3D printing has truly revolutionized the scope of what DIY home projects can look like. So, if you are the proud owner of a 3D printer and are wondering how best to use it’s talents, look no further. We have compiled a list of the best 3D printing ideas for you to try in 2022.
But what is 3D printing? In simple terms, 3D printing is a method of creating three-dimensional objects, through the use of computer models. 3D printers analyse a design or model given to them by a computer and print it out in real life by depositing some material, like wood filament or polymer resin layer by layer to create a 3D model. This means that with 3D printing you can create items that would otherwise be impossible to DIY. 3D printers enable you to print out cool objects and items at home, all by yourself!
Types of 3D Printing Technologies and Processes
SLA was invented in 1986 by Charles Hull, who also at the time founded the company, 3D Systems. Stereolithography employs a vat of liquid curable photopolymer resin and an ultraviolet laser to build the object’s layers one at a time. For each layer, the laser beam traces a cross-section of the part pattern on the surface of the liquid resin. Exposure to the ultraviolet laser light cures and solidifies the pattern traced on the resin and fuses it to the layer below.
After the pattern has been traced, the SLA’s elevator platform descends by a distance equal to the thickness of a single layer, typically 0.05 mm to 0.15 mm (0.002″ to 0.006″). Then, a resin-filled blade sweeps across the cross section of the part, re-coating it with fresh material. On this new liquid surface, the subsequent layer pattern is traced, joining the previous layer. Depending on the object & print orientation, SLA often requires the use of support structures.
DLP or Digital Light Processing refers to a method of printing that makes use of light and photosensitive polymers. While it is very similar to SLA, the key difference is the light source. DLP utilizes other light sources like arc lamps. DLP is relatively quick compared to other 3D printing technologies.
Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP)
The heart of the CLIP process is Digital Light Synthesis technology. In this technology, light from a custom high performance LED light engine projects a sequence of UV images exposing a cross section of the 3D printed part causing the UV curable resin to partially cure in a precisely controlled way. Oxygen passes through the oxygen permeable window creating a thin liquid interface of uncured resin between the window and the printed part known as the dead zone. The dead zone is as thin as ten of microns. Inside the dead zone, oxygen prohibits light from curing the resin situated closest to the window therefore allowing the continuous flow of liquid beneath the printed part. Just above the dead zone the UV projected light upwards causes a cascade like curing of the part.
Simply printing with Carbon’s hardware alone does not allow for end use properties with real world applications. Once the light has shaped the part, a second programmable curing process achieves the desired mechanical properties by baking the 3d printed part in a thermal bath or oven. Programmed thermal curing sets the mechanical properties by triggering a secondary chemical reaction causing the material to strengthen achieving the desired final properties.
Components printed with Carbon’s technology are on par with injection molded parts. Digital Light Synthesis produces consistent and predictable mechanical properties, creating parts that are truly isotropic.
In this process, material is applied in droplets through a small diameter nozzle, similar to the way a common inkjet paper printer works, but it is applied layer-by-layer to a build platform and then hardened by UV light.
With binder jetting two materials are used: powder base material and a liquid binder. In the build chamber, powder is spread in equal layers and binder is applied through jet nozzles that “glue” the powder particles in the required shape. After the print is finished, the remaining powder is cleaned off which often can be re-used printing the next object. This technology was first developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1993.
FDM works using a plastic filament which is unwound from a spool and is supplied to an extrusion nozzle which can turn the flow on and off. The nozzle is heated to melt the material and can be moved in both horizontal and vertical directions by a numerically controlled mechanism. The object is produced by extruding melted material to form layers as the material hardens immediately after extrusion from the nozzle.
FDM was invented by Scott Crump in the late 80’s. After patenting this technology he started the company Stratasys in 1988. The term Fused Deposition Modeling and its abbreviation to FDM are trademarked by Stratasys Inc.
Powder Bed Fusion
SLS uses a high power laser to fuse small particles of powder into a mass that has the desired three dimensional shape. The laser selectively fuses powder by first scanning the cross-sections (or layers) on the surface of a powder bed. After each cross-section is scanned, the powder bed is lowered by one layer thickness. Then a new layer of material is applied on top and the process is repeated until the object is completed.
