3D Printing – Part 1

At around the beginning of the year, I started looking into 3D printing – what it was about, how it had evolved to this point, what the various options were, and what the workflows looked like. After looking at the various options and price ranges, as well as getting some helpful advice from some friends, I finally decided I wanted to do some 3D printing at home, and that I would get a 3D printer.

Before I even ordered one, however, I wanted to get a feel for the workflow of a project. I knew I wanted to start with as much freeware as possible so that I could figure out where the rough edges were, and know what I would want to get from anything not-free.

To get started, I downloaded Google SketchUp, and looked at their introductory videos. It’s probably worth noting that I am not any kind of engineer or architect, so I needed something that would allow me to draw basic 3D shapes, and not have such a learning curve that it would get in my way. SketchUp fit this nicely, and, after watching the first couple of videos, I ditched the rest and started making a few things. The first couple of things I made were a disc (for tokens) and a card holder. I had read around on the internet that the thing my 3D printer would need to create something was a file in .stl format, luckily, SketchUp had a plugin for exporting to .stl, so I had at least gotten this far, and it wasn’t too painful.

The next step then, was creating gcode for my models. This part of the process seemed the most foreign, since I had a hard time wrapping my head around exactly what gcode was, and how it fit into getting my model to my printer. To me, going from .stl to the printer seemed like something a driver should take care of… …And I was really not interested in dealing with hardware specific stuff. I looked into a few options, and found a really great blog writup on various slicers (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4), this really helped me understand what a slicer did, and why it was worth shopping around. After reading everything on the Slicer Comparison multiple times, as well as digging around on some other sites, I decided that slic3r and KISSlicer were my two frontrunners.

Having played with both now, I can say that I prefer slic3r somewhat to KISSlicer. While in the Slicer Comparison noted some defects with slic3r compared to KISSlicer, I haven’t yet run into any of those cases. Also I found slic3r to be significantly easier on the eyes, and had the options well laid out (as well as some options that I wasn’t able to find in KISSlicer, such as “Complete individual objects” which was very helpful when I wanted to make batches of tokens). I also did cheat a bit with slic3r, as it is the default slicer in Repetier Host. While I did a little bit of looking for printer interfaces, at this point I had basically decided on a 3rd generation Solidoodle, and Repetier Host is the recommended software (I also found a lot of folks praising it).

The result of my investigations was generally positive. In particular, I found that I was able to get rolling on a 3D project without much fuss, using only free tools. I had also identified a basic software toolchain (SketchUp + slic3r + Repetier Host), and determined that 3D printing wasn’t something outside of my reach. Next time, I’ll write a bit about what went into my choice of 3D printers, and where that research lead me. At present, I’m working on a few new projects, which I want to share in part 3.

Category(s): Projects
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