3D printing was an expensive interest 20 years ago, but with the creation of open source 3D printers and software it has become a relatively inexpensive hobby for someone with a creative spark who is interested in making their 3D model coming to life.
There are many ways to 3D print, ranging from using lasers to super heat powdered synthetic polymer to using arc lights to set layers of resin to create a strong flexible product.
The most common and cost-effective form of 3D printing available is Fused Deposition Modelling, with users ranging from hobbyists to architects and even designers in the automotive industry.
As an educator, this is quite possibly the form of 3D printing that you’ll be teaching in schools to children ranging from lower primary school through High School. Given the right software, access to a 3D printer and a bit of imagination you can create anything, you can even build your own working 3D printer! Click on the link http://www.craftsmanspace.com/free-projects/3d-printers-diy-plans-and-build-instructions.html which has blueprints for a few different models of 3D printers if that is something that you are interested in doing.
Before you get started it is important to get an idea of the different types of 3D printing and what their uses are. You can find a complete breakdown of each method, as well as some of the industries that use them by clicking on the link http://3dprintingfromscratch.com/common/types-of-3d-printers-or-3d-printing-technologies-overview/ or https://all3dp.com/1/types-of-3d-printers-3d-printing-technology/
Now that you have an understanding of each method of 3D printing let’s focus on what you need to get started. Obviously the first thing you’re going to need is a 3D printer, as of 2017 the majority of 3D printers range from $100 to $10’000. Like with any piece of technology, your intended use and budget will determine what type 3D printer you should purchase. For schools a cheap, easy to setup/ use printer with low maintenance and an enclosed frame would be the ideal. PC Mag has done a review of their favourite 3D printers of 2017, they also go into detail about the different types of filament FDM 3D printers use. You can peruse through them here http://au.pcmag.com/printer-reviews/25115/guide/the-best-3d-printers-of-2017.
Okay, you have a 3D printer now but what do you do with it? 3D printing is similar to normal printing in that you need a product to print, however it differs in that you need an actual model to print. How do you get a model you ask? Well there are two ways. You can make your own or you can download a pre-made one and use that. To make your own model you need to find a computer-aided design program, or CAD for short. There are plenty of different programs out there, some paid, some free and some under the creative commons licensing. Each one caters to a different style of 3D printing and some even come with ready to print 3D models.
Some open source CAD programs are:
Some free to use are:
All these CAD programs have instructions and tutorials on how to use them but if need be https://ultimaker.com/en/resources/manuals/software has extensive resources which take you through the whole 3D printing process.
Once you have created your model there may be the need to texture and clean up any print inconsistencies. This is achieved by using a meshing program, which helps you get rid of any unwanted ‘noise’, like duplications or null faces which then gives your final product uniformity. The two most recommended programs are http://www.meshlab.net/ and http://www.meshmixer.com/. Both programs come with measurement analysis of your model to help determine if the final product will be stable and hardy. Think of meshing as the finishing touches on your piece of art, the garnishing on your meal, the icing on your cake.
Now your model is completed and you want to print it, this is where your slicing software comes in. The slicing software takes your model, breaks it down into layers and converts it into instructions that 3D printers are able to understand. It’s important to do this step otherwise the 3D printing won’t know what to do!
Most commercial 3D printers come with their own software to slice your 3D model and convert it into the right format. However these slicing softwares can be quite slow when converting. There are many other open source slicing softwares available with different packages. The most distinguished program on the market at the moment is Slic3r, it comes available with some open source printers otherwise you can find it here http://slic3r.org/. Another notable program is Cura which can find through the Ultimaker website here https://ultimaker.com/en/products/cura-software.
Now you’re ready to print your 3D model!