The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to 3D Printing

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to 3D Printing

As far as hobbies go, first thoughts will consist of sports, adventure or paper crafts. But, as a Western society with access to vast technological advancements, new hobbies inclusive of the 3D printing process have emerged. With endless opportunities to create creatures, ornaments, cogs, toys, plaques, costumes, tools, and anything else you can think of, what’s not to love. 

While 3D printing has – until recently – been a manufacturing and business-only venture, recent expiration of patents for 3D printer process technologies have allowed it to become far more consumer friendly. Meaning, it has earned its right to be given a place here at the hall of ultimate guides from the team at The Hobby Kraze. And, with that, we thought we’d let you in on the wonderful world of printing freedom with the ultimate beginner’s guide to 3D printing. 

Just to cover the bases, this article dives into layers of filament to talk about the history of 3D printing designs, a glossary of jargon and everything you need before pressing ‘send to printer’. Have a look at what’s covered in this ultimate beginner’s guide to 3D printing:

  1. All About the 3D Printing Process Hobby
  2. Why You Should Learn to 3D Print
  3. The Backstory of 3D Printing Designs and Filament
  4. Every Layer of 3D Terminology You Need to Know
  5. The Types of 3D Printer on the Market
  6. All the Tools You’ll Need to Begin
  7. The Beginner’s Guide to 3D printing Step-by-Step Instructions

Before we get started, there’s one thing you should know. 3D printing takes a long time. Sometimes hours, sometimes overnight or for a day. So, in order to thrive in a hobby of 3D printing design, make sure you have the kettle, a Netflix series to binge on and patience. 

Otherwise, you’re set to begin with the hobby that can often be cheaper than other hobbies such as skiing, sailing or photography.

All About the 3D Printing Process Hobby

All About the 3D Printing Process Hobby

Ever since the patents for FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) expired in 2009, the popularity and accessibility for commercial 3D printing has been on a fast rise. With an average machine being on the market for a couple of thousand pounds, they can often be a better choice than a new car. Especially when car-sharing and Uber taxis are still growing trends. 

Not to mention the possibilities. From generating gifts and fixing items to creating a business and making money with 3D print designs. Here’s a list of things we bet you didn’t know can be – and are – 3D printed:

  • Bioengineering 
  • Medical Pills 
  • Dentistry Equipment 
  • Robotic Birds and Aviation
  • Dolls Houses
  • Toy Cars
  • Architecture Models
  • Food
  • Bicycles
  • Car Parts 
  • Costumes
  • Shoes
  • Guns
  • Prosthetics
  • Phone Cases 
  • Stationary
  • Musical Instruments
  • Jewellery
  • Camera Bodies
  • Wallets and Purses
  • Planters
  • Helmets
  • Storage Boxes
  • Furniture

Why You Should Learn to 3D Print

Why You Should Learn to 3D Print

Having a creative hobby is always going to be something that will provide a natural endorphin release. However, if you’re mechanically minded, being able to also incorporate machines, processes, software and seeing something being made from concept to finished piece can be even more rewarding. Especially when there is a specific purpose awaiting the finished piece.

In fact, there have been many capitalists around the world suggesting that 3D printing could bring temporary fixtures to just about anything, including cars. So, next time your bumper falls off and you can’t get booked in at the garage for a month or two, try 3D printing yourself a new one. Maybe invest in some spray paint, too. 

Of course, there are far more benefits of a hobby where you can learn to 3D print. So, the team here at The Hobby Kraze have created a list for you to see what you could be missing out on:

  • Having a hobby can release endorphins
  • Seeing something come to life can be satisfying
  • You can leave the machine to do its work while you watch TV
  • Mathematics and creativity can help prevent Alzheimer’s
  • Create educational objects for kids
  • You can sell your creations
  • After an initial investment it is an affordable hobby
  • You can choose the size of the machine
  • Using filament to create structures can be durable
  • The 3D printing process can be used for anything
  • You can create a business from your 3D printing designs
  • There are online communities where people share 3D printing designs
  • You can create anything you can imagine
  • You’ll improve your software skills
  • It will give you a head start in a growing industry 
  • You can teach others to learn to 3D print
  • It is environmentally friendly to 3D print for repairs instead of buying new
  • You can create unique and meaningful gifts
  • You can 3D print accessories for other hobbies 
  • You’ll be improving your maths skills
  • You’ve got a solution for the missing jigsaw piece
  • You can repair furniture
  • You can begin a 3D printing process of chocolate
  • You don’t have to know code or design as you can use pre-made models
  • You’re reducing the need for worldwide shipping of items

