One thing that was really difficult for me was not knowing if I was going to be ready when my 3D printer showed up. Did I have enough space setup?? Did I have all of the tools I would need? Even though I got it with Prime Shipping and the wait was only two days I was insanely excited.
Then, when the printer showed up I ripped the kapton tape before the first print could even happen and ended up having to wait *another* two days for that to show up. To prevent others from having #firstWorldProblems like mine, I’ve made out a list of what to do and buy before your 3D printer shows up! One word of caution, different printers may require different tools, this post is written based on my experience with a Flashforge Creator Pro. That said, most of the advice in it will hold true for most extrusion style printers.
You’ll want to ensure that you have a workspace ready. This should include an area for the printer to sit in, a spot next to it for your most used printer tools, a trash can, and enough side space for you to do your postprocessing work, like support removal. It’s also a good idea to ensure that you’ll have easy access to enough outlets to handle a 3D Printer, and a few other tools like Dremel or a wood burning pen. Finally, if you live in a humid area it will be important to store your filament in an air tight container with desiccant to prevent it from absorbing too much moisture and degrading print quality.
When using your 3D printer there are a number of little things that will get used up. The most common is filament, and most 3D printers will come with a roll that is the right diameter for your printer. However, there are a couple of other things you’ll want to have on hand.
I’ve prioritized each of these items using what’s referred to in the project management world as MoSCoW priority. Next to each item you’ll see a capitalized letter. They stand for M- Must Have S- Should Have C- Could Have and finally, W- Won’t have. Hopefully that gives you an idea of the level of importance that each item as you try to decide which things to buy from the list.
It’s also important to consider the type of printer you’re purchasing, and what comes with it. For example, the LulzBot from Taz comes with several tools, but it’s common to only get tools for initial assembly with your printer.
- Kapton Tape M* ($15)- This is a yellow film that goes over the aluminum printbed to help protect it from the print removal process, and help maintain the right level of print adhesion. I’ve linked to a set of sheets on amazon. It also comes by the 1″ roll, but I don’t recommend using that. It’s much harder to apply. *It’s only a Must have for those with aluminum print beds. If you have a heated glass print bed you don’t need to worry about kapton tape.
- Painters Tape M ($13)- I put this over the Kapton tape. It’s easier to reapply and I get better adhesion using that than the Kapton tape alone. You’ll want to get a wide roll(2-3″), but try to make it an amount that your print bed is divisible by for easiest application.
- All Purpose Grease S ($8)- If your printer has axis rods you’re going to need to grease them on occasion, about once a month or any time they start squeaking.To apply just rub a little on a rag and then run that over your axis followed by a dry cloth.
- Reusable Desiccant C (2/$20)- Filament needs to be stored with a desiccant. Filament that absorbs too much water from the environment may crack or break apart, will degrade and even ruin prints, and also make scary popping noises while printing. Yes, the last one is me being a pansy, but when you’ve dropped $1200 on a machine and start hearing popping and cracking noises from it it’s freakin terrifying!
- Natural PLA Filament S ($30)- Yes, most printers come with a roll or two of filament, but it’s often ABS and it’s usually not colors you’d want for every print. The Natural filament linked is relatively inexpensive, but great quality. It looks like it would be a warm/bone white, but actually comes out translucent and because it isn’t already brightly colored it’s easy to paint with regular acrylics, or spray paint.
In addition to supplies that you’ll replace there are some tools that you can purchase to help finish your prints better.
- Printing “Knives” M ($20)- These are invaluable for getting stubborn prints off of the printer. They’re like tiny extra sharp spatulas. I use them to remove just about every print, though with long thin prints these will just start it and then be followed by the Spatula so that I don’t bend the print.
- Metal Spatula S ($9)- Used to pop long wide prints off of the bed without bending them. The metal ones are better because they’re tougher than the plastic you’re attempting to pry and they are thinner than the plastic ones, making it easier to get up under the print. (Secondary option, $4)
- Needle-nose Pliers S ($6)- These are extremely useful for popping off stubborn supports. Supports can be surprisingly sharp, and I cut myself on them a number of times before starting to use these.
- Wood Burning Tool w/Temp control C ($20)- This is one of my favorite post processing tools. Often, and even with support, you’ll get squiggly spaghetti looking layers on bottom ledges of a print. This tool is great for smoothing and touching up those weird edges. Just make sure you get the hang of it on a totally wasted print before trying to fix a good one!
- Acrylic Paints C (18/$25)- The easiest and cheapest way to get additional colors isn’t buying new filament, it’s paints. Painting your prints will also allow you to get a variety of colors on the same print. (of course, you’ll also want paint brushes!)
- Dremel Tool C ($40)- The dremel will allow you to do a number of post processing things that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise, including detailed sanding and friction welding)
While there are more things that you can get to go with your 3D printer, if I could go back and redo my purchase as a beginner, these are the things that I would have been best off buying. I would buy these instead of several rolls of additional colors W($30ea) or that ABS smoothing kit W($30). If you have all of this in advance you can feel confident that you’ll be ready to handle the most common things people run into when they first start printing.
The final piece that I recommend is getting Simplify 3D C ($149) as your printing software. Most 3D printers will have you download something open source, and you can totally go free, however, there is a multitude of features in Simplify 3D that you simply won’t find in the open source. The difference those features will make to your printing experience is staggering!
From being able to print multiple parts at the same time, to being able to manual add your own support it really takes your ability to optimize your prints to the next level, and it’s far easier to use. Please note, it is not a 3D modeling software. Those are either open source or far more expensive. This is the software that takes a 3d model and generates the instructions for your printer…but it is still well worth it’s current price tag.