3D Printers (Everything You Ever Wanted to Know in 3 Minutes or Less)

By FPL_Staff

I see someone standing in front of our whirring, swirling machines.

“Hi there! Do you have any questions?”

“No,” the say. Pause. “What is it?”

Without further ado, allow me to answer our Most-Asked 3D Printer Questions.

What is it?

A 3D printer works kind of like a high-tech hot glue gun. Plastic filament feeds into a super-hot nozzle (called an extruder) and is squirted out in tiny lines onto a glass build plate. The printer lays down the plastic in tiny layers – layer upon layer to build a design from the bottom up.

What is that it's printing?

In all likelihood, we’re printing something that guest brought in! Sometimes you can tell what’s being printed, and sometimes it is encased in a support system that obscures the design. We have printed all types of designs for guests—everything from custom keychains and cookie cutters to prototypes and prosthetic hands! It’s mind-blowing, I know!

How do I print?

You have two options for printing. Do-It-Yourself and Staff-Assisted. Allow me to Introduce you to our machines.

HAL is our Ultimaker S3 who lives in the Makerspace. He is our DIY printer. If you have a small job that won’t take too long to print, you might like to use HAL. We will get you set up in the makerspace and you can sit with the printer while it works on your job. You pay .15 cents a gram.

Johnny-5 and our newest 3D family member (who has yet to be named) are our Ultimaker S5 printers near the AskUs desk. They are staff-assisted. Bring your design to the AskUs desk and we will slice them for you and put them into the queue to print. It can take up to 10 days. We will email you when it is ready. You pay .15 cents a gram, with a 1.50 minimum.


Where do I get a design?

Once again, you have a couple of options: design from scratch or choose a pre-made design.

We teach classes at the library! We use a free cloud-based modeling software called Tinkercad to help first-time users get a feel for working with a 3D object on a 2D computer screen. If you can’t wait for our next class, Tinkercad (https://www.tinkercad.com/) also has tutorials to get you started. You can also import designs and alter them within Tinkercad.

If you just want to get a feel for how 3D printing works, check out Thingiverse.com (https://www.thingiverse.com/) has things that people have already designed! You have only to download the files, bring them to the library on a thumb drive, and print them!


What should I expect when I come in to print something?

When you bring your file in, we will slice it to your specification. Your file should be a .obj or a .stl. Expect your file drop-off to take 15-30 minutes. There’s a lot you get to customize. Infill, support, support material, color, size! Don’t worry, we’ll explain what all this means as we go through the steps with you. Before you leave, you’ll know how long your job will take and how much it will cost. You will pay when you pick it up.

Makerspace projects usually take longer than expected. The printing itself can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 12 hours depending on the size and complexity of a design. This is why we say there is a 7 to 10-day turnaround. As soon as your file is ready, we will email you and hold it for 7 days so you have plenty of time to come by to pick up your print job.