How to make a 3D model for a 3D printer

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3D printing technology is undoubtedly a fascinating innovation that is nowadays more accessible. If you have already bought yourself a 3D printer to join in on the fun, you have made the right call, and you will delight since you can create numerous models as you desire. ​Nevertheless, you may still be uncertain about how to go about making a 3D model using your 3D printer.

Therefore, in this article, you will be taken through the steps you need to follow so a to build yourself a 3D model. Additionally, following these steps will not only make your work easier, but you will also save money and time.

Getting Started Making Your 3D Model

1. Confirm the 3D model is perfect

When creating a 3D model for a static render, you will have a much simpler time building it from lots of separate pieces such as hair. In the past, when using traditional modeling packages such as Autodesk 3Ds Max and Autodesk Maya, you first needed to create the hair of your character as a separate geometry piece.

Additionally, the same applies to the character’s coat buttons as well as other components like weaponry and armor. However, implementing this technique for 3D printing technology does not work unless you later glue together the different parts once you are done the printing.

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If you are creating a simple 3D model, this process is straightforward. Nevertheless, if the 3D model is sophisticated, you will need to set aside lots of hours, especially if the design of the model did not think of 3D printing. Thus, if you have just begun building your model, factor in the topology while working on the project.

2. Hollow your 3D model to reduce the cost

Building a solid 3D model is considerably more expensive in comparison to printing one that is hollow. Many 3D vendors usually price their services based on volume, that is, cubic centimeters. Therefore, you should ensure that the model you are printing is hollow rather than a solid block, and consequently, you will make a substantial saving.

Nevertheless, you will need to change the default setting, which is a solid block, on your 3D printer for it to print a hollow model. This is despite the modeling looking hollow on the 3D program while you are designing it.

3. Eliminating all non-manifold geometry

If you remain focused throughout the entire process of modeling, you will encounter no problem during this step with non-manifold geometry. None-manifold geometry are edges that are shared by over two faces, and this issue arises whenever an edge or face is extruded but fails to be repositioned.

The subsequent outcome is two identical geometry pieces that lie directly over each other, and this consequently makes it confusing for your 3D printer. Thus, due to the non-manifold, the print will not be done correctly.

One of the most common reasons for a non-manifold geometry is if you are extruding a face, and then moving it. Consequently, you decide against this extrusion and try to undo your actions, thereby causing a non-geometry manifold.

Typically, most 3D modeling programs record extrusions as two distinct commands, that is the edge or face repositioning as well as the extrusion action.

For you to reverse an extrusion, you should undo the issued command twice. If you fail to do this, a non-manifold geometry will form, and this is a mistake often experienced if you are still a novice on how to use 3D printing technology.

Whereas this issue is easy to avoid, it usually is invisible hence easy to go undetected, and you should resolve it as soon as you notice it. This is because the longer you take to fix the non-manifold problem, the more difficult it will be to address the issue.

4. Inspect the surface normal

The surface normal, also known as the face normal, is the directional vector that is perpendicular to your 3D model’s surface. Each face has a surface normal, which usually faces outward, away from the surface of the model.

Nevertheless, this is not always the case since, during the process of modeling, the surface normal of the face can be reversed either using a standard modeling tool or by an extrusion accidentally. Once the surface has been reversed, the normal vector points towards the 3D model’s interior rather than away from it.

5. Convert your file as well as other factors

This is the last step, and you first need to confirm that your model is ready in a suitable file format before uploading it to a print service provider. Some of the most common formats available include OBJ, STL, VRML97/2, Collada, as well as X3D. However, it is recommended you first get in touch with your 3D print vendor before you convert the files.

As you can see, standard application formats like .lw, .max as well as .ma are not supported. Therefore, you will need to either convert to STL using a third-party program or export in OBJ format. The 3DS Max supports exporting your file in both the.OBJ and STL format, so it is up to you to decide which of the two you prefer, but you need to consider that OBJ files are relatively more versatile.

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Because every vendor has a different type of file they allow, you should first explore your options before deciding which 3D printer is the perfect pick.


 If you were eager to learn how to make a 3D model for a 3D printer, you now have a better idea of all the steps to follow when creating one. You also know of the possible issues that you might experience during this entire process thus are in an excellent position to know what to do to avoid common mistakes such as non-manifold geometry. 

​Additionally, you also have learned about the several acceptable formats, as well as the importance of first contacting your 3D print vendor. If you adhere to all these steps carefully, you will be able to create a 3D model that is smooth as well as of incredible quality regardless of whether you are a novice or an expert.

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