Design, CG Graphics & Inspiration

Tips for designing models for 3D printing

It’s clear that 3D printing is not just another curiosity that will generate a hype and then fall into oblivion – the uses of this cutting-edge production method are multiple and varied, so it’s definitely here to stay. As you can imagine, designing objects to be printed in 3D requires a lot of care and experience. Here are some tips to help you successfully design for the purpose of 3D printing.

1. Know your printer and its limitations

To make sure your model is printable, you should not only know its details, but also the potential limitations of your printer. Some desktop 3D printers cannot print models or elements that are too small – have a look at your printer’s thread width to determine how far you can go in your design.

Thread width is generally determined by the diameter of your printer’s nozzle – most have one of 0.4 or 0.5mm. If you decide to design a circle, such a model will be two thread widths deep – created with a nozzle of 0.4mm, the circle will be 0.8mm thick. The common rule of 3D design is that the smallest features in your model should be of double thread width.

2. Follow the 45 degree rule

The famous 45 degree rule is there to be followed, so if you design overhangs that are greater than 45 degrees, you can be sure that they will need some support material. If you want to avoid that, there are some design tricks that can help you to get the model right to print. One way to do this is by deigning your own bringing or supporting objects and incorporating them to your model. Using cones and other supports, you can effectively deal with the 45 degree rule.

3. Avoid support materials

Support materials generate many problems – they can leave undesirable marks on your prints and are generally time-consuming to remove from your model. That’s why it’s best to design your models without printable support – support algorithms may be constantly improving, but following the 45 degree rule to avoid support materials is simply less complicated.

4. Orient for optimum resolution

It’s worth to orient your model for the best resolution available to that particular model. Remember that if you find it problematic, you can always slice your model and then reassemble it. If you use a Fused-Filament Fabrication printer, you’ll only be able to control the Z resolution of your model. What about X and Y then? They’re determined by thread width, so if your model has small features make sure to print it with the right orientation.

5. Design to fit tolerance when facing interlocking parts

So, your object has many interlocking parts and you’re at loss as to your next step? Make sure to get your tolerance right – it’s not a piece of cake. To set the correct tolerance, you should use a 0.2mm offset for tight fit and 0.4mm for loose fit. The former is perfect for connecters and the latter for things like box lids or hinges. Always test the tolerance in your model to see whether it fits or not.

6. Keep stress in mind

When designing your model, make sure to minimize stress by orienting it so that print lines are perpendicular to points where pressure will be applied. This will help to keep your prints safe from breaking once force is applied to their parts in use.

Even though 3D printing is at its infancy, you can be sure that people working with such cutting-edge printers are busy developing new standards and practices that will be tested – and there’s nothing better you can do than keep up with them and learn more about great 3D design.

  • Monique Craig,
  • March 22, 2016

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Monique Craig is an Australian marketing specialist who works for Oneflare, an online marketplace which connects customers with local service providers. She is interested in web design and branding.

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