3D Printing & Imaging
Helpful Tips for the New 3D Printer Owner


If you’re the new owner of a 3D printer, a new world of learning and discovery has just been opened up to you. There are many lessons and new skills you will learn in the coming weeks and months. What follows are a few of the things that I have learned in the past three years of working with such printers.

3D Printing Tips

    • An unleveled build platform will cause many headaches during a print. So you’ll want to monitor this situation closely. You can quickly check the platform by doing the paper test:  use a single sheet of paper to judge the height of your extruder nozzle over the build platform. Set the extruder height at first layer height, then move it to all four corners and the center with the paper between the platform and the extruder. You want to be able to move the paper at all five positions but you also want the tip of the extruder to touch the paper at all five positions.
    • Regularly clean your build platform with rubbing alcohol. The oil from your hands will not allow the object you’re printing to stick to the build platform.
    • When you are printing in ABS plastic, make sure you preheat your build platform to its max temperature as preheating will help prevent edge curling.
Kapton, or "Polyimide," tape use in 3D printing.
Kapton, or “Polyimide,” tape use in 3D printing.
    • When printing in PLA, on unheated build platform, cover your platform with blue painter’s tape. It is cheaper and better than Kapton tape for PLA adhesion.
    • For a heated platform (used for printing in ABS), Kapton tape is best for covering the platform because it can withstand the heating and cooling of the platform better than painter’s tape.
    • Are your prints still not sticking to your Kapton? Or do you have blue painter’s tape covering the building platform? Try using hair spray on it. Many people have tried this solution and have seen increased adhesion between the object and the build platform.
    • When you are printing an object for the first time, do it on the lowest quality setting of the printer. You do not want to find out after hours of printing that the object is 1mm too small!


  • Know the plastic with which you are printing. The two most popular types are ABS and PLA. Each plastic has its own characteristics, like melting temperature and extruding speed.  Make sure your printer’s profile is right for the plastic you are using.


Quick 3DP Glossary

The following are some key terms you need to know.

Raft – A technique used to prevent warping. Instead of directly on the build surface, parts are built on top of a “raft” of material that you remove and dispose of post-print. The raft is larger than the part and so has more adhesion.

A raft being printed on a build platform.
A raft being printed on a build platform.

Support material – For any part of the model where there is an overhang or gap between parts, a support material is laid down (as it would be impossible to print into thin air). The support material is removed once the print has finished, revealing the desired print. This removal can be accomplished by washing, dissolving, or breaking the support material off of the object.

G-Code – The common name for the most widely used computer numerical control (CNC) programming language, which has many implementations. Used mainly in automation, it is part of computer-aided engineering. G-Code is sometimes called G programming language. In fundamental terms, G-Code is a language in which people tell computerized machine tools what to make and how to make it. The “what” and “how” are mostly defined by instructions on where to move, how fast to move, and through what path to move.

STL files – Standard Tessellation Language or Stereo Lithography, STL is a file format native to the CAD software created by 3D Systems.  This file format is supported by many other software packages and is widely used for rapid prototyping and computer-aided manufacturing. STL files describe only the surface geometry of a three dimensional object without any representation of color, texture, or other common CAD model attributes. The STL format specifies both ASCII and binary representations. Binary files are more common, since they are more compact. An STL file describes a raw unstructured triangulated surface by the unit normal and vertices (ordered by the right-hand rule) of the triangles using a three-dimensional Cartesian coordinate system.

If you’re looking for objects to print, check out Thingiverse.com. There, you can search through all of the objects people have uploaded and then download the STL files to your printer.

Good luck and, above all, have fun with your new printer!

Also: Be sure to check out of 3D Printing FAQ on the support pages for our Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing.

2013 MAKE Ultimate Guide To 3D Printing

  • 3D Printers Buyer's Guide — 15 Reviewed
  • Getting Started in 3D
  • Learn the Software Toolchain
  • 3D Design for Beginners
  • 3D Printing without a Printer

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Just Released! 2014 MAKE Ultimate Guide To 3D Printing