Welcome to OC3D! This page outlines the general process of going from an idea to a 3D printed object using Oberlin's lab in Wilder 329. It will not only teach you how to print an object, but give you a basic understanding of what's going on at each step.
Details for each of the outlined step can be found later in the guide - this section gives a summary of the whole process.
STL Overview Edit
The first step to printing an object is creating or finding an STL file. An STL contains information about the faces and vertices of an object, encoding its 3D shape. There are two main ways to get an STL: You can find one that someone's already made that looks good, or you can make your own! There are lots of different softwares for different styles of design, and they all export an STL file for printing.
Gcode Overview Edit
There's more than just the shape of an object that determines how it prints - the printer needs to know what temperature to print, how fast to move, how to handle filling in the inside of the object, and lots of other little details. These things might vary from print to print, so we need to give it this information each time we print. An STL file isn't enough to specify a print job since it only has information about object shape. We need a more detailed file called a GCODE file. A program called Slic3r turns an STL file into a GCODE file. We tell Slic3r exactly how we'd like to print a file (or simply use the default settings) and it takes an STL and spits out a ready-to-print GCODE file. A GCODE file is created for a specific printer.
Print Overview Edit
Once we have our GCODE file for the printer we'd like, we're ready to print! Load this GCODE file on the printer's host program, and start the print!
Obtaining an STL Edit
Before we start thinking about the printers, we need to decide what to print! Generally there are two routes to getting an STL file - you can find a pre-made one, or make one yourself. It's also an option to find a premade STL and tweak it to suit your needs.
Finding a pre-made STL Edit
There are lots of talented folks in the 3D design world, and as such there are already a lot of designs out there that artists willingly share with the world. One of the largest hubs for designers is Thingiverse. Here you can search, browse and download STL files for free, made and uploaded by its open-source community. Find a thing you like, click on it, to go to its page, and click the "Thing Files" tab to access the files you can download. Select one you'd like ending in ".stl" or ".STL" and make a note of where you put it. Head to the "Slic3r is Nicer" entry if you're ready for the next step.
Creating your own STL Edit
This step is where the true artistry of 3D design can come into play. While everything else in this guide gives sufficient information to fully understand and execute each step of printing, the process of 3D design is an artistic skill which is honed over time. There are a variety of excellent CAD (Computer-Aided Design) softwares with varying levels of complexity, learning curve, and style. This section will outline a few of the more popular options which can be obtained for free.
Tinkercad by Autodesk is an excellent starting point for anyone new to 3D design. It's free and entirely web-based, so no software download is required. Simply create an account and you can design any number of objects which are stored on the cloud and accessible anywhere.
The makers of Tinkercad have created a number of built-in tutorials that you will be taken to upon making your account. Here you will be shown the intuitive drag-and-drop, mouse-controlled visual interface one tool at
a time. While Tinkercad lacks the modularity and specificity of many other programs, it among the easiest to use and gets you started very quickly. Once you've created an object you'd like to print, select
"Download for 3D printing" and choose an STL as the format you'd like.
SketchUp Make Edit
Google's SketchUp Make is a powerful software which is used in a wide variety of CAD applications. If you're already familiar with SketchUp then it may be the best way to get going. There is an extension which allows SketchUp import and export of STL files, and there are a number of online tutorials for learning to use the software.
OpenSCAD is the most popular CAD software for 3D print designers. It is a code-based software, meaning that the user types code which then generates a 3D object. Anyone who has taken a computer science class will feel at home in its interface, but even those who haven't can learn from a number of tutorials and examples. The documentation includes ground-up tutorials as well as references for those who are already familiar with coding concepts.
The reason OpenSCAD is so popular is that it allows modular designs to be
created. This means that one can define the shape and size of an object with a variables, and if the object needs to be changed in some way this can easily be done. For example, to change the height of an object without changing its width
or depth, once can simply change a "height" parameter and everything in the object will adjust accordingly without manually repositioning each piece.
