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A Comprehensive Introduction to 3D Printing Technology - 3D Printing for Beginners

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A Comprehensive Introduction to 3D Printing Technology

3D Printers – How Do They Work?

The topic of 3D printing has peaked your interest and you are looking into how to use a 3D printer? Have you tried to find information on the underlying 3D printing technology or on how to 3D print, but got lost either in a multitude of 3D printing news only sites, or short and/or superficial articles? Are you still trying to get your head around the ins and outs of 3D printers and 3D printing technology ?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you are not alone! 3D printing can be complex to take in initially, as the learning curve may be quite steep. We know the feeling since we have been there ourselves. But, do not despair, we have written this article to explain 3D printing basics with the beginner in mind. To make all of this easy to understand, we have added quite a few pictures and illustrations. Hope you enjoy the read!


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Starting assumptions:

This article only looks at Fused Filament Fabrication printers (FFF), also known as Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) printers or Molten Polymer Deposition (MPD) printers. We will not discuss any of the other 3D printing technologies, like Digital Light Projection (DLP), Stereolitography (SLA) and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), etc. The reason is simply that FFF printers are by far the most common 3D printer type used for home 3D printing, i.e. desktop 3D printers. If you are considering to buy your own 3D printer, a FFF is most likely the 3D printing technology that you will end up using. Note that FFF is a synonym of Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) – both terms describe exactly the same technique. However, Fused Deposition Modelling and its abbreviation FDM are trademarked by Stratasys Inc, one of the major 3D printing companies.

We use our Ultimaker 3D printer (note: it is an Ultimaker Original, not the newer version called the Ultimaker 2) as a reference throughout this article. Although the Ultimaker’s working principles do not differ fundamentally, it should be noted that other printers models may look somewhat different. However, the functioning principles of all FFF printers are largely the same.

What is Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)?

Fused Filament Fabrication is nothing but a fancy word to describe a process by which a machine deposits a filament (picture something like a small string) of a certain material (normally thermoplastics, wax or similar products) on top or next to the same material, in order to create a joint by heat and/or adhesion. Thermoplastics are plastics which become semi-liquid above a specific temperature and return to a solid state when cooling down.

A FFF printer prints a 3-dimensional object by extruding a stream of heated or melted thermoplastic material, which is carefully positioned into layer upon layer, working from the bottom up. Just imagine a heated print head that is oozing out a permanent flow of molten plastic onto a surface in order to form, through multiple layers, the virtual object you chose to print. By adding layer upon layer, which will almost immediately harden upon leaving the hot print head, you will see the object that you chose to create materialize right in front of you. Just have a look at Illustration 1, which gives you a clear understanding of FFF.

Fused filament fabrication process - infographic

Illustration 1 – © Reprap.org


Working in 3 Dimensions – Working Principles of Linear Robots

In order to be able to print a physical object, i.e. an object in 3 dimensions, a 3D printer needs to be able to move on 3 coordinate axes (i.e. most commonly referred to as length, width and height).

The three working dimensions of a 3D printer

Illustration 2 – © 3Dprintingforbeginners.com

But how do you tell the machine where to put its nozzle at a specific moment? Mathematicians generally refer to the term of “Cartesian coordinate system” in order to specify the position of a given point in 3-dimensional space. But don’t worry, we are not going to do any maths here. Just have a look at Illustration 3 in order to understand what is meant by this. The general convention is to use the X, Y and Z axes in order to map a specific point in a 3D coordinate system.

3D coordinate system - Cartesian coordinate system - XYZ axes

Illustration 3
Cartesian coordinate system

If thinking in 3 dimensions may seem confusing in the beginning, just think about 2 dimensions to start out. Remember how your inkjet printer used to work? It used only 2 dimensions, i.e. the X and Y axis and may therefore help you understand the process. Once you had finished typing your document, the computer translated the document into coordinates for your printer. A moving head printed the letters on paper, usually on one fixed axis (going from left to right and back – i.e. the horizontal axis) while little motors drove wheels which advanced the paper page on the other axis (up and down – i.e. the vertical axis). The principles are the same for a 3D printer, except that it is able to move in one more direction (depth) and thus is able to physically print objects.

