5 questions to ask before you start 3D printing

Is it worth getting involved in the 3D printing field? Here's how to find out if it's the right fit for you.

Want to get into 3D printing? It's an exciting and evolving field for sure, but can also be an expensive one. Here are 5 questions every designer should ask themselves before taking the plunge...

01. How much money should I spend?

Not all 3D printers cost the same

First, consider what the printer's main purpose will be. If you'll be using it for an artistic venture, you should opt for a capable budget printer. However, if you want to create professional prototypes, to show clients and moving parts, think about investing a little more on a printer with a wider range of features and higher print quality. Check out these articles:

02. Will I be making moving parts?

Different products require different levels of 3D printing sophistication

This might seem like a strange question, but different 3D printers have different limitations, so you need to ensure it can do the job you require it to. For example, in some more complex models or parts, overhangs may not be able to be printed, or layer delamination may cause parts to break in certain machines.

03. Should I use a 3D print service?

Using a 3D print service takes a huge chunk of work out of the equation

If your budget or storage space doesn't allow for your own personal 3D printer, then fear not, you're still able to print using a dedicated 3D printing service, such as Shapeways. This might be a better option for you as you can turn your ideas from digital designs into real products from your desktop and have them shipped to your door.

04. What material should I use?

3D printers tend to use plastic filaments. The most common consumables used by 3D printers using the FDM (fused deposition modelling) technology are ABS, PLA and PVA – all of which are used in a large variety of applications in the industry and come in a number of colours, diameters and lengths. Before you buy, check the materials options. Start with our easy guide to 3D printing materials.

05. What software do I need?

Lots of software companies are vying for the 3D printing market, so it pays to shop around

If you're just getting started, there are a number of 3D modelling software options available that can be downloaded for free. SketchUp is fun and free and known for being easy to use. Blender is also a good free option, as are basic apps like SculptGL and OpenSCAD – this software application creates solid 3D CAD objects using OpenCSG.

This article was originally published in 3D World issue 190.

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