Learn and Do

Whether creating an object from scratch or replicating an object, or perhaps merging or altering an existing object, it must be turned into a 3D STL (Standard Tessellation Language) file.  Although this sounds complicated, it actually isn’t.  You can use an object scanner, copy an existing file for an object from a file-share website, download a user-friendly CAD (Computer-Aided Design) program, and even get 3D data of body parts from MRIs and Ultrasounds.

Object Scanners

1.  Fuel3D (not associated with Algix3D)

2. 123DCatch is an app you can download to your iPad or phone that will direct you to take a series of photos of the same object and will turn it into a 3D file.

3.  The Sense Scanner

4.  The Makerbot Digitizer

5.  CreaForm’s Handy Scanners

6.  David Laser Scanner

7.  Matter and Form Scanner

8.  Medical Scanners

Mathworks explains how MRI 3D data turns into an STL file for your 3D Printer.  Coordinating with your doctor or the medical professional who obtained the MRI or Ultrasound image will be key, but the potential results from your 3D printer are amazing.

Obtaining a 3DFile to Print Hand Image 1Obtaining a 3DFile to Print Baby Image 2
3D File-Sharing Websites

Many items like parts or other objects you need or want already exist in 3D file format and can simply be downloaded from a website then uploaded to your 3D printer.

1.  www.thingiverse.com has tens of thousands of objects available for download.

2.  Google 3D Warehouse grows every day.

3.  SweetHome3D has tons of pre-designed dream homes.

4.  3D Content Central is a parts supplier.

5.  GrabCAD is a 3D file share site.

6.  Sketchfab from Adobe.

7.  cgtrader is a 3D model marketplace.

CAD Programs

Computer-aided design is the route you want to go to make an original object.  It allows you to construct the object on your computer which you can eventually create with your 3D Printer.

1.  Sketch-Up Make has a ton of capabilities and an easy interface.  Once you get good with the excellent free version you can pay for Sketch-Up Pro and be a master-designer.

2.  Sweet Home 3D allows you to design your dream home.

3.  Blender is the complete software package for 3D modeling, texturing, rendering, animation and physics.

4.  ProgeCAD Smart! is best for budding architects and engineers.

5.  TinkerCAD is a free computer aided design program that allows you to make basic shapes.  (Note:  Use Safari or another web browser.  This site does not work using Internet Explorer.)

Obtaining a 3DFile to Print Tinker CAD plane Image 3

All About Filaments

There are several types of 3D Printers. Some use liquid, some powder, some plastic and other types of materials.  The 3D Printers that most consumers and small companies use, or those with a budget in mind, are printers that use an Additive Layering Technology that “builds” the 3D item layer by layer.

These printers primarily use a filament that feeds into the printer, is melted, and then applied to the surface of the item being printed.  The filament comes in different types of materials including PLA, ABS, Nylon, Rubber, and others.

Filaments usually come in one of two standard sizes: 1.75mm or 3.0mm. In the case of 3.0 mm, that is the maximum size that can be used.  For most machines that use 1.75mm filament, that is a “nominal” size, or about average.  These printers can use filament that is “near” that size.  So, you will sometimes see filament listed as 1.75mm, and sometimes at 1.8mm.  It is the same size filament.  For most consumer machines, you will be using the 1.75mm size filament materials.

The filament is loaded into the printer through the head where it is gripped and fed into the extrusion head.  The head has to be heated up to the melting temperature of the material of which the filament is made.  For each type of material you use, you will want to learn the melting temperatures as well as the recommended temperature for the building plate.  If the temperature is too hot, you may have problems with the material running and not holding the shape of the item.  If the plate is too hot, the lower part of the item may spread or widen from the heat.  If the material is applied too cool, it may not extrude at the right speed and you may not get good fills.  If the plate is not hot enough for some materials, they may slip and move around, ruining any attempts at printing.

Each type of filament has its own properties and the only real way to find out how best to work with it is to do some experimenting.  Start with recommended temperatures and settings and then try changing one setting at a time until you get it right.  The thermostats and thermometers in each printer can vary slightly so, your setting and my setting may not always be the same, even on the same model printer.  Experience really is the best teacher on this one.

