Sizes Matter When 3D Printing SketchUp Models

By Aidan Chopra

Every 3D printer has a minimum and maximum size of object it can build. These sizes are usually set by the size of the tool printing the material and by the overall size of the printer. To build something bigger, you have to get creative. To build something smaller, you’ll need a more expensive 3D printer.

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Too small to print

In the SketchUp world, you can design a skyscraper small enough to fit on the head of a pin, but the 3D printer can’t print it. Every 3D printer has a minimum size for what it can build; anything smaller than that won’t be printed.

You’ll see these values listed as Minimum Feature Size and Minimum Wall Thickness. Feature Size and Wall Thickness can turn into stumbling blocks when you’re trying to 3D print a SketchUp model that was constructed at full size and then scaled down.

  • Minimum Wall Thickness tells you how thin a freestanding piece of geometry can be and still be printed. That thickness is typically between 1.0mm and 0.5mm.

  • Minimum Feature Size is the smallest size that a feature can be on the surface of the object that will be printed. It’s typically between 0.7mm and 0.2mm.

Too big to print

The biggest object you can 3D print at one time is set by the printer’s build volume. If your model won’t fit in the Build Volume, you’re going to have to either scale your object down, or print it in parts. The next section talks about how to split up a model so you can print it in parts.

Although the maximum size of any single part is limited by the size of your 3D printer, the size of what you can 3D print is limited only by your creativity and patience. (A man in New Zealand is 3D printing himself an Aston Martin, one 6-inch cube at a time.)

Here are some handy hints for making best use of Build Volume:

  • The Build Volume, or envelope, is given by manufacturers as measurements of X, Y, Z. X and Y are the width and depth of the build surface; Z is the maximum height.

  • It’s helpful to create a representation of your 3D printer’s maximum build volume in your SketchUp model. Make a translucent block representing the maximum build volume and check to see whether your SketchUp model or its components will fit inside that volume.

  • A 3D printer’s build platform is much longer diagonally than it is on any one side. To take advantage of the extra length, rotate long parts so they stay inside the build volume.

  • Printing large objects comes with its own issues and complexities. Large objects are more prone to failure and breakdowns. Make sure you’re comfortable with your 3D printer before you start printing your own sports car.