Frequently Asked Questions

This page is dedicated to answering many of the common questions about 3D printing. The tutorial below talks about the different types of printers, slicing software, rafts, supports, etc.

What is a 3D printer?

3D printer is unlike of the common printers. On a 3D printer the object is printed by three dimension. A 3D model is built up layer by layer. Therefore the whole process is called rapid prototyping, additive manufacturing, or 3D printing.

The biggest drawback for the individual home user is still the high cost of 3D printer. Another drawback is that it takes hours or even days to print a 3D model (depending on the complexity and resolution of the model). Besides above, the professional 3D software and 3D model design is also in a high cost range.

Alternatively there are already simplified 3D printers for hobbyist which are much cheaper. And the materials it uses is also less expensive. These 3D printers for home use are not as accurate as commercial 3D printer.

What is 3D printing?

3D printing is also known as desktop fabrication or additive manufacturing, it is a prototyping process whereby an real object is created from a 3D design. The digital 3D-model is saved in STL format and then sent to a 3D printer. The 3D printer then print the design layer by layer and form a real object.

How does a 3D printer work?

Next to the printer is a coil of plastic called “filament.” This filament is fed into the “print head” where it gets heated up and laid down in layers to slowly build an object from the bottom up. The whole thing works kind of like a tiny hot glue gun.

How much does a 3D printer usually cost?

Usually between $500 and $2500 USD.

How large of an object can a desktop 3D printer print?

The MakerBot Replicator 2x has a build volume of: 24.6 L x 15.2 W x 15.5 H CM

(9.7 x 6.0 x 6.1 IN)

The MakerBot Z18 has a build volume of: 30.0 L x 30.5 W x 45.7 H CM

(11.8 L x 12.0 W x 18.0 H IN)

What can a 3D printer print with?

Many different materials can be used for 3D printing, such as ABS plastic, PLA, polyamide (nylon), glass filled polyamide, stereolithography materials (epoxy resins), silver, titanium, steel, wax, ceramic, wood, photopolymers and polycarbonate. The printers in our community use:

  • The MakerBot Replicator 2x can print with ABS. PLA is not recommended for this printer.
  • The MakerBot Z18 prints exclusively in PLA.

What special things can you make with a 3D printer?

castleOne of the exciting things about 3D printing is that you can make objects that are impossible to make any other way. These are called “non-manufacturable objects.”

Example: In the 3D printed castle tower (if available), you’ll see a tiny staircase winding up the middle of the model. There is no way to make this other than using a 3D printer.

What 3D modeling software is suitable for a beginner in 3D design?

If you’re just getting started you can try some of 3D modeling software which can be downloaded for free.

  • Google SketchUp – This Google SketchUp is fun and free, and is known for being easy to use. To build models in SketchUp, you draw edges and faces using a few simple tools that you can learn in a short time. With with Push/Pull tool you can extrude any flat surface into a 3D form. Furthermore, it works together with Google Earth, that you can import a scaled aerial photograph directly from Google Earth, or use SketchUp to build models which can be seen in Google Earth.
  • 3Dtin – The simplest 3D software. You can draw directly from your browser.
  • Blender – Blender is the free open source 3D content creation suite, available for all major operating systems under the GNU General Public License. Blender was developed as an in-house application by the Dutch animation studio NeoGeo and Not a Number Technologies (NaN). It is a powerful program contains features that are characteristic of high-end 3D software.
  • OpenSCAD – OpenSCAD is a software for creating solid 3D CAD objects. It is free software and available for Linux/UNIX, MS Windows and Mac OS X. it does not focus on the artistic aspects of 3D modeling but instead on the CAD aspects.
  • Tinkercad – Tinkercad is a new and faster way of creating designs for your 3D printer. With only three basic tools you can create a wide range of useful things. Once your project is ready simply download the STL file and start your 3D print.

Check out the more free software in the tab above.

Commercial software such as CAD software AutoCAD and Pro Engineer, software packages Rhino, Maya, and SolidWorks are all pretty good for designing 3D models.

I have no 3D design experience, how long does it take to learn 3D modeling?

You can learn how to 3D model by learning how to use 3D modeling tools such as Tinkercad, Rhino, Blender or SketchUp. It will take you some weeks to be familiar with 3D modeling tools such as SketchUp, Rhino and Blender. To become a professional user will take you at least half a year to study and practice.

What is “open source”, and why should I care?

The manufacturer of an open source 3D Printer provides the design files for their machine online, so you can download them and use them to modify your machine. Want to 3D Print a spool holder that will fit perfectly on your Type A Series 1? No problem — download the design files from Thingiverse and draw up your part to fit just right in your favorite CAD program.

Where can I find a 3D file (an .stl) to print on my machine?

You can do one of two things:

  1. Find a file online from a website like Thingiverse or GrabCAD.
  2. Create a 3D file yourself with a CAD program. You can do it for free with programs like Sketchup, TinkerCAD, or 123D Design.

Once I have an .stl file, how do I prepare it for printing?

See our Printing from SketchUp page. It will walk you through the process.

What’s the point of having two extruders?

For doing two things:

  1. Printing with two different colors of plastic. You can get great-looking results with this technique, like this globe.
  2. Have one nozzle printing support material (like PVA) while the other prints PLA or ABS. With this technique, you can print any object, no matter how large the overhangs are. Although slicing software like Slic3r is capable of generating support material that will be printed in ABS or PLA, it requires cleanup at the end of the print. The great thing about PVA is that it’s water soluble, which means you can throw your part into a warm water bath once it’s done to dissolve the support away.

How much maintenance is required?

See our Maintenance for the MakerBot Replicator 2X page to see the general maintenance requirements.

Do I need IT resources to do the maintenance?


Is it durable?  Can students break it?

The MakerBot Replicator 2x is a durable machine. That being said it should be stored in a relatively safe place, where it has a stable foundation and isn’t at risk of falling.

Is it safe?

The MakerBot Replicator 2x if kept in a well ventilated area and you don’t touch the heated build plate or hot extruder is safe. It needs to be in a well ventilated area because when the extruder heats the plastic there is an odor released.

Is it food safe?

There are a variety of factors to consider when designing food safe prints: materials being used, extruder composition, knife or coffee cup (it makes a difference), etc. Read this article to get a better feel about using 3D printing for food purposes.

Is there special training needed to be able to run it?

You do need to familiarize yourself with the machine and the process of 3D Printing. You can find help in the Getting Started page of the 3D Printing PLC website.

How much does it cost to operate (material cost per reel)?

The cost variable is one that changes depending on how much you use the machine. On Amazon you can purchase a 600 g role of filament for $28, which will get you $0.06 – $0.10 per cubic centimeter. For a complete calculation use this formula:

Cost to Print = Weight of Model X (Cost of Spool/Full Spool Weight)

What other equipment do I need to go with it?

For a full list of additional resources and equipment click here.

How many students can a printer support?

The amount of students can vary depending on how you set up the device in your classroom. We have teachers with 30-90 students using one machine.