A key question with 3D printing is, just how hard or easy is it to print something in 3D? Do you need a ton of experience to get started? I decided to put together a quick article to try and help answer this important question.
With the right information, 3D printing is a very simple process. 3D printer manufacturers realize that ease of set-up is a big factor when it comes to 3D printing beginners, so most have specifically made it easy to function from start to finish. Set up can take minutes.
This does sound extremely easy, but for beginners there can be a few barriers that you have to overcome to get a smooth printing process. I will explain these and hopefully lessen your worries about 3D printing.
Are 3D Printers Hard to Use & Learn?
3D printers are not hard to use with a good, reputable brand of 3D printer since they are pre-assembled and have many useful instructions to follow to get them up and running. Slicers such as Cura have default profiles that allow you to 3D print models without much input from users. 3D printers are getting easy to use.
In the past, there was a lot of tinkering and user input that was necessary to get 3D printers to provide a somewhat accurate model from the build plate, but nowadays, even teenagers and kids can handle a 3D printer.
The assembly process is no different than a decent DIY project, only requiring you to put the frame together, along with parts such as the hotend, screen, spool holder, most of which are pre-assembled.
Some 3D printers come completely assembled and calibrated at the factory so you don’t actually need to do much, other than plugging it in and printing from the supplied USB stick.
Nowadays, there are plenty of YouTube videos and articles that you can find to help you with getting started with 3D printing, as well as troubleshooting help that makes things simpler.
Another thing that is making 3D printing easier is how manufacturers are stepping up their skills and making 3D printers easier to assemble and operate, with automatic features, touchscreens, good build surfaces that 3D printing materials stick to nicely, and much more.
Check out the video below for a complete beginners guide to 3D printing. It takes you from step 1 to having a fresh 3D print right off the build plate.
5 Steps to Easy 3D Printing
- Get a beginner-friendly 3D printer – this should have auto-features, easy navigation panels, be compatible with most software. Ideally a pre-assembled 3D printer
- Add your filament of choice – sometimes comes with your 3D printer, or bought separately. I’d recommend using PLA filament as this is the most common, and easy to use type.
- Pick your 3D printer slicing software (Cura is the most popular) and select your 3D printer to autofill settings – keep in mind some 3D printers have brand-specific software such as Makerbot.
- Choose a 3D CAD file of your liking to print – this is the actual design you want to print and the most common place would be Thingiverse.
- Start printing!
What’s the Hard Part About 3D Printing?
3D printing can be made very easy, or very hard depending on what your goals are, how technical you want to get and your experience with DIY.
As I’ve mentioned, setting up your 3D printer and starting the print process can be very easy, but once you start designing your own prints and make unique adjustments this is where things can get difficult.
To get specific prints, it does take a unique understanding of how designs must be put together.
Designing prints can be a complicated process because you have to design your print in a way that it’s supported throughout the print, or it just won’t hold up.
Once you have that knowledge, it should be much easier to get designing and many programs have guides which tell you if your design is well-supported.
Having a high enough infill setting that your print won’t fall apart in the middle of the print is another important factor, so be aware of these things.
Luckily there are Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software out there that caters to different levels of expertise.
This ranges from simply putting shapes together in a program, to putting together small complex shapes to do anything from create a favorite action figure, to replacing a spare part on an appliance.
You can avoid this by taking a shortcut by just using designs from people who already have designs which are proven to work.
Thingiverse is a collective source of 3D print designs (STL files) which is available to everyone. A great thing you can do is look at a design from someone else and make adjustments in your own unique way, if you have the experience.
Like most things, with practice 3D printing will become very easy to do. There are things you can do which do get more complex, but the main process isn’t very hard to get started.
What If I Run Into Some Issues?
The main reason people run into issues is because they’ve jumped into things without doing research. If you bought a 3D printer kit from someone’s recommendation, a lot of the time they can be difficult to put together.
They may also not have features which really help out beginners such as auto-levelling the nozzle to the print bed to ensure precise printing, or have compatibility with beginner-friendly software. This is why it’s important to know the basic stuff before you jump into 3D printing.
There are many troubleshooting issues that people have when it comes to 3D printing, as people get further into the field. This can range from the quality of your filament where it can break, filament material not sticking to the print bed, first layers being messy, prints leaning etc.
If you do run into some issues, the 3D printing community is an extremely helpful one and many questions you have, most likely have already been answered on the many forums that are out there.
In most cases, putting together a 3D printer isn’t too hard if necessary. An example of a simple 3D printer is the Creality3D CR-10, which comes in three parts and takes only 10 minutes to put together.
Once your 3D printer is put together, most settings can be autofilled when selecting your specific 3D printer within your software, so this is a pretty simple step.
After sorting out issues a few times, you should become confident in preventing those issues, and being able to quickly solve them in the future.
3D printers are being used in education at many levels, so if children can do it, I’m pretty sure you can too! There is some technical know-how but once things are up and running you should be printing away.
Mistakes will be made from time to time, but they are all learning experiences. Many times, it takes a few setting adjustments and prints should come out pretty smooth.
There are many levels of knowledge that you’ll need to get to a good level of 3D printing, but this mostly comes with practical experience, and just generally learning about the field. The first few times may seem difficult, but it should get easier as time goes on.
As time goes on, I can only imagine that 3D printer manufacturers and software developers will keep on aiming to make things simpler.
This along with the development in technology and research leads me to think that it will not only become more cost-efficient, but easier to create useful and complex designs.