The Backstory of 3D Printing Designs and Filament

The Backstory of 3D Printing Designs and Filament

In a 1950 issue of the Astounding Science Fiction Magazine, a writer named Raymond Jones would speculate a term called ‘molecular spray’. This term, used in the story; “Tools of the Trade”, referenced the spray of a material which would then solidify to create an object. This reference is the first recorded historical idea of 3D printing. 

In 1981, however, the first patent for an ‘XYZ Plotter’ was filed by Hideo Kodama in Japan. This inventor was part of Municipal Industrial Research Institute and was given a grant to create a machine that would fabricate 3D models by exposing layers of thermoset polymer with UV, controlled by a scanning fibre transmitter. Unfortunately, Kodama’s boss was disinterested with this creation and the project was dropped, meaning the patent was cancelled. 

Later on, in 1984, the first 3D printing patent was successfully filed by American entrepreneur Bill Masters. His design was called the Computer Automated Manufacturing Process and System and featured the foundations for modern day 3D printing you and I are familiar with.

As this brief history of a still young technology continued, scientists, computer techs and mechanics from around the world were finding new and innovative ways of using layer-technology to create parts. In fact, most of it occurred in the 80s, meaning the 3D printing process is only around 40 years old. So, there will be many people sharing this beginner’s guide to 3D printing in order to see what the fuss is about and why you should develop a hobby that involves a machine, a computer and filament. 

Here’s some other milestones for 3D printing technology;

  • 1984 – Charles Hull created stereolithography
  • 1986 – A business named 3D Systems was established
  • 1988 – The first commercial 3D printer was produced called SLA-1
  • 1988 – A student named Carl Deckhard introduced Selective Laser Sintering
  • 1989 – Stratasys, the father of 3D technology, was founded
  • 1992 – Stratasys marketed the first FDM machine with Scott Crump
  • 2009 – The patent for the FDM 3D printing process expires
  • 2009 – The first commercially obtainable 3D printer was released in kit form
  • 2014 – Benjamin Cook created the first multi-material 3D printer
  • 2014 – Google invested over $100million USD into Carbon3D

Every Layer of 3D Terminology You Need to Know

Every Layer of 3D Terminology You Need to Know

As this is the beginner’s guide to 3D printing, the team couldn’t let you go on without explaining some of the key terms you’ll come across when you learn to 3D print. There are lots of acronyms and many computer-specific terms that could be considered something else if applied to another hobby. So, it’s always important to know the terms of your trade before you begin to ensure there’s nothing lost in translation. With that, the team here at The Hobby Kraze have got together the ABC’s to help you learn to 3D print.

  • ABS

An acronym for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene is the name of a hard-wearing material made from fossil fuels. A fun fact is that this is the material that LEGO® was made from before their recent switch to a more biodegradable and sustainable plastic. For more information, check out The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to LEGO® Collection. 

ABS filament, along with being non-biodegradable, is a derivative of fossil fuels, difficult to print with and provider of the burning smell. Yet, it is still a popular choice. This is because it is accessible to come by, durable, strong and can be easily sanded. 

  • Axis 

When a machinist refers to the axis, they mean the way the model is built and the way the printer will move. There are three main axes to consider; X, Y and Z. The X axis is the movement of left to right. The Y axis is the movement of forward and backwards. The Z axis is the movement of up and down. You’ll need to refer to these in your 3D modelling software and then you’ll be able to watch your 3D printing designs come to life.

  • Bed

The bed in the 3D printing process is the pallet acting as the base of the project. It’ll often be a metal base so the filament doesn’t stick, and the finished piece can be easily removed. As well as this, there are heated bed variations. The temperature increase of the bed helps to prevent the layered filament to warp while providing slightly better grip before the layers finally cool.

