We know that modeling for 3D printing can be confusing: in 3D modeling, as in 3D printing, there is no one size fits all approach. We all use different software, print in different materials, and not only use different printers but also different printing technologies. So it’s perfectly normal to feel lost and it can sometimes seem difficult to design a perfect 3D model for 3D printing. That’s why we’ve put together the ultimate list of mistakes to avoid when turning a 3D model into a 3D print.

1. Ignoring Material Guidelines

Each and every printing material is different. Materials can be brittle or strong, flexible or solid, smooth or rough, heavy or light, and so on. This also means that an object should ideally be designed for a specific material. For example, if you know that you want to print your 3D model in Ceramics, there will be specific material-related design recommendations that you need to take into account such as supporting overhanging parts, strengthening elements that are sticking out, rounding off corners, etc.

The choice of your printing material simply pre-determines some of the basic design guidelines that you need to stick to.

3d-printed-steel

Each 3D printing material is different. Make sure to read the design guide for the material of your choice.

Solution: Sticking to the design rules of your material is essential for a successful print. Ideally, you should read the design guides before you start to work on your model. You can find the design guides for all of our materials here. Additionally, you can compare several materials directly on our comparison site. We also encourage you to browse through our shop items (you can set a filter for specific materials there) to get a better understanding of what designs other artists have created in what materials.

2. Ignoring Printing Technology

It’s not only the basic chemical characteristics of our printing materials that are different, but also the technologies that are used for printing each of these materials.

The best example of this is interlocking parts: In materials like ABS, Polyamide, Alumide, or Rubber-like you can print interlocking parts, while in others like Gold, Silver, Bronze, or Resin this is not possible. The reason behind this is not the material itself, but the technology that is used for printing each of these materials.

For ABS we use Fused Deposition Modeling (filament-based) with an extra nozzle and material for support, for Polyamide, Alumide, and Rubberlike we use Laser Sintering (powder-based), for precious metals we use lost wax casting (based on a 3D print in wax and a mold), and for Resin we use Stereolithography (liquid polymer-based).

3d-printing-technologies

There are many different 3D printing technologies. This is Materialise’s stereolithography printer “Mammoth”.

This might sound confusing but the important thing to keep in mind is the following: we cannot assume that Stainless Steel and Silver will have similar requirements simply because they are both metals. They are printed using different technologies and thus some design features will differ. However, materials that use the same technology such as Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Brass (lost wax casting) are more likely to share similar design requirements.

Solution: Once again, our materials website holds all the answers. Checking our material pages before you start designing is always key. Also, keep in mind that with the use of different printers and printing technologies, the maximum printing sizes differ. You can find an overview about these here.

3. Ignoring Wall Thickness

Even though you can find information about the wall thickness in the guidelines that were already mentioned, it’s worth stressing this point again.

Problems linked to wall thickness are by far the most common reasons why some 3D models are not printable. In some cases, wall thickness is too thin. Walls that are too thin make small parts on the model unable to be printed or very fragile and could break off easily. In other cases, walls that are too thick generate too much internal stress and could cause the item to crack or even break.

learn to design for 3d printing: wall thickness

Getting the right wall thickness is crucial for a successful print.

Solution: First, read our general blog post about getting the perfect wall thickness for your 3D model. Then, head over to the design guide for the material of your choice and stick to the values mentioned there.

4. Ignoring File Resolution

Read the design guides? Know your material? Wall thickness ok? Perfect, but now there is another thing to consider: File resolution.

For 3D printing, the most common file format is STL (which stands for standard triangle language), which means that your design will be translated into triangles in a 3D space. Most 3D modeling software has the option to export your designs to an STL file and set the desired resolution. Here’s a visual representation of different file resolutions from extremely high (left) to quite low (right):

learn to design for 3d printing: wall thickness File Resolution STL

Choosing the right resolution for your file is important to ensure a good quality print.

Resolutions that are too low or too high can cause problems:

Low-resolution STL file: It’s important to be aware that a poor-quality export will never allow us to provide you with a good print. Low-resolution means that the triangles in your STL file are big and the surface of your print will not be smooth. It will lead to a somewhat “pixelated” print.

Very high-resolution STL file: A file with a resolution that is too high will make your file too big and sometimes impossible for us to handle. It might also contain an extreme level of detail that the 3D printers simply cannot print. That’s why we ask you to stay below a file size of 100 MB when uploading your model to our website.

Solution: In most 3D modeling software, when exporting a file you will be asked to define the tolerance for the export. This tolerance is defined as the maximum distance between the original shape and the STL mesh you are exporting. We advise choosing 0.01 mm for a good export. Exporting with a tolerance smaller than 0.01 mm does not make sense because the 3D printers cannot print at this level of detail. When exporting with a tolerance larger than 0.01 mm, triangles might become visible in the 3D print. You can read more about this in our blog post about file resolution where we also point out the 40 other 3D files that we support. If your file exceeds 100 MB we can provide an offline quote if you send a zipped file via a file transfer service to contact@i.materialise.com.