Nearly every 3D printer is built around the principle that its 3 principal axes are linear. This means that their axes are at right angles to each other and that they move in straight lines (that is: they do not rotate). Machines which use this principle are known as linear robots or cartesian coordinate robots, as opposed to Delta- or Polar-type robots. Typical examples of linear robots are 3D printers, but also computer numerical control (CNC) machines.

In order to move along these 3 axes, 3D printers generally make use of fixed rods, timing belts and pulleys, in order to manoeuvre the print head(s) and or the print platform to the exact position needed. These timing belts and pulleys are connected to small motors, which are generally referred to as “stepper motors” (Illustration 4). These relatively small motors permit extremely precise movements, often in the vicinity of a fraction of a millimetre. The stepper motors form an important part of any printer, as they are in a great part responsible for the quality of your print, i.e. a cheap stepper motor is not able to realise the same accuracy as more expensive models. Also, when working, they tend to make quite some noise and cheap stepper motors can be especially noisy. However, more recent models have been addressing this particular issue and are far quieter then the older models.

Stepper Motors

Illustration 4
Ultimaker Stepper Motors – Before and after installation
© 3Dprintingforbeginners.com


Contrary to what you might think, the word extruder does not necessarily refer to the part of your 3D printer that squirts out the molten plastic. The extruder is actually the part that is responsible for feeding the filament into the so-called “hot-end“. Extruders are the part where some of the biggest differences between 3D printers exist and where we are still likely to see some of the biggest developments in the future. Some 3D printers models use extruders which integrate the “filament driver” as well as the hot-end in one single piece. Illustration 1 already gave a brief overview of such an “integrated extruder“. Better still probably is a close-up photo of a Printrbot Simple 3D printer, as shown in Illustration 5.

PrintrBot - Extruder - Hot End

Illustration 5
Integrated extruder on a Printrbot Simple ©johnbiehler.com

Other printers, like our Ultimaker Original, have a “material feeder” or a “filament driver” (i.e. the extruder) separated from the “extrusion head” (i.e. the hot-end). Just have a look at Illustration 6 for a better understanding of this particular setup. 

Ultimaker - Extruder & Hot End

Illustration 6
Detailed views of the extruder and the separate hot-end and their respective positioning (circles) on the Ultimaker
© 3Dprintingforbeginners.com

The confusion around the wording used to describe 3D printer parts stems from the fact their exact terminology is not yet fixed. Especially if you consider that the action of pushing the heated plastic through a print nozzle is called extruding – pretty frustrating, isn’t it?

Anyway, both systems, the integrated type extruders or the remote one’s both have their pros and cons. Integrated type extruders don’t need a complicated filament delivery system – just look at Illustration 5, where you can see the filament arrive directly into the extruder of the Printrbot Simple. These extruders therefore rarely exhibit feeding problems (like friction problems caused in Bowden-cable type systems – see below), but they are heavier than remote extruders. Due to added weight and bulkiness, the integrated type extruders generally are far slower than the remote extruders and this lack of speed results in longer print times. An advantage however is the ease with which one can change the filament – no hassle and no time loss.

The remote type extruder systems generally push the filament through a hollow cable (Teflon or a similar material) in order to obtain a permanent feed of thermoplastic material to the moving hot-end. This sort of setup is called a “Bowden cable“, which are flexible cables used to transmit mechanical force by the movement of an inner cable (filament) relative to a hollow outer cable housing. The Bowden cable therefore does not only ensure the permanent feed of filament to the connected hot-end but also enables retraction of the filament if needed. Retraction is an important technique in 3D printing in order to obtain clean prints (read more on retraction below). In order to control filament feeding or retraction, a “filament driver” is connected to a stepper motor. The filament driver (normally a toothed/grooved bolt) and a push wheel at its opposite side squeeze the filament and via this torque and pinch system, they overcome friction and manage to push the filament through the Bowden-cable (cf. Illustrations 7 and 8 for detailed views of “pinched” filament).

