Sharing our recommended criteria for deciding what to design and 3D print, and our top 12 tips for 3D print designers. The tips range from best practices for anyone starting out with 3D printing, to more advanced and technical tips that will be more useful after you have a bit more 3D printing experience.
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Top 12 Tips for 3D Print Designers
As we have been going through all the software reviews and other things, it just brings up all the questions that we had before about tips for 3D print designers, but I think today we would recap a lot of them together. We get a lot of questions about approaching design, and things that we do as well, as how we design in 3D printing. We will touch on how figure out what to design, and some of the tips for 3D print designers on how to do it.
We have a system by which we approach what to print, this is our first top tips for 3D print designers. You have a need to find a solution for something. When you are just trying to figure out what you are going to design or what you are going to create, I start with the who, where, why, what, and when. I have that same process that we use in design. We start with why first because why tells us why are we doing this and we care about 3D printing. Is it a waste of time or just a hobby? Why are you doing something? What is driving you? Why is the driver. It might be you want to learn about it, or you may be a maker in general and you do all sorts of processes and materials, then you want to do something in 3D printing. You may also want to create something that is unique. There are many valid reasons why.
I like to think of the why’s in two formats as a tips for 3D print designers. The short term why and the long term why. I like to focus on making sure we design the long term why, first. Our big why when we started 3D printing is that we believe 3D printing may very well be a significant part. We believe 3D printing might be the future of product retail. It might happen that 3D printed products are digitally delivered or are printed overnight and then shipped to you without inventory. We believed that might be a future possibility. Our short term why was that we needed to skill build so that we would be ahead of the curve. It gives you a short term look and a future look.
Why are you doing this? Do you want a business or not? That why is a different why. Think about this as you start to approach what you want to approach. If your long term why is to do something specific n a specific industry or to do something. For us, it was retail product. Our short term why is that we want to think about our what in terms of making sure that we are doing something to help that future.
This is where comes in. Where do you want to show this off? Where do you want to sell it? Where is it going to be showcased? You are going to show it to somebody. It is very different. The last thing you want to do if you are going to show it off is how you have what looks like anybody else. Your where is where you get to show it off in social media.
The last thing you want is your what to be totally typical. You don’t want to make another elephant, pig, or owl, a tips for 3D print designers to consider. How are you going to put yourself and stand out from the others? Where are you going to put out the image? That where can give you an indication of what you should make as well because you don’t want to look like anybody else. You need to look special.
The next part we look at is the who. Who is it for? Who is our target market? Who is going to buy this? Whose gift is this for? Who are we making it for? Are we making it for ourselves? That is okay. There is no judgement. There is just a path that enables us to go through. We skip when and how right now. Which may or may not be appropriate to you, but it might. The what comes next. That choice of what is where you can start on it again. That is totally fine. It is getting you in a more narrow area to start to think about what you should do. We get paralysis on this. We get paralyzed and do nothing. This is a way to move that forward and get you out of that and letting you print something that is relevant.
We can’t teach you how to design something on this podcast. We wish we could. How to design, to engineer, to create, is something that is impossible here. There are other resources that you could go to. You got to go get educated on how to do that, that’s an extra tips for 3D print designers. Pursue that interest. We emphasize that these things are practices. You have to continue to do them. Tom and I combined a hundred thousand hours of designing between us, spanning 24 years. It doesn’t include the years that we had in school. It just doesn’t happen overnight. You must learn on it because it is a continuous education process. None of our tips here are geared to any specific software. These tips are going to apply to everything. These are our top 12 tips for 3D print designers to create things.
- You’ve got to start with sound geometry.
Geometry is your friend here. You would be surprised designs that don’t have sound geometry. This is dependent on the software you use. If you are using SolidWorks or Onshape or any kind of parametric programs, it is not going to create something that is not of sound geometry in terms of having holes on it or errors on the file. This is more for the SketchUps of the world. Certain programs create solid geometry that is not so solid. You need to make them solid. I found the best practice when using programs like Rhinoceros. There are ways within these programs to check your geometry to see if it is a valid solid, surface, or poly surface. There are a lot of analytical tools within the software. It is a good practice to make sure that as you are going along, the geometry that you are doing is valid geometry.
- Tolerance of your CAD program
Every CAD program has a master tolerance setting. Very often these are set to be ultra precise. I have talked to people that create these files, and the STL files that they create are huge compared to what they need to be. If you have absolute tolerance set, some programs default to 0.001 millimeters. That is 1000 of 1 millimeter tolerance. Set it to a real world setting because all of the FFF 3D printers in the market are printing 10 microns. It is still 10 of 1000s of a millimeter. That is one way you can look at that. Think about the diameter of your nozzle. It is usually 0.4 millimeters. There is no point in having a tolerance of your global setting on your CAD software to be much smaller than one of those settings. I tend to set my tolerance to plus or minus half of a millimeter. I am not making details that are finer than that.
