Rich's top ten list of stuff-ups in 3D printing

We've been 3D printing for a little over a year now, so for a wee recap, here's my top ten list of things people get wrong with 3D printing:


  1. Designing stuff in 3d, not the real world: It's super easy to forget about stuff like material properties and gravity when you're modelling something, or be so super zoomed in you're finessing details which are less than 1mm in reality and don't really matter.
  2. Wall thicknesses and material constraints: 3d materials have some unique properties that you need to consider when you're designing, such as the cumbly "green state" of stainless steel, or the extrusion process of FDM.
  3. Missed opportunities: you can do so much in 3D printing that you can't in any other fabrication method, like nested objects (such as hinges or moving gears), intricate designs and complex structures.
  4. Too much volume: 3D printing costs you by volume NOT complexity, detail or size. Reduce the volume, reduce your cost! So many designs are already much stronger than they need to be, and can be made much cheaper by hollowing out your design, or removing volume where it's not needed.
  5. Units confusion: Pretty easy one to miss, but always check the units of your file before you send it to the printer. 5 inches is pretty disappointing when it turns out to be 5mm!
  6. Internal Walls: some software make it easier to make this mistake than others (I'm looking at you, SketchUp), but it's important that your design doesn't have any internal walls. These confuse the 3D printer as to what is "inside" and what is "outside" your design, and it won't be able to be printed.
  7. Not self-checking your designs: Programs like Netfabb and Meshlab are free, and they allow you to measure your STL file and check the volume before you upload it to your Personal Factory. It's an easy way to make sure you're meeting the wall thickness requirements of your material, as well as spot any nasty mesh errors.
  8. Not prototyping: 3D printing is expensive. We can make our best guesses as to how a given 3D design will come out, but we'll never know 100% until we print it. Small prototypes allow you to experiment with the material & design before committing to a full-size print - especially important if you have specific material requirements, like flexibility, strength or surface finish.
  9. Not prototyping: seriously.
  10. Not having a go: It can be a little scary at first, but there is a wealth of free, easy to use software as well as expertise waiting to help you out.
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