start working with a 3d printer

The Beginner’s Guide: How to Start 3D Printing

February 23, 2023 - Ellie Poverly

Revolutionized is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn more here.

The ability to create tools, clothes and food from a machine seems like the stuff of science fiction to some, but 3D printing is the future of sustainable and innovative living. Create flowing capes for Halloween costumes or stunning chocolate toppings with ease from the comfort of the home office. Business owners or those looking to start a printing hustle can also learn how to start 3D printing to manufacture high-quality products in record times. 

No matter the path you chose, 3D printing is an amazing innovation that everyone can use for their benefit. 

How Does 3D Printing Work?

There are two types of printing technologies, Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), and resin 3D printing. FDM is far and away the most cost-effective and popular choice for many people, especially hobbyists or small business owners. 

In the FDM process, melted strands of thermoplastics called filaments are layered onto each other on the print bed. The filament strands are incredibly thin, with each print needing hundreds of layers to create a solid object. 

Printing machines are made of different components that all contribute to the overall finished product and the safety of the user:

  • Nozzle and print head: where the filament squeezes out. Moves on axes X, Y and Z to move up, down, left, right, and back to front. 
  • Stepper motors: powers the print head to move on these axes
  • Extruder: either on or inside the print head and pushes the melted filament to the nozzle
  • Print Bed: space for the printed object to take shape through the filament layers. Is usually coated to allow the project to be removed easily when finished
  • Operation Screen: makes adjustments, pauses, or cancels projects 

When working in a cohesive manner, the printer can create a variety of projects.

What Can You Make?

With 3D printing, the possibilities are near endless. Every year, hundreds of people on online marketplaces sell custom-made Halloween costumes like capes, helmets, shields and crowns. They make their children printed doll furniture and action figures, and then gift wrap homemade picture frames to their loved ones. 

In the professional world, businesses are printing surgical instruments and metal pieces for airplanes and cars. Custom, unique shapes for lamps and phone cases are hot off the presses, while pet stores unbox hamster houses and scratching posts. 

Meanwhile, tech enthusiasts are experimenting with every material under the sun. Molded sugar candy masterpieces and swimsuit tops rest on print beds, ready to be enjoyed.

Create, experiment, and enjoy the wonders of 3D printing. 

Finding the Proper Materials

Learning how to start 3D printing with your desired materials is the best first step. Advanced machines can print pizzas and fabrics, but the materials are going to be different than the filaments and metals used for car parts. Conduct research on what materials will be the most cost-effective for the business model or hobby budget at home. 

Here are some popular 3D printing materials that are successful in product creation:

  • Thermoplastics: most common and a great sustainable resource. The ease of heating and cooling means that these projects can be reused over and over, as well as solidify quickly. 
  • Polylactic Acid is a hardy material and fairly easy to use for beginners everywhere
  • Aluminum is a lightweight metal and excellent at insulation
  • Nylon is resistant to many harsh elements and is a sturdy material
  • Flexible filament can form fit to bodies and retain durability when made into clothes

When these materials are not being fed into the printer, they must be stored. However, some of these high-tech materials need more advanced care. Filaments are highly-absorbant and can alter the final product if there is high humidity in their storage unit. UV rays and dust are also something to be wary of, as they can create warps and rough edges. 

Creating a Model

To start 3D printing, you need a model for the machine to follow. Luckily, there are a lot of free or easy-to-use models available online. Buying from experienced artists means that the finished product will likely be high-quality with fewer imperfections or errors. Accuracy of the axis movements is incredibly important and takes some experience to learn. Relying on professionals is a perfect route to learning how to start 3D printing. 

However, for those up for a challenge or a custom build, there are programs to design personal models. Try out free trials for different model-making websites and see which one is the most flexible with the idea and skill level you possess. 

Slicing the Layers

Now that preparation has begun for materials and models, the machine needs to be prepped for a job. Ensure that the printer is correctly set up and ready for its first job. Internal software in the machine called a slicer, divvies up the model into layers to understand how the filing of filaments will begin. The slicer software will create a G-code that includes the specific job instructions.

To prepare for this process, use the operations screen to find the file of the model and make adjustments. The thickness of the layers correlates to the texture of the object. Smaller layers mean a more uniform and smooth feel.

Also, think about the speed of the job. Moving faster means slightly less accuracy. Is this project meant to connect or click into place? If so, aim for a slower print speed to ensure the crucial accuracy of the make. Click the option for “slice,” and the printer will create its G-code. 

Leveling and Loading

Double-check that there is a level surface for the layering to begin by ensuring that the print bed is parallel to the XY print head plane. See the manual or the operating screen to determine if this specific machine has an automatic leveling feature. 

Next, load the filament or desired materials on the filament holder. This process is a little more complicated, with the heating and cooling. Often filament comes on large spools, but if the material is a little more unusual, you may have to seek out other ways of feeding it into the printer. 

Heat the ends of the filament spool to their unique temperature setting and then push them into the extruder. This may take some time until the filament squeezes out of the nozzle in its melted form. Now the print is ready to begin. 

Polishing Up

Once the project has finished printing, there may be slight imperfections in the texturing of the project. For example, small gaps or a “staircase” printing on surfaces may have occurred and needs to be sanded and smoothed out. While this step is not necessary to learn how to start 3D printing, it will ensure the durability and safety of the project. 

Consider completing these steps to have a polished finish:

  • Sanding down residue and sharp edges
  • Carefully removing the support structures that mounted the make onto the print bed
  • Painting with materials that smooth and protect the filament from the elements or wear and tear

Creativity with 3D Printing

The “magic” of 3D printing is everywhere. It’s in the cars that roll down the street and the mugs of steaming coffee you pull from the cupboards every morning. Human life is now intertwined with the innovative creation of materials, and now is the time to learn how to start 3D printing for you or your business opportunities. 

Revolutionized is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn more here.


Ellie Poverly

Ellie Poverly is a science writer specializing in astronomy and environmental science and is the Associate Editor of Revolutionized. Ellie's love of science stems from reading Richard Dawkins books and her favorite science magazine as a child, where she fell in love with the experiments included in each edition

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