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What Goes into Good 3D Print Design

It’s true that if you can design it, you can print it — mostly. 3D printing is a precise process that is subject to limits based on the material you are using, the size and shape you are designing and the stress your product will be subjected to.

The last thing you want to do is waste time designing something that can’t be printed. Here are seven considerations to make while you are still in the design phase.

1. Test your design to be sure it is “watertight”

In 3D printing, “watertight” means that the edges within your design properly align and connect. Before you can even begin printing, you have to be positive the mesh can actually be used in 3D printing — no cracks, holes or other missing features that could prevent you from printing a working product. Often times, your design software makes it difficult to make that determination until you are at the print phase. And other times, you download a design that hasn’t yet been tested. Different programs and online services can help you make that determination by identifying edges that are not manifold so that you can correct the problem and print.

2. Be mindful of the angles you are using

Just because you can envision it or see it on your computer screen does not mean the physical printed object can support it. As a rule of thumb, keep overhangs less than 45 degrees. If an overhang exceeds a 45-degree angle, you likely will need to incorporate removable support materials and design them into your project in advance. Keep in mind that the outcome might not be what you originally intended.

3. Be sure your file is usable

The preferred file type depends on the printer you will be using. Be sure you are using an acceptable file type, such as STL or DAE. Likewise make sure you adhere to the design file size limit. Know ahead of time what your limits are so that you don’t waste effort on a file that ultimately cannot be used by your 3D printer.

4. Know the size limits of your printing material

Materials have a maximum build size based on strength and durability. They have minimum volume limits as well. Different building materials can also limit the level of detail and accuracy. Be sure to consult a materials chart before beginning your project so that you are within the scope of what is possible.

5. Be wary of support materials

As noted earlier, support materials can be a way to save your model in the event that it is unable to support itself. However, it’s not always ideal. Designers tend to avoid support materials, as they can leave undesirable markings where they are removed. It is recommended that you test different models that do not use support materials and only rely on them as a last resort.

6. Know the resolution limits of your printer and your materials

Some of your models could have fine details that your printer cannot actually create. The thread width, for example, can prevent you from printing a high-resolution object. To get around some limits, you might consider designs that are in multiple pieces that you would re-assemble after printing.

7. Do a virtual stress test

Unfortunately, you cannot always tell how your end product will stand up against stress. However, you can take steps during the design phase to make sure you are not using angles that will cause your design to simply collapse on itself during printing. One step you can take is to orient your design properly for the printing phase, ensuring that print lines run perpendicular to direction of pressure.

Follow these guidelines to ensure you are using your time wisely during design and to avoid having to go back and make corrections later.