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Identifying 3D Printer Software and Machine Calibration

By Kalani Kirk Hausman, Richard Horne

Part of 3D Printing For Dummies Cheat Sheet

The software chain for a RepRap 3D printer begins with the products used to create and prepare the virtual 3D model for printing. However, once an object model has been created or obtained, the model must be processed through several steps before the solid object is created by the RepRap printer:

  • Support: Unlike granular binding systems, fused plastic extruders cannot deposit plastic in mid-air and have it remain there. For overhangs and wide spans, support material must be added to the design and later removed after printing.

  • Raft: Depending on the type of material and build plate used, it may be useful to add a raft or flat printed layer that forms a base on the build plate for your model. As in the case of support, the raft is later removed in finishing the object.

  • Fill: Because additive systems like the RepRap are unaffected by complexity, it is possible to define any solid object as a solid outer shell and an interior space that can be completely solid (100% fill), empty (0% fill) or some midway point in which a regular pattern of thin walls provide support with voids interspersed. The amount of volume that includes plastic is defined as its “Fill” and allows you to produce the same object printout using far less plastic than solid equivalents.

  • Slicing: The virtual model is calculated as a series of layers, with each slice then translated into codes that will direct the printer to move a particular distance while extruding or not and then again, until that layer is done and the z-axis can be moved to the next layer with the process begun again. This code is called “g-code” and many slicers can add support and raft elements automatically, along with an automatic “fill” pattern to reduce the amount of plastic needed for each print.

Once your model has been prepared and sliced, a few final details are handled by the printer control software. Settings for the hot-end and heated build plate will control the melted plastic viscosity and layer adhesion, while the movement rate of the extruder will control the thickness of the extruded material and the rate of the printer’s movement. Additional factors can be adjusted for finer control of each feature.