Grooved drive marks - driven filament marks on Laybrick filament

Illustration 7 – Grooved drive marks
© 3Dprintingforbeginners.com

Grooved drive marks - driven filament marks on Laybrick filament

Illustration 8 – Grooved drive marks
© 3Dprintingforbeginners.com

The problem is that the Bowden-cable setup does create a lot of friction and the extruder systems, especially the feeding systems on early printers were often having feeding problems. Also, certain materials like for instance flexible PLA do create quite a lot of friction, as their rubbery surface chafes while being pushed through the Bowden cable. Therefore, 3D printing enthusiasts are permanently looking for better solutions and, in true Maker spirit, created a lot of 3D printable alternatives for extruder systems. Just have a look at Illustration 9, picturing the incredible Rollerstruder, a complete replacement of the Ultimaker extruder developed by Jeremie François – available at: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:73082.

The big advantage of the remote type extruder system however is that the hot-end is very lightweight, which results in quicker travel speeds as well as quicker prints. Our Ultimaker original does use a remote extruder and this explains why this printer is among the quickest 3D printers in its class.

Another slight disadvantage for such a Bowden-cable style setup is that changing the filament can sometimes be a bit of a hassle, as you need to work out what procedure works best with your specific printer. We always heat up the print head first, before trying to remove any kind of filament. This is necessary, as the filament cools down after printing (the printer by default is set to cool down after finishing a print). By cooling down, the filament gets stuck to the melted but not yet extruded plastic left in the heating chamber. You should never try to yank it free with force. Simply heat it up and gently pull back on the filament reel, after opening your material feeder mechanism. Or make and install Jeremie’s system, which also allows for a quick filament change.

Rollerstruder - explanations

Illustration 9 – © Jeremie Francois


Retraction is a special technique used in 3D printing, whereby molten plastic is “sucked back” into the heated hot end, while printing. On an Ultimaker, you will notice that, while retracting, the “material feeder” drives the filament in the opposite direction than usual. It does basically pull a small part of filament back through the Bowden tube. The effect of this can be compared to squeezing the edges of your toothpaste tube to suck back in some of the excess toothpaste you accidentally squirted out.

While printing a part, molten plastic is normally extruded continuously, except when the nozzle needs to create a gap or jump across a gap to the opposing part of the wall or another part. As the extruded thermoplastics are not completely liquid, they tend to create cobweb-like thin strand of plastic which tend to follow the nozzle across that gap. In order to obtain a proper print, you would need to clean those strands, which is messy and time-consuming. The solution is to retract the filament back up into the nozzle just before jumping across the gap or the new part. Then, upon arrival at the other side, the filament is pushed back to where it was before retraction. This effectively eliminates the “cobweb creation”, which also known as “stringing“.


Illustration 10 – © 3Dprintingforbeginners.com

Dual Extruder

Some FFF printers feature a dual extruder. This means that the printer has two filament drivers as well as two hot-ends. Check out Illustrations 11 and 12 to get a better idea of what a dual extruder system looks like.

Dual head extruder

Illustration 11 – © Makergeeks.com

Dual head extruder - Makerbot

Illustration 12 – © Notcot.com

Two colored print

Illustration 13 – © Tested.com

The advantage of this particular feature is that you can feed two different filaments for one print, enabling you thereby to either print in dual colour (look at the great two-coloured cat in Illustration 13) or even with two different materials. Why two materials you ask? Well, as you know, 3D printers print from the ground up. But some prints are impossible to realise, as the printer cannot print on air; that’s why you need “support structures” or support, in short. The parts of your print which would be floating on air are called “overhang“. Check out Illustration 14 to see the identified “overhangs” in the piece to be printed – the red circles.

Overhang points circled

Illustration 14 – © Cubify.com

Basically, the limits of your print are the laws of physics. In order to overcome this problem, you can choose (or, depending on your software, these parts are automatically detected) where to print a support structure. Check out the 3D printed cat model below. You could never have printed this object with an FFF printer if you did not use a support structure. Illustration 15 shows you the printed product, with its support structure and Illustration 16 shows you the finished cat, after cleaning the support structure away.

Support strucutre

Illustration 15 – © John Baichtal, Makezine.com

3D printer cat after cleaning support

Illustration 16 – © John Baichtal, Makezine.com

If your are printing with PLA or ABS, you need to know that the plastic will get pretty stiff after cooling down – so cleaning the support structure can take quite some time. Also, you need to pay attention not to damage your print, especially if you use a knife or a power tool like a Dremel.

