Beyond 3D Printing Basics

I‘m 81% into the biggest printing project to data, which is a marble-run contraption that has an auger in the center to house the marbles back up to the top so the fun never ends. It was designed by someone else, obviously, but I sliced it and am printing the elements of it to assemble and give to my daughter so she (and I) can fave a little fun and see what’s possible.

Thi project is long. It’s going way up the Z-axis too which is cool, and I’m videoing it in time-lapse to see it created in a matter of seconds/minute. The whole print is taking a couple of days, which is expected given the infill, layer-depth, speed, and all the settings that are optimal for the print on the printer I have.

This leads me to what I’m learning about 3D printing. There are many printers out there, of shapes, sizes, costs, degrees of DIY and community, and customer support behind them, which are two vital considerations, I’ve found. You don’t want to get a printer that has no customer support, no community supporting and building with it, not help anywhere, no integration with third-party software(which a biggie when getting started if you aren’t some sort of wizard)

Every single day there’s more and more media, in articles and videos, popping up about what’s best, how-to, and generally trying to help people move along with this hobby. I’m finding there’s getting to be too many cooks in the kitchen, really. But of course, the people that are going to the effort of providing these things are all passionate about the subject, so I’m certainly not faulting them. I’m just observing and here I’d like to sort it all out.

The first thing is that the technology behind 3D printing isn’t changing that rapidly But the features and software behind it are iterating all the time. So there are subtle differences between what was yesterday and tomorrow.

Take what I bought for example. I think I hit a sweet spot, thanks to my patience and resourcefulness. I bought an ANYCUBIC S, which is the next generation of a few other printers before it. Which are good and still being sold. But the price is about the same with some noticeable and important distinctions. And the distinctions between this model are the same between it and others by different manufacturers that are popular in the same target category.

I’ll describe what those differences are in a second. But let me first say that I was worried for a long time after getting all set up by all the articles and videos and fret by other 3D printer users, “experts” as they are,  about settings, bed, leveling, nozzles, adherence, filament types, software and how best to use it therein, tools, and soup to nuts things we should have sleepless nights about.

After absorbing it all and cross-referencing what results I was having and tinkering with a LOT of different things, even taking apart my extruder and rebuilding it and trying different methods of keeping the printing bed clean, which is vital, and so on, here’s what I’ve found, as of today, July 10, 2021.

Patience is a virtue with this hobby. Don’t rush, force or get frustrated when things don’t happen immediately like you “think” they should.

While there are hundreds of printers out there, there are probably 3 within each consideration set to really choose from, as with most things in life. The winners emerge, given time and allowance for competition. When I say “consideration set” I mean whether you’re a solo novice, professional, a parent/child getting into the hobby, a crafter, or whatever the “need” for a printer may be. There are niches that will suit you. And they should be able to grow with your level of knowledge which will also grow pretty fast if you’re really interested in it.

Same with choosing slicing software. There are really only a few options you should really give credence to.

And the same with modeling software. This is where you will be investing a lot of time in learning how to use a very powerful and dynamic set of tools, so you don’t want to get halfway into it, then decide you want to switch to something entirely different. That’s wasteful.

When you buy a printer, usually the most important tools will be included with it, so you don’t have to rush out and worry about finding little odds and ends. That’s nice, but it serves another purpose. And that’s the fact that most of these printers come carefully packaged and shipped from China. Repackaging them and sending them back for repair or maintenance isn’t optimal, to say the least. SO you need to be prepared to fix things yourself, whether that’s hardware or software. That may sound scary to some, but it shouldn’t throw you off. The support behind these machines and the level of ease to work on them has been made to be as rudimental as possible. The engineers behind these things are incredibly efficient and have proven themselves to be considerate and smart.

So while there’s. a load of information available online to help you, likewise, you don’t need to pay attention to 98% of it. Just drill down to the areas that can be most helpful to you your situation, your printer, and your needs and level of comfort and understanding. ‘ve found a lot of the videos and literature are overly simplified. For people that have never used a screwdriver before simple.  And while that may appropriate for some, most people don’t need that kind of hand-holding. I hope.

I’ve provided a list of helpful 3D printing resources on this very website for learning, tools, toys, and more. But I’ll speak to the ANYUBIC MEGA S here, which is what I have, and have been ultimately satisfied with.

Anycubic just released the “S” printer, and they recommend Cura as the slicing software, and as such Ultimaker, the people behind the awesome open-source Cura software, has a set of already defined best settings for the Mega S, so you don’t even have to mess with it.