  • CAD

Standing for ‘computer aided design’, it is the act of using a computer and software to aid in the design process of something. And, with 3D printing designs, a model and code need to be inputted into the machine before it knows what to create. So, when you create a model in software such as Blender to be 3D printed, you are using CAD.

  • Carriage

The carriage is a simple part to the machine that carries and holds the extruder. The carriage is moved by special code that is inputted through models using CAD.

  • Extruder

In every 3D printer, there is a part that melts and deposits the filament. Whether you’re working with a liquid or semi-liquid, the layer needs to be extruded onto the bed in order for the product or object to be built. Sometimes, however, the extruder doesn’t deposit the actual material used to grow the object, but emits light or a bonding agent to allow layers of powder to set.

  • Filament

The filament is the most common deposit material used within 3D printing. As with the FDM 3D printing process, the most popular commercial 3D printing designs uses the filament material. It comes on reels and is a thermoplastic substance that is fed through the extruder, heated and melted onto the bed of the 3D printer. 

  • Fill Density

If someone is asking about the fill density of your object, they really want to know what percentage of the model is filled out with your filament or 3D printed material. Often, fill patterns are used to create a fill density percentage. This offers strength to the object and is often required to be at 15%, 20% or 30% by those that model the elements.

  • Fill Pattern

The fill pattern is the way the object is filled with the filament. In 3D print designs, you’ll often see a hexagonal ‘honeycomb’ effect being used to add structural integrity, height, sway and strength to the object, However, other pattern choices include; linear, morroccanstar, catfill, honeycomb, grid, triangular, Hilbert and octa.

  • G-Code

This is the name of a language shared between us and our 3D printers. So, when we take up a hobby in 3D printing designs and we don’t intend to use the pre-made models from sites such as Thingiverse, then you’ll need to brush up on your G-Code. This language is not specific to 3D printing and can be used for other CAD applications. In essence, the G-Code describes every little movement of the extruder and carriage of the 3D printer on singular lines of code.

  • Nozzle

While we may have said that some terms can be mis-understood depending on the context, this is not one of them. Whether it’s a nozzle that fuel comes out of, a piping nozzle that icing comes out of or a 3D printing nozzle that filament is extruded from, a nozzle is a nozzle.

  • PLA

PLA stands for Poly Lactic Acid and is a renewable and biodegradable plastic deriving from sustainable sources such as corn starch or sugarcane. Unlike ABS filament, the extrusion 3D printing process of PLA gives a slightly sweet smell and is easy to use. However, is it slightly more difficult to come by and is prone to clogging the extruder due to its softer nature.

  • RepRap

RepRap is an online community offering an open source for 3D printing. And, one of the most notable aspects to the brand is that it was one of the first universally accessible 3D printing machines available to anyone with a desktop. As well as this, they strive on being able to make more RepRap 3D printing machines by using itself to make the parts. Meaning, it is the first machine that can replicate itself. 

  • Retraction

One of the most common annoyances with 3D printing, aside from warping, can be stringiness of the filament. Sometimes, if the extruder doesn’t retract the material before moving over to the next area, it will leave a trail of stringy filament. So, extruders have a retraction movement to recoil filament and prevent dripping. Some of the less expensive models of 3D printer can be more prone to this. And, PLA is more likely to leave a stringy effect than ABS.

  • Slicer

A slicer is a piece of software that can transform a model in software such as Blender into specific G-Code for your 3D printer to read and understand. You will need to slice your STL file model into G-Code before a 3D printer can do anything.

  • STL File Format

The STL file format is what your model will be in. You can download the STL file format from websites with ready-made models such as Thingiverse. A fun fact is that it is that the meaning behind the acronym is still widely debated. Some believe it stands for Standard Triangle language, others believe it means stereolithography and some find it to mean Standard Tessellation Language. We’ll let you choose.

  • Warping

As this is the ultimate beginner’s guide to 3D printing, this is something you should definitely be prepared for. It is an unwanted yet common effect within the 3D printing process. Even on the most expensive and well-kept 3D printing machines in the industry, warping can occur. When 3D printing designs are in process, they can sometimes curl at the edges which can negatively affect the end product’s usability.