5. Ignoring Software Guidelines

Our community uses many different 3D modeling software packages. Some were designed for creating 3D prints, others are mostly used by 3D artists and their designs will require additional editing before they can offer a printable 3D model. For example, applying a wall thickness is automatic in some programs, while you must manually set it in others.

Even if you use a beginner-friendly software that was developed for the sole purpose of 3D Printing (e.g. Tinkercad), you might still have a difficult time creating a hollow model. In this case, free software Meshmixer can help.

learn which 3d modeling software to choose

Different software, different file preparation procedures: Tinkercad (left) and Blender (right).

If you use a software like Blender (used for 3D graphics and animations), SketchUp (popular with architects and scale modelers), or ZBrush (sculpting software for 3D artists), some further file preparation will need to be done. Depending on which software you are using, shells may need to be joined together, models may need to be made watertight, wall thicknesses may need to be applied, and printing sizes may need to be set. Once again, each and every software is different.

Solution: Read the software guidelines for turning a model into a 3D print. If you cannot find them on the official software websites, “google” for tutorials. If you reach the limits of your 3D modeling software, open your 3D model in Meshmixer for some basic 3D printing preparation tools.

Summary: How to 3D Model for Printing

Let’s take a breath. And don’t worry: things sound more difficult than they are. Just make sure to know your software and material of choice well. If you are struggling to learn how to 3D model you can always find a lot of resources and tutorial video online. You can also get in touch with professional 3D designers who will be able to help you via our 3D modeling service.

If you designed a 3D model for printing, why not print it with our online 3D printing service. It’s easy, fast, and efficient. When uploading a model to our website we will double-check your design manually. If there are mistakes or if parts of your object could break, we will inform you about this and tell you what went wrong. If you want to learn some other tricks, visit our blog posts about how to create stunning Multicolor and Silver prints, how to set the perfect wall thickness, and how to choose the right file resolution.

Featured image: Crab 3D Model by Mark Florquin


  • Great tips for new 3d printer users!

  • Joy Briones

    I must agree. This is such a great tip for all those who are into 3D printing. Too, I have other tip for you. If you want to get 3D photos and other graphic designs, you should be visiting https://www.coventos.com. They have images that are even offered for free when you sign up and use the code: joy95.

    You may also want to spread this good news to your friends online.

  • C.

    Great article about what to consider 3d modelling. – Lanner

  • John Smith

    Hello, Good Morning.

    The bolg posted here about 3D printers is really Good. The
    information about <a href="http://www.fineprintaustralia.com/“>Printing Services provided by you with the different Graphical structure made in different software like ZBrush, Blender etc is really informative and creative.
    thank you so much, keep posting the tutorial like this…

  • Uzi Peretz

    Tips for meeting designers? I’m just the idea/$ guy 🙂

  • scott

    When you make a 3d model does it need to be to scale? if I have a ship model i made and its like 400 meters, can I tell the printer to make it 9 inches for instance?

  • Yui

    Hi Scott, thanks for your comment. You can re-scale your 3D model on our website before ordering. But if you desrease the size of your model, the wall thickness decreases in proportion to the size of the model as well. So you might end up with a 3D model whose wall thickness is way too thin to print :/

    To avoid this, you could make a surface model first, rescale it and then make it solid later on. More info on this article: https://i.materialise.com/blog/3d-printing-with-maya-step-by-step-tutorial-on-how-to-turn-your-3d-model-into-a-3d-print

  • Thanks for briefing all the fundamentals here in this post. I had already done some mistakes that caused some serious issues. By the way I have now got to know that how it can be re-worked.

  • HugoBDesigner

    Those are some great tips! But I’ve been trying to know: how could I contact someone to get my questions addressed directly, like an e-mail?

  • Fabian

    sure thing, you can either write in our forum (http://i.materialise.com/forum/) or contact us here: https://i.materialise.com/about/contact

  • smartytrousers

    STL stands for (ST)ereo(L)ithography

  • Fabian

    STL stands for several things. When talking about 3D file formats it stands for standard triangle language, when talking about 3D printing technologies it can stand for stereolithography, however it is more common to call it SLA or SL.

  • smartytrousers

    In that you can see the word when you look at the file type, it can be an and/or as opposed to just putting what’s in the article.

    Especially considering that the definition of stereolithography is a technique or process for creating three-dimensional objects, in
    which a computer-controlled moving laser beam is used to build up the
    required structure, layer by layer, from a liquid polymer that hardens
    on contact with laser light.

  • lol no it doesn’t….STL stands for Standard Tessellation Language.

  • smartytrousers

    You’re really confident about that even though I mentioned adding it as an addendum, not an alternative. I also attached a photograph of an STL (3D) file where it blatantly has my answer as the file type. You didn’t even respond to the person above or to the article that provides even a different answer than your answer. Interesting…

    Reference #1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STL_%28file_format%29
    Reference #2: http://www.fabbers.com/tech/STL_Format

  • Rafał Wołoszyn

    Nice tips. Thanks !

