Using a slicer

In order for a 3D model to become printable you need to translate it into g-code. G-code is a programming language used in machines that are Numerically Controlled. Your printer, as much as you’d like to think otherwise, is not very smart. It doesn’t know which motor is which or that it even has an XYZ axis. The g-code is designed to control each motor individually in a specific sequence using pulses. It is this sequence of commands that forms your 3D print.

To make things easier to process, the aptly named Slicer software takes your 3D model and “slices” it into layers. The total number of layers is determined by the overall height of the model divided by the layer height set in the configuration.

As with a lot of software there are free and paid products available on the market that each have their own pros and cons. If you google 3D printing slicer comparison you will find a lot of videos and websites of people who have already compared these in detail so I wont go into that here. For the purposes of this article I will be using my personal favourite Cura as the basis. Cura is a free slicer provided by Ultimaker.

The standard process which will become second nature to you is as follows:

  1. Load file
    • Typical 3D file types include STL, OBJ, 3MF.
  2. Position appropriately on the print bed
    • Ensure it fits within the defined build space
    • Orientate whilst thinking how it will print, avoid overhangs as best as possible and try to get a good contact with the bed.
  3. Adjust top-level settings based on model requirements
    • The main settings include print speed, infill, layer height and support.
    • Percentage infill can largely affect the overall strength of the final product
  4. Slice
    • This should only take a couple of seconds depending on your computer spec.
    •  A completed slice will show estimated build time and material usage which is useful if you have a limited supply such as a sample.
  5. Check layer view to ensure all aspects of the model are included in the render
    • Reduce to the first layer and slowly work your way upwards.
    • Doing this will show any element of the model that are unsupported or are too thin to print.
  6. Tweak approriate settings and slice again, repeating as necessary
    • Now is the time to adjust the more advanced settings if needed.
    • Repeat the slice after each adjustment to check the impact on the model
    • Its worth considering effects on time vs benefit to print.
  7. Once content, save to file, a memory card or print via USB
    • You can either save it to file or memory card for a standalone print, this prevents any interuptions if the computer crashes. If you have your printer wired up directly via USB you can switch tabs to Monitor at the top of the screen.
    • An alternative option which proves quite popular is to use Octoprint. A control system that requires a Raspbery Pi (and ideally the PiCam) to connect directly to the printer via USB and remote into the Pi via Wifi. Check out the Octoprint website for the full list of features.

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