8 Things to Know Before Designing 3D Print Models


The production of 3D print models is on the rise with the growing knowledge of 3D printing technology. A 3D desktop printer that can reproduce the fine details of sculptures along with high quality is Form 1+. The printer is as good as industrial printers and it is also affordable. Most 3D printing designers use Maya and ZBrush to create their 3D print models. However, other 3D printing software can also be used.

3D printing software

Here are 8 things you should know before you begin designing 3D print models:

Ensure that the mesh is watertight

You can get a watertight mesh by making closed edges to create a solid volume. Imagine that you have filled the geometry with water and make sure that not water leaks out of it.

Your normals should face outward because if they face inward, the 3D printer will read them as holes. You may be required to clear out any internal geometry that has been accidentally left behind by booleans.

Tools such as Netfabb and Accu Trans can help you remove problem spots in your model.

Make sure that non-manifold geometry is removed

Modelers with gaming, animation, and illustration backgrounds need to remember that the 3D print design should have watertight manifold volume parts. Before finalizing the design, you should check for artifacts, unwelding edges and verts, and loose faces.

Here are some things you should be wary of:

  • One-dimensional planes, extruded edges, or shells
  • Double-sided faces
  • Self-intersecting faces
  • Open-faced holes
  • Unwelded verts or edges

Non-manifold geometry is defined as an edge that is shared by more than 2 faces. This situation happens when a face or an edge has been extruded, but has not been moved. Thus, the result is that there are 2 identical edges one on top of the other.

If your model has non-manifold geometry, the 3D printer will not be able to read the file.

PreForm is free downloadable 3D printing software by Formlabs that offers automatic tools to make sure that your 3D model is watertight.

You can repair your file if it has non-manifold geometry using Netfabb.

Review the guidelines for material design

Every material has its own properties and responds best to a specific production process.

The important guidelines to follow for a specific material is to know

  • The minimum or maximum dimensions, also known as bounding box.
  • The thickness needed
  • The escape hole diameter required

Some of the materials that can be used for 3D printing and their unique characteristics are:

  • Strong and Flexible Plastic – This is a good material to get started with printing 3D models. The design rules for this material are easy. The finished 3D models feels rough, but can be polished as well.
  • Metallic Plastic – This refers to brittle nylon plastic that is filled with aluminum dust. The finished 3D model can be polished or smooth.
  • Detail Plastic – This is an acrylic-based polymer that can be used to print 3D models with fine details. The finished 3D model is smooth and slightly shiny.
  • Frosted Detail Plastic – This is a UV-cured acrylic plastic that can be used to print fine details and walls. The finished 3D model appears smooth and translucent.
  • Steel – This is a good material to print jewelry and durable objects. The finished 3D model will have a shiny surface, which will be slightly pitted and rough.

Know the build area

The build area should be kept in mind when creating the design for a part of the model. It is possible to cleverly use space and go beyond the limitations of the 3D printer’s build volume. For instance, the longest build size of the printer can be determined by measuring the diagonal space from the top to the bottom of the build area.

Take care with small parts and exaggerated details

It is advisable to exaggerate the details when designing small parts. This helps the print to show up clearly. The surface details should have slightly deeper cuts and the surface texture should be emphasized more. Slender parts should be designed to be slightly thicker.

Preserve material

To save material while printing the 3D model, the design can be made hollow by using Boolean functions and shell functions in the modeling software. One thing to remember is that there should be a vent hole that allows uncured material to drain out of the model.

Clean up properly

After the 3D model is printed, it is soaked in a solution of IPA for 12-15 minutes in order to remove any traces of material from the surface of the model. You can wear gloves and use your hands to gently rub the surface of the model to enhance this cleaning process. A soft brush can also be used.

Remove supports with care

Support material should be removed gently and slowly, so as not to ruin the model. An X-acto knife can be used to cut a line at the connection point and get a cleaner break.

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  1. Verena Lewis December 18, 2014
  2. Laurene Baugh December 8, 2014
  3. Lanny Easley December 4, 2014
  4. Aaron Silva December 4, 2014
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