An easier way to get around this is printing with PVA on the second extruder. PVA, short for polyvinyl alcohol, is a special water-soluble thermoplastic. PLA is used to print your object and PVA is used to print only the support structure. Once your print is finished, just put it into water for some time and the PVA support structure will dissolve itself (check out our materials post to get more information on PVA). Voila, you have a perfect print without the hassle or time loss for cleaning up your object. Illustrations 17 to 19 demonstrate how this technique works. The same also works with printing ABS in conjunction with HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene). HIPS can be dissolved in Limonene, a chemical dissolvent widely available. The big advantage over PVA is that HIPS is far less hygroscopic, i.e. it does not attract water from the air as easily as PVA. PVA needs to be stored in an airtight box, ideally together with some desiccant (like silica gel), so that all the moisture in the air does not get absorbed by the PVA filament. HIPS is clearly the easier solution giving you less headache when it comes to storage.

PVA - Polyvinyl Alcool used as support

Illustration 17 ©Tony Buser

PVA - Polyvinyl Alcool dissolving in water

Illustration 18 ©Tony Buser

PVA - Polyvinyl Alcool completely dissolved leaving a clean print

Illustration 19 ©Tony Buser

Hot End

The hot end is usually made up of a bloc of aluminium (squared or barrel-shaped), which is heated up to temperatures up to 250° Celsius (482° Fahrenheit). These high temperatures are the reason why the hot end needs to be thermally insulated from the rest of the setup – you don’t want other parts of your expensive printer to be roasted or otherwise smoulder away. Excessive heat damage is shown in Illustrations 20 and 21, although 3D printers are generally considered quite safe, as only very few cases where a printer caught fire are known. The hot end is also comprised of a print nozzle (a.k.a. extrusion end) and some sort of temperature sensor. The typical print nozzle’s opening diameter may range in size between 0,2 to 0,5 millimetres and plays an important role in the print resolution of your object. The smaller the nozzle, the finer the print, but the longer it will take to complete. The presence of the temperature sensor is important, as different sort of plastics may need different temperatures to print with.

Heat damage

Illustrations 20 & 21 – Heat damage examples – © Reprap.org

Functionwise, just imagine the extruder feeding/pushing a steady part of filament (normally bundled on spools) towards the hot end. The filament will go into the heat chamber/heated bloc, become semi-liquid or even liquid because of the heat and will then be pushed towards the nozzle. As the print head moves to the according XYZ position, the molten plastic is squeezed out of the nozzle and deposited in very fine strands on the printbed. The plastic nearly immediately hardens after being squeezed through the print nozzle (fans may help the cooling process of the thermoplastic). The repeated action of this results in putting layer upon layer in order to create an object in 3 dimensions. Please refer to Illustration 1 to see a very simplified schematic of this process.


The printbed is the surface upon which the printed part sits on while being built. The most common printbeds are made out of Plexiglass (acrylic), aluminium or glass. We have even created one out of carbon fiber; we will publish a detailed article on this build soon. When buying a 3D printer, you should always check out what the exact printbed size is, as it plays a determining factor in the maximum size of your future printed objects. Also, you need to differentiate between simple (non-heated) printbeds and heated printbeds.

Non-heated printbeds normally need to be covered in blue tape (painters tape) or even Kapton tape (i.e. polyimide tape – very heat resistant) in order to make the print stick to the printbed. The tape helps with initial adhesion of the thermoplastic and keeps everything in place during the print. The object needs to be firmly fixed to the printbed, as the slightest movement of the printed object itself will most probably result in a botched-up print. As the adhesion factor of the blue tape wears out quickly, it needs to be replaced regularly. Instead of blue tape, some people recommend using glue, hair spray, sanding down the Kapton tape, etc. The biggest disadvantage of using a non-heated printbed is that you may experience warping (Illustrations 22-24) or cracking (Illustrations 25 and 26) of your prints. This is a direct consequence of the plastic cooling down too fast and the effects are especially prominent when using ABS plastics.

