Preparing Your Files for 3D Printing

Automation Software Technology

In order to properly print something in 3D, you will require adequate tools, and we’re not just talking about a solid printer. You will also require decent software like Autodesk. Luckily, there are lots of reputable Autodesk resellers on the market that can provide you with the exact digital tools you need.

Naturally, not even the best printers or cutting-edge software can give you 3D printing knowledge or skills overnight. Unless you know what you’re doing, your item of choice won’t be printed properly. And since 3D printing nowadays can take anywhere between 30 minutes and 12 hours, any mistake will result in a waste of time and money.

So, how do you make sure that your file comes out of the printer looking fine? In this article, you will learn some of the most crucial preparation steps when it comes to 3D printing in 2022.

List of Preparation Steps for 3D Printing

Watertight, Manifold 3D Model

When designing a 3D model for printing, make sure it’s watertight, i.e., manifold. In other words, once you print it, the model should be able to hold water without it pouring out anywhere. To put it in even simpler terms, it should not have any holes.

The key reason behind keeping your model hole-free is the way the slicing tools of your printer operate. If there’s a hole in your model, the tools won’t be able to discern which is the inside portion of your model and which is the outside one. When that happens, the printer will just not print anything. So, you have two options to avoid that from happening:

  • Work on your model until there are no more holes left
  • Separate the model into several simple sections, which you can print separately and then combine later.

The Thickness and Volume of Object Walls

When creating 3D models for other purposes, like game design, their authors often don’t consider the thickness of the model’s surface. In fact, more often than not, those models will appear downright hollow. That’s perfectly valid for game design, but in order to print something in 3D, you have to put the extra effort in and focus on the wall thickness and volume.

Wall thickness refers to how wide the outer layer of the object should be. If you were to try and print a regular mesh item from a video game, it would probably come out paper-thin. Sturdy figures and items need to be solid and durable, so it’s vital to set up the exact thickness of each wall.

Mesh Overlapping

If your model has any intersections, it can cause confusion in the software. Namely, if you happen to have an object with internal intersections, they will not register, and therefore the device won’t print them. The device actually intuits the objects as more of a 2D plain rather than a 3D one.

So, how can you overcome this obstacle? Well, try to reduce the design to its simplest, most basic elements and then focus on merging them later. You can achieve that by using a Boolean operation.

Inverted Normals

Each 3D model in 3D printing software has surface normals, i.e., vectors that show where the outside of your object is. Those always need to be facing outwards. If they face inwards, the software will not be able to print them. Fixing this issue is also relatively simple. All you have to do is double-check where the normals are pointing, and you’re good to go.

Grouped Models

Let’s say that you want to print multiple units of the same model. Some users tend to group these units in the same file, thus creating so-called group models. However, these types of models are usually not printed. The software only recognizes individual models. Therefore, you will need to export each item into its own separate file. It might take longer to print, but it will provide you with proper units with few flaws.

Hollowing the Models

Generally speaking, if you print a solid model, it will take a long time, and you’ll have to pay a hefty price for it. However, it will be quite durable and sturdy.

People who aim to reduce the cost of 3D printing opt for hollowed models. They might not be as sturdy as solid ones, but they retain the basic shape you need. Before you start printing them, though, make sure that the models have so-called escape holes. During printing, lots of resin and dust get stuck inside. These holes allow all the debris to escape so you can either discard or reuse it.

Embossed and/or Engraved Text and Small Details

Minor details of any model might not make it through the printing process. If you intend to have some engraved or embossed text on your item, or maybe a company logo or a small image, you have to make sure that the printer recognizes it.

The best way to go about it is to check your printer settings and capabilities. Find out the smallest possible size for details that make them visible after printing. Moreover, study the material you’re using to print the item in the first place.

3D Model Size and Resolution

STL, OBJ, AMF, and 3MF are the most common file formats for any 3D printer. Of these four, AMF and 3MF are the newest and are, in fact, directly related to 3D printing. STL is still the most popular, but it comes with some limitations.

If you are exporting an STL file, the software will most likely ask you to define the tolerance for that particular export. The safest option to choose is 0.01 mm. Anything smaller than that will simply not be printed, plus it will make your original file too heavy. On the other hand, if the tolerance is larger than 0.01 mm, you would clearly be able to see the triangles on your object.

3D Printing Preparations: the Conclusion

Yes, 3D printing looks difficult, especially for a first-timer. However, once you learn the basics, you will be able to print anything to your heart’s content. And if you’re skilled, you can actually turn your 3D printing hobby into a profitable venture.

David Spergel is an Applications Specialist at Microsol Resources. He is responsible for providing training, service, and support for our design and construction clients for various software applications including Bluebeam Revu, McNeel’s Rhino, Chaos Group’s V-Ray, and Enscape. He is a Bluebeam Customer Success Representative, a Bluebeam Certified Instructor, and a 3D printing specialist. David holds a Bachelor of Science in Manufacturing Engineering from Boston University.

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