  • Danniel Gery

    Wow, nice information for 3d printers. I think this is one of the most significant information for me. And I am glad reading your article. These mistakes are not negotiable and we keep in mind while designing a 3D Model for 3D Printing. A few months ago, I got the services from “Iannone 3D” who provides best FDM 3D Printing Services (ABS, Nylon, PC, Ultem, etc.) in the New Jersey area.

  • Now that more people are discover the benefits and limitless potential of 3D printing, more and more people are looking to design 3D printable objects. If you don’t know how to design something in 3D, you can simply hire a designer to do the 3D modeling for you. lisit for more details regarding 3d printing services in India http://goo.gl/tSQEVk.

  • Ray Black

    If I stipulate my desired dimensions, and my file is integral without holes, etc., will your staff advise me on probability of successful print and other necessary info for success?

  • Ray Black

    Boo ! stay in the US that’s where this technology began.

  • Fabian

    Hi Ray, thanks for your question!
    Once you place an order both our software and our support engineers will check if your file is 3D printable. If this shouldn’t be the case, we will contact you via email and give you instructions on how the design needs to change.

  • Ray Black

    I will/would submit a file for possible order but first I want to know if you will examine my file, as print worthy, BEFORE I place/make any order. Short of that, what does mean “place an order” ?

  • Fabian

    Hi Ray,
    Thanks for your question again.
    We will examine the file once you put the print(s) in your cart and then check out. If it isn’t printable, we will contact you, cancel the order and you will receive a 100% refund.

  • Ray Black

    I won’t give you diddly squat until after you tell me it is good to print, wtf ru talking about 100% refund of what? ZIP ?

  • Brian Crotty

    One of the tricks I use is that I first verify my print with http://www.3YOURMIND.com. It will analyze the file and verify my file for the specific material and technology.

    Then I can set it to print with i.materialse straight from the platform! Huge time saver (and money saver). Highly recommended.

  • Will

    If you’re new to 3D printing/modeling here is a quick overview on the different parts of 3D models as they related to 3D figurines: http://blog.twindom.com/blog/how-3d-models-are-stored-before-they-become-3d-printed-figurines

  • Clinton Kelly

    Good article. I discovered 3D Builder in Windows 10 yesterday and spent a couple hours tinkering around with it. Very cool, but very confusing. 😛 Hopefully I learn to understand it better with time.

  • Tee Weiin

    In case anybody reads this reply sometime down the road, be aware of
    what i.materialise folks mean by “if it isn’t printable, we will contact
    you”

    Did a print with them last year (2016), was not contacted
    about non-printability. Imagine the shock I got when I saw the printout.
    Broken and warped. Their engineer called when I complained about it and
    I was told the part was too thin at some points to be printed. Was also
    reminded to read the design guidelines.

    So no, your model may not be printable and their engineers will not always check for you. So double check on their guidelines.

  • Rohan Bhargava

    Hello,

    I am a generalist 3d artist. I have 6 years of work experience. I am interested in 3D printing work. I have also experience with 3D Print.If you want any designing service let me know.

  • printers support

    Hi!. This is really great and strightforward information. I am expecting this kind of blogs in future.

  • Xavier Hernandez

    What kind of designs can I upload? Because I can’t seem to upload SolidWorks 2017 file.

  • Anna Podzámska

    Printer-dimensional objects waiting for a great future.
    Print preparation is time-saving and thanks to the high resolution and print quality is able to reproduce not only the vector as well as raster graphics http://www.hvprint.sk. Applying individual layers we can achieve fine-performance printed area, which creates original almost 3D effect.

  • Verum_est_mirabilius_fictionem

    No it doesn’t, either. That is a backronym – it started out as StereoLithograyphy and the acronym has had a few derivations, like the one you stated. Try not being so sanctimonious.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STL_(file_format)

  • You just responded to a post that was over a year old….Go back under rock, troll.

  • Navi Kaur

    How do I create a 3D caricature of the top face of a person and print it on a given material, i.e. glass, plastic or any other material, from a normal 2D photo? What product/printer would I require to buy? Please explain the full process.

  • Because the quality of 3D prints plays an essential role, therefore, you need to check the quality that 3D printing company offers. To know about the quality of 3D prints, do not forget to check the reviews posted by people on the website of the companies you have shortlisted.

  • Deep grips on models nowadays just go to sketch3d or something n just see simple fine models or characters u know and may love

  • Jack B Alberts

    I just discovered how to modify the smoothness on the surface of a cylinder (in TinkerCAD it is by specifying the number of sides). Is there any way to relate the number of sides vs. the cylinder diameter to prevent picking such a high count (for smoothness) that it violates the .01 mm minimum offset rule.