Warped print

Illustration 22 © Reprap.org

Example of warping

Illustration 23 © microfabricator.com

Warped sculpture

Illustration 24 © 3dprintedsculpture.com

A crack in a 3D print

Illustration 25 © 3dprintedsculpture.com

ABS warp cracks

Illustration 26 © flashgamer.com

So if you don’t want to build a heat chamber around your printer (check out Illustrations 27 and 28), you should consider buying a model with a heated printbed, or, in true maker spirit, build one on your own.

Improvised heat chamber on an Ultimaker 3D printer

Illustration 27
Simple DIY Heat Chamber – © flashgamer.com

Elaborate heat chamber on an Ultimaker 3D printer

Illustration 28
Very elaborate DIY Heat Chamber – © diy3dprinting.blogspot.com

The heated printbed prevents warping of the prints while cooling down, but also provides for a much smoother surface of the first layers of the print. Normally, printbed temperatures vary between 60° to 110°C Celsius. The temperature is normally obtained via a printed circuit board, which is heated up using electricity.

But you should pay attention not to overdo it with heating up the printbed during the full print. If for example your print starts to warp at height, that is a telltale sign that you are heating too much – try a lower temperature setting on your printbed or reduce print speed. Also, too much heat may result in the print loosing adhesion and/or start warping. Using the heated printbed with specific control of its temperatures will enable you to print ABS (and other materials prone to warping) without having to tackle the crux of it warping.

Not having a heated printbed on the Ultimaker original is possibly the only bigger drawback we could identify. We absolutely love working with it, it’s quick, its build volume is great and you can obtain incredible detailed prints, but printing ABS is not easy, because of warping issues. The people at Ultimaker have identified this major issue and the new Ultimaker v2 is sold only with a heated printbed. Although we could not find any ready-made kits out there, it is not to difficult to source parts and find instructions to build a heated printbed on your own. We have decided to try this out and will post a detailed article on this shortly.


Filament is the consumable for your 3D printer. Just as the inkjet printers we referred to earlier needed ink cartridges to work, a 3D printer needs filament in order to be able to print. Filament is usually bundled in spools (Illustrations 29 and 30), but some is also sold by the meter (ideal for test prints). Before making any purchase of filament, you need to know what filament diameter your printer works with. It will be either 1,75mm or 3mm (or often sold as 2,85) , which are the two standard sizes.

Filament spools - multiple colors

Illustration 29 – © 3Dprintingforbeginners.com

iGo3D Shop

Illustration 30 © iGo3D.com

There also exist many different filaments materials, but the two most common 3D printer filament types are PLA and ABS. Each material has its own physical and chemical properties, which means that each filament type needs its own specific setup within your printing software. While some materials can be extruded at temperatures around 180°C, others need to be heated up to 250°C or more, before being ready for printing. Beginners especially need to pay attention to the fact that a specific printer may not be able to print with a certain type of material. If in doubt, check your user manual or read up in forums specific to your printer model.

We also recommend that you read our filament primer article, where we analyse the two main 3D printer filament types PLA and ABS (and a third more exotic choice: watersoluble PVA) as well as filament colour options in more detail. A big materials article is currently in the making, in which we will analyse the more “exotic” materials one can use to print. We will publish a big comparison table within this article, which may help any beginner with the settings for specific materials.

UPDATE [16 Sept. 2014] : the first article of our materials series has now been published. If you want to know more about special 3D printing materials BendLay, Laywoo-D3 and LayBrick, check out this article.


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Also, always consider the specific use you are going to make of your filament. If, for example, the filament will be used for printing cups, kitchenware or body-worn jewellery, only do buy food-safe/body-safe filament. Some more recent filament types have not only reached officially recognized common standards, but they have obtained certified food-safe labels from official sources. Moreover, some filament are even certified dishwasher safe, which may be important, depending on your usage you want to do with your prints. Under no circumstance should the price be the only buying criterion when it comes to 3D printer filament!

Installing and using the filament is easy. Most printers have a kind of integrated filament spool holder on which to install the filament you want to print with. If you have no double extruder, the colour of your filament will also be the colour of your print. Filament is available in a very wide array of colours, so that you can bring colour into your prints and into your life.