We plan to stock all types of filament and plan to be able to ship within one day once we get our inventory levels up.

How to Print with PLA Plastic
Nozzle Temp: 170-235 deg Celsius / 365 – 455 deg Fahrenheit
Printer Bed Temp:  ambient (50-100 deg Celsius can prevent warping during cooling)
Printer Bed Surface:  Blue painter’s tape, heated glass, Kapton tape

Polylactic acid or polylactide (PLA) is a thermoplastic aliphatic polyester derived from renewable resources, such as corn starch (in the United States), tapioca roots, chips or starch (mostly in Asia), or sugarcane (in the rest of the world).  In 2010, PLA was the second most important bioplastic of the world in regard to consumption volume.  The name “polylactic acid” does not comply with IUPAC standard nomenclature, and is potentially ambiguous or confusing, because PLA is not a polyacid (polyelectrolyte), but rather a polyester.

Because it is made from natural materials, it is safe for many purposes and will (eventually) biodegrade.  However, in its plastic form, it is not soluble in water and can be used for many water tight applications.

3DPrinting Materials Salad Bowl Image 1

Clear Salad Bowl Made from Compostable PLA

PLA is quite stiff when cool, but can become soft around 60-80°C, so it should not be used where high temperatures will be necessary in the area.  Also, because it can be stiffer when cool, it can also be more brittle than ABS.  It is great for making larger parts that will be used indoors or carried.  Many 3D printer parts are often made of PLA, except for the ones near the heat of the extruder heads.

Printing with PLA is a little trickier than with ABS.  A good place to start would be to begin with a temperature of about 220°C and a cooler build platform of about 45-60°C.  The secret is to make sure you have a level printing surface, the correct height for your extruder, and a good base for your material to print.  The best way to achieve a good stick is to use either Book Tape (masking tape) or Blue Painter’s tape on the printing platform as it adheres to this fairly well.

If you print directly to the surface of your printer platform, you may experience some separation of the material as you print.  This will, of course, lead to a bad print each time.  The tape makes a big difference!

How to Print with ABS Plastic


Nozzle Temp: 210 – 250 deg Celsius / 410 – 482 deg Fahrenheit
Printer Bed Temp:  80 – 130 deg Celsius / 176 – 266 deg Fahrenheit
Printer Bed Surface:  Kapton tape

The most important mechanical properties of ABS (or Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) are impact resistance and toughness.  A variety of modifications can be made to improve impact resistance, toughness, & heat resistance.  The impact resistance can be amplified by increasing the proportions of polybutadiene in relation to styrene and also acrylonitrile, although this causes changes in other properties.  Impact resistance does not fall off rapidly at lower temperatures.  Stability under load is excellent with limited loads.  Thus, changing the proportions of its components ABS can be prepared in different grades.  Two major categories could be ABS for extrusion & ABS for injection molding, then high & medium impact resistance.  Generally ABS would have useful characteristics within a temperature range from -20 to 80 °C (-4 to 176 °F).
3DPrinting Materials Lego bricks Image 2


Lego bricks are made of ABS.

The final properties will be influenced to some extent by the conditions under which the material is processed to the final product.  For example, molding at a high temperature improves the gloss and heat resistance of the product whereas the highest impact resistance and strength are obtained by molding at low temperature.  Fibers (usually glass fibers) and additives can be mixed in the resin pellets to make the final product strong and raise the operating range to as high as 80 °C (176 °F).  Pigments can also be added, as the raw material original color is translucent ivory to white.  The aging characteristics of the polymers are largely influenced by the polybutadiene content, and it is normal to include antioxidants in the composition.  Other factors include exposure to ultraviolet radiation, for which additives are also available to protect against.

How to Print with Nylon
Nozzle Temp: 240 – 260 deg Celsius / 464 – 500 deg Fahrenheit
Printer Bed Temp:  Ambient
Printer Bed Surface:  Scored nylon sheet, Unfinished 3/8″ flat piece of poplar wood, Garolite

Nylon 618 is a very versatile printing material.  Nylon does not require a heated bed, has low warp, and cooling fans are not required for either big or tiny printing. Nylon has the ability to print things both large and small items.  You can print pretty good resolution down to objects smaller than a dime.  Nylon has a pretty high melting temperature.  You will want to start around 240-260°C in order to make sure the layers adhere to one another.  But once you print at this temperature, the structure should be very sturdy.

