TUTORIAL 3: 3D Printing

Create and order 3D printed models with confidence. 

3D Printing: Getting Started

Now that you’ve created your 3D model, it’s time to bring it into the physical world through 3D printing. However, there’s more to it than simply hitting print on your computer and hoping for the best. 3D printing has developed into a science and an art form, with careful calculations being made when choosing extruding nozzles, filament or gel mediums, and size of the model.


While there are over a thousand different combinations of materials, and an even larger number of 3D printers out there, there are only a handful of decisions that you as an educator or museum developer need to make.


Guiding Questions:


  • How large do you want your model to be?

    • Some 3D printers and printing materials are limited by the size of the plate they are printed on. Answering this question will help in deciding which materials to print with.

  • How durable does your model need to be?

    • If your model is going to be used as a teaching tool and held frequently, whether by educators or guests themselves, you want a model that will be durable and last for a season or more. However, if you model will live within a case or only be used by educators and those that will treat it as an artifact, then you may be able to use a more fragile or flexible material that provides higher detail.

  • How many do you need printed?

    • Consider what your goal is for your model: will it live at your site or will it be given as a reward or souvenir? For the purposes of this toolkit and your own pocketbook, I suggest keeping your 3D printed models few in quantity and high in quality. Two or three printed models will provide enough coverage and some spares in the case of accidents or breakage. When you’ve mastered 3D modeling and have the budget, you may be able to mass produce them via other methods beyond 3D printing.

  • What is your budget?

    • Budget is a driving factor, especially if you don’t have access to a library 3D printer, university 3D printer, or personal 3D printer. Before contracting out to a larger 3D printing company, be creative and instead see what your community offers. Look to the local library, a high school engineering class, or local university engineering department. If you offer recognition to these groups, chances are you may be able to receive your 3D prints for much less than the larger contractible companies. You may even receive them for free. If you have to go with a larger company, make sure you are clear about your expectations for the final model. Be descriptive and detailed, identifying the size and durability you want your model to have, and even how often you think it will be handled.


Think about these questions in great detail, as they will inevitable drive the development of your 3D printed object.

3D Printing Materials

 The following information outlines the basics of 3D printing materials and processes.

3D printing materials come in three main categories - filament, powder, and resin - with polymers (plastics) and metals as the two main groups.


For the purposes of this toolkit, we will focus on Polymers (plastics) and the two categories they come in: Thermoplastics and Thermoset. Thermoplastics (SLS and FDM) are extruded plastics that often come rolled up on spools and can vary extensively in their color and thickness. Thermosets (SLA and DLP) are resins that allow printers to print extremely detailed, smooth models.


Here you MUST decide how frequently you think the model will be handled.


Thermoplastics: Durable but may lack details

Thermosets: Fragile but can support highly detailed work


3D HUBS provides some wonderful tips:

Rules of Thumb

  • Determine early in the selection process if functionality or visual appearance is the first priority.

  • When more than one processes can produce parts in the same material, the selection process becomes a cost versus properties comparison.

  • For functional polymer parts, prefer thermoplastics (SLS or FDM) over thermosets.

  • For visual appearance and aesthetics, thermosets (SLA/DLP or Material Jetting) are the best option.

  • For metal parts, choose DMLS/SLM for high-performance applications and Binder Jetting for lower cost and larger part size.

For functional parts in metal or plastic, also consider CNC machining.

3D Printing Services

All3D has put together a list of the best 3D printing services for 2019. Their decision was based on several factors, including shipping restrictions, quotes, Materials offered, and Methods provided. If you will be contracting out to a printing service for your models, see the chart below for a sampling of some of All3D top choices. However, for the comprehensive list please visit their website.

Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 11.21.45 PM.pn
Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 11.22.22 PM.pn

Caring for Your 3D Print

Now that you have your model, and it’s the most beautiful model you’ve ever seen, it’s time to make sure it continues to look and function properly.


As guests or educators continue to handle the model, if it’s printed in a light colored materials it may begin to accumulate finger oils and other debris. Just like any other publicly used tool, disinfectants work well as a cleaning substance, and a toothbrush will get into all the nooks and crannies without damaging your model.