There you have it, 3D printing technology explained. We hope this article has helped in shedding some light on the topic and that you feel comfortable with the basic concepts of FFF now. Should anything still be unclear or if this article has raised new questions to your mind, feel free to post them in the comments sections. We’ll do our best to answer them!


Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 32 comments
Jonas - March 29, 2014

Thanks a lot for this great introduction to 3D printing!
Great start for someone who has no idea how the technoloy works… i’ll dig further in your other articles!

Keep up the good work

    Yves - March 30, 2014

    Hello Jonas,
    Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. Glad to hear that you find the content useful. Don’t hesitate to ask if you have any further questions.

derek abell - April 2, 2014

Thanks a lot. Just what I needed from my zero knowledge base.

    Yves - April 2, 2014

    Hi Derek,
    Appreciate the feedback, hope you come back to check for new content from time to time!

PresentosAU - April 21, 2014

Thanks so much for the intro level article. I am looking into this technology and this gives me a lot to follow up on.

thanks again

    Yves - April 21, 2014

    Thanks for the feedback, stay tuned, more awesome content coming soon!

Gary - April 29, 2014

Great info but one question? How do I input the precise dimensions to build it?

    Yves - April 29, 2014

    Hi Gary,
    The dimensions of a 3D print can be defined at two levels: 1) at the time of creation or in other words, when the 3D model is being built in a 3D modeling software. 2) During the print preparation phase preceding the actual 3D printing process. You can use a slicing engine such as Cura to scale the model to the desired size before sending it off to the 3D printer. Check some of our 3D Print of the Month articles to see how this is done.

marvin jordana - June 30, 2014

What type of 3D modeling software would you recommend for a beginner?
Are there any online classes that you recommend or links to see.

Thank you,
Marvin Jordana

    Yves - July 2, 2014

    Hi Marvin,
    A good starting point is the list of software and tools that we have compiled: http://3dprintingforbeginners.com/software-tools/
    As you can see, each entry is categorized by user level such that you can identify beginner 3D modeling software easily. Let us know if you have any further questions.

chris - August 6, 2014

awesome man. thanks for the hips idea. your too awesome brooo

    Yves - August 6, 2014

    Hi Chris,
    Great to hear that you find this info useful. Feel free to check back for more great content regularly.

rich evans - August 12, 2014

Is there any way to scan an original item into software and then reproduce that item using the resulting info?

Thanks so much for this primer on 3d printing. It’s very interesting. I’ve read where it may be used for printing bodily organs and maybe even printing rib-eye steaks! How’s that for versatility??

    Yves - August 15, 2014

    Hi Rich,
    Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. You sure can scan items to reproduce them via 3D printing. This is referred to as ‘3D scanning’ which is the digitization of a physical 3D object to create its digital 3D counterpart. Once digitized, the model can then be further processed before sending it to a 3D printer to re-create a physical copy. You can even buy 3D scanners for home use these days.
    Let us know if you have any further questions.

Jacques Schroeder - September 21, 2014


having visited you today afternoon with my friend Michel, I have been really captivated with what you are able to do and your passion for 3D printing. Now having seen this article assembled for beginners, I am even more curious and interested. Thanks for this very nice article. I will continue to enjoy with the other ones, and why not, start to really envisage going into practice.
Thanks again

    Mich - September 22, 2014

    Hi Jacques,
    Thanks for your much appreciated feedback.
    We hope that our articles will help you get started and then dig further into 3D printing. Who knows, 3D printing may become as big a big a passion for you one day, as it did for us!
    Should you decide to really get started and get yourself a 3D printer, please do not hesitate to contact us, as we do provide help to our readers in choosing their machines on basis of their specific needs.
    Also check back in regularly for new content. If you wish to be updated automatically and want to profit also from exclusive offers and information, feel free to subscribe to our newsletter: http://3dprintingforbeginners.com/newsletter/
    This way, you will always be up to date.
    Should you have any further question, feel free to contact us at: info[at]3dprintingforbeginners.com

Scott - January 9, 2015

Fantastic read! I’ve been intrigued by 3D printing for the last little while and am looking at getting into it. Which low cost home friendly printer would you recommend for a beginner? The price point and build size of the Xyzprinting Da Vinci 1.0 is tempting. What would you guys recommed?

Thanks again and keep it up!

