9 Steps on How To Set Up a 3D Printer
Whether you're a newcomer or looking to refine your 3D printing setup, it is crucial to configure your 3D printer correctly.
Listed below are the nine steps in this step-by-step guide to setting up your 3D printer correctly:
Start by identifying what type of 3D printing kit you own. There are generally three styles of 3D printer kits to consider: pre-assembled, partially assembled, and DIY printer kits. Pre-assembled kits are the easiest to get started with as they come ready to use straight out of the box. Partially assembled kits offer a middle-ground option. These kits are usually divided into components to save space during shipping. DIY kits represent the most hands-on approach. These kits require substantial assembly, and you'll likely spend more time constructing the printer from the ground up.
After you’ve identified the 3D printer kit you own, it’s important to carefully read the assembly instructions. Whether you're dealing with a pre-assembled, partially assembled, or DIY kit, taking the time to understand the setup process up front is very important. Reading instructions carefully, organizing components, and executing assembly steps accurately not only reduces the need for later adjustments but also ensures safe and reliable performance. So, before you dive into making connections or printing, prioritize reading and following the instructions diligently. It's the key to hassle-free 3D printing.
If your printer came pre-assembled you’ll only need to plug in a few extensions and pieces of equipment. After you've assembled the printer, you’ll want to check that everything is level and square. This is important for precise filament deposition and successful object construction. This leveling process can vary between machines, with options for both manual and automatic adjustments. Ensuring a level build platform is very important because any significant gap between the print bed and the nozzle can result in poor adhesion of the critical initial layer, leading to an automatic print failure.
To level your 3D printer bed, you can either use an auto bed leveling (ABL) sensor or manually level the bed. ABL measures the distance between the nozzle and the build surface and requires a firmware update for translation. For the exact process, follow your printer instructions carefully as this will vary depending on the manufacturer.
Assuming that your printer is calibrated could lead to a costly exercise as it will result in a lot of filament being wasted. Calibrating your 3D printer is the key to consistently producing high-quality prints. Your instruction manual typically includes a section dedicated to calibration instructions. Follow the calibration instructions provided with your printer to fine-tune settings such as: nozzle height, bed leveling, and axis alignment. Failing to do so can result in prints that are skewed, misshapen, or fail altogether.
Proper lubrication is crucial for the numerous moving components to keep your 3D printer running smoothly. If a part interacts with another surface, it likely requires lubrication, but the specific lubricant depends on the component's function.
For instance, components like the threaded rod and nut along the Z-axis, responsible for adjusting the printer nozzle's height, demand lubrication. The X- and Y-axis guide rails, guiding the printhead and bed, also benefit from proper lubrication. This not only ensures a trouble-free printing process but also prolongs the life of the printer's parts.
When selecting a lubricant for your 3D printer, consider its ability to protect against wear and facilitate smooth component movement. Consult your owner's manual or setup instructions to determine the right lubrication and maintenance schedule. It's advisable to perform a pre-print check by manually moving the printhead and other components to ensure smooth operation.
Print speed dictates how rapidly the 3D printer's extruder moves while depositing material. It is typically measured in millimeters per second (mm/s) or millimeters per minute (mm/min). The choice of print speed involves a trade-off between print quality and efficiency. Slower print speeds tend to yield higher-quality prints, allowing for precise material deposition and better adhesion between layers. Conversely, higher speeds may compromise print quality, especially for intricate details. Material compatibility is another critical consideration, as different filaments have specific speed ranges for optimal results. Additionally, print speed affects cooling and, consequently, overall print time. Striking the right balance between speed and quality is key. This is typically guided by the manufacturer's recommendations and fine-tuned through experimentation to achieve desired results while optimizing print duration.
Before initiating the printing process, it's essential to prepare the extruder for filament extrusion. This procedure commences with heating the hot end to the specific melting temperature of the filament, which typically exceeds 175 °C. This can vary, however, depending on the filament type. Subsequently, you'll introduce the filament into the heated extruder. Many 3D printers come equipped with pre-configured operations that guide you through this filament-loading process.
It’s important to select the right filament for the project you are working on. Filaments designed for 3D printing typically come in two primary diameters: 1.75 mm and 3 mm (or 2.85 mm). In addition to different diameters, filaments are available in various spool sizes. A brief survey of the market reveals that the most commonly encountered sizes include 500 g, 750 g, 1 kg, 2 kg, and 3 kg.
To learn more, see our guide on Types of 3D Printer Filaments.