The Types of 3D Printer on the Market

The Types of 3D Printer on the Market

There are four types of 3D printer on the market. And, while some are more popular than others, they each have their own way of perfecting the final product. Some may take filament that needs to be extruded onto a base and others have a liquid resin that is set by using a laser beam. As well as this, you can buy ready-made machines or kits and build your own, which can sometimes be the fun of it.

Here at The Hobby Kraze, we would suggest using an FDM machine when you learn to print but it is still useful to know the other types on the market, too. Let’s have a look at the beginner’s guide to 3D printing’s four types of machine:

1. Digital Light Projector (DLP)

The digital light projector 3D printing process is a method created in 1987 by Texas Instruments. Known for their contributions to calculators and projectors, they use a digital light to cure photo-reactive polymers. The machine has a tank filled with resin as well as a digital light source using the same micro-mirror that can be found in phones. And, wherever the computer is told to shine, the light will harden the resin and create the 3D object through layering the resin. 

Benefits to using a DLP printer would be the fact that an entire layer can be cured at the same time meaning layer inconsistencies are far less likely. It also means that 3D printing designs that would take 4 hours with an SLA printer will only take 30 minutes with a DLP.

Downsides to the DLP would be the size, resolution and finish. As a digital light is needed for this machine, it makes for a bigger body. As well as this, due to the layering of the resin, it can create a rectangular finish that needs to be sanded.  

2. Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM)

Also known as FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication), this is the most popular 3D printing process. It is the technology commonly associated with 3D printing as well as the newly popular 3D printing pens that are great for artists to free hand small designs at a lower cost. The FDM machine uses filament that passes through an extruder and melted onto a base. When it reaches the base, it hardens and creates a durable structure.

There are two common variations to the FDM including the Cartesian and Delta. The standard FDM machine has an extruder sitting on a carriage that moves on the XYZ axes. The Cartesian, however, has a base that moves on the XY axes while a carriage moves on the Z axis. Then, there’s the Delta. This has a circular base, above which is an extruder manipulated by three arms on just the Z axis. 

The benefits of using the FDM 3D printing processes include their accessibility, affordability, small size, scalability, and filament material flexibility. The latter means that if you’re a hobbyist with a keen stomach for food, you can be printing food one day and then printing a new keyring for an Etsy business the next. 

The downsides to having the FDM would be weakened joints owed by extrusion at different times as well as limited detail due to a pre-determined nozzle size. However, these cons can be very negligible for a beginner in the hobby of 3D printing designs. 

3. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

Selective laser sintering is quite like DLP, but not. The basic principles of printing within a tray are present. The way these machines work include using a laser completing a specific code to sinter a powdered material. Then, a smaller roller blade picks up a new layer of power and covers the sintered section. This can then be sintered to create the next layer. So, like the FDM printer and unlike the DLP or SLA, it builds upwards.

This type of 3D printing process is very popular within the industrial setting as it can be used for a range of hardware materials such as: filament, ceramic, glass, nylon, aluminium, steel and silver. 

However, due to the use of these hardwearing materials, they wouldn’t be a great option to learn to 3D print. They require high-powered lasers which can be very expensive to handle. 

4. Stereolithography (SLA)

The final type of 3D printing process is the oldest form, being the foundation for all other 3D printing technologies. And, it’s still in use today. It is much like the DLP 3D printing designs but uses ultraviolet light lasers instead of digitally produced light refracted off a micro-mirror. 

As stereolithography involves curing a liquid resin with a blast of ultraviolet light, it can create an entire surface at once. And, much like DLP printing, will create a smoother base without weak joints. As well as this, it is much more appropriate for smaller and highly detailed objects. So, as a beginner to 3D printing, the team here at The Hobby Kraze has said to use an SLA model as a secondary option. 

However, if this is the avenue you choose, you should know that resin is not as structurally sound as filament, so can often collapse or be unusable for mechanical processes. As well as this, the printing costs and time can be far higher than those associated with an FDM 3D printing process. 

