Getting started with FDM 3D Printing

Thinking about getting a 3D printer? Just looking? Wanting to know FDM, SLA, other black magic? Start here and learn a bit about getting started with FDM 3D printing!

2 years ago

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Getting started with 3D Printing isn't nearly as much of a pain in the ass as I had originally expected.  In fact, because I like to build things (all kinds of things...) this was a more than enjoyable experience and I got to build my very own Prusa iMK3S+ 3D Printer.

First, we should talk about what Fused deposition modeling (FDM), also known as fused filament fabrication (FFF), is. FDM is simply the most widely used type of 3D printing at a consumer level. These printers work by extruding thermoplastic filaments, such as PLA (Polylactic Acid), PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol), ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), and a plethora of others through a heated nozzle, melting the material and applying the plastic layer by layer to a build platform. Each layer is laid down one at a time in very very small increments until the part is complete.  That sounds incredibly boring when you read it... but believe me, this is cool as shit when you see the results!

Now, you're probably sitting there thinking, SUPER SIMPLE! I just buy myself a 3D printer, and make ALL THE THINGS. Love that enthusiasm there champ, but settle down for a moment, and let's get into some nuances of what printer should you buy before you kick off.

Now, I'm extremely partial to the folks at Prusa Research. They're a little more expensive than your everyday printer, but they have some of the best printers on the market for the price point, and you can opt to have the parts shipped so you can build it yourself. This is the route I chose and let me tell you... you sure learn a mountain about how the printer works and where the challenges are likely to arise when you're printing. This has led to countless hours saved in troubleshooting or reading the internet because well... I build the damn thing myself! :)  You could also look into some others like Creality which are quite popular and a bit less expensive.

Fun thing is, once you've got your shiny new FDM 3D printer in hand, you probably need small mountain of filament (because if you're like me... you want to try all the things... ABS, PLA, PETG, Carbon-Fiber infused PET, soluble filaments, etc).  Then you probably start thinking "I want to print in multiple colors..." so off you go to buy your Prusa MMU2S which, of course, you have to build yourself. These are all things you might do right out of the gate if you're completely sold and irresponsible like me :)

But first... I'd recommend thinking about a few things:

What are you printing?

Does it need to be strong? Does it need to be flexible? Do I want to eat off of it or store something edible in it? Does it need to hold up to Thor's hammer? Is it going swimming?  These are all incredibly important queries that will answer the following  question: "Which filament should I be using to print my fancy new thingamawhatsit?". I've outlined a few helpful starting points here:


What's it for? Toys, fun stuff, boxes, low-value items, quick prints, decent-detail.
Benefits: Lower printing temperatures, one of the easiest filaments to print with, lots of fancy colors, easy to sand, polish, and paint, and hey... it's biodegradable!


What's it for? More durable objects, slightly higher temperature resistant objects, outdoor use items,
Benefits: Much stronger, exact color matching, can look like something else (copper, cork, metal, etc)

TBH, I haven't done much here yet... but I'll update when we get to ABS, CPE, and some other wacky stuff. Right now, we're exploring PVA for water-soluble support materials... we'll do a whole thing on this later!

Mike Moore

Published 2 years ago