Your 3D printer often comes with a USB stick containing a test model to get you started. Once you're ready to explore further, you'll want to learn where to source and possibly even create your own 3D models. For beginners, the most suitable option is to download models from various websites and 3D model archives, such as: Thingiverse®, MyMiniFactory, TurboSquid, GrabCAD®, and Cults3D. These models are typically available in STL file format, although OBJ and 3MF formats are also occasionally used. Additionally, you can even import .jpg and .png files into software like Cura to generate Lithophane models.
If you're interested in creating your own models, beginner-friendly software like TinkerCAD® is an excellent starting point. Once you've acquired sufficient knowledge and skills, you can progress to more advanced platforms like Fusion 360® or Blender.
After creating a 3D model in design software, use specialized software that translates the model into the machine instructions script. This crucial task is accomplished through slicing software, commonly referred to as a slicer. Once you've imported your 3D model into the slicer, you have the flexibility to fine-tune various settings to align with your specific requirements. Among these settings are critical parameters like: printing speed, temperature, wall thickness, infill percentage, layer height, and many others.
The output from this process results in a G-code file. Having completed all the essential steps, it's now time to click the "Print" button and initiate the actual printing process. The duration of the printing process can vary significantly based on your configured settings and the complexity of your 3D model, with printing times typically ranging from minutes to, more commonly, several hours.
A 3D printer is a computer-controlled device that creates three-dimensional objects by adding material layer-by-layer in a process known as additive manufacturing. Unlike traditional subtractive manufacturing methods, in which the material is removed to create an object (e.g., cutting, drilling, or machining), 3D printing builds objects from the ground up.
The basic components of a 3D printer typically include: a printhead/extruder, build platform/bed, control system, filament or resin, frame and mechanics, cooling system, and bed leveling and calibration systems.
There are a lot of different 3D printer types on the market, each with its own applications, advantages, and limitations. Some popular types and methods of 3D printing include: fused deposition modeling (FDM), stereolithography (SLA), selective laser sintering (SLS), and binder jetting.
Setting up a 3D printer is necessary to ensure it functions correctly, produces high-quality prints, and operates safely. For example, calibration is essential to ensure that the printer's components, like the print bed and extruder nozzle, are correctly aligned. Furthermore, bed leveling is another critical step, ensuring that the print bed is level and at the correct distance from the nozzle to facilitate proper adhesion of the first print layers. Taking the time to properly set up and calibrate your printer will lead to better results and a more satisfying 3D printing experience.
3D printers have been used to produce a wide variety of items across numerous industries and applications. Some examples are listed below:
- Prototypes and scale models of products and components.
- Intricate and personalized jewelry pieces, including: rings, necklaces, and earrings.
- Dental crowns, bridges, and aligners.
- Custom-fitted prosthetic limbs, orthopedic implants, and braces.
- Lightweight and complex components for aircraft and spacecraft.
- Patient-specific implants for cranial, hip, and knee surgeries.
- Detailed architectural models of buildings and landscapes.
- Custom insoles and even entire shoes.
- Anatomical models, geological formations, and historical artifacts.
- Highly detailed scale models of vehicles, buildings, and figurines for gaming and display.
3D printers come in different shapes and sizes and also different pricing ranges, from as little as $100–200 to over $500,000. Table 1 below gives a breakdown of the expected price ranges for different classes of 3D printers:
|3D Printer Category||Average Price Range|
3D Printer Category
Low-cost printer (entry-level)
Average Price Range
3D Printer Category
Average Price Range
3D Printer Category
Average Price Range
3D Printer Category
Professional 3D printers
Average Price Range
3D Printer Category
Average Price Range
Table Credit: https://ultimaker.com/learn/how-much-does-a-3d-printer-cost/
The average market price of 3D printers is around $400, although this average is influenced by the high amount of lower-cost printers being sold. For example, low-cost 3D printers are often novelty items and come as DIY kits. They may require significant setup and adjustments but offer an affordable entry point into 3D printing. Professional 3D printers, on the other hand, are designed for easy use and adoption. These printers offer factory-tested reliability, repeatable prints, and the flexibility to use engineering-grade materials. Finally, industrial 3D printers are high-end machines designed for specific materials and production needs.
The benefits of using 3D printers are numerous and span various industries including:
- Enables the creation of complex and intricate designs that may be challenging or impossible to achieve with traditional manufacturing methods.
- Allows for the speedy production of prototypes, significantly reducing the time required for the prototyping process.
