Free Beginner’s Guide to 3D Printing

Gambody has compiled this 3D printing guide to help all beginners learn the fundamental theories, essential tools, concepts of how to 3D print. Uncover the history of 3D printing, popular hardware, software and the supplies needed for successful results.

Follow friendly tips for choosing your first 3D printer, and everything else related to the fantastic technology everyone can employ at home today. We’ll make sure to update this free beginner’s guide to 3D printing to include new compelling content, striking images and prospective ideas.

Beginner’s Guide to 3D Printing

Additive manufacturing has the power to generate complex geometries and valuable parts for medicine, aerospace, defence, automotive and other industries. The 3D printing community is constantly developing, improving 3D printing skills, exploring new 3D printers and finding new applications for innovative technology.

Newbies and advanced users searching for interesting facts about additive manufacturing technology, its potential and development, will find all these details in the free Gambody’s guide on how to 3D print.

Our comprehensive guide includes various details about materials, processes, applications and answers to common questions. It will be helpful to users with different 3D printer machines and skill levels.

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What Is 3D Printing

Technologies change and improve human history, develop the whole world and make the lives of millions of people much better. Can you imagine your life without a light bulb, car, train, aeroplane, not to mention the Internet? All these innovations opened many great possibilities and have had a huge impact on many generations. And additive manufacturing (shortly abbreviated as AM) also has a great potential to change everyday lives and influence all known industries.

The first thing a newbie asks is, “What is 3D printing?” Today the term “3D printing” is associated not only with additive manufacturing but also with layer manufacturing, additive techniques, freeform fabrication, desktop fabrication and other phrases. Unlike in subtractive manufacturing where a big piece of material is shaped through cutting/forming, the 3D printing definition hints that this technology grows new parts out of material.

Several years ago, many believed that 3D printing was just technology from Star Wars or another movie. But the more affordable 3D printers become, the more people take advantage of the incredible process of creating physical objects from digital 3D models.

3D printing is basically building a real object out of a digital format by laying down layer after layer of materials (plastic, resin, metal, etc.) at the sub-mm scale. While it is completely different from all other traditional manufacturing processes, a range of techniques could be used to 3D print models, and we will discuss each one in our ultimate guide.

Understanding what is 3D printing is the first step to mastering this innovative production process to create useful household parts, home items, medical casts, collectable figurines, accessories, automotive components and even food.

History of 3D Printing

The “official” introduction to 3D printing was in 1986. Still, the roots of this technology began to grow in the early 1980s. In 1981, Japanese scientist Dr Hideo Kodama applied for a patent in laser beam resin curving. Unfortunately, his application ran out of a specified 1-year period due to a lack of funds.

In 1984, American engineer Charles (“Chuck”) Hull filed a patent for the stereolithography process. A year earlier, he showed the very first 3D printed part, and then founded 3D Systems.

History of 3D printing
The first-ever 3D printed part by Chuck Hull. Image: 3dsystems.com

Since then, his name is associated with one of the SLA 3D printer inventors and the still-popular STL mesh file format. Hull’s term for stereolithography (“Apparatus for Production of 3-Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography”) was the official name of the patent granted in 1986. And the history of 3D printing began.

First 3D Printer

In 1986, Hull was one of the founders of 3D Systems, the world’s first 3D printing company. And in 1987, the company produced the world’s first 3D printer.

First 3D printer
SLA-1, the first 3D printer. Image: 3dsystems.com

It was an SLA-1 machine which you can see today on display at the National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum in Alexandria, VA (USA). It built models by laying and curing layers of UV-sensitive resin with a UV-laser and constructing a 3D geometry one cross-section at a time.

In 1987, Carl Robert Deckard invented Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) technology. He filed a patent, which he was granted two years later. SLS used a laser to fuse plastic powder in a heated chamber and printed with nylon and thermoplastics instead of resin as in SLA machines.

DTM Inc got a license for using SLS. And later, this company was acquired by 3D Systems.

