How to design something for a 3D printer

3D printers are becoming more and more available, and accordingly, ordinary users who want to learn this technology are also buying them. Some people are not satisfied with printing ready-made models downloaded from the Internet, so they wonder about creating their own project. This task is accomplished with the help of special software and requires superficial or in-depth knowledge in the functionality of such software, which depends on the user’s requirements for the model.

Method 1: Blender

Blender is the first program whose main purpose is to create 3D models for further animation or use in various areas of computer technology. It is distributed free of charge and is suitable for novice users who are encountering applications of this kind for the first time, so it occupies this position. Let’s take a brief look at the procedure of preparing a model for printing step by step, starting with the setting up of the tool itself.

Step 1: Preparatory steps

Of course, after launching Blender, you can immediately begin to familiarize yourself with the interface and develop models, but first it is better to pay attention to preparatory actions to configure the working environment for layouts for 3D printers. This operation does not take long and requires the activation of only a few parameters.

To begin, select the appearance and layout of the elements in the start window, based on your personal needs.

In the next section of the Quick Setup window you will see different templates for getting started and links to sources of background information that will help you in mastering the software. Close this window to move on to the next configuration step.

In the panel on the right, look for the “Scene” icon and click on it. The name of the button appears a few seconds after you hover over it.

In the category that appears, expand the “Units” block.

Set the metric system of measurements and set the scale to “1”. This is necessary in order for the scene parameters to be transferred to the 3D printer space in a proper form.

Now pay attention to the upper panel of the program. There hover your cursor over “Edit” and select “Preferences” in the popup menu that appears.

In the settings window, move to “Add-ons”.

Find and activate the two items called “Mesh: 3D-Print Toolbox” and “Mesh: LoopTools”.

Make sure that the checkboxes have been successfully checked, and then leave this window.

Additionally, we recommend that you pay attention to other configuration items. Here you can customize the appearance of the program, change the layout of interface elements, transform them or disable them altogether. Once you have done all of these things, go to the next step.

Step 2: Creating a 3D object

Modeling – the basic process of creating a project for further printing on the appropriate equipment. Every user who wants to work on various shapes and objects on his own will have to deal with this topic. However for this purpose it is necessary to study a rather large layer of information, because Blender functionality is so huge that only the basics can be understood intuitively. Unfortunately, the format of our today’s article does not allow to fit even a small part of all the information and instructions, so we advise you to turn to the official documentation, where all the information is categorized and described in detail.

Step 3: Check the project for general guidelines

Before finalizing your model, we advise you not to miss the most important aspects that you should follow to optimize your project and ensure that it prints correctly on your printer. First, make sure that none of the surfaces overlap. They should only touch, forming a single object. If somewhere goes out of bounds, there are likely to be problems with the quality of the figure itself, as there will be a small print failure in the wrong place. For convenience, you can always turn on the transparent grid display to check each line and field.

Next, deal with reducing the number of polygons, because a large number of these elements only artificially complicates the figure itself and interferes with optimization. Of course, it is recommended to avoid unnecessary polygons while creating the object itself, but it is not always possible to do it at this stage. You can use any methods of this optimization, which is also written in the documentation and told in tutorials from independent users.

Now we want to mention thin lines or any transitions. As you know, the nozzle itself has a certain size, which also depends on the model of the printer, and plastic is not the most reliable material. Because of this, it is better to avoid having very thin elements, which in theory may not get printed at all or will be extremely fragile. If such points are present in the design, enlarge them slightly, add support or get rid of them if possible.

Step 4: Export the project

The final step in preparing the model for printing is to export it in a suitable STL format. This type of data is supported by 3D printers and will be correctly recognized. No rendering or additional processing can be performed if colors or simple textures have already been assigned to the project.

Open the “File” menu and hover your cursor over “Export”.

From the pop-up list that appears, select “Stl (.stl)”.

Specify a location on removable or local media, set a name for the model and click “Export STL”.

The project will be immediately saved and available for other actions. Now you can insert the USB stick into the printer or connect it to your computer to run the existing job. We will not give tips on how to configure it, because they are strictly individual for each model of device and are clearly spelled out in the instructions and various documents.

How to design something for a 3D printer

Way 2: Autodesk Fusion 360.

The next program is called Autodesk Fusion 360 and it’s available for free private use for a year so it’s a good way to get started and create simple models to print on existing equipment in the future. We decided to make the principle of getting to know this software the same way we did with Blender, so we created a step-by-step breakdown.

Step 1: Preparatory Steps

In Autodesk Fusion 360 you don’t have to activate toolbars or select any unusual options. The user just has to make sure the project metrics are correct and change the view side properties as needed, which is how it works:

After downloading and installing Autodesk Fusion 360 from the official site, the first run should occur. No initial windows will be displayed, so a new project will be created automatically. Notice the “Browser” section on the left below the main panels. Here select “Document Settings” to expand this section.

