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3D Printing Frequently Asked Questions

3D Printing – General

What is 3D Printing? 

3D Printing encompasses a number of additive manufacturing technologies including FDM (Fuse Deposit Modeling), 3DP (Powder-Based Printing), SLS (Selective Laser Sintering), and SLA (Stereolithography). Although there are many types of 3d printers and multiple methods of additive manufacturing, each process starts with a digital file. For our purposes we will be focusing on FDM 3D printers, which create, or “grow” a 3D model by the extrusion of melted plastic in a layer-by-layer fashion. 

How does it work?

Plastic 3D filament is fed into a heated print head (or “hotend”) that melts the plastic and extrudes it in a thin thread, “drawing” the object much like a plotter, but in three dimensions. A special program called slicing software breaks the 3D model into many thin slices and then creates a toolpath for the printer to render each slice. Once the first slice is complete, the printer moves up to the next layer and draws that, continuing in a slow process until all slices are drawn and a 3D object is created.

How long does it take?

3D printing is a slow process, which can take anywhere from an hour for a small part to multiple hours or even days to render a large file. The time will depend not only on the size of the object but also the resolution and print speed. Slower speeds generally produce more accurate details.

Where do the 3D digital files come from?

Virtual 3D objects can be created in CAD (Computer Aided Design) modeling software such as AutoCAD, SolidWorks, 123D, Maya, Inventor, Rhino, and CorelCAD. Two free CAD programs are Google Sketchup and Blender. The resulting files need to be converted to STL format to submit them for 3D printing. If you prefer ready-made 3D printable files, you can download them for free from sites like Makerbot’s Thingiverse, YouMagine, Cubehero, and Google’s 3D Warehouse.
If you need a model custom designed for you, we would be glad to help. Please visit our Hire a Designer page to contact us about your project and hire a designer to create a 3D Printer ready file that we can either print for you on our equipment or you can take the file to have it rendered anywhere you like.

3D Printing Chicago Services

Can you print anything?

We make no judgments as to content, and are willing to print any file you provide, with some limitations inherent to the 3D printing process: Objects that have overhangs of more than a 60 degree angle will require supports to print. These supports can be removed but may leave the surface uneven. STL files must be “water-tight” in order to render them in a 3D printing slicer. This means that the model must be free of errors such as holes, deformations, and self-intersections. You can use a free program called Netfabb to check your model for errors.

What 3D printer will you use print my job?

The printers we use include: Lulzbot Taz3, 3dSystems CubePro, Makerbot Replicator, CraftUnique Craftbot, and soon to come, the large format printers BigBox and The Beast, and the high speed ReadyBox. The printer we choose to print your job on will depend on the size, design, material, and availability of our printers.

What is the maximum size object that you can render?

Currently the maximum build size is 298mm(w) x 275mm(l) x 250mm(h) (11.7in x 10.8in x 9.8in).

What is the cost?

The cost will be determined primarily on the size (volume) of the print job and the material chosen. Please visit our Instant Quote page to get a quote on printing your 3D part.

What is the turnaround time?

Turnaround time will vary depending on the size of the job, the resolution, the number of jobs ahead of you, and other factors, but in general we can render most jobs in 1-2 days and ship your part to you in another 3-5 days or faster if you choose Priority or Express shipping.

How do I upload a file?

Please go to our Instant Quote page to get a quote for your job and upload the file at the end of the process.

What types of files do you accept?

We highly prefer STL files. We will also accept AutoCAD DWG, DWF, DXF, OBJ, and SolidWorks files. The 3D drawing must be error-free in order to render it on a 3D printer. Use a program like Netfabb for error checking and correction.

How do I create an STL file from my CAD software?

Most CAD software will have either a Save As… or Export… function that will allow you to save your project in STL format.  In AutoCAD, Set FACETRES as a value to 10 (1 is for low resolution, and 10 is for high) before outputting the STL. In Solidworks, click on the Options button before exporting to control the resolution (higher is better).

Why does my STL or print come out with faceted cylinders and spheres rather than perfectly round circles?

It is necessary to output your STL in high resolution in order for circles to come out perfectly round. If your CAD software does not have a high resolution option for outputting SLT files, you may have to convert it to a program that does such as AutoCAD or Solidworks. See previous question for details.

Who are you?

We are a members of the Chicago maker community, whihc includes a group of 3D printer enthusiasts that want to help you to design and render your three dimensional ideas and turn them into a reality. 3D Printing Chicago is not a high-end design firm but rather a friendly place to get your project completed at a reasonable cost. For more information, please see our About Us page.

I don’t have 3D design skills. Can you make the CAD drawing for me?

Yes, we have a number of CAD designers ready to turn your idea into a 3D object file. Our hourly rates are below the industry standard, ands you can either choose to have us print your 3D prototype or we can give you the file to have it printed anywhere you like. Please use go to the Hire a Designer page to submit your project for a quote.

Where to start?

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