In 1988, S. Scott Crump invented Fused Deposition Modeling, known as FDM, getting a patent in 1992. Crump was the co-founder of Stratasys Inc.
In 1989, Hans Langer founded EOS GmbH in Germany (Europe). This company focused on developing the laser sintering (LC) processes. And a year later it started to sell “Stereos” systems.

How Long Has 3D Printing Been Around

The 3D printer creation didn’t change the world at once. The new technology was expensive and sounded fantastic, but not realistic. Only in the 1990s did society pay serious attention to additive manufacturing.

The 1990s and 2000s introduction to even more technologies was exciting:

  • Solidscape invented resin 3D printers to create “wax-like” patterns for lost-wax casting;
  • Z Corporation licensed the binder jetting AM developed by MIT* to produce sand moulds;
  • Extrude Hone Corporation (later ExOne) obtained an exclusive licence for MIT’s technology to develop and commercialise metal binder jetting systems;
  • Helisys Inc. (now Cubic Technologies) developed laminated object manufacturing (LOM) that fused layers of paper;
  • Arcam (now acquired by GE Additive) developed an electron beam melting (EBM) process for creating fully dense metal parts directly from metal powder;
  • More 3D printing processes were introduced, including selective laser melting (SLM), LaserCursing and direct metal laser melting (DMLM).

*Interesting fact. MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) initially coined the term “3D printing” related to the metal binder jetting technology it developed.

The early 2000s also were the years of the creation of essential 3D printing companies that mainly used FDM, SLA, SLS and DMLS 3D printers.

From 2005 and to the early 2010s, ExOne was the only company to offer metal binder jetting services and systems.

In 2007, 3D Systems introduced the first 3D printer for under $10,000. But at that time, it was believed that the industry would get a wider audience as soon as the first 3D printer under $5,000 will be released. And Desktop Factory was founded to complete that goal. However, 3D Systems acquired it in 2008 vanishing the plans.

In 2009, the history of 3D printing got another happy turn. The foundation of MakerBot Industries, LLC lead to the creation of the first desktop 3D printer MakerBot and DIY kits.

This new class of machines soon conquered the hearts of hobbyists and homemakers looking for affordable solutions and an opportunity to create open-source desktop machines independently. It was also the rise of the RepRap community that loved the open-source development of 3D printing and the idea of introduction of the entry-level machines.

In 2011, Formlabs was founded, which led to the creation of the first desktop SLA 3D printer. Then the world saw the creations and ideas by Markforged, Desktop Metal, MakeXYZ, Xometry and other companies. Some of them produced 3D printers that printed with prosumer filament, plasticised metal rods, etc. Others connected consumer machines with users and offered 3D models for manufacturers to fulfil the projects bought by consumers.

Other major turns were 2012 and 2013. The introduction of alternative AM processes (DLP by B9Creator and stereolithography by Form 1) through Kickstarter were a huge success. Stratasys acquired Makerbot, and the 3D printing revolution goes on.

3D Printing Today

The last years have made additive manufacturing (desktop fabrication) popular among ordinary users. There are several reasons for this.

Firstly, many of the original patents granted to 3D Systems, Stratasys and other companies have expired. Thus, the market faces many new players who compete for the customers in professional and hobby fields. Secondly, the high demand for 3D printing led to the creation of service companies that print models and ship them to customers.

As a result, everyone wins. The three companies who pioneered 3D printing, 3D Systems, Stratasys and EOS, are still important players in the market. But the industry also witnesses a growing number of small and big competing companies.

Today, hobbyists and businesses witness a huge amount of 3D printers of various sizes and at different price ranges, from $100 (for kids) to thousands of dollars for industries. It is now possible to 3D print with PLA, PETG, ABS, Wood filament, resin, metal powder and other materials.

The introduction of desktop 3D printing to more and more people also influenced the 3D design market. CAD and other 3D design software became more affordable.

Questions About 3D Printing

There are so many questions about 3D printing that it is impossible to answer all of them by recollecting the history of this technology, its processes, popular 3D software and tips for choosing your first 3D printer.

