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The Tribulations of Printing 3D Models

You've read yesterday's post about where you might find amazing 3D models for printing, but you're wondering what to do next. Is it as simple as downloading the model and printing it? Not exactly. Here's some considerations:
  • Are you legally permitted to print this model? What license was it distributed under? Best to check before you get into trouble. 
  • Some "3D" models are not at all suitable for printing. We searched for a 3D cat, and found several. But they were simply 2D planes with cat textures pasted on them. Not Impressive When Printed. 
  • What format is the 3D model stored it? If it's not .STL, you're gonna have to convert it. This may involve using one or more intermediate programs and formats. Meshlab is your friend. 
  • The model might include unprintable overhangs (that is, if your 3D printer doesn't include a means of printing support structures). Check your printer's overhangability - how much of an overhang angle can it handle? Does the 3D model exceed that angle? A careful visual spin around your model may tell you.
  • Does the 3D model's utility depend on textures? What might it look like if printed in monochrome material? You might be terribly disappointed when you hold a bland print in your hand. Check this out beforehand.
  • What size is the model? Will it fit in your printer's build chamber? Or perhaps it's microscopic? Regardless, always check the size and adjust accordingly.
  • What level of detail appears in the model? Is it intricately detailed far beyond the 3D resolution of your printer? If so, you might end up printing a blobby mess. Select a model whose detail matches your printer's resolution.
  • Is the model one single piece? Or is it a series of separate pieces. You might want to split them up or join them together first to simplify printing, depending on the nature of its design. 
  • Those using extrusion-based printers might watch out for 3D models having a number of tower-like structures. Why? Because you'll end up with a significant amount of post-print cleanup work picking off stringy bits formed as the extruder moved between the high points. 
Yes, using a design not originally intended for 3D printing can be a lot of work, but if you get through it you might find yourself with a very unique 3D printout. Happy hunting!

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