Design Tips To Hide Layer Lines In 3D Printed Parts

[Slant 3D] knows a lot about optimizing 3D prints so that they can be cranked out reliably with minimal need for post-processing, and in this short video he uses a cube as a simple example of how a few design changes can not only optimize for production, but can even hide layer lines pretty effectively.

Just to be perfectly clear, layer lines cannot be eliminated entirely without some kind of post-processing. But [Slant 3D]’s tips sure goes a long way toward making a part lose that obvious 3D-printed “look”. They also dovetail nicely with advice on how to optimize cranking out high numbers of parts in a print farm.

Adding texture to the outer layer is especially effective when combined with non-traditional part orientations.

One simple way to avoid visible layer lines is to put some kind of texture onto the part. This can be modeled into the part’s surface, or the slicer software can be used to modify the exterior of the print to add a texture such as a geometric pattern or by applying a fuzzy skin modifier.

Printing a texture onto the exterior is great, but the outcome can be even further improved by also printing the object in a non-traditional orientation.

Using a cube as an example, printing the cube on a corner has the advantage of putting the layer lines in a different orientation as well as minimizing the contact area on the print bed. This applies the texture across more of the part, and looks less obviously 3D printed in the process. Minimizing bed adhesion also makes parts much easier to remove, which has obvious benefits for production. [Slant 3D] points out that performing these operations on a 3D-printed part is essentially free.

A few other optimizations for production involve rounding sharp corners to optimize tool travel paths, and putting a slight chamfer on the bottom of parts to avoid any elephant foot distortion (Elephant’s foot can be compensated for, but simply putting a slight chamfer on a part is a design change that helps avoid accounting for machine-to-machine variance.)

Even if one has no need to optimize for high production volume, the tips on hiding layer lines with design changes is great advice. Watch it all in action in the short video, embedded below.

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Should I Automate This?

The short answer to the question posed in the headline: yes.

For the long answer, you have to do a little math. How much total time you will save by automating, over some reasonable horizon? It’s a simple product of how much time per occurrence, times how many times per day it happens, times the number of days in your horizon. Or skip out on the math because there’s an XKCD for that.

What’s fun about this table is that it’s kind of a Rorschach test that gives you insight into how much you suffer from automatitis. I always thought that Randall was trying to convince himself not to undertake (fun) automation projects, because that was my condition at the time. Looking at it from my current perspective, it’s a little bit shocking that something that’ll save you five seconds, five times a day, is worth spending twelve hours on. I’ve got some automating to do.

To whit: I use pass as my password manager because it’s ultimately flexible, simple, and failsafe. It stores passwords on my hard drive, and my backup server, encrypted with a GPG key that I have printed out on paper in a fireproof safe. Because I practice good cookie hygiene, I end up re-entering my passwords daily. Because I keep my passwords separate from my browser, that means entering username and password by cut-and-paste. There’s your five seconds, five times per day. Maybe two seconds, ten times, but it’s all the same. It shouldn’t take me even as long as twenty minutes to whip up a script that puts username and password into selection and clipboard for one-click pasting. Why haven’t I done this yet? I’m going to get on it as soon as I’m done with this newsletter.

But the this begs the question. If you spend up to twelve hours on every possible 25-second-per-day savings, when will you ever get your real work done? Again, math gives us the answer. One eight-hour workday * 25 seconds * 12 hours (pessimistically) of labor = 1.58 years before everything that needs automating will be. Next week’s newsletter might be a little bit delayed.

What do you see in the XKCD “Is it worth the time” table? Automate more, or step back from the cliff edge?