Learning to use Cura isn’t hard at all, since there are helpful popup tooltips in modals and no lack of help on how to set it in any way you may want it, and save those settings. I’ve watched some pretty long videos going through each individual setting by a helpful but wordy person. Most of the “tips” he provided are just what Cura tells you to do, and when you select the type printer you have, the settings are automatically set for you, which I’ve found to be optimal anyway. Go figure.

And that, I’ve found had eliminated the majority of having to fuss with setting everything “just-so” for this printer. Of course, you need to know how to operate the software and change things like filament type, heat, speed, supports, and fine-tune it. It’s not plug-and-play, and really shouldn’t be for optimal results. And that’s something that draws people like me to the hobby. I like to tinker with things.

You’ll need to learn how to adjust the bed level, for sure. It’s not hard, and there are plenty of resources to help with that.

You’ll need to learn how to operate your printer like a boss. That’s done with reading the manual, trial and error, and seeking help on forums and the manufacturer’s website. The forums for the Mega S are highly populated with very knowledgeable people who are responsive courteous and super-helpful.

I’m keeping my filaments dry by housing them in their bag, in their box, in an airtight tub I got from Target for $6 with Wisedry desiccant I bought off Amazon. I also have a vacuum bag sealer I bought for my kitchen purposes, which is a great item to own if you cook for 1 or 2 people as to not waste food and keep it fresh. It’ll keep your filament fresh as well! Great purchase! As with many things in America these days, there are lots to choose from all over the price and feature matrix. I bought mine for very little and have had excellent results, was given a ton of extra bags, and it’s been great. It’s good for sealing up bags of rice, pasta, breading, and the uses are endless. And it’s so easy. Now 3D printing filament. It’s paid for itself over and over.

pla filament container


And I think this is going to be a great solution, while of course there are $50 boxes PER SPOOL that will keep things dry for you online. Nonsense.

Most of the tools you need for 3D printing are tools you likely already have, or as I pointed out, will be provided in the box your printer came in. Use them. The right tools for the job make ALL the difference. I even printed a caddy to hold all the tools that came with my printer, which I adhered some superstrong magnets to and can just keep attached to the side of my printer. Along with a Swiss Army knife, I have hanging on a hook magnet.

A lot of the “Advice” offered online is common sense.  “Don’t buy cheap filament!” Why would you? PLA filament is cheap already. You should be able to find it for ~$20/1KG, and even “exotic” filaments like silks, metal, wood, iridescent, glow in the dark, etc… aren’t much more. Hopefully, you know how to spot quality and junk. Who’s selling junky filament? Do your homework. Here’s a tip: When starting out, don’t be afraid to buy a few spools of filament and get a good deal. You’re going to tire of only having 1 choice if you’re anything like me. My MEGA S  came with a small amount of white to get things going. But I soon got some glow-in-the-dark green, wood, 3 types of silk/color-changing/rainbow/iridescent type(which is awesome,) red, purple, and I just snagged 4 rolls of yellow, orange, blue, and green for a steal. 4 for the price of 3, 1KG, which made them at about $14.90 each, and I could have gotten them cheaper if I had remembered I had a $2 off coupon. Which I’ll just use later. ka-CHING!

Having a heated bed on the MEGA S has been a great thing. Its predecessors didn’t have such a thing, and I worried about adherence problems from seeing how owners of the Mega series were coping with them, from glue, tape, new beds, mirrors, all sorts of hocus pocus. And I tried a lot of it thinking “maybe this will work better.” When I shouldn’t have been trying to fix something not broken. Everything has been working as-intended.

I leveled my bed twice since the acquisition, and I haven’t had any issues. I wasn’t really having adherence problems, but I started trying using purple glue to kick it up a notch. And when I tried to clean that off, it became a mess. So I cleaned back down to the pristine glass. And just use a light layer of glue on bigger project snow and nothing more. I’ll clean the glass with light soapy water, dry it, and maybe use alcohol to clean that off. That’s given me the best results. Just stick with what the manufacturer recommends and keep it clean. A little purple glue will go a long way, and that should be kept from creating a sloppy bed, at a micro-level.

The MEGA S comes with a spool holder on the side, which may not seem like a big deal but it is. It prevents tangling and bird’s nests of the filament and the operation running smoothly with the printer being fed exactly as it should, and I don’t have to create some contraption to put the filament on or just have it feeding off the table or flow or out of an expensive tub. The humidity monitored tube that allows the filament to be fed from them may be something to look into later for bigger, longer printing jobs, but not now.