Where Can I Get a 3D Printer?
Most 3D printer manufacturers sell their products directly online. Many e-tailers now stock them, including online-only companies such as Amazon.com, and others that also have brick-and-mortar stores. Some of the latter, such as Walmart, Best Buy, and Staples, offer them in stores as well as online, but be sure to check for store availability on their websites as not all outlets carry them. Several 3D printer stores have opened in major cities. For instance, iMakr (Opens in a new window) has storefronts in London and New York City.
Nearly all 3D printers accept files in what’s called STL format (named for stereolithography). These types of files can be produced by most any CAD software, from expensive commercial packages like AutoCAD to free or open-source products such as Google SketchUp and Blender. For those not inclined to make their own 3D files, 3D object databases such as MakerBot’s Thingiverse (Opens in a new window) offer numerous 3D object files that can be downloaded and printed out.
Most 3D printers come with a software suite, either supplied on disk or available for download, that includes everything you need to get printing. The suites typically provide a program for controlling the printer and a slicer, which, in preparation for printing, formats the object file into layers based on the selected resolution and other factors. Some suites include a program to "heal" the object file by correcting problems that could interfere with smooth printing. The programs came out of the RepRap (Opens in a new window) open-source movement, out of which hobbyist 3D printing developed. With some printers, you can choose the individual component programs to download rather than going with whatever is provided in the suite.
What Does the Future Hold for 3D Printing?
A variety of 3D printers for homes and small businesses is readily available—PCMag has reviewed quite a number of them—but they are still often viewed as exotic, and rather pricey, contraptions. Expect that to change within the next few years, when 3D printers will become more commonplace in houses—to be found on workbenches, in studios, in home offices, and even in the kitchen. You may not find them in every household, but they’ll become indispensable to those people who do have them. For the most part, items made with 3D printers have had homogenous interiors, but we’ll start to see more complex creations combining multiple materials and composites, as well as printable electronics. With today’s 3D printers, if you lose your TV remote’s battery cover, it may be possible to print a replacement cover. With tomorrow’s, if you lose your remote, perhaps you’ll be able to print a whole new remote.
Also, 3D printing is gaining a foothold in outer space. NASA is experimenting with 3D printers on board the International Space Station. Eventually, 3D printers could be used to create habitats on Mars and other worlds. To save the Apollo 13 astronauts from dying of carbon monoxide asphyxiation, NASA had to in effect find a way to fit a square peg into a round hole. Had there been a 3D printer on board, they may have been able to easily solve the problem by designing and printing a connector.
Astronauts can’t take a swing by Home Depot if they need to replace a valve or widget, but a 3D printer could fabricate one as needed. Likewise, we’ll see 3D printers in Antarctic bases and other remote Earthly locations, where folks can’t wait six months for the next resupply to replace essential parts or tools.
Medical applications of 3D printing don’t stop with prosthetics, hearing aids, and dental crowns. (See "What Can 3D Printers Make?" above for a preview of what’s in the works.) Replacement parts needn’t be restricted to the mechanical.
The past few years, we have seen an explosion in the variety and uses of 3D printers. It’s similar to where personal computing was circa 1980. Though it’s easy enough to see some of the areas the field of 3D printing will branch into, others are beyond our ability to predict, just as no one around in 1980 could have imagined much of what the personal computer would turn into. It’s possible that 3D printing may not have the same impact as the PC on a consumer, everyday-life level, but it does have the potential to revolutionize manufacturing and, perhaps more important, bring it into the hands of everyday consumers. One thing’s for sure, though: 3D printing is here to stay.
3D printing has provided some useful solutions for construction, medicine, food and aerospace industries.
3D Printing Overview
With hospitals overrun with COVID-19-stricken patients and the global supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical devices dwindling, the world turned to technology to solve the shortage. In fact, many healthcare facilities turned to 3D printing to supply their staff with much-needed protective equipment, as well as the parts to fix their ventilators. Large corporations, startups and even high school students with 3D printers stepped up to the plate and answered the call. Because of 3D printing, millions of PPE and ventilator parts have been shipped to hospitals on the frontlines of this deadly fight. And that’s really just the beginning of what 3D printing is capable of.
