My Journey with 3D Printing and How to Get Started

In the summer of 2017, I dove into 3D printing head first. I’d only used a 3D printer two or three times previously, so it was a plunge. I got a budget 3D printer kit (Tevo Tarantula) after watching a bunch of different reviews (see below for reviewers I trust on 3D printers). Building the kit was an excellent experience for improving my mechanical design knowledge, my 3D printing knowledge, and my mental “library of parts”.

Since then, I’ve designed and printed lots of different parts for personal and work projects. (You can see a little more about my 3D printing experiences on my projects page if you’re interested.) I highly recommend getting into 3D printing if you are at all interested. It’s fun and rewarding! Good 3D printers can be had for $300-400 now, and there are lots of communities to draw from. Here are some things I’ve learned and use that might help you get started…

Getting Started

  1. What do I need besides a 3D printer to get going? You need a file to print and some filament.
  2. What kinds of filament can you use and is it expensive? PLA is the most popular hobbyist filament, and it’s sufficient for almost everything I’ve printed. You can get a good quality 1kg PLA spool for $20-25. There are many different kinds of plastic filament (popular: PLA, PETG, ABS) and other types such as infused (wood, carbon fiber, etc.) and flexible (nylon, TPU, etc.) filaments.
  3. Where do I get the files/models to print? There are tons of free designs online (e.g., Thingiverse) that you can download for free and print directly. For specific part models (bolts, pulleys, brackets, etc.), you can download most of them for free from McMaster. Just go to the product page (“Product Details”) and select the model type you want to download. Otherwise, you can create your own 3D model using free software. If you want to create your own 3D model, I recommend using Onshape.
  4. Do I need any software? Yes, you’ll need a “slicer” that tells your print what movements to make. It converts the 3D drawing to machine (3D printer) movements by “slicing” up the 3D model into printable layers.
  5. TOOLS: These tools are worth buying for printer maintenance and post-processing printed parts: hardware picks, decent needle-nose pliers, tweezers, 1/8″ sharp chisel, snippers, and deburring tools.
  6. How strong are 3D printed parts? They are surprisingly strong. Of course, this depends on the material you’re using and your print/printer settings. Check out this cool video where they lift 1000 kg pallet with a 3D printed part! For a more engineering (specific) look, check out CNC Kitchen’s videos on YouTube (see below for links to his channel).

3D Printing Content I Love (YouTube Stuff)

My top 4 YouTube channels for 3D printing (and some of my favorites from each channel) are: