For those completely new to the topic, 3D Printing specific terminologies have dotted lines under them, and show basic definitions which pop up when you hover over the word like this. This has been enabled throughout the website, so you will have a reference no matter what you are viewing.
Picking a 3D Printer
Depending on whether or not you want to play with the printer or just print some design models, there are things to keep in mind. While the desktop 3D printer movement started from the Open Source RepRap Project, some companies will happily create printers that are ‘Closed’, they require branded components and -unless you want to void its warranty- forbid customers from opening up the printer and altering or fixing it.
Now, if you want nothing to do with the internal workings of the thing, then a closed printer is fine and you can happily let the pros deal with the intricacies therein. However, if you’re more into learning and teaching how 3D printers work, or a DIY-savvy individual who likes to tinker, then you probably want a Open Source based printer.
For those who are curious, our printers are all Open Source, which we proudly show via the Open Hardware logo milled into the top of the machines.
Types of Printers
When talking about desktop 3D Printers there are two main types, Fused Filament Fabrication* printers (FFF), and Digital-Light Processing (DLM) printers. FFF printers are the most popular, as they are the cheapest and require less safety precautions, while DLM printers are more accurate and produce higher quality items. This post will mainly focus on FFF printers due to it being the type we use, although some of the information is usable for DLMs as well.
If you are looking for a really high definition printer then you probably want to start saving up for a commercial Selective Laser Sintering or Selective Laser Modelling printer (SLS, and SLM respectively) that uses lasers to melt metal, ceramic, or thermoplastic powders into the design wanted. If you can’t afford one of those, then there are companies like Shapeways who will print things for you.
*Fused Filament Fabrication Printers are also referred by the terms “Fused Deposition Modelling” or FDM, however that term is now copyrighted by Stratasys Inc. The RepRap Project came up with “Fused Filament Fabrication” as a Open term that could be used by anyone.
There are two main sizes, or diameters of plastic filament, 1.75mm and 3mm. There is no difference in quality of the finished product from either size as the filament is fully melted before being used, each diameter has it’s own uses however.
Unfortunately you cannot simply swap 1.75mm filament into a 3mm extruder (and vice versa), but you can replace the extruder with one of the necessary size. We have done this to a few printers, and when changing from 1.75mm to 3mm filament it generally pays itself off within two 125m spools of filament. Keep in mind that 3mm contains nearly twice the plastic per length compared to the 1.75mm.
Skinnier filament means you don’t have to make the extruder as strong to pull it, saving on building costs. Good for whoever is building, not so much for the user. Also, seeing as it is finer and more delicate, 1.75mm filament costs twice as more to manufacture, you have to use a greater length per weight of plastic, and it breaks easily.
Still, good for printers where you don’t have the room to have the extruder motor directly over the hot nozzle and have to push (or ‘drive’) it into the nozzle from a distance.
The thicker of the two filaments, this is the most cost-effective type and much less fragile. It does require a heftier motor and extruder, something to keep in mind if you are building your own printer. All Diamond Age printers use 3mm filament.
Print Build Volume
A widely varying value, print build volume is the maximum area that you can print. It can be stated in centimeters, millimeters, inches, and litres. Unlike most products, bigger does not necessarily mean more costly, nor does smaller mean better quality.
Desktop printers range in size from the tiny Tantillus, which can barely fit a soda can, to our mammoth ‘Moa’ which has a 400mmx400mmx250mm build volume. It all depends on what you want to print.
If you want to print little custom buttons, then a small printer with a heated bed is quite good. It gives a smooth surface and you don’t have as long print times because, frankly, the printer doesn’t have to traverse great distances. However, if you want to print anything bigger than pocket action figures then you are right out of luck.
Conversely, a large printer is great for bigger objects, like vases and mallets, but tends to take longer to print, and smaller objects have a tendency to turn into small blobs if you’re not careful.
There are ways around both problems, not to worry. Smaller printers can be used to print interlocking pieces that are assembled into one big object, like a 3D jigsaw puzzle. While larger printers can be outfitted with extra fans to cool small prints and make them sturdier. Printing at a slower speed can also help, plus it increases the quality of the print.
Once you’ve got your 3D Printer, you are going to need some software in order to run it, we use Repetier both to program our machines, and to run them. Most printers tend to come with proprietary software that demands accounts and denies alternations, others come as complete clean slates and require programming. What you use will probably depend on how much you are willing to learn, and how much you are willing to pay.
The Repetier software we use is Open Source, and the website contains full tutorials on how to install and use the software. It is recommended to use the second most recent version, as this is more likely to have any bugs or issues sorted out.
If you have bought one of Diamond Age’s printers, then you don’t need to download Repetier-Firmware to program your printer, we have already programmed them for you. Only Repetier-Host will be required. If you’d prefer to use different software, simply wipe and re-program the Arduino. This is not something we recommend, but you can if you want to.
Hidden Costs to watch out for
As with most products, printers can come with hidden costs. Be it ridiculously high repair bills, dodgy warranties, exclusion of vital parts, or the use of cheap building materials, some companies can and will try to move costs down to you. Read reviews and learn what type of printer you need to achieve what you want before going and buying a machine. Already bought a printer? Don’t worry, I’ve compiled a list of solutions for some of these pesky problems down in the Troubleshooting section.
Filament is often sold in loose coils or wound spools, so you need either something to spin the spool on or contain the loose coils to stop them from turning into a Gordian Knot. Sometimes there is a inbuilt holder included with the printer, it is best to check what size spools your printer can take so you aren’t stuck buying the company’s oddly sized spools forever. Our standard 3mm x 125m and 1.75mm x 300m spool dimensions are in the FAQ here.
Are you restricted to the company’s filament suppliers?
Newer printers are entering the market with the same trick used in their 2D cousins, printer cartridges. These cartridges can only be bought from the company, to the point where the printer will not work unless there is cartridge (and computer chip contained therein). These are of course overpriced and run out quickly. But, again, if you are a hands-off user, then these printers may work out for you.
While we highly recommend using our filament in our printers, you can use other sources of filament too. The cheap and nasty filaments often contain impurities that clog the extruder, so see if you can get a sample lot before buying large quantities. It’s ridiculous number of times we’ve had someone storm out going: “Your filament is too expensive, I can get cheaper stuff online!” and then turn up a week later meekly asking for a new extruder and could they please buy some good filament? So make sure you check your sources.
Are you limited on the types of plastic you can use?
The different types of plastics used in 3D Printing require vastly different temperatures, along with varying levels of precise maintenance of that temperature. Check that your extruder can go at the temperatures required for the plastic you want to use, otherwise you can be stuck with a weakly powered extruder that can only print one type of plastic.
Some printers also require different environments For instance ABS requires a heated bed, plenty of ventilation, and a stable environment temperature, otherwise it creates foul fumes and warps in shape; while PLA and CAPA can be printed without a heated bed and with minimal ventilation. If you are going to be working in small classrooms or offices, a mainly-ABS printing machine is not for you, while it doesn’t matter as much in large ventilated workshops.
Tips, Tools, and Typical Troubles
Common Mistakes When Printing
There are a few different mistakes I see people make, some of them are real head-scratchers too. But there are some common ones that we all seem to make at one point (including me) during our fumblings toward printing enlightenment. As always, these will be updated when I inevitably make my next mistake.
Going by other people’s printer temperatures
Some of you will know the drill, you’re about to start using your new spool of PLA and you ask on the forums how hot to have your nozzle at. “~180°C”, then “I run at 220°C”, “My Replicator runs at 215°C” etc etc. The problem is, due to the variation inherent in extruder designs, filament types, ambient temperatures, nozzle size etc, there is no magic temperature that all printers work perfectly at. You’re going to have to experiment I’m afraid.
If you’re using spooled filament, simply grab a cardboard box that the spool will fit in, and a rod that fits through the hole in the middle of the spool. Broomstick handles, Swifter extension rods, curtain rails, random length of pipe, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure it can fit through both sides of the cardboard and is strong enough to hold the weight of a spool. Make a small hole in two sides of the box at the same height, thread the rod through one hole, then put the spool on the rod. Feed the rod through the last hole and ta-da! Spool holder!
If you’re using loose filament, then try building a spool (or reusing a old one) and a stand for it. Thingiverse has a few good print-your-own spools like shaunp’s ‘Resizable Loose Filament Spool’ while other people seem to have had luck making strange pvc pipe contraptions. Using a hose spool might work, but I haven’t tried it myself. Simply putting them on a rod like the spooled filament doesn’t tend to work, the filament just tightens around the rod and jams the extruder. Learn from the people before you, folks!
If your print is not looking as good as you had planned, we suggest using our Troubleshooting Flowchart here to find out the problem. This is still under development and doesn’t yet contain links to future tutorials, but may be of use anyway.
Otherwise, choose from the list below for your problem or contact us at email@example.com for help:
The baudrate may be set to the wrong number, double check that it is set to 115200 as shown in the picture:
Make sure that once you have changed a setting in Slic3r, you save it.
1. Go to Slic3r config.
2. Make changes, then click on ‘Save’ button.
3. Save over old settings, or as a new one.
4. Make sure that the changed/new setting is selected before slicing object.
This is for our printers, but the same methods can be used to upload different .epm configs to other Open Printers.
Try our bed levelling tutorial.
Your extruder might need calibrating, there’s a good tutorial here.
Probably a underpowered motor on whatever area is skipping. If you have a lid over your printer electronics, remove it so that you can get to the circuit boards. The following images are of a unconnected board for better viewing.
Each motor is driven by a stepper driver, they are labelled as follows:
In order to up the power of your motor, you will need to set it printing a object. Then, grab your ceramic screwdriver. NOTE: DO NOT USE A METAL SCREWDRIVER as this can short out the circuits and let all the magic smoke out.
While the machine is printing, turn the small screw-like knob on the selected stepper driver slowly until the motor stops skipping. You’ll know if you’ve gone too far either way because it will stall.
Replace the top cover of the printer and you’re done!