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3D printing is changing the way we produce things. Instead of buying a physical item from a store or having a professional manufacturer make a prototype of your idea, you can now print it in your home, office, workshop, etc. There's no tooling necessary which opens up a world of opportunity to the designer - or everyday Joe just wanting to make cool stuff. There's also an element of self-sufficiency and novelty: the notion that you not only sourced an item locally, but made it yourself! If you're not a designer, there's a number of 3D printing libraries online where you can download free CAD drawings which you can print, and at the same time interact with other fans on tips and processes. 3D printing is a fun, exciting and quickly evolving world.
3D printing is an "additive production process". That means that it prints a 3D item in hundreds (or even thousands) of super-thin horizontal layers from the bottom up to form a solid object. Due to this layering process, the printer can create hollow objects, intricate internal components, and moving parts like hinges and wheels inside a solid case - which you cannot achieve with traditional manufacturing. The objects you're planning on 3D printing will determine what quality and capabilities you need your 3D printer to have.
Filament vs Resin What Printer Do I Need?
Filament (FDM) printers and resin printers are the two most common types of 3D printers on the market. FDM printers like our Ender-3 S1 Plus from Creality offer a larger build area of up to 300x300x300mm, plus a wide range of features making them easy to use and maintain. They are easy to set up and customize to fit your workflow or hobbies, making them a versatile option for props, rapid prototyping, and everyday models. However, FDM printers lay down each bit of material one by one, which means they can be slower than resin printers.
Resin printers, on the other hand, typically have a smaller build size and are limited to a single resin during the print process. However, they offer significantly higher quality and precision than FDM printers, making them ideal for creating small, highly detailed models and parts such as DnD or Warhammer models, and small high-detailed prototypes. Resin printers can print an entire layer of the model in one go, resulting in faster printing at higher detail. However, resin printers require more post-processing steps, including cleaning up the resin, washing and curing the prints, and handling the resin fumes which can be harmful if not properly ventilated.
Ultimately, the choice between filament and resin printers depends on your project needs and personal preference. Filament printers are versatile and easier to use, while resin printers offer superior quality and precision at the cost of more post-processing work and the need for proper ventilation to ensure safety.
Filament What Type Do I Need?
Filament comes in a vast array of types and special colours especially in the last few years. With everything from standard PLA and PLA + plastic, the most common among 3D printers, to Carbon Fibre allowing the rapid prototyping of high strength parts on standard printers, and TPU allowing the printing of flexible parts like shoes and rubber wheels. See the table below to find what is best for you.
|PLA||Standard PLA plastic||Standard models and 3D parts||Nozzle – 210c
Bed – 65c*
|ABS||Standard ABS plastic||Stronger models and 3D parts||Nozzle – 215c
Bed – 105c
|PETG||High strength / chemical resistance||High strength parts and engineering parts||Nozzle – 240c
Bed - ~80c
|TPU/TPE||Flexible rubber like material||Flexible and bending parts||Nozzle - ~230c
Bed - 50c*
Direct Drive recommended
|Wood||PLA plastic with up to 70% wood infused||Realistic wood parts||Nozzle – 200c
Bed – 50c*
|Carbon Fibre||Combination of Carbon fibre with PETG||High strength engineering and mechanical parts||Nozzle – 215c
Bed – 50c
|PVA||Water soluble material||Supports that can be dissolved||Nozzle – 190c
Bed – 50c*
|Silks||Very shiny finish / metal like finish||Standard models and 3D parts||Nozzle – 205c
*Heated bed optional but recommended
As for special colours, eSilk or Silk filament has taken the show. Silk filament has all the printing properties of PLA filament but with a silky and naturally shiny finish to it, so there is no need for post processing work to be done. Allowing you to print our parts with a more realistic metal finish for props, or a beautiful shine to models.
How Big Can You Print?
Your design's largest single piece, will always be limited to the "maximum print size" of your printer which is dictated by the size of the Build plate, and the printer's z-height capability. If your printer's max print area is too small for your design, you can print an object in separate vertical parts and then glue the pieces together. Unless the design deliberately considers interlocking parts however, the finished quality is sometimes dubious (especially if the layers don't align exactly). Therefore, we suggest you select a 3D printer with a maximum print size suited to the size of prints you intend to make or design. The only printers that don't follow these rules are Infinite Z Belt Printers, for those printers you are limited to the X and Y limits with no Z limit (Filament printers only).
