3D Printing Guide
Shape the future with our huge range of 3D printers, filament and resin.
3D printing really isn't brand new technology now. We've sold 3D printers for a number of years, after all. Perhaps the biggest thing that has changed however, is the quality, and reliability of their output.
Our range of 3D printers, scanners & pens represent fantastic value for money with amazing features and reliability. Now you can find a suitable printer that fits your own unique prototyping requirements, as well as your budget.
WARNING DON'T BUY A 3D PRINTER UNTIL YOU READ THIS!
OK - so maybe it's not a warning, but we do want to make sure you understand a few basic principles of 3D printing before you dive in. You may end up purchasing a unit that either does too little, or too much for your intended purpose.
3D printing is changing the way we produce things. Instead of buying a physical item from a store or having a professional manufacturer make a protoype of your idea, you can now print it in your home, office, workshop, etc. There's no tooling necessary which opens up a world of opportunity to the designer - or everyday joe just wanting to make cool stuff. There's also an element of self-sufficiency and novelty: the notion that you not only sourced an item locally, but made it yourself! If you're not a designer, there's a number of 3D printing libraries online where you can download free CAD drawings which you can print, and at the same time interact with other fans on tips and processes. 3D printing is a fun, exciting and quickly evolving world.
But how exactly does 3D printing work, and what do you need to know to get started 3D printing your own projects?
3D printing is an "additive production process". That means that it prints a 3D item in hundreds (or even thousands) of super-thin horizontal layers from the bottom up to form a solid object. Due to this layering process, the printer can create hollow objects, intricate internal components, and moving parts like hinges and wheels inside a solid case - which you cannot achieve with traditional manufacturing. The objects you're planning on 3D printing will determine what quality and capabilities you need your 3D printer to have.
WHAT IS "Z RESOLUTION"?
In 2D printing, we talk about "DPI" (dots per inch) with the general rule being - the finer the dots, the higher the resolution and the sharper the printed image. In 3D printing, this is the layer thickness or "z resolution" - the finer the layer, the smoother and more detailed the printed object will be. For example, if you have a 100mm height print, which is made up of 0.5mm layers, your printer will use 200 layers to create the object. If you print the same object with a printer capable of just 0.1mm layers, the printer will require 1000 layers to produce the same object - but the detail will be finer and the result generally smoother. Of course most printers have an adjustable z resolution so you can fine-tune the output to find a balance between speed and quality, within certain parameters. These decisions are also based on the diameter of the extrusion nozzle, and as filament comes in two basic sizes - it does affect the quality of the printed object.
WHAT IS "INFILL"
Infill is a repeating structure used to fill the empty space of your 3D prints. As well as improving the visuals on some prints, it can also improve strength or load bearing characteristics. Often, too high an infill setting may be overkill.
This helpful image will give you an idea of what kind of settings you need for your prints. Click the image to view a high resolution version.
Filament vs Resin What Printer do I Need?
Filament (FDM) Printers and Resin Printers are the two most common 3D printer you will find on the market at the moment, each with their own pros and cons.
Filament (FDM) Printers will generally be larger build area, up to 300 x 300 x 400mm with our CR-X Dual filament Printer from Creality. FDM printers also allow for easy change of material mid print or multiple material types at the same time. They are easy to set up and customise to fit your workflow or hobbies. Making them the go to printers for props, rapid prototyping in different materials, and your everyday models. But, they have the down side of having to lay down each bit of material one by one which means they are slower than their Resin counterpart.
Resin printers will typically be smaller in build size while also limited to a single resin during print. Resin printing also offers a significantly higher quality model with precision that can't be replicated on their FDM counterparts. These printers will be used to make very small highly details models and parts that FDM printer can't make. The main examples being DnD models, Warhammer models, small high detailed prototypes. Resin printers have the ability to print much faster at higher detail due to the fact that resin printers can print an entire layer of the model in one go. A Resin printer down sides are cleaning up resin, washing and curing the prints as well as small print size and weaker prints when compared to PLA filament prints.
FILAMENT WHAT SIZE AND TYPE DO I NEED?
Filament comes in a vast array of types and special colours especially in the last few years. With everything from standard PLA and PLA + plastic, the most common among 3D printers, to Carbon Fibre allowing the rapid prototyping of high strength parts on standard printers, and TPU allowing the printing of flexible parts like shoes and rubber wheels. See the table below to find what is best for you.
|PLA||Standard PLA plastic||Standard models and 3D parts||Nozzle – 210c
Bed – 65c*
|ABS||Standard ABS plastic||Stronger models and 3D parts||Nozzle – 215c
Bed – 105c
|PETG||High strength / chemical resistance||High strength parts and engineering parts||Nozzle – 240c
Bed - ~80c
|TPU/TPE||Flexible rubber like material||Flexible and bending parts||Nozzle - ~230c
Bed - 50c*
Direct Drive recommended
|Wood||PLA plastic with up to 70% wood infused||Realistic wood parts||Nozzle – 200c
Bed – 50c*
|Carbon Fibre||Combination of Carbon fibre with PETG||High strength engineering and mechanical parts||Nozzle – 215c
Bed – 50c
|PVA||Water soluble material||Supports that can be dissolved||Nozzle – 190c
Bed – 50c*
|Silks||Very shiny finish / metal like finish||Standard models and 3D parts||Nozzle – 205c
*Heated bed optional but recommended
As for special colours, eSilk or Silk filament has taken the show. Silk filament has all the printing properties of PLA filament but with a silky and naturally shiny finish to it, so there is no need for post processing work to be done. Allowing you to print our parts with a more realistic metal finish for props, or a beautiful shine to models.
