13 Tools to Help You Become a 3D Printing Pro
Over time I have compiled a set of tools that I use to make my life easier when 3D printing. No matter whether it is to fix a 3D printer, to remove support material or to improve 3D print adhesion, these tools have come in handy time and time again. I thought it might be a good idea to share the list of the tools and accessories I use most frequently such that you get an idea of what belongs in the 3D printer owner's toolkit.
If you are new to 3D printing the below list should give you a good starting point in case you want to compile an accessories kit. While you don't need to go and buy all of these tools at once, I am convinced that over time you'll amass a tool set that will look very similar to the below.
1. Masking Tape
Masking tape is the most basic and most widely used surface covering for print beds. Adding masking tape to the print bed is a simple way to help the 3D printed objects to adhere better. Additionally, the tape also makes removing the finished print easier and it protects your print bed from scratches.
The most commonly used type of masking tape is the blue painters tape. While there are many different types of masking/blue tape available, I have had best results with 3M's Scotch-Blue 2090 tape.
When buying tape, make sure to select a width of at least 50 mm (2 inches). Wider tape requires less strips to cover your print bed, something you will come to appreciate if you resurface your print bed frequently.
2. Kapton Tape
Kapton tape is a polyimide adhesive tape that is used an alternative material to cover print beds. Contrary to masking tape however, Kapton tape has been specifically designed to withstand high temperatures (up to 400°C).
Kapton tape is used to improve 3D print adhesion and to prevent warping but mostly in combination with ABS filament. When printing with PLA, it is cheaper to stick with masking tape as a roll of Kapton is about twice as expensive.
Due to its heat-resistant properties Kapton tape is also commonly used to secure 3D printer components in the area of the hot end. I always keep a roll at hand, be it for ABS prints or for attaching something to the heated print bed or hot end.
3. Glue Stick
Glue sticks come in handy when you are trying to improve 3D print adhesion: just cover your print bed in water soluble glue stick and the adhesion of the 3D prints will improve instantly. The glue stick can be applied on top of blue/Kapton tape or even directly to glass in case your 3D printer uses a glass print bed.
I personally prefer the glue stick over hair spray (an alternative often used to combat adhesion issues) since it can be applied precisely without having to worry about covering the gantry or moving parts in residual spray.
Elmer's or Pritt washable glue sticks seem both to be working fine for 3D printing purposes.
4. Digital Caliper
In the context of 3D printing, a caliper will have many applications: you can use it to check the precision of your prints as well as you can use it to dimension parts that you want to replicate in CAD software.
3D printer filament, though advertised as being 3mm or 1.75 mm, rarely turns out to be manufactured to these exact measurements. Here the caliper comes in handy again: measure the filament at a few different positions, average your readings and if necessary adjust the filament diameter in your slicing software.
Personally I use a digital caliper with a precision of two decimals. While digital calipers are a bit more expensive I appreciate the extra precision they offer over analogue ones. Take good care of your caliper and it will last your 3D printing career.
5. A Set of Tweezers
I always have my tweezers handy when I launch a 3D print. I use them frequently to plug any oozing filament from the extruder nozzle just before the printer starts printing (without burning my fingers). The tweezers also come in handy when cleaning up a 3D print. I'd recommend buying a set of tweezers that includes various shapes and sizes such that you are covered for all jobs.
6. Palette Knives
Sometimes you are faced with a 3D print that sticks so well to your print bed that you can't remove it by hand. In those cases I use a palette knife to try and get under the print and to carefully pry it loose from the print bed.
Over time, I have build up quite a collection of palette knives. In case you are just starting out, I'd recommend that you get at least a flexible and a stiffer one. I particularly like the stainless steel scrapers by Titan as they have a tapered tip that really helps to get under the base of a 3D print. Titan offers a set of 3 blades ranging from rigid to flexible, that should be enough to get you started.
7. Knife & Cutting Mat
You'll need knives to post process your prints: 3D prints rarely turn out perfect and you may have to remove plastic blobs or filament strings that have appeared during the printing process. A knife with an array of exchangeable blades, such as an X-Acto knife, will serve you well. And while you are at it, make sure to get a cutting mat as well, you won't regret it.
