Image by mrbenbritton on Thingiverse
From simple to complex, here are nine three-dimensional models you can download then print to explore 3D printing.
These fun 3D projects can be printed on a home 3D printer or with a printing service. A brief description how to prepare your model for printing is also included.
Pre-Made 3D Models
Perhaps the easiest way to try out 3D printing is to download a model then import it into SketchUp, Blendr, Maya, or other software capable of building three-dimensional objects and exporting to the STL (stereolithography) format. In SketchUp, for example, you can select File then 3D Warehouse then Get Models to add a model from their collection.
Here are a few 3D projects that might be a good way to explore 3D printing, from simple models to more complex. Feel free to browse online 3D model libraries linked below for more ideas. When you can, search these sites with the term “3D printing” or look for models sorted by the ability to print the model as a three-dimensional object.
Your first few 3D projects, however, should be easy to print. This approach lets you focus on learning the process, what works and doesn’t work. Once you master the basics with a simple model, then you’ll have better luck and more fun printing complex models.
An alignment cube is probably the simplest 3D project to get started with 3D printing. The cube lets you see how measurements in your software translate to printer dimensions, as well as learn the process of exporting your model to STL format, slice the file into layers, then use the layer information to tell your printer how to build your model.
Coaster and Cookie Cutters
A coaster, or hockey puck, makes a good second project because it’s a round solid shape with some height. You can get fancy and find models with patterns on top, like this Nintendo 8-bit Mario Mushroom pattern.
A different kind of coaster to try is a cookie cutter. Search for the term “cookie cutter” on Thingiverse to see all their models. Here’s a maths-related cookie cutter set you might want to try.
Beyond simple round shapes and alignment cubes, next you might try larger shapes like boats and ships. These tend to be basic shapes stretched out with some indentations to provide detail. Here’s a simplified boat shape from Thingiverse:
Here’s a slightly more complicated ship from the SketchUp 3D Warehouse:
When you feel comfortable with 3D printing, having printed simple models, you might find gnomes, robots, and other characters are fun 3D projects to print. Here’s one from the SketchUp 3D Warehouse:
As you rotate this gnome, notice how the feet have indentations. This sort of detail is perfect to try once you feel comfortable printing 3D models. But this sort of complex detail will only give you headaches if you print a character model as your first 3D project.
Here’s another model, from Thingiverse, with smooth edges and few indentations:
Somehow I found this model while researching this article. It’s a small cowbell with a funny saying and image of the actor Christopher Walken. If you don’t get the joke, it’s from one of the great Saturday Night Live TV show skits with Will Ferrell (in a beard and his gut hanging out), Jimmy Fallon, Walken, and others. You, too, can treat your fever with a prescription cowbell. This 3D project is a musical instrument. You can make music with it.
Octopus Stand for Tablet Computer
This design is worth a mention because the design is amusing and the shapes are complex to print:
Prepare Your 3D Model for 3D Printing
Before you send or present your 3D model file to a printer, you must export the model file in STL (stereolithography) format after checking these details to ensure the best possible results:
- Set the units of measure to be used AFTER the file is exported to STL format. Usually this is millimeters or inches.
- Select any extrusions, parts that stick out from your model, and convert them to solids. This will help ensure your STL file includes all parts of your model.
- Center your model on 0,0 for the x and y axes, the left/right and forward/back directions. The lowest point of your model should be at 0 for the z-height, the up/down direction.
- Select the one or more parts of your model to export.
- Export in binary format, in most cases, to keep file sizes as low as possible.
- Set the export quality to the highest possible setting, to increase the number of polygons on curved surfaces and print the most rounded shape possible.
With SketchUp, you will need to install the SketchUp STL extension which adds an Export STL link to the File dropdown list in the application. Extensions also can be added through the Window dropdown and Extensions Warehouse link in the latest version of SketchUp.
Models downloaded from Thingiverse are already in STL format, ready for slicing software to turn the model into layers.
Once you have an STL file, the next step is to use slicing software to generate printer instructions. Slicing converts your model into a number of layers the printer will use to build your model.
Slicing software usually is included with the printer, or the printing service will slice your STL model file as preparation for printing on their machines.
SketchUp 3D Warehouse
While mostly models to use with SketchUp, some print well as 3D models.
The Essential Calibration Set
A cube you can use to calibrate your models with any 3D printer.
Maths Cookie Cutter Set
High-Res Super Mario
Octopus Stand for Tablet Computer
MakerBot Windup Walkers
3D Printing from SketchUp
Also In The February 2015 Issue
What is 3D Printing?
A basic introduction to 3D printing with concepts, examples, and a glossary of 3D terminology.
Gnomes, Gnomedozers, Spoonriders, and Zen Gnomes
Why are there so many gnomes available for 3D printing?
From simple to complex, nine three-dimensional models you can download then print to explore 3D printing.
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An American living in the United Kingdom, Jill Hodges talks about how she started a summer technology camp for kids.
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When you create a three-dimensional model for printing, it's important to know what prints well and what does not.
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Where Can I Find Local 3D Printing Services?
It's possible to print your 3D project the same way you print a flyer at the UPS store. Here are several options.
Whatever good things we build end up building us.
The VRML language, or Virtual Reality Modeling Language, is ancient but still lets you create simple three-dimensional objects.
3D printers may be new technology but there are several printers individuals, schools, and businesses might buy.
February 2015 Learn More Links
Links from the bottom of all the February 2015 articles, collected in one place for you to print, share, or bookmark.
February 2015 News Wire
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