3D printing for beginners

Obviosly still waiting a few more months for the GF hoping it goes through customs okay. In the meantime I’ve been looking at 3D modelling and how to do this digitally. This got me looking at the desktop 3D printers which are very affordable these days (the tiny peachy printer is 100$). Im looking for something to get started with that.

Looking for recommendations:
A small printer for printing jewelry pieces and models for making silicone molds for soap and plaster (maybe printrbot?)

But mostly which software for design. I can draw well enough but I’m very unfamiliar with doing this digitally let alone in 3D. So a more intuitive program or tutorials that show how pieces are designed in 3D.

I know theres some programs that are like sculpting, pinch and pull, and others that involve inputting dimensions. Math isn’t my strong-suit but I can usually figure things out. My IT bf says I should start with a program to see if my skills are transferable before spending a few hundred.

Probably using PLA I think.

Any thoughts would be appreciated.

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your questions will likely result in a long thread, you have been warned. :slightly_smiling:

I am not an expert on 3D printers at all, but I have some specific experience helping artist learn how to use them as part of their existing practice.

The most important things I have found are:

  1. Buy the best printer you can afford. You are looking for reliability and good surface finish on your prints. You want it to just work as much as possible so you don’t have to become a printer repair person (or bug your BF all the time).

  2. The CAD software you learn first will likely be the only CAD software you ever learn (you have better things to do), so spend some time looking at the options.

  3. Most of the (non-computer enthusiast) artists I have helped liked Blender and Rhino more then traditional CAD (these are the most like the push-pull thing), and most of the engineers/designers hate them and much prefer something like Fusion, solid works, onShape, etc. (parametric drawing/numerical input).

  4. You CAN learn either (no matter what you think now) and both have their strong suit. It depends to some extent on the kind of work you want to do. If it is more free-form and organic than Blender might nock your socks off. If it is more geometric and you want things to fit together just right, than you are probably better off learning the numerical input style.

PLA is great stuff, but it is hard to sand and does not have any easy to use solvents for smoothing. On the other hand it burns out cleanly if you want to do investment casting!

Cool, I’m one of the original peachy printer backers! It’s been 3 years and I don’t have one yet. :slight_smile:

I’ve spoken to both the team at Make and to one of our investors, who’s tested a few dozen 3D printers from various vendors. Based on that, you might consider starting with the Printrbot Play.
It’s better than many 3d printers costing 4x as much, and it’s inexpensive enough that you can crank through a bunch of cheap filament at small build size and see if you love it.

It’s kind of hacky, it relies on finicky open source software, and the documentation is a little sparse - but that’s also true of printers costing much more.

If you like it and decide to upgrade to something like a Form 2 or Makerbot (we have both in the office), you’ll have “wasted” all of a few hundred dollars. If you don’t like it and don’t want to continue with a 3d printer, you’ll have saved a lot more!

As a side note, Brooke (the Printrbot CEO) tells me he’s working on a “garage laser” to go with his crawlbot. Can’t wait to see what he comes up with!



Pixologic’s Sculptris is free on Windows and OSX platforms. Aside from the cost of a Wacom tablet, it’s an inexpensive way to see if one has an aptitude for digital sculpting…


After some tutorial training, if it’s determined that digital sculpting is graspable, drop Sculptris and pursue ZBrush. Sculptris is merely the Keeper of the Bridge of Death. It does not come remotely close to having all the tools needed for a meaningful future in sculpting.

ZBrush’s first wave of users deployed it for the game, film, and TV industry. The 2nd wave is now coalesced by jewelers who are finally realizing the limits of CAD and are seeking new approaches via ZBrush:


I was considering PLA over ABS primarily bc of fumes and PLA being safer in a variety of contexts. Maybe I want to make chopsticks.

Yeah I know about blender and rhino. Bf likes blender so maybe I’ll try that too since he already knows it (just found out).

I definitely need a system that I can use random filament bc I’m in South Korea so ordering even to a APO can be difficult so no proprietary carriers. Printrbot was definitely one of the ones I saw reviewed a lot.

I’ve tested the wacom tablets at stores and love them but I don’t think I can afford every gadget I want.

I hope it’s long. I need all of the help I can get ^^

I second the recommendation of Printrbot. I have one of the original laser cut wood models from a couple years ago. Once I calibrated it, there has been zero maintenance to keep it happy. My kids and I have run many spools of filament through it over the years and it just keeps doing its thing.

As far as software, if you want to start really easy (and free) I suggest https://www.tinkercad.com/ This software is what I have my kids use and it is just about as basic as it gets. My plan was to start them with TinkerCAD and then move them into AutoCAD and 3DS Max when they reached the limits of the software, but they have been very creative within the boundaries of what it can do I have not seen the need yet.

I too was an early backer of the peachy printer, but according to the updates, you still have some time before its available, if at all.

If you pick up an FDM printer (pretty much anything but the form1/2), I highly recommend you take a look at the software “Simplify 3D”. It is so much better than any other printer software ive used that is available open source.

