So, you decided to take the leap and finally buy a 3D Printer! You browse the reviews, carefully compare options and finally pick the perfect printer for what you can spend. You hook it up, feed through the first roll filament, pick a Minion from thingiverse for your first print, press the start button and watch the printer do its magic. A few hours later it's done! But wait a minute... that doesn't look like the Minion you printed, instead, it's a Minion enclosed in filament.
STL File Rendering
Printed Model With Support
Final Model After Clean-Up
For many first time 3D Printers, seeing the first print is a moment of disappointment... when it is discovered that what 3D printers actually print is a complex shape consisting of the end model surrounded by all the support material required to print the model. Successfully removing the support material from the printed model doesn't need to be difficult... but you will need the right tools.
Here is a list of the essential tools for everyday 3D printing:
Pliers are an absolute necessity next to your 3D printer. A good pair will help remove large amounts of support material quickly. But pliers come in all shapes and sizes. What should you look for in a good pair of pliers for 3D printing?
First of all, you will be working with plastic, plastic designed to be removed from the finished model. The majority of needle nose pliers that are designed for general handyman projects will be too big and bulky to get into the tight places that 3D printers place support material. Strength is not an issue, what you will want is comfortable, lightweight needle nose pliers with a long reach. The best pliers will have smooth jaws (not serrated) so it grips the support material to break it off in one piece instead of shredding it.
A good pair of tweezers is indispensable both for removing fine pieces of support material and any remnants of hot oozing filament from the 3D printer's extruder. The tweezer's job is essentially the same as a pair of pliers, just more precise. We prefer non-magnetic, stainless steel pliers that come to a well defined point. These will compliment the pliers by being able grab support material in the smallest places.
3. Knife Set with Cutting Mat
A good hobby knife set that can easily cut through plastic is the next essential tool. There are many options for these, they are relatively easy to find in any hobby store. While it may sound like overkill, look for a set with a variety of blades that can be matched to the cutting that's needed. One thing to watch is the material that the knife collets (the part of the knife that holds the blades) are made of. We've seen many sets where these are plastic - common sense says the collet should be at least as strong as the blade it's holding.
To keep the knife blades sharp and to protect your work surface a good self healing cutting mat is essential.
A good file to finish edges and surfaces is very helpful. Similar to the pliers, strength is secondary to reach so opt for a narrow file with a fine cut. File in short, slow strokes to remove the material without heating it up. The plastic will tend to "gum up" the cuts on a file so they will need to be periodically cleaned. To clean a file, use a wire brush in the direction of the cuts on the file to push the plastic along the grooves to the edge.
Virtually any steel file will be stronger than the materials that are 3D printed and, as long as they are properly cleaned, will literally last a lifetime.
5. 3D Print Cleaning Utility Tools
With the ever increasing popularity of 3D printing, new tools that are designed specifically for 3D printing are starting to emerge.
AMX3d has designed 3 hand tools specifically for 3D print clean-up that are indispensable. Consisting of 6 different blades, scrapers and picks, they are designed to speed print clean-up.
Print Utility Tool #1:
Knife blade on one end and a pry tool on the other.
Print Utility Tool #2:
Precision blade on one end, pick on the other
Print Utility Tool #3:
Dual Scrapers - Wide and narrow blade scrapers
6. Glue Stick
Getting the first layer to stick is critical - and it can be tricky. There are various alternatives to this including specialty print beds, but the most popular fall into 3 categories:
- Painters Tape - placing strips or sheets of blue painters tape on the print bed provides a slightly rough surface which gives the filament a nice surface to stick to. The tape must be placed evenly on the surface - seams or air bubbles will impact the smoothness of the first layer.
- Aqua Net Super Hold Hair Spray - This specific formula of hair spray has been shown to place a nice coating on the print bed that the filament readily sticks to. At times difficult to find, care should be taken when applying due to the fumes and impact of the overspray on 3D printer mechanical components. Also, use caution when applying as hair spray is flammable.
- Glue Stick - by far our favorite for cost, availability, easy clean-up and easy application to the print bed, we recommend Dr. Fan's Glue Sticks for all 3D Printing applications.
7. Print Removal Tool
Once the first layer consistently sticks well to the print bed, the next challenge is removing the prints once they are finished. Once the bastion re-purposed kitchen utensils such as icing spatulas, the unique nature of 3D prints gave rise to another set of tools designed specifically for removal of 3D prints from the print bed.
These tools consist of 3 individual tools, one ultra thin and flexible to slide under the print, the remaining 2 tools, thicker and more rigid slide under the ultra thin tool to lift the print from the bed.
A caliper for precise measurements to 0.02mm is critical for measuring filament tolerance, completed prints and to maintain the 3D Printer's precise calibration. Small variations due to wear can build up over time, resulting in a severe degradation in printer performance and print quality. Virtually all 3D printer software coming with printers contain the necessary parameters to fine tune your printer and the caliper is the tool that provides the measurements to determine these parameters.
Maintaining a printer's operation isn't complex but they do need periodic adjustment. Most adjustments can be made with a flashlight, a level, a marker and a caliper. Using these tools, filament flow, the extrusion multiplier and Z, Y and Z axis movement can be tested and adjustments made to the printer parameters to keep your printer in tip top shape!