How does a 3D printer work?
It’s super cool to be able to print out 3D stuff. Like, statues objects for in the house like a vase, a handy guitar holder or parts for an Arduino project like a car or a robot. The sky is (almost) the limit when it comes to printing 3D objects. In this article, I’ll tell you all about my 3D printer adventure. From buying one to my first ever print.
In a nutshell, how 3D printing works: A 3D model is loaded in the 3D printer. The model is created in a 3D drawing programme like Cura or TinkerCAD for kids. The printer works similar to a glue gun, where the glue stick is pushed through a heated glue tip. In case of a 3D printer, the plastic (called “filament”) is pushed through a heated print nozzle. The printer lays very thin lines of filament onto the print bed. It stacks the lines on top of each other, and while the lines cool down, they harden again. The printer moves from left to right across the print bed, but it can also move up and down. Sometimes the print bed is heated too, this way different types of filament can be used to print out stuff. Amazing right?
Which 3D printer did I choose?
3D printers are quite expensive. I had to save up a good amount of money before I could order one. Patience is a virtue they say. I thought long and hard before I made up my mind on which printer to choose. At first, I was contemplating if I wanted a pre-assembled printer or a Do It Yourself printer. Since I had no clue about 3D printers, I thought it might be fun (and scary at the same time #realtalk) to go for a Do It Yourself printer, so I can learn how it all works.
On the other hand, these printers are expensive, and I was thinking: “What if I can’t do it? What if I mess up and break something? What if I spend hundreds of euro’s on something I don’t even understand?”. I decided to mute these insecure voices in my head and do some research on the Internet about all sorts of printers. I watched loads of YouTube video’s about different brands, models, pros and cons, tests, review, the works. I even contacted a few sweet 3D maker enthusiasts on Instagram to ask for advice, thanks @disruptityourself en @electronoobs.
Eventually, I chose the Creality 3D CR10S because there are a lot of YouTube video’s about how to solve different problems and there is also a big Creality 3D community on Facebook, where people help each other out. Another reason I chose this particular printer is the fact that it comes partly assembled. (Although I had to disassemble the thing almost completely before it worked correctly, as I’ll explain later on in this article.) I bought this (very big) printer online at a Chinese company, and I braced myself for the import duty I had to pay… The Creality is now available in The Netherlands, so if you’re contemplating on getting it, import duty isn’t going to be a problem anymore…
It finally arrived!
I’ve been waiting months for the printer to arrive. There even was a time that I thought it got “lost” somewhere between China and The Netherlands, so you can imagine the sheer joy I felt when it finally arrived at my doorstep, as you can see in this mini video 🙂
Assembling and calibrating
On a rainy Saturday, I decided to sit down, take a deep breath and assemble the thing. With sweaty palms and with the help of San Tube’s YouTube videos I was able to put the thing together. The printer comes with very little instructions that in my opinion made no sense. By the time I had assembled the printer I wasn’t in the clear just yet. I had to calibrate the printer before I could start my first print. Calibrating the printer means that you have to tune all the little nuts and bolts and screws so that all the pieces of the printer are as straight and aligned as possible. I also had to check if the print bed (the part where the 3D objects are printed on), was straight. As I learned from my internet research, that most of the glass print beds that are delivered with the printers are crooked. I learned how to fix that with painters tape.
All in all the whole printer calibration and straightening took me 11 hours to figure out and finish… 😳 The upside of this is that I learned a lot by taken the printer apart and re-assembling it again. Now, I’m not scared to “work” on the printer anymore, and that’s a good thing because you have to keep calibrating the printer throughout its printing life.
Time for my first print!
When I was done calibrating the printer, it was already very late at night. Despite the time, I decided to go ahead and try to print my first object because I was so curious if all my hard work would pay off. Now, you should know that printing an object can take very long. Sometimes it takes up to 48 hours or longer, depending on the size of the print. I chose to print a small figure that came with the printer. The 3D print file was ready to go, and it took 3,5 hours to print. One of the most important moments is the moment that the first layers are printed. These layers should stick on the print bed, otherwise, when the nozzle goes over the layers again, it’ll pull the print right off, and you don’t want that to happen. Luckily the print started great and after 3,5 hours (04:00 in the morning…) I had the plastic figure in my hand. A real tangible 3D object in my hands. I felt amazing! Almost like magic.
What am I using the 3D printer for?
As you might have seen, I’ve made a video about this 3D printer adventure (the video is right at the top of this article). In the days that followed, I went ahead and started to print pieces for a new project I was working on; The Bluetooth camera slider by Adafruit. A camera slider is used to create a sliding motion during video recording. It creates the effect of subtle movement and it makes the video shots a little more interesting. You’ll read about my camera slider project, very soon on this blog. I also want to use this printer to print out 3D object that the Robotvilla kids create. This printer is too big to have in the studio on wheels but I can print the designs at home and when the kids come to visit again, I can give them their objects or I can send it by mail. I’m planning to buy a small printer for the studio so the kids can see what happens and how their creations come to life. To do this, I need to save up some more money 🙂
Have you ever worked with a 3D printer before?