It looks better than it is going to look in an output. You need to understand what it is going to look like. It is more of like pixelization. Know that ahead of time that that is going to happen so that you cannot over design something that cannot be created. Your 3D printer is going to automatically going to round that up conceptually to the finest that it can produce. There is no point in using a lot more processing power in your computer and creating an STL file that is finer than it needs to be. You will have a false expectation then. If you are designing in your FFF printer but your output is going to be SLS or SLA, you need to know that this is an FFF tips for 3D print designers only tip. Knowing where your design is going short term or long term is important.
- Set up a bounding box in your CAD program that is the build volume of your 3D printer.
A tips for 3D print designers, is if you are using a printer where you use a raft underneath your printer, I would reduce that vertical height by 3 millimeters to account for the thickness of the raft. Think about your build volume is for everything that is going to print, not just the object that you want to print. Even if you think you are not going to use a raft, you don’t know what is going to happen when you print it.
- Work in millimeters, not the English measurement.
This tips for 3D print designer is important to educators and students. Every single desktop 3D printer on earth is based in millimeters. Everything is in millimeters. Stop trying to convert back and forth. Adopt the metric system and get used to it. This is a good tips for 3D print designers, because many industries in manufacturing do not use the English system. They use millimeters. Every single furniture machine on earth is made around the metric system. All the hardware is made with it too. My mind thinks in metric first. Some of the basic conversions on it is all about the about of things. Teach your students now because it will be their nature. It will be easier for them as they go forward. It is going to make it easier and faster for them. The metric system is very logical.
- Understand your scale.
Understand the scale that you are designing for and you are printing within. When you are creating a CAD model on a computer, you can zoom in and make something that is a quarter of a millimeter thick and it will appear to be too thick. You don’t have appreciation on how small the details are until you print them. I would keep a little metric measuring tape when you are making a dimension on your computer. Hold it up or set that caliber to that dimension. It is an illusion. Your brain gets tricked easily. The idea is that you can take pieces and that is what we do. You need to see the scale. You can only get so far in the computer, but you need to try and see things logically in your brain. Respect your scale and understand your scale.
- Print small test sections of a print before going to print the whole thing.
You got an area of particular detail or an area where you are wondering on the thickness, strength, and quality. You can just print a small section of it and get something out in an hour instead of 24 hours, and get the feedback. See if you picked the section right. This is really an invaluable process. It is one of the most wonderful things that 3D printing allows you to do. Check them first. We always do small checks because it is so critically important to make sure that what you are designing is coming across.
- Rounded and curved surface versus flat ones.
When you are creating things in engineering or designing, you need to appreciate and use more slightly curved and rounded surfaces rather than flat ones. Flat surfaces reveal flaws of the process. Other printers have trouble printing very clean truly flat surfaces. In order to get those printers to print a clean surface, you can round them up. They will then look a lot cleaner and more professional looking than if it was just flat and hard edged.
That is just a recommendation on the surfaces, as a tips for 3D print designers. When you go and buy a lot of consumer products out there that has injection molded parts or blow molded plastic parts or even thermoform plastic parts, rarely do the engineers make those flat surfaces completely flat. When you make an injection model that is flat, they tend to cave in and go a little bit concave on you in reality when they are pulled from the mold. They put a little convex curve on them so that as the plastic shrinks, it does not cave in.
You rarely get perfectly vertical or horizontal surfaces. You eventually need to do this as you clean out your parts. Doing these shortcuts are the tips from someone who knows how to create a product that looks what you want it to look like in the constraints of whatever the process you are using to produce. This is going to save you a lot of hours and would make your parts look more professional.
People want to embellish them with text when printing something. This is one of my pet peeves. Scale and round the surfaces. These are the two big tips on this. Font selection is the big deal too. If you start with a font that you cannot create, it would be difficult. They end up looking like a funny termination. It can be a messy print. Choose your font wisely to begin with is what you should do. If you do have thinner areas or sharp corners of a font, the finest corner that you will print is defined by the radius of your nozzle. If you got a 0.4 millimeter nozzle the radius is 0.2 millimeters.
The scale of your text is that you can’t get too small with it if you want it to print well. Try to radius out the edge from the face of the letters to the side of the letters. That could get complex with a lot of fonts. You need to type in the text that you want to use with your program, would then redraw over it with spikes in making lines and curves. I found that I had to recreate font text on the letters and make a large enough scale that I can get a one millimeter radius. Once I did that, the text ends up printing a lot better.