A good selection of sandpaper in various grits will come in handy when post processing your 3D prints. I keep a selection from coarse (220 grit) to fine (1000 grit). The grid of quality sandpaper tends to wear off slower, so stick with one of the well-known brands such as 3M or similar.
A set of pliers will have various uses, be it to remove hard sticking prints or to fix something on your 3D printer. I recommend that you get quality pliers with rubberized slip-resistant grips. No matter what brand you end up buying, the absolute must-haves are needle nose pliers and wire cutting pliers. The wire cutting pliers are particularly useful to snip away support material or when trimming filament.
10. Screw Drivers & Hex Key Screw Drivers
In all likelihood, you already own some screwdrivers and hex keys. If you don't, make sure to buy some as you will need to periodically re-tighten the screws of the gantry and stepper motors of your 3D printer. Hex nuts and bolts are widely used in the assembly of 3D printers so it pays to have a good set of hex key screwdrivers and hex key wrenches.
Most 3D printer filament absorbs water over time, resulting in filament degradation that will eventually lead to complications during printing. Therefore, I do highly recommend that you store your filament in a sealed container. Here you'll find a complete instruction for a quick and simple way to store your filament.
No matter how you end up storing your filament (be it in a plastic bag or sealed container), it pays to add some desiccant in order to absorb a maximum of moisture. Just get yourself some silica gel packets or silica gel with moisture saturation indicator.
12. Permanet Marker
I keep a set of permanent markers/sharpies that I use to mark 3D prints, especially when running multiple prints of the same model but with different slicer settings. I note down the sequence and settings for each print and mark the finished objects accordingly, otherwise it becomes difficult tell them apart later on.
Unless your 3D printer comes with integrated lighting, it is a good idea to keep a flashlight nearby when 3D printing. Even in well lit rooms, the inside of enclosed 3D printers can be dark, especially if you are trying to judge print quality of a finely detailed 3D model. I use a compact LED light when checking on my prints.
The Nice To Haves
While I would consider the above tools as almost 'must-have' for any 3D printer owner, the following tools are no less handy but may not be required depending on what you use your 3D printer for.
The Dremel is a hand-held, high-speed rotary tool that comes with a set of accessories that allow you to tackle a variety of applications such as cutting, sanding, carving and grinding. In the context of 3D printing, I use the Dremel for several jobs: to cut away support material, to sand away any rough edges on 3D print or to polish 3D prints when working with filament that contains metal powder.
There are several different versions of the Dremel tool. While all will work fine, I find that the mains-powered ones with variable speed settings work best such that I would recommend getting on of those. Further, make sure to buy a decent accessory kit such that you are equipped with the right tool tips for sanding and polishing.
2. Laser Thermometer
A laser thermometer is another tool that is not absolutely necessary but that can come in handy under certain circumstances. I bought one once I started using a heated print bed and used it to cross check the heat setting of the slicer with the actual heat measured on the print bed surface. The thermometer is also helpful when trying to determine if the outer edges of the heated print bed warm up evenly or whether the nozzle reaches the right temperature.
I use a non-contact, infra-red or laser-based thermometer that has proven adequate for my purposes.
BuildTak is a thin, durable plastic sheet that adheres to the print bed of a 3D printer. It provides an optimal printing surface for 3D objects to adhere to while allowing for a clean and easy removal of completed builds.
BuildTak is an alternative to masking tape/Kapton tape with the advantage that it needs replacing a lot less frequently. While I do recommend that you give the material a try, it has some particularities that you need to pay attention to. I have written a comprehensive review about BuildTak before, make sure to check it out.
There you have it, my most used tools when 3D printing. As you can see, you clearly need more than a 3D printer and a PC when getting into desktop 3D printing. At the same time, if you are into DIY, I am sure that you'll already have quite a few of these tools at home. If not, it makes sense to start by building up a small toolkit of the most essential items before investing into the more sophisticated tools.
Do you use any other useful tools that I did not list here? If so, feel free to provide your input by leaving a comment below.