Another feature of nylon is that it will take color from fabric dye.  Some users dye the material in multiple colors and print in “tye-dye” patterns.  Nylon 618 prints over a wide temperature range however it probably bonds best at about 245°C.  It will not print/stick to glass or aluminum print tables, so you will have to use a flat piece of unfinished poplar wood or blue painters tape.  These are available at all hobby stores or home depots.  For perfect adhesion, check the information below.  Unlike ABS, Nylon does not emit fumes or odors. You may see a whisp of smoke, but that is just mist or vapor.

How to Print with Wood-filled

Nozzle Temp: 175 – 250 deg Celsius / 347 – 482 deg Fahrenheit
Printer Bed Temp:  Ambient
Printer Bed Surface:  Blue painter’s tape

This filament looks and smells “like wood” (made from 40% recycled wood and a binding polymer) and comes a variety of shades. Vary the print temperature for a cool effect: it’s lighter at low temperatures, darker at higher ones.

Wood-based filament can be used in most 3D printers. The wood filament prints easily, similar to PLA, and has a wood smell when printing.  The material has shown no warping tendencies when printed on a heated bed during testing. Possible extrusion temperature is fairly wide with a good starting point at 180C. Since hotter temperatures will extrude a darker filament; using variable temperatures during a print, a faux wood ring pattern can be generated. Finished prints can also be easily sanded.

In general, if you have printed with PLA you should be able to quickly start printing with the wood filament. (Wood filament may leave threads behind during non-extrusion moves of the print head.)


How to Print with Polycarbonate

Nozzle Temp: 280 – 305 deg Celsius / 536 – 581 deg Fahrenheit
Printer Bed Temp:  85 – 95 deg Celsius / 185 – 203 deg Fahrenheit
Printer Bed Surface:  Kapton tape

Polycarbonate is a thermoplastic, it’s strong and impact resistant (It’s used in the making of bullet proof glass and compact discs) temperature resistant and it can be extruded (at the right temperature). It can be bent and formed while cold without cracking or deform and it is also very optically ‘crystal’ clear to visible light (opaque to UV light), but it’s actually not very easy to keep it clear during extrusion.  Don’t confuse Polycarbonate with Acrylic or Plexi-glass, they shatter and crack.  Polycarbonate tends to just bend and deform and after much effort will eventually stretch like very hard rubber until it eventually breaks.  Polycarbonate has a glass transition temperature of about 150 °C (302 °F), so it softens gradually above this point and flows above about 300 °C.

Polycarbonate is an interesting material for 3D printing, it seems to have low warp (as long as you have a heated bed), strong in filament form so is easily extruded using common extruder drive systems.  It produces a lot of micro-fine particles, more so than ABS. These particles accumulate on the underside of the print-head. If they accumulate there, then they are likely in the air as well. Work in a well-ventilated area or install some ventilation. On a side note, try not to stare too closely to the object being printed. After a while it stings the eyes.

It is very hygroscopic and will absorb moisture from the air.  In humid environments such as the coastal areas, PC can absorb enough moisture in a 24 hour period to become unprintable. Be sure to keep it in an airtight container even during prints if they are long prints.

How to 3DPrint with PEEK (Polyether Ether Ketone)
Nozzle Temp: 300-330 deg Celsius / 572-630 deg Fahrenheit
Melting Point: 343-387 deg Celsius / 649-729 deg Fahrenheit
Glass Transition: 143-162 deg Celsius / 289-324 deg Fahrenheit
Heated Chamber:  Required
Printer Bed Surface:  Blue painter’s tape


PEEK is a semi-crystalline thermoplastic with a linear aromatic polymer structure.  This universally highly regarded fully recyclable material possesses exceptional mechanical properties with resistance to chemicals, wear, fatigue, creep, and corrosion even at high operating temps where it is commonly used in service.

