Dec. 7, 2017
When I bought my first 3D printer, I didn’t have any clue what I was doing. The best example of that is I couldn’t get my nozzle to fit over the PTFE tube in the hotend, so I beat it with a wrench to get it to fit, and in doing so flattened the end of the nozzle and blocked the opening. Oops. Common sense would say that was a dumb idea, but having no clue how any of it works, my resources at the time were limited to what people had made videos of on YouTube, or searching through dozens of various forums with varying levels of organization.
As such, I’ve compiled a list of ten things that are second nature now, would have been really helpful to know when I first started printing.
Nowadays, automatic bed leveling is a lot more common than it used to be, with several different sensors or methods to level the bed, but many printers still use manual leveling, which is completely fine and still easy to take care of. If it’s automatic, just follow the instructions or wizards that your printer uses to level, but if it’s manual, here’s a good method to follow:
I used to think you could just remove filament from a cold nozzle like you would unload an ink cartridge from a printer. Not so. You need to heat up the nozzle to melt the filament that has formed a plug, locking it into the tip of the nozzle.
Sometimes you clog a nozzle and you’re in a time crunch or maybe you don’t care about surface quality, you just need big parts fast, in either case, swapping out your nozzle for a different sized one is a great solution to get things running as you want.
Nozzles come in a variety of sizes, from small nozzles for detailed prints to large nozzles for fast and strong prints. There are even nozzles designed for any abrasive material you can throw at it. You can find all of these here.
4. When to Use Support
Some models are unprintable without support, and others lose important features by including them. It’s important to be able to identify when a model fits within either of these categories to better your chances at a successful print.
Internal features may be filled in by supports and be impossible to remove. Take the Phoenix prosthetic hands, for example. These, and most other eNABLE hands, have internal channels to run elastic thread and fishing line through it to move the hand. By using support, these would be filled and create useless prints.
Most models will need some form of support. This part from the jet engine casing was printed without support on accident, and while it worked it is clearly not as pretty as the other parts that were printed with support. If any part of the model juts out from the side of the model like these attachment points, you will need to use support.
There are several different methods to help prints stick to the bed, and everyone ends up finding what their go-to is and stick with it.
There are a variety of tools that I have amassed over the years that at some point has come in handy and necessary. I’ve organized these all on my Spool Tool, which you can find here, but to start off there are a couple that everyone should have.
This week, two different people in the office have cut themselves on their printers. I’ve done it myself too, so do as I say and not as I’ve done: aim your spatula away from yourself. It may not seem as sharp as a knife, but once that spatula slips, it’s thirsty for blood. Try to gently work up a corner of your print and slide the spatula under it. If it’s taking too much force, don’t force it by hand, at worst you can give the handle a gentle tap with the handle of a screwdriver to try and get some wiggle room, but at least that way it’s a controlled use of force and you are much less likely to slip.
We were all beginners at one point, and being bad at something is the first step to being sort of good at something. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you don’t understand what’s going wrong. In general the 3D printing community is very open to helping newcomers, so here are some helpful tips when looking for help
I don’t know how many times I read something that wasn’t applicable to anything I was doing or working on at the time, but later proved to be immensely helpful in diagnosing a problem. The best example I have of that is I read an article describing Z-banding and Z artifacts, which is where there is a clear ribbing along the Z-axis of a print due to some irregularity in the Z-axis assembly. It described some of the reasons behind Z-banding, how some users attempt to solve this, and how to actually fix it. Sure enough, a week later when I finally fired up the printer I had been building, I noticed those same issues, and remembering that article I was able to diagnose it down to the Z-axis lead screw not being perpendicular to the guide rails.
When I first started printing, I treated prints like they were worth their weight in gold, even if they were pretty bad looking prints. Since I knew I was going to finish them with sandpaper anyway, I didn’t mind it. But it’s really not that hard or expensive to reprint a part and try again. I've been printing 3D Phil in a variety of filaments, and occasionally I get a print that's not terrible, but only okay. In that case, I throw them away. They take 35g of filament to print, or $1.07 to be exact, so it really doesn't cost much to reprint him again and have a really great looking print.
If you have a time crunch or just can’t figure out what’s wrong with your prints or printer, give us a call or email. We have a team in the office dedicated to providing support and walking you through the troubleshooting steps and procedures to get you back up and running.
This article was a lot longer than I intended it to be, but I think it is a good jumping off point for someone just getting started and looking for some guidance into their new hobby or toolset. If you have any questions more specifically about some of the tips I’ve described, leave it in the comments down below and we’ll be happy to help.
Thanks for reading!
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