When you buy a 3D printer, you’ll want to add a few more things to the shopping list than just the printer. Oftentimes when individuals and organizations decide to invest in a 3D printer, they don’t realize all the things that go into the 3D printing process. The goal of this article is to introduce you to 25+ 3D printer tools that you should have next to your 3D printer.
For most hobby and mid-range 3D printers, you won’t magically get a perfect print. And, a lot of prep work goes into building, configuring, and calibrating your machine.
This isn’t to scare you out of 3D printing, it’s just to set a more realistic expectation when you get into the field of 3D printing. Plus, if it was super easy, then every consumer would own a 3D printer as they do regular inkjet (2D) printers.
To best prepare you for your 3D printing adventure, I wanted to provide some insight to help you get your printer unboxed, built, set up, and prepped for your first print. It’s annoying when you get 90% of the way through your set up and realize you don’t have a tool or you need to run to the store to get something.
Use this article as a guide. Read it before you receive your printer in the mail. Then, re-read it as you’re buying tools and materials for your workshop.
Lastly, bookmark this page (CTRL-D on Windows or CMD-D on Mac) so that you can reference it as you’re going along.
I wrote this piece so that you can jump around from section to section and find information relevant to the stage and use case you’re at. Feel free to read the article top to bottom or use the Table of Contents to read through the article modularly.
3D Printing Tools
There are a bunch of household tools that come in handy when you have a 3D printer. In this section, we’ll talk about tools you need based on the following use cases:
- Tools for Building/Maintaining a 3D printer;
- Tools You’ll Need to Repair a 3D printer;
- Tools for preparing a 3D printer to print; and,
- Post-Processing 3D printer tools
A lot of these tools can be used across all use-cases, so we won’t repeat these throughout the article. Also, these tools are not mandatory for 3D printing. They’ll just make your experience a lot easier and less frustrating.
Some 3D printers require more TLC than others. If you have an Industrial or Educational 3D printer, then you may not need all of these tools.
However, if you’re working with a mid-grade or 3D printer kit, then you’ll probably want to have most (if not all) of these tools on hand.
Tools for Building & Maintaining a 3D Printer
When you buy a 3D printer kit, you’re asking for a 2-day construction project. This is especially true if you’ve never built a 3D printer before. (If your time is worth the 2-day build time, then spend a bit more and get a fully assembled printer.)
With that said, you’ll need to have a set of household tools, a socket set, vice grips, and a drill. The tools that come with most 3D printer kits are shoddy at best. If you’re assembling an Anet A8, a cordless drill will save your wrists. I like the DEWALT and Milwaukee Drills, but feel free to use whatever you like! Just make sure you charge your battery before you begin the build, and have a few extras ready to go!
Tools to Build a 3D Printer:
Also, make sure you give yourself a nice clean workspace to build on. There are a lot of tiny pieces, so having ample room to work, makes the process a lot smoother.
Tools to Repair a 3D printer
Additionally, once you start using your printer, repairs are inevitable. You may get clogged or leaky nozzles, fried circuit boards, or loose screws. It’s important to check your printer before every print.
If you wait to tighten a screw mid-print, you could mess up the part entirely and have to start all over. Don’t be that person!
Here are some tools you’ll want to have on hand to fix and adjust your 3D printer:
Keep in mind that filament is easy to remove when the nozzle is at temperature. However, I wouldn’t recommend changing the nozzle assembly until after it’s cooled down.
Tools for Prepping a 3D Printer
After you slice your file and before you start a print, it’s a good idea to check the nozzle, build plate, and filament spool. For 3D printer kits, make sure the axis and belts are lubricated well.
You don’t want to start a print if the bed isn’t level or if the nozzle is clogged. It’s a good idea to run a preheat cycle on the nozzle and heat bed (if you have one).
You can use painter’s tape, washable glue sticks, or BuildTak printing surfaces on the heat bed to improve bed adhesion.
I also like to make sure the bed is completely level in all directions. A mini level makes this easy.
Here’s the full list of Tools for 3D Printer Prep:
Once your printer is prepped for printing, send off the print, and monitor the job. After it’s finished, you’re ready for post-processing.
3D Printing Tools for Post-Processing
You have your 3D print, but now what? Sometimes prints are tough to remove from the bed. That’s why it’s nice to have a set of putty knives (regular and angled) to pry parts from the build plate.
After you remove the part, there’s probably a sticky residue left behind. You can use Isopropyl Alcohol or warm soapy water to clean the build plate.
If you used a BuildTak printing surface, you should be able to get a few more prints out of the surface. Just make sure that the surface is smooth and level and not bumpy or rigid.
To finish the part, you can use an X-Acto knife to remove supports or excess material. Another option is to set up a dissolvable filament bath using water and a set of submersible pumps. Then, place the part in the bath and let it work its magic!
Here’s the full list of Post-Processing Tools:
Safety for 3D printers
3D printers are machines. It’s important to keep yourself (and your environment) safe while using a 3D printer. In this section, we’ll give you a list of safety tools that you can use to ensure your printer is safe for use.
Safety Glasses are a must for 3D printing. The last thing you’ll want is filament or debris in your eyes. Get yourself a pair and make sure you wear them. I know a lot of people who buy safety glasses, only to leave them in a drawer. They’re not helping you if they’re not on your face! And, if you’re not sure which glasses to buy, we put together this list.
