFi, just go to http://192.168.1.4:5000/. Log in with the usual username and password (ask a member if you don't know it). You will then be able to click-and-drag g-code files to upload them, and click "print" to start printing them. You can also upload 3D models in the form of an .stl file, and OctoPrint's built-in slicer (currently Slic3r) will produce g-code using some basic settings. While printing, you will be able to monitor the printer's temperature, and also watch live video from an attached webcam.
- Use a 3D printer host program, like Cura, Pronterface, MatterControl,or Repetier, to send g-code over a USB cable to the printer. This allows direct control of the printer with a computer, but requires that you keep a computer on, running, and plugged in to the printer for the duration of the print (which can potentially be many hours).
- Copy the g-code to an SD card. Most of Bloominglabs's 3D printers have either an SD card reader or a microSD card reader. You simply copy your g-code file to the card and plug it in to the printer. This gives you little ability to control the printer while it is printing, but works very well for long prints, especially when your slicing settings are well-chosen.
The 3D printer executes g-code commands as it receives them. If all goes well, once it has completed them all, there will be a plastic replica of your design sitting on the print bed.
Things that would be Cool to Print
This is a user-maintained list with no specific criteria. Feel free to add anything you think of to this list, and also to print things from this list (and take pictures!).