Thus, Gambody wants to compile a special “3D Printing 101 Questions” chapter with answers many beginners will find useful. We will update this list to ensure it is the most comprehensive guide covering all the common questions that come to your mind after you obtain a 3D printer. It explains all the steps you have to take to 3D print a model of your choice right away.

  1. What is the type of my 3D printer?
  2. When can I download STL files for the 3D printing model purchased on Gambody?
  3. What version of files from the “Source Files” tab do I need?
  4. What is the difference between multiple versions of STL files?
  5. Why one small model has so many STL files?
  6. Do I simply save STL files on SD card and insert it into a 3D printer?
  7. Why use slicer software before 3D printing anything?
  8. Why are supports used in 3D printing?
  9. Can I scale the 3D printing model myself?
  10. Where to search for simple models for beginners?
3D printing guide for beginners

1. What is the type of my 3D printer?

Each 3D printer runs its 3d-printing kind of process. It uses a particular material extrusion technique. You can learn all the details about the nine main types of 3D printers on Gambody blog, or shortly understand which 3d printer you have from this 3D printing guide for beginners.

Types of 3D printers 3D printing guide for beginners

The most popular types of 3D printers are:

  • FFF/FDM – extrude thermoplastics (PLA, ABS) through the nozzle to the print bed, building a model layer by layer.
  • DLP/SLA/LCD – work with liquid plastic (Resin) shaping it with a light source to produce solid layers.
  • SLS – work with powdered substances (Nylon, Metals, Ceramics) forming a model with a laser.

Less common types of 3D printers are SLM, EBM, LOM, BJ/MJ.

2. When can I download STL files for the 3D printing model purchased on Gambody?

Once you purchase any 3D printing model on Gambody marketplace, you immediately receive access to its STL files. You can freely download all versions of which that the model is comprised from the “Source files” tab on any model’s page.

When to download STL files for purchased model 3D printing guide for beginners
Download links for STL files are underlined in red

This access remains granted to you as long as your Gambody account is active.

3. What version of files from the “Source Files” tab do I need?

Gambody marketplace offers several versions of each 3D printing model. You need to download the version of STL files from the “Source Files” tab that was adapted and optimized for your 3D printer type.

What version of STL files to download 3D printing guide for beginners on Gambody

Follow this 3D printing guide for beginners to get the correct files:

  • If you have FFF or FDM 3D printer and print with ABS or PLA filament, you should download the FFF/FDM version of STL files.
  • If you have DLP, LCD or SLA 3D printer and print using Resin, you should download DLP/SLA or DLP/SLA Eco version of STL files.
  • If you have SLS 3D printer, you should download SLS version of STL files.

4. What is the difference between multiple versions of STL files?

Several versions of STL files for the same 3D printing model take into account the practical aspects of building the project on particular types of 3D printer. Gambody team makes sure that the chosen scale of the model and the number of cut parts guarantee the best printing result.

For example, FFF/FDM version of STL files is usually bigger because ABS or PLA filament is more affordable than other printing materials. Besides, FFF/FDM printers craft clean and detailed models when they are printed at a larger scale, and it is more interesting to paint such bigger projects.

Difference between FDM and DLP/SLA STL files 3D printing guide for beginners

At the same time, DLP/SLA versions of STL files are twice less in size than FFF/FDM version. Smaller size can save the expensive Resin material and consider the smaller build plate of DLP/SLA/LCD 3D printers. Resin printers are great at building little details, and they deliver excellent results when making a smaller-scale model.

DLP/SLA Eco versions of STL files come with hollowed out parts of the model. Hollow models intend to keep the printing costs down and save even more Resin than regular DLP/SLA versions.

5. Why one small model has so many STL files?

Each 3D printer has a limited print bed. Besides, every user likes to position 3D printing model in his way. Thus, Gambody team makes sure to cut every FFF/FDM and DLP/SLA project into several STL files, to make the 3D printing experience as smooth as possible.