In terms of strength, and with half the specific gravity of aluminum, it is often compared to titanium but with better durability.  When searching about the comparison of the two, whether querying medical usage analysis by the NIH or engineering analysis by various bodies, it is essentially impossible to find an evaluation that prefers titanium.  As one might guess after understanding PEEK’s dominance over titanium, PEEK is also replacing carbon steel, stainless steel, aluminum, magnesium, brass, & bronze.

Adding fillers increases strength & stiffness while having a minimal impact on weight.  Commonly enhanced PEEK materials are glass-filled and carbon fiber-filled grades.  Welcome to the future of medicine and engineering.

How to Print with PVA

Nozzle Temp: 180 – 200 deg Celsius / 356 – 392 deg Fahrenheit
Printer Bed Temp:  50 deg Celsius / 122 deg Fahrenheit
Printer Bed Surface:  Blue painter’s tape

Polyvinyl Alcohol is normally a support material and dissolves in water.  New types of PVA are coming onto the market every month.  The temperatures listed here are for those currently on the market.

It can be extruded with the standard extruder. You can dissolve your prints in regular tap waterSo, why would you want to dissolve your hard earned prints in water?  You could make molds that dissolve once you are done with them.  Mainly it is used for a support structure that can be removed by a quick bath in some warm water. We have also heard of this being used in the bio-engeenering field and some other cool science experiments.

PVA has a glass transition temperature of around 85°C (185F), but this temperature depends on the polymer’s degree of hydrolysation (ratio of alcohol groups to acetate groups). It decomposes rapidly above 200°C as it can undergo pyrolysis at high temperatures.

How to Print Glow-in-the-Dark

The filament is made with phosphorus dye, which means it’s pretty much the same familiar material that’s used to make sticky stars and glowsticks. Leaving it in the light for a few minutes charges up the phosphors in the material which radiate visible light, i.e. they “glow.”  The phosphorous dye can be added to just about any material but is commonly done to PLA or ABS.

3DPrinting Materials glow-in-the-dark phone case image 6

Wiki tells us:

A slicer program allows to calibrate printer settings for various types of “areas to print”, like:

  • extrusion speed (rotations / minute)
  • head speed
  • temperature
  • Fan on/off

Furthermore, the program allows to define:

  • wall thickness
  • fill patterns
  • extrusion speed, head speed and temperature per type of area

Deposited filament for a layer or a section of a layer depends on extrusion speed, head movement speed, and temperature. In addition, factors like movement patterns, plastic brand, and fan on/off also have an influence on the design.

The important thing to remember is that, as complicated as some slicers present their software, you generally only change a moderate number of parameters each time you print to make your object print faster or with more detail, be lighter or more solid, etc.

What is a Slicer Screen Shot Image 1

Because objects can be broken down into a three dimensional file, you can literally “fax” an object to anyone with a 3D Printer simply by sending them the 3D file for that object.  Likewise, anything you would care to replicate or model can be done with a 3D Printer and a simple scanning device.  See below for examples.

1.  Archeologists can find some great artifacts in Egypt but they can’t take them home.  However, they can “fax” them using a simple 3D scanner or app.  Here are some Egyptian coins an archeologist “faxed” home to his colleagues:

Priceless artifacts can be scanned 3D printed for preservation and educational purposes.  On the left is the original cuneiform and its 3D printed replica on the right.

Object Replicating Coins Image 1
(Image from Cornell Univ. Curator David I. Owen; Design: Natasha Gangjee; Photo by Jason Koski. From “Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing” by Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman.)

2.  Create a 3D replica of anyone:
Object Replicating Bust Image 2

3.  Ultrasounds & MRI provide 3D data so you can even replicate things inside the body.

Object Replicating Baby Image 3

Fetuses printed into full objects using Ultrasound data and a 3D Printer.

4.  If you need a prosthetic, you match your normal body shape for that appendage exactly (using a mirror image of an existing limb) and give your prosthetic any style you can imagine.
Object Replicating Prosthetic Image 3

(Photo from 3D Systems and “Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing” by Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman.)
5.  Maybe you just want a copy of your favorite person or movie character?
Object Replicating Yoda Image 5Object Replicating Lincoln Bust Image 4

6.  With a 3D Printer you can replicate anything and give it your own twist.  One of the most popular downloads at www.thingiverse.com (a free 3D file provider) is an iPhone case.