    Yves - January 11, 2015

    Hi Scott,
    Without knowing exactly what it is that you want to achieve with your 3D printer the question of “what 3D printer is right for me” is always a bit difficult to answer. That being said, the Da Vinci would not be my first pick since its print quality is not that great. I’d rather recommend the Printrbot, the Afinia H480 (we have a review coming up) or even the Beethefirst. This may also help in your search for the right 3D printer. Feel free to drop us a note if you have any further questions.

Asphire - April 8, 2015

I am looking for new PLA filaments. I a using a Makerbot Replicator 2 and I am happy with the quality of the filament but it would be nice if the same quality would be available for a more affordable price.
Looking at amazon shows me prices less than half of what makerbot is offering and the filament looks to be the same. Is there any disadvantage of trying a different filament? Can this affect my printer in any bad way? Especially irreversible? As long as I can go back to Makerbot it would be an experiment…

Also I heard about food friendly and flexible filament. Which companies are you recommending?

    Mich - April 8, 2015

    Hi Asphire,

    You are not obliged to actually use Makerbot filament, but using a different brand may void your warranty (please note this actually varies from manufacturer to manufacturer). You need to check what your manufacturer’s indications are regarding filament and then make an assessment whether you are willing to risk this or not.
    Personally, I would NEVER buy a printer which ties me to a single brand filament. First of all, they are charging horrific prices. Second, you will always be bound to their more or less limitative offer. This means that you can never play around with all of those exciting new materials that hit the market nearly every week. Third, it takes them sometimes months or years to launch a new and exciting new filament type. So the choice whether to try another brand of filament will be yours to make.

    However, you CANNOT base your shopping criterion on photos! All filaments look alike and a photo will not tell you any difference. Yes, filament prices sold on Amazon are up to 50% cheaper of what you pay for branded filament. But please do not ONLY consider price as your sole criterion. We here at 3dprintingforbeginners.com have always been supporting QUALITY filament and more often then not, you will have to pay more to get good quality. However, most cheap non-branded filaments will give you more headaches than necessary: your prints fail, as the filament has very weird properties (diameter changes within the spool, not perfectly oval filament resulting in extrusion differences, etc.), there are impurities which may clog your nozzle and so on. And believe me, a permanently clogged nozzle will result in replacing it, which will cost you a lot more then having invested in good filament at the outset. Check out our article on Laywood, a special type of wood filament which may result in burnt carbon staying in your nozzle as well as our recommendations on flushing immediately any residual material.

    As to flexible filaments, you should check out NinjaFlex and FilaFlex filaments. But you need to have an extruder capable of handling this flexible filament.
    InnoFil 3D has developed “food friendly” filaments, as some other manufacturers.
    As to recommeded companies please do refer to our recommended resources page, where we list, among others, all of the best filament manufacturers known to us and whith which we work regularly.

    If you subscribe to our newsletter, you can still secure 5% on all of your orders done at Global FSD, the global filament sample depot.

    Hope that helps.

Tanakit - April 22, 2015


Is it possible that I can use different filament diameter. For example 1.5 mm. instead of 1.75 mm

Thank for making me understand more about feeding system

    Mich - April 28, 2015

    Hi Tanakit,

    Yes, you can use a smaller diameter filament. For example, many printers use 3mm filament, but in reality, it is around 2,85mm or even a bit smaller.
    Your 3D printer’s extruder may need some adjusting, but it should work.

Peter Hopkins - August 12, 2015

Does the filament diameter have any effect on the “resolution” of the parts that can be printed? is smaller better?

    Yves - August 12, 2015

    Hi Peter,
    No, filament diameter does no affect 3D print resolution. The resolution of a 3D print is determind by: 1. the layer thickness you use to slice your 3D model, 2. the print resolution the printer is able to achieve from a mechanical point of view.
    The standard filament sizes are 3mm and 1.75mm. Overall, the market seems to evolve more towards 1.75mm. The 1.75mm may snap a bit easier (which can be a pain if you use more brittle specialty filaments) but has the advantage that the extruder heats up faster (since it needs to melt less material).

Rexfordg - October 16, 2015

What would you say is a good starting 3D printer that I can learn from? This looks like an awesome hobby to go after!