All the Tools You’ll Need to Begin

All the Tools You’ll Need to Begin

Now that you have the jargon revised and you know which type of 3D printing process or machine you’d like to buy; you can build your toolkit. A 3D printer’s ability is made better by their toolkit. 

For example; if you’re an online business needing to create accessories for a car, you’ll need to ensure you have sanding paper and a buffer to perfect the product. So, to help you in your 3D printing adventure, this particular beginner’s guide to 3D printing has created a checklist for you to use:

  • Masking Tape
  • 3D Printer
  • Filament
  • Dust Blower
  • Kapton Tape
  • A Mask
  • Goggles
  • Gloves
  • A Computer
  • Internet Connection
  • Glue Stick
  • Caliper 
  • Ruler
  • CAD Software
  • Tweezers
  • Sanding Paper
  • Buffer
  • Palette Knives
  • X-Acto Blade
  • Cutting Board
  • Pliers
  • Desk Space
  • Screw Drivers
  • Dessicant
  • Permanent Pen
  • Flashlight
  • Dremel
  • Laser Thermometer
  • BuildTak Board
  • Filament Storage Box
  • Hair Spray
  • Nozzle Set
  • Carving Tools
  • Nozzle Cleaning Set
  • Acetone
  • 3D Scanner

The Beginner’s Guide to 3D printing Step-by-Step Instructions

The Beginner’s Guide to 3D printing Step-by-Step Instructions

The final part to this ultimate beginner’s guide to 3D printing is taking you through the step-by-step process you’ll need to follow when you learn to 3D print. However, as we don’t know which type of 3D printer you’ll choose, what materials you’ll use or what your end goal is, it would be hard for us to go into specifics. For example, telling you to load up your extruder with filament when you actually have an SLA 3D printer needing a tank to be filled with resin. 

The first thing to do is complete the checklist exercise above. Then, when you have everything, you can consider what it is you’d like to build. Whether it’s a new pair of earrings, a new handle to your emergency brake or an ornament for Mother’s Day. You’ll need to have an idea of what’s coming out of the machine so you can create the model. 

In order to do this, you can download software such as;

  • Blender
  • Autodesk Maya
  • Natron
  • ZBrush
  • Cinema 4D
  • Modo
  • Rhinoceros 
  • Bforartist
  • Wings 3D
  • SketchUp

But, if you don’t want to have to create a unique model (yet), then you can visit sites such as;

  • Thingiverse
  • Pinshape
  • GrabCAD
  • Cults 3D
  • My Mini Factory
  • You Magine

Using these sites will allow you to download a CAD model directly in the STL file format. Once you have this, you will need another piece of software in order to slice the STL file into G-Code. This way, your 3D printer will be able to read the lines of code and start your 3D printing designs. 

This G-Code slices the model as well as providing the printer with key information to help build the model. For example; print speed, print size, layer thickness, shell thickness, retraction, fill pattern, fill density and more.

Most modern 3D printers will come equipped with the software needed to slice the STL file format into G-Code. But, just in case you’re in need of an external source, here’s a small list of software sources you could used to convert your STL into G-Code;

  • Cura
  • PruseSlicer
  • Netfabb Standard
  • Octoprint
  • Simplify 3D
  • Matter Control
  • Astroprint
  • Z-Suite
  • Self-CAD
  • Pathio
  • CraftWare
  • Repetier

Then, as soon as you’ve sliced your software, you can send it to the printer and watch it go. As 3D printing designs can take a while, The Hobby Kraze team suggest cosying up in front of the TV with a brew and a Netflix series queued up. But, be prepared for any clogging, stringiness or post-print cleaning!


That concludes this ultimate beginner’s guide to 3D printing. Of course, the team here at the Hobby Kraze love to see a job well done. So, if you’re enamoured with your new 3D printing designs hobby, you’ll have to share your latest and greatest creations with our social media team.

Alternatively, if you want to continue on the road of creativity but don’t want the faff of machinery, have a look at our other hobby guides for some past time ideas that will suit you. We have The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Rock Collection and Tumbling, The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Origami, Quilling and Paper Toys, The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Knitting, The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Sewing, The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Scrapbooking and The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Stamp Collection just to name a few.

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.

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