3D Printering: The Things Printers Don’t Do

3D printers are amazing things, but if one judges solely by the successes that get showcased online, it can look as through anything at all is possible. Yet in many ways, 3D printers are actually quite limited. Because success looks easy and no one showcases failure, people can end up with lopsided ideas of what is realistic. This isn’t surprising; behind every shining 3D print that pushes the boundaries of the technology, there are misprints and test pieces piled just out of sight.

If you have ever considered getting into 3D printing, or are wondering what kinds of expectations are realistic, read on because I am going to explain where objects come from, and how to recognize whether something is a good (or bad) fit for 3D printing. The important thing to understand is that printers have limitations, and to get a working idea of what those limitations are. The result will be a better understanding of what they can do, and what problems they can reliably solve.

3D Printers Have Limits

I recently had a talk with someone who wanted to know if a 3D printer could help with a problem they had. As I listened to them describe their needs, I realized I had in a way heard it all before many times.

My colleague actually had a fairly good idea of what printers could do, in theory. But they had very little grasp of what printers did not do, and that disconnect left them a bit adrift when it came to practical applications. To help address this gap, here are some tips that can give anyone a working understanding of the things 3D printers do not do well. Continue reading “3D Printering: The Things Printers Don’t Do”

3D Printering: Wash Parts Better And Make Solvent Last Longer

SLA printing in resin is great, but part washing can be a hassle. The best results come from a two-stage wash, but that also means more material and more processing steps. Fortunately, there are ways to make it easier and more effective. One such way is to use a part washing machine, and I’ll cover a DIY option to make your own, but despite what the advertising implies for the commercial ones, a wash machine isn’t a cure-all.

Let’s go through how to get the best results from part washing, how to make the solvent last as long as possible, and how to dispose of the eventual waste.

Resin-Printed Parts Need Washing

All parts printed in resin emerge from the printer coated in syrupy, uncured goop. This needs to be removed completely, or the print ends up sticky and no amount of drying or additional UV curing will change that. (There is a way to fix sticky prints, but it’s better to avoid the situation in the first place.)

Simple part washing can be done with nothing more than a jar in which to rinse and soak a small part for about ten minutes, but agitation and a secondary wash will go a long way toward better and more consistent results. As mentioned, part washing machines like to present themselves as a one-appliance solution, but best results still come from a two-stage wash, and that means some additional steps.

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3D Printering: The World Of Non-Free 3D Models Is Buyer Beware

There are more free 3D models online than one can shake a stick at, but what about paid models? Hosting models somewhere and putting a buy button in front of the download is certainly a solved problem, but after spending some time buying and printing a variety of non-free 3D models online, it’s clear that there are shortcomings in the current system.

What the problems are and how to address them depends a little on the different ways models get sold, but one thing is clear: poorly-designed 3D models are bad for consumers, and bad for the future of pay-to-download in general. Continue reading “3D Printering: The World Of Non-Free 3D Models Is Buyer Beware”

3D Printering: Selling Prints, And Solving The Pickup Problem

After getting a 3D printer up and running, it’s not uncommon for an enterprising hacker to dabble in 3D printing to make a little money on the side. Offering local pickup of orders is a common startup choice since it’s simple and avoids shipping entirely. It’s virtually tailor-made to make a great bootstrapping experiment, but anyone who tries it sooner or later bumps up against a critical but simple-seeming problem: how to get finished prints into a customer’s hands in a sustainable way that is not a hassle for either the provider, or the customer?

It’s very easy to accept a 3D file and get paid online, but the part about actually getting the print into the customer’s hands does not have a one-size-fits-all solution. This is what I call The Pickup Problem, and left unsolved, it can become unsustainable. Let’s look at why local pickup doesn’t always measure up, then examine possible solutions.

The Problems with Local Pickup

Local pickup for delivery of print jobs is great because there is no mucking about with shipping supplies or carriers. Also, many 3D prints when starting out will be relatively low-value jobs that no one is interested in stacking shipping fees onto, anyway.

“Your order is complete. Come to this address to pick up your order.” It is straightforward and hits all the bases, so what’s the problem?

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3D Printering: Sticky Resin Prints And How To Fix Them

After going through all the trouble of printing a part in resin, discovering it feels sticky or tacky to the touch is pretty unwelcome. Giving the model some extra ultraviolet (UV) curing seems like it should fix the problem, but it probably does not. So, what can be done?

The best thing to do with a sticky print is to immediately re-wash it in clean isopropyl alcohol (IPA) before the UV present in ambient light cures stray resin. If the part remains sticky after it is dry, more aggressive steps can be taken.

We’ll get into those more extreme procedures shortly, but first let’s understand a bit more about how resin works, then look at how that applies to preventing and removing tacky surfaces on finished prints. Continue reading “3D Printering: Sticky Resin Prints And How To Fix Them”

3D Printering: Will A Resin Printer Retire Your Filament-based One?

Adding a resin printer to one’s workbench has never looked so attractive, nor been so affordable. Complex shapes with effortlessly great detail and surface finish? Yes, please! Well, photos make the results look effortless, anyway. Since filament-based printers using fused deposition modeling (FDM) get solid “could be better” ratings when it comes to surface finish and small detail resolution, will a trusty FDM printer end up retired if one buys a resin printer?

The short answer is this: for users who already use FDM, a resin-based stereolithography (SLA) printer is not likely to take over. What is more likely to happen is that the filament printer continues to do the same jobs it is good at, while the resin printer opens some wonderful new doors. This is partly because those great SLA prints will come at a cost that may not always justify the extra work.

Let’s go through what makes SLA good, what it needs in return, and how it does and doesn’t fit in with FDM.

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3D Printering: When Resin Printing Gets Smelly

Nowadays, resin printers are highly accessible and can do some great stuff. But between isopropyl alcohol for part rinsing and the fact that some resins have a definite smell to them, ventilation can get important fast. The manufacturers don’t talk much about this part of the resin printing experience, but it’s there nevertheless. So what can be done when smells become a problem?

I recently had to deal with this when I printed several liters of resin worth of parts. That’s a lot of resin, and a lot of alcohol for part washing. Smells — which had never been much of a problem in my work area — suddenly became an issue.

Where Odors Come From

Smells come from two sources: the resin itself, and the isopropyl alcohol used for cleanup and part washing. Continue reading “3D Printering: When Resin Printing Gets Smelly”