The two largest downsides to OpenScad are its relatively steep learning curve for those with little or no coding experience, and its inability to easily create organic shapes. Either of these can be mitigated with some dedication.
Those familiar with other (likely 2D) creative suites such as Photoshop and Illustrator might prefer Blender for its tool-based, mouse-centric layout. It is a powerful application which allows for the creation of organic, artistic shapes with its visual sculpting tools. Its learning curve is also relatively steep, but it offers a different set of tools for the more artistic designer who is less interested in perfectly fitting parts and more interested in beautiful, visual designs.
Though the specialties and capabilities of the above software to vary, each is quite versatile, especially with practice. Organic curves can be crafted in OpenSCAD, interlocking technical parts made in Blender, and complex designs done in Tinkercad. Find a software that feels right for your tastes and get designing! Edit
Slic3r is Nicer EditYou've got an STL - great! We're not ready to print quite yet. In addition to the shape of the object, the printer also needs to know how fast to move, how hot to print, and a number of other details. We specify these settings in a free program called Slic3r. While you're welcome to use the lab's computer to slice, members are encouraged to get Slic3r up and running on their own compters - the download is fast and free, and Slic3r is an easy-to-use utility.
Once you've got the program running, Slic3r needs to know about the printer you want to print with - its size, shape, and temperature settings. You can find all of these settings for OC3D's printers packaged up in the "OC3D_Slic3r_Bundle.ini" file on OC3D's Google Drive . Download this file. In Slic3r, go to "File" and select "Load Config Bundle". Choose the .ini file you downloaded from the drive. Now you can print with settings catered specifically to the printer you want to use. To turn an STL into GCODE:
- Start by choosing the printer you want under the "Printer" tab. If you're at the lab, check to see which are free and operational. Choose this printer for "Filament" and "Print settings" as well.
- Add your STL (or multiple) by clicking the "Add" button and choosing your object. Drag them where you want them on the bed (usually the middle is good).
- Optional: Scale your part to make it bigger or smaller by clicking "Scale" in the "Plater" tab. You can see how big it is in comparison to the size of the print bed in the left window. You can also click the part to view its size in the lower right.
- Optional: Tweak any settings you want to tweak under "Print settings". Infil -> Fill Density is a common one to change. Usually 20-30% is good.
- Click "Export Gcode" and remember where you put it.
Done! If you're curious, open up the .gcode file with a text editor. You'll see that it's a bunch of lines of code! Each of these lines tells the printer to move to a place, spit out some plastic, change temp, or some other tiny part of the print process. Most GCODE files are thousands of lines long. This GCODE file is catered to the exact object you want to print, the printer you selected, and the settings you chose. Printing it on a different printer would cause your object to be the wrong size at best, and fail to print at worst. If you want to print on a different printer you need to make a new GCODE file. It's sometimes handy to include the printer name in the name of the GCODE file to prevent this.
We're finally ready to print! A quick word on how a print works:
A 3D printer's electronics board accepts a single line of GCODE and executes it. This isn't a very useful function by itself, so the printer needs a host. A print host is a piece of software that takes a GCODE file and feeds it, line by line, to a printer over a USB connection. The host usually also offers other functinality like letting you heat up the printer and move it around. Currently all the lab printers use a special host called Octoprint. If you want to get right to it, head to your web browser and type the IP address of the printer you're using (Look for a sticker on the printer). You'll be taken to its OctoPrint page. Click "Upload Gcode" and select your GCODE file. Click the printer icon next the uploaded file's name, and your print will start as soon as the printer heats up! For more details about Octoprint, check out its Wiki page.
If you're working on a printer without Octoprint, you'll need to use either your computer or the lab's as the host. Download a free print host program - Repetier is a good one. Plug in to the printer with a USB A-to-B cable, turn on the printer, and start the host. Click "Connect" and you should have control of the printer! Input your printer's settings to Repetier and load some GCODE.