One of the main things to keep in mind is that 3d printers are a lot of work. Getting them running and keeping them running will require you to be able to take it apart, clean out nozzles if they clog, and deal with a number of issues that can go wrong with the printer, so be mentally prepared for that. Im not writing this to discourage you, but to prevent you from becoming discouraged along the way thinking that maybe you got a lemon. 3D printers are a lot of work.

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So PrinterBot (such as the simple-metal) are great starter printers, and if you decide to go more upscale later, your printrbot will still be useful for printing “other things” while your big beast (or SLA printer) do your main projects. They are nice solid printers and have an excellent community around them (like the GF) where people will help you out tremendously. They are quite hackable so you can upgrade parts (such as a better hotend [the melty part] if you need higher temps or whatever).

Unlike a laser printer for documents, you aren’t stuck in PLA or ABS, you change them out as you see fit, and there are many, many, many other materials (wood, carbon-fiber, metal-filled, bamboo, nylons, polycarbonates, flexibles like NinjaFlex or SemiFlex, etc) you can work with (again, it’s just feeding a different filament in).

One thing folks get tripped up with, is they buy a 3D printer, thinking “gosh, I will print this big object for my project” to discover that in fact their printer can print at most an object the size of a coffee cup. So the PrinterBot Simple Metal has a 6"-cubed volume (the height of a Grande cup at Starbucks) so keep that in mind. Also keep in mind to print in ABS you really need a heated bed (which you can add to a PrintrBot) as otherwise ABS will warp as it cools differentially. For a mold it matters less, but each plastic type has different mechanical properties (PLA is hard and brittle, nylon is slippery and extremely tough [and has almost total intralayer adhesion], etc)

I needed a much larger volume eventually and went with the E3D BigBox which is a beast (cubic foot print volume) dual head, which can also get much hotter than most printers (400C) which allows me to print in more exotic structural plastics (like PEEK) which I need for medical device development.

We also do silicone mold development here (for casting silicone bronchial stents) which we do with a Form1 SLA printer (way more expensive) which does produce absolutely stunning molds.

One additional expense you may want to invest in is Simplify3D which while pricey for a slicer (the thing that turns your model into instructions for the printer to print in layers) has huge impact on both the speed and quality; in the latest shootout by Maker’s Muse it won for quality, moderate ease of use and speed. It works with virtually every printer out there. That’s a great resource by the way. The other thing from Simplify3D you absolutely need is their troubleshooting guide (regardless of printer/software) which is how to figure out what went wrong with your print(er)

One recommendation is to watch the 3D thursday over at AdaFruit (a great resource with Noa and Pedro) on thursday afternoons and there is a 10% off code for that day, which for the price of a 3D printer is huge. And they are a PrintrBot vendor.


Oh, and one other tip, depending on the printer you buy, but if it has USB printing (as opposed to SD card), invest in a raspberry PI and Octoprint which lets you print to the Octoprint spooler and like your laser printer disconnect your computer (otherwise you are stuck being connected while the print finishes - large objects can take a day!!!)


I said the same thing. Simplify 3D is really great, I would have paid that price a few times over to not have to deal with the software I had been using up until I got it. Worlds of difference.

@henryhbk - have you looked at the Zortrax M200 or one of the Raise3D printers? I have the former and it is really pretty good, if you don’t mind a proprietary slicer. The latter is recently released and there have been a few good reports on it, one advantage being that they have a “large” model.

@MikeH the BigBox has almost 100mm more in the X and Z dimensions. it is a huge (some might say big) box!

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That is pretty big. - must take a while to print something that takes full advantage of the work envelope.

The Raise3D N2, their largest, is 300x300x600 mm in case you are in the market for another large FDM printer.

The STL for her takes forever to printout though… And the supports for her arms are like a spool each! :slightly_smiling: The nice thing on the BigBox Dual is A) it uses the E3D V6 heads (I also ordered a volcano which I might try out) and B) the price ($1192) for that scale/performance printer.

The Raise3D is a nice printer, but $3000…

If you are going to print using an Filament printer, you will really want to print on ABS. It can be sanded a lot easier than PLA, and you can do an Acetone vapor after finishing to give it a nice polish, this sacrifices a bit of detail, but can give a really nice finish. Printing ABS really does require a heated bed, and I strongly recommend printing directly on glass with an ABS wash.
I love my $650 Monoprice dual. Cheap and dirt simple to repair.

However, If I were tooling up to do jewelry, I would almost certainly want an SLA printer. You would not need as large a bed either, so you can explore the smaller printers on the market. The print resolution is way higher than FDM.

Make sure to take the necessary precautions, however, as ABS printing does let off toxic fumes.

ABS printing produces no carcinogens, and you really have to up your extruder temp for it to pump out anything mildly annoying. Sure if you don’t have any ventilation the smell is present, and may be a mild irratant. Toxic? Hardly. Don’t set it on fire.

Actually we have very little idea what microparticles of any of these plastics will do, and we do know that printing them produces a moderate amount of them. We know PLA is generally safe for adult cells (in medicine we do have some dissolving stents made of PLA) in reasonable quantities as a solid plastic, but that has nothing to do with inhaled microparticles. For instance Carbon is clearly safe for life (we are made of it) but carbon micorparticles in the lungs seem to be not so awesome. As we always tell the medical students, the absence of evidence does not equal the evidence of absence…