Go to edit the “Units” file if the standard value in millimeters doesn’t suit you.

In the box that appears to the right, choose the optimal unit of measure, which you should follow throughout your interaction with the project.

After that, take a look at the Named Views and Origin section. Here you can rename each side according to your personal preferences and adjust the display of axes in your workspace.

At the end of the configuration, make sure that the “Design” space is selected, because that’s where the initial creation of all objects takes place.

Step 2: Designing the model for printing

If you find yourself needing to develop the model manually through Autodesk Fusion 360, you will have to do some extensive research on the program or at least familiarize yourself with the basics. Let’s start by looking at a simple example of adding shapes and editing their size.

Open the “Create” list and take a look at the shapes and objects available. As you can see, all the basic shapes are present here. Just click on one of them to proceed to adding.

In addition, take a look at the other elements in the upper panel. The main space here is occupied by modifiers. Their icons make it clear what they are responsible for. For example, the first modifier displaces sides, the second rounds them, and the third creates an indentation.

After adding object shapes to the workspace, there will be levers, by moving which you adjust the size of each side.

When adjusting, look also at the separate field with dimensions. You can edit it yourself by setting the necessary values.

We have already talked about the main features that must be followed when looking at Blender, so we won’t dwell on them again. Instead, we suggest that you explore the rest of the interaction with Autodesk Fusion 360 by reading the official documentation on the website to master the creation of not only primitives, but also objects of a much higher level of complexity.

Step 3: Preparing to print / Saving the document

In this step, let’s talk about two different actions that are directly related to 3D printing. The first is to send the job immediately through the software you are using. This option will only work in situations where the printer itself can be connected to a computer and supports communication with such software.

Activate the “3D Print” item in the “File” menu.

The settings block will appear on the right. Here you only need to select the output device itself, turn on the preview if necessary, and start the job.

However, now most standard printing devices still only support flash drives or operate exclusively through proprietary software, so the need to save the object occurs much more often. This is done as follows:

In the same “File” pop-up menu, click the “Export” button.

Expand the “Type” list.

Select “OBJ Files (*obj)” or “STL Files (*.stl)”.

After that, specify the location to save and click the blue “Export” button.

Wait for the saving to finish. This process will take literally a few minutes.

If the export fails, you will need to save the project again. To do this, click on the special button or use the standard keyboard shortcut Ctrl + S.

Method 3: SketchUp

Many users know SketchUp as a home modeling tool, but the functionality of this software is much broader, so it can be used as a modeling tool in preparation for 3D printing. SketchUp made it to our list today because it is easy to import already ready-made free models for editing and further saving to the desired format. Let’s go through all aspects of managing this software one by one.

Step 1: Getting Started and Working with Models

First, we suggest getting acquainted with the basic principle of interaction with SketchUp to understand exactly how models are added and managed. 

After installing and running SketchUp, you need to click on the “Login” button to connect your user account. If you have started to get acquainted with the trial period, from this point the days until it ends will start counting down.

When the “Welcome to SketchUp” window appears, click on “Simple” to go to the workspace.

Drawing shapes in this program is done in exactly the same way as in other similar solutions. Hover your cursor over the “Draw” section and select an arbitrary shape.

After that it is placed on the workspace and at the same time its size is edited.

The other buttons in the upper panels perform modifier options and are responsible for other actions.

As we said before, the developers of SketchUp provide many different tutorials on interacting with this application not only in text format, but also as videos on YouTube.

Step 2: Loading the finished model

Not all users want to create their own models to be sent to print in the future. In these cases, it is possible to upload a finished project, edit it and then export it in a suitable format. The official resource from the developers of SketchUp is used for this.

Use the link above to get to the home page of the site to search for models. There, confirm the license agreement to start using it.

Next we suggest you use the built-in category search to quickly find the right model.

Look for an option in the list and pay attention to additional filters.

After selecting the model all you have to do is click on “Download”.

Run the resulting file through SketchUp.

Review the model and edit it if necessary.

Step 3: Export the finished project

At the end of the process, all that is left is to export the finished project for further printing on your existing device. You already know in which format you want to save the file, and you do it this way:

Hover your cursor over “File” – “Export” and select “3D Model”.

In the Explorer window that appears, you are interested in OBJ or STL format.

After selecting the location and format, you only need to click on “Export”.

The export operation will start, the status of which you can monitor yourself.

You will be informed of the results of the procedure and can move on to the printing task.

You have just learned about three different 3D modeling programs that are suitable for creating any job for printing on a 3D printer yourself. There are other similar solutions that allow you to save files in STL or OBJ format. We recommend that you take a look at their list in situations where the solutions described above do not suit you for some reason.

That was all the information about creating a model for printing on a 3D printer that we wanted to tell you in one tutorial. Next, all you have to do is load the object file into the job preparation software, connect the printer, and start printing.