SINGLE VS. DUAL EXTRUSION
Single and dual extrusion comes in three main types. Single filament single head, dual filament single head, and dual filament and dual head.
Single filament and a single head is perfect for when you are using a single type or colour of filament for a 3D print and generally are you standard 3D printer.
Dual filament single head is the go to printer configuration for doing a print in two colours or materials. A perfect example is doing a complex PLA based print with a lot of support, PVA can be loaded into the second filament feed and be used as a water soluble support, making the support removal process incredibly fast and easy. No more hours lost to snipping them away one by one.
Finally dual filament dual head. These printers are generally your most expensive printers but have the features to back them up. A dual filament dual head printer not only will be able to print a model in two colours or two materials like the dual filament single head, but can also be set up to print two models at the same time**. Cutting down on print times for multiple parts.
**Both models have to be the same to do simultaneous printing.
HOW BIG CAN YOU PRINT?
Your design's largest single piece, will always be limited to the "maximum print size" of your printer which is dictated by the size of the Build plate, and the printer's z-height capability. If your printer's max print area is too small for your design, you can print an object in separate vertical parts and then glue the pieces together. Unless the design deliberately considers interlocking parts however, the finished quality is sometimes dubious (especially if the layers don't align exactly). Therefore, we suggest you select a 3D printer with a maximum print size suited to the size of prints you intend to make or design. The only printers that don't follow these rules are Infinite Z belt printers, for those printers you are limited to the X and Y limits with no Z limit (Filament printers only).
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?
This is dependent on a number of variables, such as; the complexity of the object to be printed, the filament size and type, the extruder head type and z resolution. It also depends on the quality of the printer you are using. You can always speed things up but you will generally sacrifice the quality of the output. It is important to remember that speed isn't everything. When it comes to 3D printing, slow and steady usually wins the race. Most 3D printing programs will advise you of the expected printing time once the drawings and settings have been uploaded.
The general standard is the higher the quality the long it will take, as well as the bigger the item the longer it will take. Most of our printers have the option to speed up a print while printing without quality loss (running at 150% speed or higher) but as you turn up the speed the printer model is more likely to fail completely. This is only recommended for printers that are very well tuned. As an example, the CR-X can go up to 300% but might not extrude fast enough in some areas, causing very small holes on the print.
With Resin printing, the only factors are the resolution you are printing in and Z height, X and Y don't add any print time.
3D printing is loads of fun. Whether you just want to have a go at creating something from (virtually) nothing, or genuinely have a need to create unique objects, we are confident you will find a quality printer option amongst our range of 3D printers. We also have dozens of suitable filaments, including some very interesting options like glow in the dark, flexibles, eSilks, and much more.
3D Printers have come a long way over the years and they are now easier to service and maintain. Each printer should come with a little tool kit for you to disassemble and repair when needed. We will maintain a series of guides for you to browse whenever you have an issue, so that you can easily get in and service your printer without the costly or slow repairs through a 3rd party.
If you find an issue that we do not have here, get in touch with your local store; we can work on a solution and provide the information to others on this webpage.
Some of this information is for specific models, or others might be general in nature, but the process will generally be similar for all types of 3D printers.
Some of the common issues that printers can occur are:
- Nozzle Clogs – Can be caused by a blocked extruder during print, improper loading and unloading, overheating of filament, incorrect settings for a filament type, and general wear and tear on the nozzle.
- Warping of Print – Incorrect heat settings for bed and extruder, incorrect cooling, poor bed adhesion, over extruding, incorrect bed levelling. Resin – incorrect exposure time, incorrect levelling.
- Bed out of Level – wear and tear beds do get knock out of level from time to time, incorrect z-limit switch, incorrect distance between bed and nozzle. Resin – Incorrect distance between build plate and vat, material in the way, bumped during print or print removal.
- Model has Bumps – Filament isn't dry enough and has taken on water, nozzle is too hot for the material, printing too fast.
- Z Layer Shift – Part of the model maybe lose from the bed, bed isn't mounted to the baseplate correctly, printing too fast, model or bed knocked during print. Resin – Bumped during print, model to thin or resin too thick for speed being used.
- Extruder Clicking or Grinding Filament – Clogged or about to be clogged nozzle, incorrect bed levelling, jam in filament feed, incorrect nozzle temp for material, printing too fast.
- First Layer Won't Stick – Bed levelling issues, bed could be damaged, bed isn't clean.