When I first heard about 3D printing I thought it sounded too good to be true. This was truly democratizing manufacturing and making it possible for someone with absolutely no capital, no experience and no tools to start selling and using their designs – from the small and simple to the incredible and ambitious. It of course has a lot of potential for increasing the online profits of a website, but more than that it can enable people to create items that they just want to use – so that they can have a truly unique interior design and to perform the tasks that they specifically need.
But the problem was that when I started looking into getting started, I found there was very little information on how to go about it and I struggled to even know where to begin. I just wanted a website to guide me through the process step-by-step and recommend the best software and services, but alas it was not to be.
So I learned myself – which took ages – so that I could share the information with you. Read on for a guide to how to get started in 3D printing right now.
The software you need is anything that can be described as ‘3D modelling software'. This is the software that graphic designers use in order to come up with characters in CGI films, and the software that engineers and inventors use to visualize their designs and products. There are a vast range of different software solutions available to you here that range in terms of their capabilities as well as in terms of their price. Some of these solutions are free such as CB Model Pro, or such as K3D, while others are available on a good budget such as Rhino 3D. Rhino 3D in particular is a great solution for someone who is just learning but also has all of the features that would be available in a more top-end piece of software such as Auto CAD.
To begin using these pieces of software you then will need a tutorial in how to go about it – which is something you can achieve easily enough by browsing YouTube and other such programs. At the very least you should find that creating basic shapes such as cubes and spheres is quite intuitive and only really a matter of selecting the tool and drawing them onto a grid (a grid that will define the dimensions of your image).
From here you can then save your model as an .STL file which is compatible with most 3D printing services. Simply sign up to a service such as Shapeways (there are others but Shapeways is a good place to start), and then choose your .STL file to upload. You will then get an e-mail confirmation within ten minutes of uploading your file telling you if it was successful or not – and if it is then you can view it by clicking on ‘My Models'.
Other things you can then do are to rotate your object to view the complete design, and to change the material it's being made from. If you find that the item is too expensive to begin with, then you might find you can make it significantly cheaper by changing the default material to say china.
If you wish then you also have the opportunity to open your product up to the general public and to start selling it online too which will involve setting up your Shapeways shop and then simply directing traffic from your website there.
But really the best way to learn is simply to give it a go and to start playing around. Download some files and you will find that over time you start to get into the rhythm and you find ways to overcome the problem – and the first time you receive a model that you designed in the post, even if it's just something small, it will be a highly exhilarating moment.
Charles Franklin is an internet marketer who works for an established 3D Printing Company in Perth.