Single vs Dual Filament Extrusion
Single and dual extrusion comes in three main types. Single filament single head, dual filament single head, and dual filament dual head.
Single filament single head is perfect for when you are using a single type or colour of filament for a 3D print and are generally your standard 3D printer.
Dual filament single head is the go to printer configuration for doing a print in two colours or materials. A perfect example is doing a complex PLA based print with a lot of support, PVA can be loaded into the second filament feed and be used as a water soluble support, making the support removal process incredibly fast and easy. No more hours lost to snipping them away one by one.
Finally, dual filament dual head. These printers are generally your most expensive printers but have the features to back them up. A dual filament dual head printer not only will be able to print a model in two colours or two materials like the dual filament single head, but can also be set up to print two models at the same time**. Cutting down on print times for multiple parts.
**Both models need to be the same to do simultaneous printing.
Bowden vs Direct Drive
Bowden and Direct Drive are two common extruder setups used in 3D printing. Bowden uses a tube to transport filament from the motor to the hotend, while Direct Drive places the motor directly on the print head. Bowden allows for faster and more precise movement of the print head, but can lead to retraction and stringing issues. Direct Drive offers better control over filament, resulting in more accurate and detailed prints, but may slow down the print head for fast or intricate prints. The choice between the two ultimately depends on personal preference and project needs, with both capable of producing high-quality prints with the right settings and adjustments.
What is Infill?
Infill is a repeating structure used to fill the empty space of your 3D prints. As well as improving the visuals on some prints, it can also improve strength or load bearing characteristics. Often, too high an infill setting may be overkill.
This helpful image will give you an idea of what kind of settings you need for your prints. Click the image to view a high resolution version.
What is Resolution?
In 2D printing, we talk about "DPI" (dots per inch) with the general rule being - the finer the dots, the higher the resolution and the sharper the printed image. In 3D printing, this is the layer thickness or "z resolution" - the finer the layer, the smoother and more detailed the printed object will be. For example, if you have a 100mm height print, which is made up of 0.5mm layers, your printer will use 200 layers to create the object. If you print the same object with a printer capable of just 0.1mm layers, the printer will require 1000 layers to produce the same object - but the detail will be finer and the result generally smoother. Of course most printers have an adjustable z resolution so you can fine-tune the output to find a balance between speed and quality, within certain parameters. These decisions are also based on the diameter of the extrusion nozzle, and as filament comes in two basic sizes - it does affect the quality of the printed object.
How Long Will It Take?
This is dependent on a number of variables, such as; the complexity of the object to be printed, the filament size and type, the extruder head type and z resolution. It also depends on the quality of the printer you are using. You can always speed things up but you will generally sacrifice the quality of the output. It is important to remember that speed isn't everything. When it comes to 3D printing, slow and steady usually wins the race. Most 3D printing programs will advise you of the expected printing time once the drawings and settings have been uploaded.
The general standard is the higher the quality the long it will take, as well as the bigger the item the longer it will take. Most of our printers have the option to speed up a print while printing without quality loss (running at 150% speed or higher) but as you turn up the speed the printer model is more likely to fail completely. This is only recommended for printers that are very well tuned. As an example, the CR-X can go up to 300% but might not extrude fast enough in some areas, causing very small holes on the print.
With Resin printing, the only factors are the resolution you are printing in and Z height, X and Y don't add any print time.
3D printing is loads of fun. Whether you just want to have a go at creating something from (virtually) nothing, or genuinely have a need to create unique objects, we are confident you will find a quality printer option amongst our range of 3D printers. We also have dozens of suitable filaments, including some very interesting options like glow in the dark, flexibles, eSilks, and much more.
3D Printers have come a long way over the years and they are now easier to service and maintain. Each printer should come with a little tool kit for you to disassemble and repair when needed. We will maintain a series of guides for you to browse whenever you have an issue, so that you can easily get in and service your printer without the costly or slow repairs through a 3rd party. If you find an issue that we do not have here, chat with us here or at your local store.
Some of this information is for specific models, or others might be general in nature, but the process will generally be similar for all types of 3D printers.
Some of the common printer issues that can occur are: