With 3D printing becoming more and more popular among hobbyists and professionals alike, getting started can seem like a daunting task. There’s a lot to take in — and lots that may not be obvious to those beginning their 3D printing journey. 3D printing can seem somewhat confusing but don’t worry, we’re here to help.
If you've already read our blog, and found the best 3D printer for beginners, here are some of best tips, tricks, practices, and what not to do when 3D printing.
Check your 3D printer
Once your 3D printer is set up and ready to go, there are a couple of things you should check for safety and quality of life reasons.
- Check that the belts on the printer are tight, but not too tight: Making sure that the ribbons on the printer have the right amount of tightness will ensure that they last longer. You should still be able to touch them together if you pinch them, but there should be a minimal amount of resistance when you do.
Image credit: Austen Hartley (YouTube)
- Ensure that the wires on the head aren't being pulled as the head moves: This is a possible electrical fire hazard and will eventually cause a fault that'll need repairing, so make sure that the wires have enough slack to move about freely without any pulling.
Remember to level your bed
Firstly, bed levelling is crucial when it comes to 3D printing. Without doing so, you risk your print quality becoming poor and unusable.
Bed levelling is a method of ensuring that your 3D printer’s ‘bed’ is even and level. Otherwise, your bed could be at an angle. This will mean that the distance between the nozzle and the plate will be different throughout the bed and will have detrimental effects on the quality of your final print. There's nothing worse than finding this out after using a lot of filament, so check this before every print!
We’ve got a simple guide on exactly how to level your 3D printer bed, which will take you through the whole process while also explaining why it’s so important.
Always check the first layer
3D printing works in layers that build upon one another. If the base layer comes out incorrectly, it’ll mess up the whole print.
It can be easy to just let the printer do its work in the background as you go about your day — as you would with a paper printer. However, it’s really important that you check the first layer as it’s being printed to make sure it hasn’t gone wrong.
This will also help you look out for any bed levelling or Z offset problems.
Start with a simple material
3D printing can be done with tons of different materials. However, different materials will have different needs and requirements that you’ll need to consider — some of which will be more complicated than others.
Starting with a simple material like Polylactic Acid (PLA) will be a great way to get to grips with the needs of your printer. PLA is incredibly common as it doesn’t shrink, is easy to print with, and doesn’t have the considerations that many other materials have.
Both of these materials are great to get to grips with before moving on to more complex materials.
Clean and prep you printer bed
Your printer bed will inevitably become dirty. This’ll make printing harder, as the first layer of material won’t stick to the bed properly.
91% isopropyl alcohol is the best cleaning agent, as it’ll remove the residue of whatever material you’re using from the plate.
Then, you’ll need a washable glue stick. Yes, just a normal, cheap glue stick like you used to use to stick crafty projects together at school. Apply the glue sparingly onto the warm plate, and you’ll ensure that your material sticks.
Make sure you replace and keep your nozzle clean
Your printer will usually come with a spare nozzle. This is because your nozzle will inevitably wear out, so replacing it when it needs to be replaced is crucial.
If you start seeing small gaps in the print, that’s a telltale sign that your nozzle needs replacing. If you fail to do so, the quality of your print will be much worse. Another sign is if your nozzle outputs the material in a curved fashion while printing.
Also, make sure to clean the nozzle regularly. This can be done with a brass brush — simply just scrape the residue from the nozzle.
Get to grips with the digital side
3D printing uses a host of digital tools, so getting to grips with them and figuring out how they work will help a lot in the long run.
- Slicer: A slicer bridges the gap between the digital side and physical side of 3D printing. It turns the digital model into printing instructions, so your project can be printed. The most commonly used slicers are Cura and Prusaslicer
- Digital resources: Unless you’re fluent in CAD, you’ll usually be using resources made by others. Knowing where to find these resources is key to being able to finish projects. The best site for this is Thingiverse, which has lots of resources. However, a lot of 3D printing files are also on various Patreon profiles and other creator platforms.
- Computer-Aided Design: While more complex, learning CAD is a great way to make your own projects and help your vision truly come to life. The best program to get started with CAD is Microsoft’s own 3D Builder.
Be careful about modding
Modding your 3D printer might be an exciting prospect, but doing so incorrectly can have catastrophic consequences. Simply, be careful about how you mod your 3D printer.
Make sure to research the mod that you’re wanting to implement thoroughly to ensure that you know how to go about modding it correctly, to avoid damaging your 3D printer or causing lots of stress for yourself.
Creality offer advice on some simple mods that you might want to take a look at first: -
Display PCB Shield
Protect your Ender 3 display's delicate PCB with this simple screen cover. Keep it safe from scratches, dust, and other potential hazards.
Keep your filament steady and avoid feeding issues with this filament guide. It attaches easily to the side of the upper support and keeps the filament away from the feeder.
Board Fan Protector
A great first printer modification, the board fan protector actually helps prolong the life of your fan. Your mainboard fan is situated just underneath the build plate, which makes it vulnerable to damage from stray filament bits. You can find the model on Thingiverse.
Say goodbye to cable snags once and for all! This 3D printable cable chain is a must-have accessory to keep your cables safely out of the way when the bed moves along the Y-axis.
Image credit: Ender 3 Cable Chain by johnniewhiskey
Bowden Tube Fitting Solution
If you're struggling with a loose Bowden tube or print quality issues, these pressure fitting shims are here to help. Print them and keep your Bowden tubes in place during printing.
The loud beeps of the Ender 3 can be quite annoying, especially when navigating the menu interface. This 10-minute print silences the beep, sparing your ears and the countryside.
These tips will help you get started with 3D printing, and help ensure that you look after your equipment properly and get the best possible prints from your printer with ease. While simple, all of these tips are really important to get the most out of your 3D printing journey.
If you’re looking to invest in your first 3D printer, our buying guide is a useful place to start if you’re stuck on what to get. And, if you’re stuck on your first build — why not look into building your own Catan board? Whether you’re a hobbyist or professional, the possibilities of 3D printing are endless.