What are 3D printers? In short, 3D printers use computer-aided design (CAD) to create 3D objects from a variety of materials, like molten plastic or powders. No, they aren’t like those magical boxes in sci-fi shows. Rather, the printers, which act somewhat similarly to traditional 2D inkjet printers, use a layering method to create the desired object. They work from the ground up and pile on layer after layer until the object looks exactly like it was envisioned.
These printers have extreme flexibility in what can be printed. They can use plastics to print rigid materials, like sunglasses. They can also create flexible objects, like phone cases or bike handles, using a hybrid rubber/plastic powder. Some 3D printers even have the ability to print with carbon fiber and metallic powders for extremely strong industrial products.
Why are 3D printers important to the future? As explained above, 3D printers are incredibly flexible; not only in the materials they use, but also with what they can print. Additionally, they’re incredibly accurate and fast, making them a promising tool for the future of manufacturing. Today, many 3D printers are used for what is called rapid prototyping. Companies all over the world now employ 3D printers to create their prototypes in a matter of hours, instead of wasting months of time and potentially millions of dollars in research and development. In fact, some businesses claim that 3D printers make the prototyping process 10 times faster and five times cheaper than the normal R&D processes.
3D printers can fill a role in virtually almost every industry. They’re not just being used for prototyping. Many 3D printers are being tasked with printing finished products. In healthcare, 3D printers are being used to create parts to fix broken ventilators for the COVID-19 outbreak. The construction industry is actually using this futuristic printing method to print complete homes. Schools all over the world are using 3D printers to bring hands-on learning to the classroom by printing off three-dimensional dinosaur bones and robotics pieces. The flexibility and adaptability of 3D printing technology makes it an instant game-changer for any industry.
3D Printing Uses/What can you 3D print?
Rapid Prototyping & Rapid Manufacturing
3D printing provides companies with a low-risk, low-cost and fast method of producing prototypes that allow them to test a new product’s efficiency and ramp up development without the need for expensive models or proprietary tools.
Taken a step further, companies across many industries will also utilize 3D printing for rapid manufacturing, allowing them to save costs when producing small batches or short runs of custom manufacturing.
3D printing has gotten more functional and precise over time, making it possible for proprietary or inaccessible parts to be created and acquired so a product can be produced on schedule. Additionally, machines and devices wear down over time and may be in need of swift repair, which 3D printing produces an easily accessible solution to.
Like functional parts, tools also wear down over time and may become inaccessible, obsolete or expensive to replace. 3D printing allows tools to be easily produced and replaced for multiple applications with high durability and reusability.
While 3D printing may not be able to replace all forms of manufacturing, it does present an inexpensive solution to producing models for visualizing concepts in 3D. From consumer product visualizations to architectural models, medical models and educational tools. As 3D printing costs fall and continue to become more accessible, 3D printing is opening new doors for modeling applications.
3D printers might seem like they’re right out of a science fiction movie, but they’re proving to be useful in a variety of industries.
3D Modeling Software
This is a browser-based 3D design app geared towards beginners. The software features an intuitive block-building concept, allowing you to develop models from a set of basic shapes. Tinkercad is full of tutorials and guides to aid any aspiring novices get the designs they’re looking for. It even allows you to share and export files with ease.
With a library of literally millions of files, users can find shapes that suit them best and manipulate them as they wish. It also has a direct integration with 3rd party printing services, allowing you to print and have your print at your door-step at the press of a button. Even though it can be a bit too simple to the point of limitation, it serves as a great way to learn about 3D modeling.
In essence, Blender covers many facets of 3D creation, including modeling, animation, and simulation amongst others. This open-source software has a steep learning curve and is ideal for users who feel ready to transition to designing complex 3D models. Check out our Blender tutorials for 3D Printing page.
Blender is actually a free 3D modeling software which was originally for 3D animation and rendering using polygonal modeling techniques. Despite its origins as a software for artists, it is considered quite accessible. One of the software’s interesting features is the photorealistic rendering option. This gives the models an air of realism that few free software can achieve.
This open-source software is an advanced solid modeling system with interactive geometry editing. It is apparently used by the U.S. military to model weapons systems, showing that it is quite dependable but also very advanced. BRL-CAD offers a high level of precision due to its use of specific coordinates to arrange geometric shapes.