Your orientation is also important. If you got a 55 degree surface and you want to print and let it look good, don’t extrude the perpendicular surface and extrude them vertically. Text is another area that confounds a lot of people.
- Threads and Fasteners
I have done this myself. This can be done in 3D printing. You can 3D print for bolts and knots, provided that you make them large enough in plastic. This is not something that you want to do in a quick way. This is something that you need to plan extra time for because the fit is not always what you expect. It takes trial and error as well as tolerance and machine issues. I have seen it go wrong so many times when somebody has a prototype and they are ready and they think that they piece the parts together, but they don’t. When you have to fit something that is a connection, this is something that you need to pick and do in a small way. Test it. Rather than trying to model a knot and a bolt that has the right tolerance. Your slicing software has the tools to help you.
If you have a program like Simplify3D, they have a great tool called Horizontal Offset Tool. You can model it line by line. You then put plus half of a millimeter of a positive offset there. It prints it in a larger scale in a very predictable way. That works and provides enough tolerance. The material and temperature also is a factor here.
You can also insert print. You can print a 3D print to a point or level and you pause it, drop the knot, and keep printing. You can do that too, or you can insert knots that you can either use as a cylinder. There are definitely ways to do it but it takes some amount of experimentation because every FFF printer is different in terms of its exact and tolerance. Experiment with it.
You can change your temperature and material that you are printing with. Then adjust the extraction settings. There was a time when I made something. I printed it in 100% and it got stronger and all the strings and hairs went away. It was a great and happy accident. This does not work on every 3D printer, but I think that it I something that is worth trying if you end up with a lot of string and hair. Print in 100% in fill and see what happens.
- Functional elements when you are printing things with moving parts.
That print was a challenge because we do not want to make it thick or bulky for those people that have small hands. I also wanted it to be collapsible, because I stick mine in my back pocket. It needs to not be rigid. It needs to have space. The coffee sleeve is really a chain of parts that are separate parts which are 3D printed. They are captured with each other and they form a completed working moving part when you are done.
Spacing apart functional elements so you can 3D print parts is a wonderful thing, but you need to experiment on how much gap you leave. I want them to just kiss each other and barely touch. There is a term called kissing off plastic to form a stronger structure. It is a similar thing with 3D printing. If they barely touch each other, they hold each other which help things print well.
- Try to design your parts or create your models to require no supports if you ever can.
You spend hours in removing that support material. It is tedious and it ends up looking not good. There is residue and some sort of evidence that there is support material there. This top tips for 3D print designers makes the part look much more professional, more manufactured, and less handmade in a negative handmade thing. The part may work functionally, but if it looks messy, it would not be impressive. Time and speed is with you with this one. You can do things with the orientation of you part or the way that you build the geometry. You can make your part in a couple of different pieces that go together if you got a big over hang area. This is not a 3D print problem alone. Any way in which you can redesign or build differently to make that not happen, then you need to do that.
Think of it at the get go instead of later. Think of how you can provide support for all of that. We get a lot of comments all the time of people wanting to know how we get our parts off the machine. Part of the reason is that because we don’t design it. We design it to be this way. You can make your own support material. That is a place where you do a mini test. This is a case in which is one of the most critical tips you have today is where you take a new piece and you test it. You learn so much that it helps you design better. You can understand what your 3D printer isn’t good at and where it is good at, and it helps you design better because design around the problems and the strengths.
Top Tips for Designers – Final Thoughts
We want these tips for 3D print designers and things to be used. 3D Start Point is a place for you to start your printing, to start your business, to start whatever it is in 3D printing you want to do. This is where we use our thousands of hours of printing to help others. Design is a practice. Design requires you to put time again and again. This is a place where you can find learning from experts and other people. You can differentiate between sales talk, hype, and what is actually working for people.
We can’t teach you how to design, because that takes years. Regardless if you are a designer, engineer, hobbyist, or maker, these tips can help you in your process to get you where you want to go. It jumps the learning. It helps you jump to where you want to go. One of the things I want to point out is that a lot of these things help remove variables and problems. We start with a material that we know and trust. We start out with machine settings. You then dial in differences as you don’t get what you want. Print a little area to see if it is a design or slicing problem. Isolate it down.
3D printing is a wonderful thing but it is not easy. It takes time and efforts as well as eliminating variables as you go on. Hopefully these tips for 3D print designers have been helpful. At the end of the day, just jump in and just start doing it. Doing something is better than doing nothing.
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