My thoughts on 3D Printing

In this blog, you'll learn more about how I got started with 3D printing, what I have learned and what the future will bring. I was invited by my friends from 3D Print Works to answer some interesting questions about my experiences. Enjoy the read, you might learn something you didn't know yet.

How did you get into 3D printing?

Was it very sudden or was it more of a gradual process?

Turning creative ideas into something tangible has always fascinated me. My 3D printing journey started in 2018 when I was still a student in Nijmegen and came across a room with robots, 3D printers, laser cutters and CNCs in our college building. It was a so-called fabrication lab where students could make prototypes and experiment with high-tech equipment.  3D printers were used to make various spare parts for products that are no longer supported by the manufacturer. I was so impressed by the idea of being able to design and print almost anything, that I decided I wanted my own 3D printer. Which was an Ultimaker2+ at the time and the best decision ever. 

What’s your favourite method of 3D printing? And what’s your favourite material to print in?

Currently I am only focusing on FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication), that is, printers that melt filament with a print head as opposed to resin, etc.

Every printer I have is slightly different in some aspects, I have 3cartesian style printers (Ultimaker 2+, Prusa i3 MK3S, CR10 S5) and one industrial delta printer (Tractus3D T1250). The difference between a cartesian and a delta printer is the way in which the movements are driven, which in turn determines how quickly or with what quality I can create an object. 3D printing an object involves a trade-off between the speed with which you want something done and the quality/ accuracy of the surface and details.

In total I have printed about 7000 hours in the last 3 years (next to my part time job). My passion for designing decorative items, such as vases, plant pots, Christmas decorations and artsy stuff, has led me to mainly make relatively large objects up to 60 cm tall, so these 3D printers are perfect for that.

In terms of materials, I mainly use bio-based (& recycled) PLA's, PETG's and composite materials, because for me the visual quality /surface finish and minimizing environmental impact is very important.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever printed?

I have printed a lot of objects over the years, so here are a few photos I have taken over the past few months.

  • Abstract vase
  • Droplet vase
  • Oval vase
  • Twisted plant pot
  • Spiral vase

What do you prefer to print?

The idea that you can use a 3D printer to decorate your entire house (with your own made art and decorations) is very inspiring. Most of my prints are prototypes of upcoming models or actual end products. My focus is therefore mainly on decorative models.

For the people who want to decorate their home in a unique way (and don’t have a 3D printer), I print the vases for them. And for the people who have their own 3D printer, I make the 3D models available so they can make it themselves (decentralized), which is pretty amazing.

Do you have any tips and tricks when it comes to 3D printing – the kind of thing you only learn through practice?

Sometimes you run into a problem that you don't know how to solve immediately, for example heat creep. I had never heard of it and therefore did not think of it. For me, it worked to exclude every possible cause one by one in order to eventually get close to the possible solution. I looked at things like the PTFE tube, cooling %, fan(duct) position, loose screws, heater cartridge, thermistor etc. Eventually, the issue was a slightly loose heat break in the heater block.

It may be frustrating that you cannot solve it right away, but this is the time to learn how to investigate and solve a problem yourself. And it's okay that sometimes you can't do it right away, just take a break and try again later. Sometimes that will give you fresh ideas. In the end, it works out. Once you finally manage to solve the problem, I recommend you write down the process of what you tried to do to get to the solution somewhere or record it in a spread sheet, in case you need it.

What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started 3D printing that you know now?

The size of your nozzle has a big impact on the print speed / print quality. For example: a regular 0.4 mm nozzle can print an object with fine details (0.15 mm layer height) in a respectable time, let's say 6 hours.  While a 0.8 mm nozzle can print the same object using thicker lines (0.32 mm layer height) in say half the time, with the loss of fine details. It ultimately depends on what exactly you want to achieve with your print, but it can save you a lot of time at times.

What I would also have liked to know is that filaments are more or less hygroscopic, and that they therefore absorb moisture over time and degrade in quality. It is therefore important to store all filaments in bags with desiccants. If a coil has absorbed moisture anyway (to be seen in print issues such as extreme stringing/ oozing), then I would definitely recommend investing in a filament dryer.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made when it comes to 3D printing?

I once installed my BLtouch leveling probe - a sensor to determine the distance between the nozzle and the print bed - at a slight angle instead of straight down.  As a result, the distance was incorrect and my print head slammed right into the glass during the bed leveling sequence. Not a very pleasant sound I can tell you haha.

Do you plan your projects or is it more like you just print whatever happens to catch your eye or attract your interest?

Both. I carefully plan all print jobs related to an order. For my personal projects, I don't plan so much. However, in both cases I record all my print jobs and their settings in a spreadsheet, so that I can always retrieve which settings I used to make something and what the result was. If something goes wrong, I can use the settings to find out whether something was not quite right. I keep all print jobs that go wrong in a logbook. I also record what the possible cause is and how I solved it in the end.

Finally, what do you think is the future of 3D printing?

I see the future of 3D printing as a fully circular workflow where failed prints and materials can be recycled (from home) into new filament to make new items. A future where discarded plastic that is currently dumped in nature can be prevented, collected and used to make new materials. A future where (pretty much all) plastics no longer have to be made from fossil fuels but from renewable raw materials. Which creates a nice sustainable loop. I can't wait for the day to come.

Ultimately, I expect that more and more people around the world will have the opportunity to make their ideas tangible with more efficient, faster and user-friendly 3D printers.