- Doesn't require large storage spaces for inventory, as it enables on-demand production. Design files are stored virtually, and items can be printed as needed.
- 3D printing materials, including plastics and metals, can be tailored to provide specific properties such as: strength, heat resistance, and water repellency.
- Can produce objects in a matter of hours depending on design complexity.
- Produces parts using only the necessary materials.
- Are becoming increasingly accessible, with local providers offering outsourcing services.
- Inherently eco-friendly due to its minimal material wastage.
3D printers have found a wide range of practical applications in the real world across various industries. Here are some of the notable uses of 3D printers:
- Prototyping and product development.
- Customized and personalized products.
- Lightweight and complex components in aircraft and spacecraft.
- Prototyping, manufacturing components, and producing concept cars.
- Patient-specific implants, prostheses, orthodontic devices, and anatomical models for surgical planning.
Whether you're a beginner or an experienced user, here's a step-by-step guide on how to 3D print:
- Create a 3D design, typically created using CAD (computer-aided design) software.
- Once your design is ready, you'll export or download it in STL format. The STL file stores all the crucial information about your 3D object.
- Consider your material options. 3D printing offers a wide range of materials, each with unique properties. Your choice of material depends on the desired characteristics of your final object, such as: strength, flexibility, or appearance.
- Fine-tune the parameters of your 3D object and the printing process. This includes specifying the size and positioning of your print.
- Import the STL file into slicing software, like BCN3D Cura. This software takes the information from your STL file and converts it into G-code. G-code is a specific code that provides precise instructions for your 3D printer.
- Now comes the exciting part—printing! Your 3D printer will bring your design to life, layer by layer.
The duration of this step varies based on factors like the object's size, your printer's capabilities, and the chosen materials. It could take minutes or several hours. Depending on your final product's requirements and the material used, you might need to perform post-processing steps after printing. These could include tasks like painting, removing excess powder, or other finishing touches.
Yes, you can 3D print multiple projects on a 3D printer for an extended period, provided you have the necessary materials, design files, and a reliable 3D printer. A few key considerations should be kept in mind to do this effectively. For example, ensure you have an ample supply of the necessary 3D printing materials for your projects. Different designs may require different materials. Additionally, have all your design files in STL format ready and well-organized to streamline the printing process. Regular maintenance and calibration of your 3D printer are essential to prevent issues that can disrupt the printing process. You can set up a print queue or schedule using slicing software to specify the order of your projects
Depending on your printer, you may also want to consider cooling intervals between prints to prevent overheating. Always prioritize safety, especially if you plan to leave the printer unattended for extended periods. A stable power supply and preparation for material changeovers between prints, if required, are also vital aspects to keep in mind. Finally, be ready for post-processing tasks, such as removing support structures or performing finishing touches, once each print concludes.
No, 3D printers have the capability to produce objects in a variety of colors, not limited to a single color. The ability to print in multiple colors depends on the type of 3D printer and the technology it uses. Some 3D printers come with multiple printheads or extruders, enabling them to print with different colored filaments simultaneously. Additionally, there are specialized extruders and hot ends that can blend different primary color filaments, resulting in a wide range of colors through color mixing. External devices like the Mosaic Palette or Prusa MMU can be added to certain 3D printers to facilitate multicolor printing by splicing and feeding different filaments into a single extruder. Moreover, manual color changes at specific print layers or post-processing techniques such as painting can also be employed to achieve multi-color prints.
Some top resin options in the market include: ELEGOO water-washable resin, Siraya Tech Fast, and Monocure 3D CMYK pigment set. Choosing the best 3D printer resin is a critical decision that depends on various factors, including the specific needs of your printing project. Resins used in 3D printing are typically epoxy or modified acrylic monomer compounds that react to UV light, triggering cross-linking polymerization to solidify the resin.
To learn more, see our guide on the Best Resin for 3D Printing.
This article presented how to set up a 3D printer, explained why it's important, and discussed each step in detail. To learn more about 3D printers, contact a Xometry representative.
Xometry provides a wide range of manufacturing capabilities, including 3D printing and other value-added services for all of your prototyping and production needs. Visit our website to learn more or to request a free, no-obligation quote.
- Thingiverse® is a trademark of MakerBot Industries, LLC.
- GrabCAD® is a registered trademark of Stratasys Ltd.
- TinkerCAD® is a trademark of Autodesk, Inc.
- ELEGOO® is a trademark of SHENZHEN ELEGOO TECHNOLOGY CO., LTD
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