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Setting Up Your Printer! Part 4!

Written By: Anna Lucas

So you’ve decided on and bought your first printer! Congratulations on making such a big decision and making moves to advance your abilities in engineering! I hope you are excited, because the possibilities of your creations are now endless! However, before you can bring those possibilities to life, you need to first set up your printer. In this article, we will be describing the set up process of the Creality Ender 3/Ender 3 Pro. This is because this specific type of 3D printer is the most popular, and in our opinion most versatile and highly recommended option of the printers listed in our previous article. Although a set of instructions are given with the printer, they are very confusing and don’t include the information that you can only learn from seasoned 3D professionals. So, with all that in mind, let’s begin!

1. Assembly process

The assembly process of 3D printing is one of the most tedious parts of the hobby. Although every printer comes with individual directions, they are usually very confusing, and make the assembly process very difficult. So, below I have linked the best assembly videos on youtube for each of the 3D printers that I mentioned in my previous article, to help aid in the ease and speed of the assembly process:

2. Beds, Nozzles, and Filament

After you finish the set up/assembly process for your printer, there are still a few more steps you need to take before you are ready to complete your first print. Every printer comes with a bed, which is the flat plane that your prints will be printed onto. Although the beds that come with printers are acceptable and do the job that needs to get done without causing too many problems, there are upgrades you can make to them to improve your printing experience. Most printers come with beds that are lined with a kind of paper or cardboard overtop of the bed. This is there for aesthetic purposes only, and can be very problematic when printing as these covers can stick to the bottom of your prints, and make your bed unusable. So, it's a good idea to invest in a glass bed for your printer, which can usually be found on your printers brand’s website, or on third-party sellers such as amazon. These beds make your printing experience much easier and more convenient.

The nozzles, or the small brass or copper piece at the end of your extruder, that come with your printers can also be problematic, as they can very easily get clogged and thus reduce your printer to unusable until your find a way to unclog your nozzle, or replace it. This problem with the nozzle occurs much more frequently than any printer may expect, so it’s a good idea to clean your nozzle after every print, and keep a few spares on hand in case you forget.

Finally, filament, or the product that your printer expels to make your prints, is one of the most important parts of your prints. There are hundreds of different kinds of filament you can use for printing, but they can all be grouped into one of two categories, PLA or ABS. It’s a good idea to have a spool of each on hand when printing as they both have different applications depending on what you are printing. PLA (Polylactic Acid) is stronger and stiffer than ABS, but has poor heat-resistance properties meaning PLA is better used as a hobbyist material for things like toys or figures. ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is weaker and less rigid, but also tougher and lighter, making it a better plastic for prototyping applications.

3. Tips and Tricks

Finally, as an amateur printer gains more experience printing, they also gain more skill and insider knowledge to aid them in their prints, and learn tips and tricks to make their prints easier and more successful. Here are some tips and tricks I learned when it comes to printing that have made my life easier.

One, before you begin printing, there are certain things you need to do to set up your printer before it’s able to extrude. One of the most, if not the most, important steps is setting your temperatures and allowing your printer to heat up. Now, every filament will have different temperatures that they perform best at, however these temperatures will not be listed anywhere on the spool, nor the packaging. I made the mistake for the longest time of heating my extruder and my bed to the highest possible temperature for my prints, believing it would allow them to be printed faster. However, this is not the case and will just lead to an increase in printing failures, and an increased likelihood of your prints breaking once finished. So, it's best to look up on the internet the optimum temperature for printing, both for the bed and extruder (as they must be set at different temperatures) in order to have the best printing experience.

Two, make sure you splice your prints before you begin the printing process. Although we quickly covered this in our software article of this mini-course, I just want to stress the importance again of using a splicer such as Cura before you begin the printing process. Splicers are online softwares/tools that help you to see the details of your prints before you begin the printing process itself. These splicers show the exact amount of time they expect your print to take to reach completion, the exact grams of filament it will use to complete, and allows you to change the size of your print to fit your printer if your print is too big. This is important as if you keep your printer in somewhere like a garage, and your print takes enough time that it will begin printing into the night, then knowing this print time is important as if the temperature in your printer’s area drops below a certain point, the bed and extruder will become too cold to be able to print any longer and the print will fail. It’s also helpful to know the amount of filament your print will use, as there is nothing more annoying than thinking you have enough filament to finish a print, and realizing your don’t and thus not being able to finish your print, and having to do it all over again once you get more filament.

Three, clean your printer after every print. It may seem like a no-brainer, but it is very important to clean your printer’s bed, nozzle, and fan after every print. It is important to clean your bed because if there is any leftover filament on the bed, and you begin a new print before you clean it off, then it can mess with the printers sense of dimension, and begin printing your print higher up on your printer than expected, and lead to a failed print. It is important to clean your nozzle because, and mentioned before, they can very easily clog. This is because the nozzle is consistently extruding filament, even when it is cooling down and heating up, and once the nozzle is completely cooled the filament still inside the nozzle will solidify inside of the nozzle, and cause it to clog and thus make your printer unusable until the nozzle is replaced. However, this can be easily avoided by just cleaning your nozzle after your print is finished, and periodically while it is cooling down.

Finally, it is important to clean your fan, which can be found on the backside of your extruder, because the fan is what keeps your extruder from overheating and catching on fire. Because the fan pulls air from its environment into the extruder, and the air has particles of dust and dirt in it, the fan can become clogged. Once it is clogged with said dust/dirt, the fan stops spinning and thus stops cooling down your extruder. Although the extruder is meant to be hot, as it needs to melt the filament, it still needs to be a reasonable temperature to keep from catching fire, which the fan does. And if the fan is out of order, then there is a high chance of said fire occurring. The best way to clean the fan is to simply clear the dust and dirt out of it using a q-tip every 5-10 prints.

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