Object Replicating PhoneCase Image 7Object Replicating PhoneCase Image 6Object Replicating PhoneCase Image 8

Arguably one of the most common uses for 3D Printers today is to create a prototype of an intended invention.  This can be done creating a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) of the desired object.  CAD options are discussed further in our “Obtaining a 3D File for Your Creation”.

1.  An architect can design your home then you can actually pick it up and look at it.

Prototyping House Image 1

2.  You can fabricate a prototype for any mechanism.

Prototyping Fittings Image 2

(Photo from 3Dprinthq.com.)

3.  You can design an engine part from scratch or a game piece.

Prototyping Engine Part Image 3Prototyping Game Piece Image 4

4.  This is just a toy design but it shows the amazing proficiency of 3D Printers.
Not only was this done in a single print job, but all of these gears and interlocking hinges are fully functioning.

Prototyping vehicle Image 5

(Image of vehicle printed on ZPrinter 650 from 3D Systems and “Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing” by Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman.)

5.  Prototyping creations for the fashion world are positively limitless with a 3D Printer.

Prototyping shoe design Image 6

3D Printers are not limited to making an object a single time.  3D Printers are fast enough now to run a production line.  This has special advantages over a foundry or mold injection process because a 3D Printer only uses the material it needs whereas other processes can have you waste 90% of your plastic, nylon, ceramic, etc.  So not only is a 3D Printer much more flexible by being able to shift from one production line to the other with the simple change of a file, but it’s more environmentally friendly.  More so, no elaborate manufacturing plant is required!

1.  Make a production line of skateboards or guitars.

Production SkateBoard Image 1Production Guitar Image 2

2.  Ladies, you can now produce & sell your own fashion designs, not someone else’s!!

Production Jewelry Image 3Production earring Image 4Production Jewelry Screen Shot Image 5

A ring in the design process using a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) program which can easily provide a 3D data file for a 3D printer.  See “Obtaining a 3D File for Your Creation” for more details on CAD programs available.
3.  Boeing, GE, Ford, Airbus, and many other industry giants are now reproducing hundreds of parts each via 3D Printers and/or 3D laser sintering.

Production parts Image 6

Engineering Car Image 1Engineering building Image 2

The ability to turn an engineering design into a product has taken a giant leap forward with 3D printing.  For large scale designs, if it can’t be built with a 3D printer it can at least be modeled.

Engineering Building Image 3Engineering Building Image 4

However, the concept of 3D printing something as large as a house, as seen immediately below, has been considered for some time now.  As you can see in the pictures even further below, it has become a reality.

By using cement as the printing material and having extruder nozzles moving around via a system of rods allowing three dimensional movement (as seen the in the concept photo above), we can literally print the walls of a house.  As the idea of 3D printing homes grows and bigger and better building platforms are produced with multiple nozzles, the home builder will be able to print plumbing, insulation, air ducts, and wiring conduits simultaneously.  We are probably about 15 years away from printing a fully built 3D printed home such as this one:

One of the nicest things about 3D printing homes or any object is that curved surfaces are as easily produced as right angles.  This frees up the designer to add style with little to no cost increase.  Of course the other benefit is that design changes are as simple as a computer file alteration.

Whether it’s something as simple as a toothbrush with your child’s favorite cartoon character on the tip or something as complicated as a remote controlled airplane, the 3D Printing world is as much for kids as anyone.

Toy Car Image 1

BotMobile Remote Control Car.  Click HERE to see it in action.

Action Figure “Ronin” with 50 different points of articulation.

Toy Lincoln Logs Image 3
Lincoln Logs.  More info HERE.

Toy Robot Image 4
Wind-up walkers.  More info HERE.

Toy puzzle Image 5
Crazy pill puzzle.

Toy Car Image 6
Carbon fiber plastic reinforced remote control car.

As with any industry there are no limits with 3D printing.
These cars were printed in a single print job and all gears & interlocking mechanisms are fully functioning.
Changing the size of the production was a 10 second scaling change in the file.

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