Do you want to get started with 3D printing but don’t know how to generate a file for 3D printing? You can’t find what you’re looking for on file-sharing platforms like Thingiverse or? Don’t panic, we’ll give you some tips for obtaining a 3D file optimized for additive manufacturing!
First of all, 3D printing draws all its strength from its versatility. Indeed, this manufacturing method makes it possible to produce complex parts with geometries that are impossible to achieve with machining methods.
Creating your prototypes, operational parts or even small series will become simpler and less expensive provided you respect a few rules.
Before we begin, it is also worth remembering that not all projects are suitable for additive manufacturing. Indeed, in certain cases, machining is sufficient for a very satisfactory result. Therefore, additive manufacturing does not represent a replacement solution but a new design possibility.
Think of the room differently
To get started, you need 3D design (CAD) software. We recommend the most suitable for 3D printing in this article. Are you a beginner? Get closer to Tinkercad or Fusion 360 software which offers free versions.
Our basic advice:
Model your parts at 1 scale. This will help you avoid design errors and you will better visualize your project.
Model your project using references. Based on 2D images, sketches, or photos, you will be able to reproduce the model as faithfully as possible.
Optimize files for 3D printing:
Rethink the topology of parts: 3D printing has the advantage of being able to manufacture parts with the most complex geometries thanks to its manufacturing process. Indeed, during manufacturing, the printer only adds material where it is necessary. This way, you can design your property very well using lattice (honeycomb) structures. These structures allow a good compromise between the weight of the part and its mechanical resistance. Files for 3D printing optimized in this way allow up to 30% mass savings. Michelin, for example, used 3D printing and lattice structures to create the tire of the future!
Plan for additive manufacturing technologies: There is not one but several 3D printing technologies. To find out more, read our infographic on the different technologies available. Each has its specificities and some require the generation of printing media. If the technology of your choice requires such actions, you will need to plan for this in the design of your parts for the highest quality printing.
Plan the manufacturing material: In the same way that there are different 3D printing technologies, there is also a multitude of materials available on each technology. By knowing the specificities of the desired material, we will be able to predict its failures.
Remember to merge the shapes well: A file for 3D printing is made up of different shapes. You have to make sure that they are merged to form one. If this is not the case, the slicing software (see below) will not work properly and the print will not be successful.
Check your file before exporting: When the modeling is finished, take the time to check a few essential points. The first is the thickness of your walls. They must be greater than 1mm to print correctly. Also, take the time to check that the model does not have holes in the mesh or that it does not have intersecting facets inside it.
The export format
When designing your file for 3D printing, the export format is also very important. Indeed, it must be saved with maximum quality otherwise your file will be facetized and the final rendering of your production will suffer. For this, there are different 3D file export formats for 3D printing which are more or less suitable depending on the printing technologies used.
The.STL format: This is the historical format for 3D printing. Invented by 3D Système in the 1980s, the STL format (for Stereolithography) is the reference format in additive manufacturing. The file is composed of a mosaic of triangles that have common edges. The mesh of the file must therefore be very precise to avoid defects. Additionally, the.STL format is not suitable for all 3D printing technologies because it does not take into account the colors or textures of the object.
The.OBJ format: This is a very common format and an alternative to STL. It is mainly used as a file exchange and transfer format but it is above all complementary.STL because it supports the colors and textures of the creations. Finally, it also manages meshes with non-triangular but planar shapes.
The 3. MF format: The latest arrival, this format is developed by Microsoft to become a universal format for 3D printing. Indeed, it was designed to support all file characteristics (meshes, colors, textures, etc.) and to adapt to all additive manufacturing processes.
Once your 3D printing file has been created and exported, you must “slice” it before printing it. This is an essential step in the additive manufacturing process because this is where the file will be cut into layers which will then be successively manufactured during printing.
To carry out this step, you will need to use software called “Trancher” or “Slicer”. Most 3D printers have their own, but you can also use general software like Cura or Simplify3D.
To sum up
After following all of his advice your files will look like works of art ready to be printed!
Let’s summarize together the essential points for creating files optimized for 3D printing:
First, define the material and 3D printing technologies you want to use
Use existing references such as photos or objects to model
Think about your project differently thanks to the different possibilities offered by 3D printing
Check your file before exporting to detect possible errors.