A few months ago, I decided to finally buy my first 3D printer, the Maker Select 3D Printer v2, after a long period of researching and waiting for prices to drop. I initially wanted to be able to print cases for the micro-computers I have acquired over the past year like the Raspberry Pi and the Pine64. However, I quickly learned that I can build so much more and that the cost makes it very economical to do so.
The first thing I learned was that it takes a while to dial in the right temperatures for your printer. For ABS, I had to use 245°C for the extruder temperature and 100°C for the bed temperature. For PLA, I had to use 215°C for the extruder temperature and 70°C for the bed temperature. These temperature where above the defaults but they allowed me to have nice prints that stick to the bed without any glue or hairspray. I also found that I needed to remove the print before the bed totally cooled down because it would stick so well.
Besides the temperatures, it has been very important to keep leveling the bed. The bed would become uneven after my print finished and I scraped off any additional filament. I would then spend the time to re-level the bed because the first layer of the next print would show less filament on one side versus another.
In order to use your 3D printer, you need a model to print. There are many online sites that allow users to share their models such as Thingiverse, Pinshape and Yobi3D to name just a few. I have been using Thingiverse the most to find interesting prints from kitchen utensils to VR goggles. However, one of the most useful prints I have done so far was to fix a broken latch that was in a center console of one of my cars. To purchase the part would have cost around $10 USD, but I was able to find the model online and print it for around 25¢ USD.
One of the great things about getting into 3D printing now is that there are many mature and free software applications to take advantage of. The one that I have used the most is Cura. When I download the models in STL format, I can use Cura to convert them to GCode files that my printer uses to print. The other nice features of Cura is that it accurately estimate the time and cost of each part.
On the other hand, sometimes you need to create your own models. Autodesk is the well-known maker of the AutoCAD™ line of 3D model applications. In addition, Autodesk also offers some free applications for hobbyists. One such application is their Fusion 360 application. This application allows you to create very sophisticated models with a pretty low learning curve. Autodesk offers many of there 123D applications for free that allow you to create and manipulate 3D models on your desktop, tablet or mobile phone. One of their other applications that I have found very useful is their MeshMixer for cleaning up 3D models. Other applications like Sketchup Make are easy to use and there are multiple plugins that help you tackle many tough jobs like making screw threads. However, I think once you take the time to learn Fusion 360, there isn’t anything you can’t build right within that tool.
Time and Money
Besides the cost of your printer, you need to purchase the filament that is used to make your prints. As with most things, the cost of filament has come down quite a bit. I have been able to pick up 1kg ABS and 1kg PLC spools for roughly $20 USD. That takes my cost to about $0.06 per meter of filament that I use and most of my prints have taken 2 to 9 meters of filament. The trade-off of being able to make inexpensive 3D prints is that it takes a lot of time. For example, this Raspberry Pi Zero case that I printed in red PLA cost about 28¢ USD but it took 2 hours and 50 minutes.
Although it took a while to get up and running, it has been worth it. I feel that I can make anything… as long as it is made out of plastic and is smaller than an 8 inch cube!