Why one 3D printing model has many STL files guide for beginners
Download Baby Yoda STL files

Each STL file makes it possible to 3D print an error-free part of the model, save printing time and material, and use as little supports as possible. Then all the 3D printed pieces can be assembled or glued together, transforming into a finished product.

SLS versions usually contain a one-piece model (figurine). Sometimes it comes with two pieces, a platform and one-piece figurine which can be detached from the platform.

6. Do I simply save STL files on SD card and insert it into a 3D printer?

No, 3D printers do not support STL files. The STL files adapted for your 3D printer must be converted into a G-code. This G-code file must be saved on the SD card and inserted into a 3D printer to craft the project.

SD card in 3D printer with G-code and not STL files 3D printing guide for beginners
Image: ultimaker.com

The G-code file is generated in slicing software (computer software that supports Windows/Mac machines).

7. Why use slicer software before 3D printing anything?

Slice software is vital to use when it comes to the conversion of the STL files into a G-code, which is supported by a 3D printer.

Each 3D printing model’s page on Gambody marketplace shows a list of printing recommendations in the “Printing details” tab. It lists recommendations for the three most popular slicing software, Cura, Simplify3D and Slic3r. However, you can use other software such as PrusaSlicing, Repetier, Netfabb, Z-Suite, etc., as long as it is compatible with your type of 3D printer.

Using slicer software to prepare model for 3D printing guide for beginners
Preparing model for printing in slicer software

Once you choose your slicing software, you should download and install it on your computer. Slicer software is essential for creating a top-quality and impressive-looking print. Many factors affect the final result. Thus it is vital to preview each part of the 3D printing model and make adjustments if necessary.

Slicer software displays the layout of each part of the model. This way, you can take a closer look at the model, analyze whether the settings are optimal for getting the best result possible, etc. Gambody team, on the other hand, always makes sure to cut the model into the optimal number of parts for the more significant 3D printing results. But the final look depends on the settings you apply.

8. Why are supports used in 3D printing?

Each 3D printing model is designed without supports. Support structures are only needed to support parts of the complex model during the printing process. All supports are not a part of the model; this is why you should remove them after printing.

While there are situations when you can 3D print without supports, most models and their assembly parts require support structures.

Why are supports necessary in 3D printing guide for beginners
Generating supports for Durotan model in Cura 3.5.1

Slicing software helps to build supports for overhangs and bridges in a 3D printing model. You can learn about the two main types of supports for beginners, simple and tree-like supports.

Supports for overhangs in 3D printing guide for beginners
Supports for overhangs

Models with sophisticated design have overhanging parts which float mid-air while you are printing them. The only way to prevent the model’s assembly parts from falling and failing to print correctly is to use supports. Support structures are added in slicer software, and they work like a temporary base for the overhangs which is removed after the print creation.

When you download STL files of a model you wish to 3D print, you should prepare these files for printing by launching them in slicer software. The software will show every area of the model that requires additional supports. Beginners should rely on default support settings and use the supports offered by the software. However, it is also possible to add supports manually.

9. Can I scale the 3D printing model myself?

Absolutely. Each 3D printing model offered on Gambody marketplace is very detailed. Thus, you can scale it up in slicer software without issues and print a more significant project.

Is it possible to scale 3D printing model purchased on Gambody 3D printing guide for beginners
Scaling up Durotan 3D printing model in Ultimaker Cura

Gambody usually does not recommend downscaling the models because some small details can be lost unless you are using a DLP/SLA resin 3D printer. Still, if you need to scale down the model, you can do this in any slicer software that is compatible with your 3D printer type. Just be sure to scale down each part of the project proportionally.

10. Where to search for simple models for beginners to 3D print?

Gambody team has created a compilation of the simplest 3D printing models you can turn into life on your 3D printer. Each chosen project looks fantastic and is designed for beginners.

Remember that Gambody marketplace offers the full technical support for the model you purchase. Our team is always here to answer any questions you have beyond the 3D printing guide for beginners and help you out when necessary.

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