This week’s question is about how to learn 3D printing from the beginning.
Reader Lucas writes:
“My name Is Lucas. I am 10 years old and I live in Westchester NY. I want to learn about the benefits of 3D printing and I am looking for some advice. What would you suggest I do, as a beginner, to learn about the benefits of 3D printing. I would really appreciate it if you could give me some advice. Are there any great websites, or books, or even museums or exhibit I could visit? Any help would be much appreciated.”
Thanks for your question, Lucas. With such interest in 3D printing at your age, I am certain you will be an expert before too long!
One very important thing to know about 3D printing is that it is not something that will ever “end”. There will always be more to learn as it is a developing field. New things happen each week, and that’s what we report about.
The important thing is to begin your learning journey. Don’t be discouraged if someone knows more about 3D printing than you: Learning is like a very tall ladder; there are always more rungs to climb. Someone may be higher up the ladder than you, but there are also people below you, too. Just keep learning and taking more steps up the ladder.
I suggest there are three steps to becoming competent in 3D printing.
Understanding 3D Printing
First you need an understanding of the basics of the technology before you try and do anything else. This can be obtained by reading or watching videos. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
Fabbaloo’s 3D Printing FAQs: A set of the most basic questions everyone asks about 3D printing with simple answers.
Wikipedia on 3D Printing: The definition of 3D printing, history, description and issues are described in some detail.
Wikipedia on 3D Print Applications: Extensive list of potential applications for 3D printing technology, including rapid prototyping, manufacturing and much, much more.
Wikipedia on 3D Printing Processes: List and descriptions of the major known 3D printing processes, which are quite different and used in different circumstances. 3D printing is far more than what is seen on DIY desktops.
Fabbaloo’s Learning Series: A series of historical posts made by us regarding a wide variety of topics. Each provides some insight on one or more aspects of 3D printing.
3D Printing Basics Video: While there are plenty of introductory videos on 3D printing available on the Internet, you might try this one published by our friend Joel Telling about a year ago:
Using A 3D Printer
Secondly, you want to become experienced in actually 3D printing. This will require a 3D printer of your own, or access to one that someone else owns. It’s a big step to 3D print on your own, but there is nothing like operating a machine to learn more about it. Every mistake you make is something new to learn, and you won’t make the same mistakes twice.
If you’re buying a 3D printer, it would be best to get one that’s already (or mostly) assembled and is known for ease of use. It would not be good if you used a machine known to break down or be difficult to use because that might discourage you from continuing.
While it’s possible to obtain a 3D printer kit that is less expensive, it may be beyond your current ability to successfully build the machine.
With your first machine you would find and 3D print objects that are already designed by others. This greatly simplifies what you need to learn at this stage. You can find plenty of interesting 3D models to print at these websites:
There are plenty more sites like these, too, but these will give you a great start.
Some easy-to-use 3D printers you might consider could be these:
ANET’s ET4, which we tested last year. It’s very inexpensive and works pretty well. There is some very simple assembly required, however.
Prusa’s MK3S, which is more expensive, but is highly reliable and produces great output.
Creality’s Ender 3, which is inexpensive and requires some assembly.
There are literally over a hundred machines in this category, and they are always changing so it is challenging to make specific recommendations.
I strongly recommend avoiding any resin 3D printers to start; they are tricky to handle as they usually involve toxic resins.
3D Modeling for 3D Printing
Finally, you can take the biggest step by learning how to design objects in 3D all by yourself.
You’ll need some software tools to do so, and it is not always easy to learn a 3D tool. The best way to start is to learn a tool like Tinkercad. It’s designed to be simple to use and can do some pretty advanced designs once you understand the basics.
If you’ve mastered Tinkercad, it is also possible to learn more advanced tools, such as Autodesk Fusion 360, but I’d avoid that until you get your head around the idea of 3D design first with a simpler tool.
Wikipedia on 3D Modeling: Great description of the process of 3D modeling, including common terminology used.
I hope that helps — Good Luck, Lucas!