Another nice feature is the touchscreen, which at this price point, is amazing. I don’t even know how people interface with their printers before them, and I don’t want to know. It makes matters so much easier to handle, monitor, adjust and use the printer itself. Not all have them, which is crazy.

The MEGA S has the ability to resume if there’s a power issue and it suddenly stops I can resume where it left off. That’s a big deal if you’re printing something that might take days. It’s not often that’s the case, but in ANY case, it’s nice.

A site that I’m finding to be very helpful with on-off topics for the Mega S is this one, which has Affiliate links, though that’s totally fair. It costs you nothing and is just what the author is talking about. You are no under no obligation. I’ve just found him to be credible and knowledgeable about the Mega S, as well as other 3D printing topics.

It’s easy to get carried away too fast, as with many hobbies. When you’re sitting there, watching the printing being done, looking around at what other people are doing, the temptation is to start trying to do what they’re doing. Resist that monkeyish temptation.

I’ve worked with Raspberry Pis before, which supplements this hobby well. But I’m not going to build an Octorprint setup for no good reason. Yet. I don’t need the ability to monitor my 1 printer from elsewhere. If I had a design shop or was making multiple prints with different printers, or going on vacation with the printer running, then possibly. But I have cameras on hand and can craft setups to monitor things if needed. The whole backbone of the 3D thing is innovation, creativity, and the DIY spirit. So buying other products to do what I can fashion makes no sense to me. It’s where you want to draw the line, I guess. I’m still on the fence with this one, and I’m sure will fall over to the Octoprint side before long. I just know myself too well.

There’s also a number of paths to explore with learning G-code and how to tamper with the communication going on between the server and printer. The server being what’s sending the commands to the printer to print. In my case right now, I’m just tethering my Macbook Pro via USB to the printer and printing that way. That’s a short and easy route. I can also do it by saving a file onto an SD card and plugging that into the printer and using the screen to direct the printer. That’s a little easier, maybe, but less helpful should I want to make changes during printing. I even have an old (very powerful) Windows PC I could use as a server. I sold the monitor for it, though. And I could use the Raspberry Pi as one, too, with wireless and Bluetooth capability as well as a camera and other amazing things for a bargain. You have to know what you’re doing in that case, which I do, but that’s from a lot of prior learning I taught myself.

Where I think the best use of my time may be is to learn to use dedicated modeling software, which I’m choosing Blender. There’s Fusion 360, which is owned by Autodesk and a host of others. TinkerCad is another I’m playing with because I think that’s the appropriate road my little daughter would want to begin with. And that isn’t to say is rudimentary or for toddlers. It’s powerful robust and can do anything you want. It just makes things a little easier.

Thingiverse seems to be the top player in finding existing .stl filesready for slicing.Cults 3D has some good free models/.stl files available, but the site itself is slow and sort of weird to me. There are others, too which you’ll certainly come acress. But those are the main hubs for pre-existing models. Make sure you read the author’s notes for updates, tips, help and where the project is. Sometimes the project has been abandoned, and othertimes the files are really that great, or who knows. Somethines there’s a helpful video to accompany it. But checking the notes is a good idea before just downladig, slicing and hitting “print.”

I can’t say enough good things about the after-sales support I’ve received from ANYCUBIC. I’ve been around the block enough times to have my expectations in check and what to know is whose fault and what can be done and what cannot. And as I’ve already said, patience is a virtue with this hobby. The support staff/engineers in China who made my printer have been extra nice, responsive and done whatever they can do to help me. It’s just a shock from a lot of the “customer service” we experience in America, possibly. But at this price point I’ve been getting concierge service, which is impressive enough that I keep mentioning it. It’s something to consider when buying anything, especially something technical that’s coming to you from the other side of the world.

Someting I sense abou tthe little machines is that it’s important to maintain them well. I know from working at Amazon that anything that runs like this 24/7 just gets work down

That about wraps it up for now. This is an ongoing, learning, fun, curiosity-driven exploration, hobby, so every day I’m trying to learn more and have breakthroughs and find out more valuable things than I had and knew the day before. So we’ll see what tomorrow brings. Until then, here’s where I am with this print I’m waiting on:

3D red marble run

Run, marble run! This will have an auger in the center to hoist the balls back up from the center so it never stops. It may be fun to motorize it so it’s like a marble fountain.