3D Printing–Part 1–The Basics

Maui Makers seems to be getting a lot of interest lately in 3D printing, so I’m going to post a few short blogs to answer some of the most common questions.

If you’re interested in learning more, come by the Makerspace for a 3D-printing Special Interest Group meeting (to be announced shortly).

What is 3D printing?

Like most technical terms, there is common usage as well as formal standards. The ASTM has defined it as:

3D printing: the fabrication of objects through the deposition of a material using a print head, nozzle, or another printer technology.

DISCUSSION—Term often used synonymously with additive manufacturing; in particular associated with machines that are low end in price and/or overall capability.

ASTM also defines:

material extrusion: an additive manufacturing process in which material is selectively dispensed through a nozzle or orifice.

While there are other ways of 3D printing, the machines we have at the Makerspace use Material Extrusion, this is the kind of 3D printing I’ll be talking about?

How does it work?

I like to describe it as a piece of string on a spool. The string goes into a nozzle, which melts the string. The melted string is kind of like hot glue–it will stick to some things, but the thing it really likes to stick to is itself. 2 motors move the nozzle around lay the string down to form a layer of the object, then another motor moves the nozzle up a layer and repeats, until you have the entire object. This process can be very mesmerizing to watch, and I’ve seen kids and adults entranced by the motion

How does the printer know what to make?

The easiest way to get started is to acquaint yourself with Thingiverse (, which is where people share things they’ve made. It contains a number of fun and useful objects and is a nice way to get an understanding of what you can do with a 3D printer. The only thing you need to watch out for is that Thingiverse also contains files that are intended for laser cutters. With a little experience, you can figure out the difference.

The next step would be to  draw the object on your computer. This sort of design used to be pretty much limited to Engineers (and there are still some high end programs out there for this audience), but with the advent of low cost, do-it-yourself manufacturing technologies, many computer programs are available for free or at low cost. A few examples in the no/low-cost category are: OpenSCAD, TinkerCAD, FreeCAD, SketchUp and Fusion 360. Fusion 360 is interesting at the moment, since it’s a relatively high-end package being offered under a free 1-year startup license for “hobbyists, enthusiasts, makers, and emerging businesses that make less than $100,000 per year”, with the paid version $300/year. Compared with other high-end suites, this is a bargain.

Upcoming 3D Printing Events

In September, Maui Makers will be setting up a Special Interest Group and printing some very low cost e-Nable ( prosthetic hands (like the one shown above) for kids on Maui.

In October, Maui Makers and MEDB will be hosting Fusion 360 training. (Update: Per Autodesk request, Fusion 360 training has been postponed till spring when they will have more people available.  We may do some local group learn-together events.)

Drop a line to if you want info either event.


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