    Mich - October 19, 2015

    Hi Rexfordg,

    Thanks for stopping by. I agree, it is a great hobby, but your question is not an easy one to answer, as it depends completely on the use you want to make of your 3D printer.
    Before getting into 3D printer models, I would like to clarify two things.

    First of all, are you a complete beginner in 3D printing? If that’s the case, I first would recommend that you start with our introduction to 3D printing technology as well as reading some other articles from our beginners corner. Understanding the technology behind the machine is paramount to being able to master it.

    Second, I would like you to know that 3D printing (i) does not allow you to print anything you want (that is a common misconception spread especially by the press – it allows you to do a lot, but the technology has limits) and (ii) 3D printing is not (yet) an out-of-the box technology. Please do not construe this as me wanting to discourage you from learning 3D printing, but I want to stress that there is a lot of misconception and misinformation out there. You will need to learn the functions of a 3D printer, the technology, different methods on how to use it, the materials, as well as tips and tricks. It involves quite some amount of tinkering and a strong will to learn from your failed prints. Everybody can master this, but you have to put in the time and willingness to do so. Again, I do not want to put you off, I just would like you to be able to take your decision to get into 3D printing with a complete transparency as to what awaits you.

    Ok, now we can get to the 3D printer models and what to choose from. You probably checked out already some 3D printers and found out that prices for FDM consumer printers vary between 500-3,000$. Instead of putting all that money up immediately for buying a 3D printer, I normally advise people first to check for a local FabLab, HackerSpace or a TechShop in the region where they live. There you can play a bit around with the machines and there are always friendly and helpful people to assist you.
    If you then decide to get your own 3D printer, I would advise you to not make price your only buying criterion! As many people, you may be tempted to buy a cheap Chinese 3D printer, as their prices are very competitive (500$ or lower). And their functions seem to be the same as those of the expensive models. However, that is not the case and you will end up frustrated with your new acquisition. By the way, I still have to see the first really great 3D printed model coming from such an off the shelf 3D printer. Don’t forget, you get what you pay for.
    One good 3D printer which we could recommend for beginners is the Afinia H480 if you are US based, and which we also have tested in detail. Other 3D printers which are, in my opinion, suited for beginners and with which I have worked are the PrintrBot Metal Simple (also for US based people), the LulzBot Mini (we have a review of this great printer coming very soon) and the BeeTheFirst which are available in the US and the EU. But please do compare their features and specs, the filament types you can print with, etc. Take all this into consideration, together with your intended use of your 3D printer and I am convinced that you will find the model that suits your needs most. Hope that helps.

Ian Wippell - December 9, 2015

Well, I have been tearing my hair out over my new CreatBot 3D printer with models not sticking to print bed. The general concensus was the bed temp for ABS is 45c. Read the CreatBot pdf manual and it stated 90c bed temp and fully enclosed. Performed a new bed leveling with feeler guage and upped the bed temp to 90c and “Wallah” Perfect print out. I had the same problem with PETG plastic. Recomended temps 215c – 220c nozzle and 65c bed temp. Does anyone have other temps I should try for PET plastic filament?

Cuttwood - January 11, 2016

I am using a PLA filament on my makerbot and the temperature is preset to be around 270C but my brother is using the same filament with 190C, do some materials just have a very large range for printing or is my temperature reading wrong.

    Mich - February 3, 2016

    Hi Cuttwood,
    PLA with a preset temperature of 270°C? Are you sure that you have not, by mistake, used the setting for ABS?
    270°C for PLA is extremely unlikely, the 190°C from your brother sound a lot more correct.
    PLA is normally extruded between 190°-220°C, but these values may vary (a bit) depending on your material. 270°C for PLA however are highly unlikely, imho.

Matija Zajsek - February 2, 2016

OMG, this is by far the most comprehensive explanation, although I am still not sure which driver was used in upper pictures.

    Mich - February 2, 2016

    Hi Matija,
    I am happy if our article helped you understanding the technology behind 3D printing.
    However, I do not understand the question regarding the “driver” – what do you mean with “which driver was used”?

Christine - February 4, 2016

Very very instructive. I knew I didn’t know much about 3d printing. Thanks for sharing the knowledge.


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