What is 3D Modeling and Printing?
3 Dimensional (3D) Printing, also called Additive Manufacturing, is a process where a printer can produce a final product based on a computer model or design. Unlike a regular printer that can only print in 2 dimensions, however, these printers can create actual objects, like a ball. There are a few different distinctions based on how the printer actually builds the object, but the overall additive process works by a 3D printer adding successive layers until the object matches the 3D model it was asked to print.
3D Modeling is the design process by which a 3D blueprint is created for printing. These can be made through software or a 3D scanning software – you can see the rendering on your computer – then, the magic of 3D printing can bring that idea to life!
Why is 3D printing important?
Although the idea has been around for a couple of decades, it is just now being pushed to the forefront of manufacturing and technology – this is because it has continued to progress by becoming more accurate, accessible and affordable. Many people see 3D printing as the ‘next big wave’ in manufacturing.
There are so many exciting possibilities and implications of what may be possible with 3D printing. A great example is the medical field. Creating a 3D image of a person’s knee for example, can allow an exact replica to be printed for a knee replacement surgery. This ensures the ‘new’ knee is a perfect fit, reducing pain after surgery. While this has already been done for patients around the country, there are other more surprising possibilities, such as 3D printing ‘living’ body parts such as organs, which is called bioprinting.
Outside of the medical world, 3D printing has the potential to completely change the face of manufacturing, especially by making great personalization and customization possible. However, since the industry is still growing and developing at a rapid pace, we will not try to predict other areas where it may take us – we will leave that to aspiring 3D Designers like you to push those boundaries and make the future possible.
How do you design something you want to make?
In order for a 3D printer to create an object, there needs to be a 3-Dimensional blueprint so the printer knows what it will make. This is done through Computer Aided Design (CAD) software, such as Google Sketchup. These programs allow you to make, to scale, a model of exactly what you want your object to look like.
This is where a lot of the fun design happens. While there are a lot of different CAD programs to choose from, they pretty much all operate similarly. So, if you are familiar with a couple, it should be a breeze if you need to design a 3D model in a different software.
If you have access to a 3D printer, however, and design is not your thing, there are countless online marketplaces, such as Thingiverse, where you can find STL files for download, some for free and others for purchase. That takes the design element out of the equation, since someone else has done the drafting work.
Once I have designed a 3D model, am I ready to print?
Not yet. Once you have a beautiful 3D model created inside of CAD, you will have an ‘STL’ file. This file, however, still needs to be translated into a language the printer understands. This is where a slicer software, such as the Cura or MatterControl, comes in.
Slicers essentially take the 3D rendering and makes it into step-by-step instructions for the printer, specifying things like materials and how to add layers of material to make the correct shape.
Can I buy a 3D Printer?
Yes, you can absolutely buy a 3D printer – here is a great write-up from PCMag about the best 3D printers available now.
3D printers range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars depending on how many materials they can print, how big the objects you want to create are and the overall quality of the printer itself.
If you are just getting into 3D printing and just have the occasional need to print, you don’t necessarily need to buy a printer, though. Online sites such as Shapeways make it possible to send them your computer file and they will print and ship the object to you.
Additionally, there are certain FabLabs and other collaborative spaces that you may be able to find in your area. These shops allow for innovators to come together and use shared resources, such as 3D printers, to experiment, learn and grow. These can be especially helpful because they usually include a great community that can provide help and support as you begin your 3D Printing journey.
How can I get started in 3D Printing?
There are a lot of ways to get involved in 3D printing, from learning how to create 3D CAD models to how to use slicing software.
There are some great tools online, but without guidance and access to the right tools, it can be difficult to know where to start.
At JKCP, we offer a high school Enrichment class in 3D Modeling & Printing that can help you breathe life into your ideas and sketches – this course can help you take a 2D concept to a 3D model and teach you the basic of modeling and preparing your designs for export and shipping, as well as how to use professional services and manufacturing strategies. This summer class provides the instruction and printers to help you get started in 3D printing.
Are there business opportunities within 3D printing?
Yes, there are a lot of business opportunities in 3D printing. Many are self-directed, such as selling your CAD (STL) files to others to download and print or starting a business manufacturing bespoke products of your design.
However, the rise of 3D printing is also creating more corporate jobs in the corporate arena as well. These can range from 3D printer repair to 3D Design.
Can 3D printing be beneficial outside of the 3D printing industry?
Yes, 3D printing can teach you many skills that are also beneficial for companies using more traditional manufacturing methods. Understanding 3D modeling and design, especially using CAD software, for example, can put you on your way to becoming a designer or drafter. This could be in a role as different as designing cars, system engineering or landscape design.
CAD can even help launch a career into to designing video games. Video game graphics designers use a type of 3D modeling software, typically something like Autodesk.