Safety Upgrades for 3D Printer Kits
If you have a 3D printer kit, then you’ll want to make sure that you install a Power Switch with a Fuse to the power supply. This will detect power faults from the outlet to your printer and blow the fuse instead of melting the input leads on your power supply. Don’t wait to install this. Spend the $20 and add a real power switch. It’s 100% worth it. You can also connect your printer to a surge protector as an added layer of protection.
The next upgrade I recommend doing to the printer is installing MOSFETS to the nozzle and the heat bed. If you’re using a printer from Ultimaker or Makerbot, etc. that isn’t a kit, then you shouldn’t need this upgrade. For kits like the Anet A8, this isn’t configured by default. I’ve melted part of the motherboard, even with a MOSFET installed. So don’t take this safety upgrade lightly.
Smoke Detectors, Baking Soda, Fire Extinguishers, Oh my!
Don’t let this section scare you out of 3D printing. Like with any precaution, you’ll only need these items if there’s a fire. And, if there is a fire, you don’t want to go running around searching for a fire extinguisher or a box of baking soda. It needs to be at arm’s length.
I recommend installing a dedicated smoke detector in your 3D printing area. Also, place a few boxes of baking soda and a fire extinguisher next to your 3D printer. If you like to run 3D printer jobs while working on other things, then having a smoke detector can warn you if things are getting too hot at your 3D printing station.
When selecting a fire extinguisher, make sure it is an ABC or C-Class, which is a dry chemical type. If a small fire starts on your 3D printer (which can and could happen), it will be an electrical fire.
The first thing you’ll want to try to do (if it’s safe enough to do so), is to unplug the printer from the wall. Then, you can pour baking soda over the flames or use your ABC fire extinguisher. DO NOT USE WATER to put out the flames. Here’s a reference on putting out electrical fires.
Use your best judgment if your printer catches on fire. If the printer is engulfed in flames and it’s unsafe, leave the building and call 9-1-1.
Where to set up your 3D Printer
Before you buy your 3D printer, it’s important to figure out where you’re going to put it. 3D printers need adequate space and ventilation. I wouldn’t set up a 3D printer anywhere near where you eat or sleep. Some machines are also loud, so finding a spot that won’t disturb other people is ideal.
I’ve had 3D printers located in various parts of my house. As I’ve moved and adjusted my workspace, I’ve purchased cabinets, workbenches, and tables specifically for my 3D printer.
It’s best to have the printer near where you’re working on projects. However, if you place the printer directly on your desk, you won’t have much room to work. That’s why I recommend purchasing a separate desk, workbench, or cabinet for your printer. That way you won’t be disturbed by the 3D printing process and can have some dedicated space for your computer.
Furthermore, I’d look for sturdy pieces of furniture. The printer will be moving and vibrating while it’s working, so you’ll want to have a piece of furniture that can hold 30-50 lbs plus whatever filament you’ll want to have on hand.
Here are some of the pieces I found when I built my workshop. The first table is what I currently have in my studio.
Cabinets are nice because you can tuck away spools of filament and all of your 3D printing tools. I currently have my FlashForge Adventurer 3 on a table. There’s a shelf underneath so that I can store some components. And I plan on getting a toolbox or cabinet to better organize things soon.
A Brief Word about 3D Printing Filament
There are many materials you can print with. Two of the most common are PLA and ABS. Check with your printer to see which materials are recommended.
If you’re new to 3D printing, I recommend starting with PLA. I’ve been a fan of HatchBox PLA because it runs smoothly, but feel free to experiment with different brands.
PLA is easier to print with than ABS because you don’t need to worry about ambient temperature and curl. ABS can be difficult to get good bed adhesion; however, with experience, a heated bed, and proper bed adhesion, it is doable.
Once you have some experience 3D printing with PLA, then move to ABS.
If your job requires ABS for all prints, then skip the PLA, don’t listen to me (lol), and figure out how to perfect jobs in ABS. There is a learning curve, so don’t expect your first 10 prints to look amazing (sorry).
Some other materials you may want to experiment with are PETG, Nylon, Carbon-Fiber, and PLA-blends (wood, etc.).
Spools of Filament have Shelf Life
Lastly, 3D printer filament has a shelf-life. Once you open a spool from its packaging, plan on using it within 6 months. Do not open spools of filament and just “leave them out.” Moisture and temperature can change the material properties of filament, making it crappy to print with.
Some of the Ultimakers and Makerbots 3D printers have climate-controlled filament chambers. If that’s the case, then feel free to unpack your filament and load it up!
Additionally, if you’re managing lots of filament colors and materials, then it might be worth making an air-tight container to store your filament in. This will preserve the filament and keep the quality better than just leaving it out in the open.
Cool (and Functional) Features for your 3D Printer
Now that you’ve built and set up your 3D printer, it’s time to share a few cool and functional features you can add. If you have a barebones 3D printer kit (like the Anet A8), then I’d highly recommend setting up Wireless Printing.
Rather than connecting the printer via USB to my computer or using an SD card to transfer programs, I could send them directly to the printer via the Raspberry Pi. It is extremely convenient, and a major time-saver.
Services like AstroPrint and OctoPrint have versions that are designed for wireless printing from a Raspberry Pi. Once you have the Raspberry Pi set up, then you can add on a webcam and create a timelapse of your 3D prints.
The best part about 3D printing is once you get started, the possibilities on what you create are endless.
Are you new to 3D printing? What are you planning to print next? Leave a comment below.
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