It offers a large library of simple and complex shapes users can implement into their own designs. They can take multiple shapes and combine them at their leisure, as well. The software used to be quite costly, however it was converted to open source a few years ago. It includes over 400 tools in its arsenal. It also runs at great speeds, especially considering how dense its features are.
This nifty and free CAD software is ideal for professionals and advanced hobbyists alike. The user interface is relatively straightforward and the software runs quickly, meaning efficient designing. You also have the capability to generate a bill-of-materials that calculates the cost of printing potential 3D design projects.
DesignSpark Mechanical allows users to utilise an in-built library to mix with own drawings. Another feature that new users might find useful is the pull feature that allows users to create 3D models from only a surface. It is feature-rich for a free software and quite beginner-friendly.
A parametric 3D modeling tool that is open-source and enables you to design real-life objects of any size. The parametric component makes editing your design a piece of cake. Simply go to your model history and change the parameters, and you’ll have a different model. As the name suggest, it is in fact totally free. The upside of this is that none of the tools are blocked behind a pay wall, so you can tweak your models to your heart’s desire.
It’s not the best for professional purposes, but it’s a great training tool. Despite it’s basic options and design elements it’s worth a try if you’re new and don’t want to have to invest in something before you dip your toe in the water.
OpenSCAD is a free software with a ton of features and a unique way of creating models. This software takes a programming approach to 3D modeling, making it a unique addition to this list of 3d printing software tools. Instead of the traditional interactive modeling interface, users write code in a script file that describes the parameters of the 3D object. Once you’ve entered your code, you can view the shapes you’ve created by clicking a “compile” button.
Another great feature that OpenSCAD has is the ability to import 2D drawings and extrude them as 3-dimensional. It uses a part profile from drawings made in a standard sketching software and use the SXF file to do this. With its stronger focus on programming, OpenSCAD may appeal to some while alienating others. Regardless, it is still a powerful tool.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 |
Filament comes in two diameters—1.85mm and 3mm—with most models using the smaller of the two. Filament is sold in spools, generally 1kg (2.2 pounds), and costs $20 to $50 per kilogram for ABS and PLA. Although many 3D printers will accept generic spools, some companies’ printers use proprietary spools or cartridges. These often contain an RFID chip that allows a printer to identify the filament type and properties but restricts the material to the manufacturer’s compatible printers.
Best Budget 3D Printer for Large Objects
Creality Ender-3 V2
Barely a decade ago, 3D printers were hulking, expensive machines reserved for factories and deep-pocketed corporations, all but unknown outside the small circles of professionals who built and used them. But thanks largely to the RepRap (Opens in a new window) open-source 3D printing movement, these amazing devices have become affordable, viable tools for designers, engineers, hobbyists, schools, and even curious consumers.
Today’s 3D printers come in a variety of styles optimized for different applications and kinds of printing. If you’re in the market for one, it’s important to know how they differ so you can choose the right model. Preparing to take the plunge? Here’s what you need to consider.
What Is 3D Printing?
At its most basic, 3D printing is a manufacturing process in which material is laid down, layer by layer, to form a three-dimensional object. (This is deemed an additive process because the object is built from scratch, as opposed to subtractive processes in which material is cut, drilled, milled, or machined off.) Although 3D printers employ a variety of materials (such as plastic or metal) and techniques (see "How Does 3D Printing Work?" below), they share the ability to turn digital files containing three-dimensional data—whether created on a computer-aided design (CAD) or computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) program, or from a 3D scanner—into physical objects.
Yes, 3D printing can be considered printing, although not as it’s traditionally been defined. The relevant Webster’s definitions of "printing" center on the production of printed matter, publications, or photographs, and producing by means of impression (the application of pressure). Neither definition really fits 3D printing. But from a technological perspective, 3D printing is an outgrowth of traditional printing, in which a layer of material (usually ink) is applied. Usually it’s so thin that there is no noticeable height (though with solid ink printers, it is somewhat thicker). What 3D printing does is greatly extend that height through the application of multiple layers. So it would make sense to expand the definition of printing to include the fabrication of three-dimensional objects in this manner.
Спартанец – масштаб 35 мм
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