Our quick and easy guide to custom 3D printing is designed to introduce you to the basics of 3D printing and help you through the process. If you want to get something 3D printed but you don’t know where to start, you’re at the right place!
There are 3 main steps to 3D printing:
1. Get a 3D model
2. Choose a printing method and material
3. Send us your file for a quote
We will walk you through each step in more detail. Before we start, please remember that not everything can or should be 3D printed, so keep an open mind. You may need to use another manufacturing process - and we might be able to help you with that, just get in touch!
STEP 1: GET A 3D MODEL
A 3D model is a digital three-dimensional representation of what you’d like to print out. The most common file formats for 3D models are: .stl, .obj, or .step. You can get a 3D model in a few ways, some of which are more difficult than others.
1. Find it online
The easiest and quickest way to get an .stl file is to find it online! There are quite a few websites that offer free downloads or a mixture of free and paid content. Our favourite ones are Thingiverse and MyMiniFactory and they’ve got a big variety of 3D models to choose from. You can also find more 3D Design websites here and browse until you find a model that is just right!
Forbidden Watchtower by Jukka Seppänen on MyMiniFactory
2. DIY – Draw a model in CAD Software or hire a professional designer
The second way to get an .stl file is by creating it yourself. The .stl files are created in Computer Aided Design (CAD) software packages and there are many you can use for free or for a small charge. Software like SketchUp and FreeCAD is good for technical drawings. Tinkercad is even used in schools and is very intuitive because it uses a click and drag functionality. Blender is useful for creating figurines. Although there is a learning curve with the software, there are many tutorials and helpful resources available to get you started like our CAD software guide.
Tinkercad in use
The other option is to hire a professional CAD designer. At 3D Print Works, we charge £50 plus VAT per hour for CAD work - we can copy an actual object or draw it from your sketches/photos if enough detail is provided. How much time we spend will depend on the object itself. This is particularly useful for people who need a spare part made that has broken.
If you have a design “in your head” and want to develop it, find someone you can work with on the design. For example, you may be able to work with an engineering student at your local university that has experience using CAD software. We do not specialise in product design, but we can draw your object if you have the dimensions and details.
3. Scan the object
The last way to get a 3D model is by scanning an object. You can scan your objects by using a professional scanning service (rarely available) or by using photogrammetry. The latter is when an object is photographed multiple times from varying angles (this can be done with a phone or a camera) and the photos are fed into software which pieces them together and forms a complete 3D picture. Again, there is quite a steep learning curve to learn how to scan objects using either technique, so this option might not be the best one for you. We do not offer a scanning service at the moment.
MyMiniFactory runs a project called “Scan the World” in collaboration with museums, art galleries, and enthusiasts which aims to digitise sculpture, statues and buildings. You can download the objects for free from MyMiniFactory.
La Pietà by SMK - Statens Museum
for Kunst on MyMiniFactory
STEP 2: CHOOSE A PRINTING METHOD AND A MATERIAL
Now that you’ve got your .stl file (your 3D model), all the hard work is done! What needs to be done next is choosing the printing method and the material. If you are a beginner, keep it simple for this step!
The most common and cheapest 3D printing method is FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) which prints in plastics. Here at 3D Print Works, our default is usually FDM printing using PLA or ABS material. Unless you specify otherwise, we will usually provide a quotation in PLA or ABS.
There are other materials you can 3D print in, such as resins, metals, ceramics and even chocolate! Keep in mind these materials can be quite expensive. If you are prototyping or just want to check for size, we would recommend choosing PLA or ABS as the material because they are much cheaper.
When you contact us about your project, let us know if it must perform a particular function and we can advise you which printing method and material might be best to use. Sometimes you might need a bit of a trial and error to get things right.
If you would like to delve in a bit further, have a look at our material guide here or our common 3D printing methods here.
STEP 3: GET A QUOTE FOR A CUSTOM 3D PRINTING SERVICE
So, you’ve got your file and you’ve chosen your printing method and material. All that’s left is to get a quote!
To send you an accurate quotation for our custom 3D Printing services, we need to see the .stl, .step or .obj file (or the actual object) along with your material selection. If you are not sure about the method and material, we will normally use PLA or ABS FDM 3D printing.
The quote will be for printing an object in the dimensions on the file you’ve sent us, unless you tell us to scale the object up or down. The quantity is also a factor, but it does not affect the part price greatly (unlike traditional manufacturing methods). Depending on the job, we usually recommend doing a single prototype before rolling out.
To use our custom 3D printing services and get a quote for your project, upload your file(s) here.