Scott Hanselman

3D Printing is for so much more than just making brightly colored plastic pieces of crap

December 21, '15 Comments [34] Posted in 3D Printing
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Cute, a red Groot...but so what?When you first start learning about 3D Printing you'll usually find yourself looking at a bunch of brightly colored plastic busts. The first 3D printed thing I ever saw was a florescent green Yoda head. First you're like "HOW DID YOU DO THIS?" but quickly you're more like "OK, how many brightly colored plastic pieces of crap do I really need in my life?"

At this point you've likely dismissed 3D Printing as the world of the rich, the insane, or the nerdy, or all three. This is where I was.

I thought a 3D Printer was a $2000 thing, and of course, that's a heck of a lot of money. But I wanted to get into 3D Printing because I'd started to talk to some more advanced folks locally here in Portland and they assured me that it was cheaper than I thought and more useful than I thought. I got a $599 Printrbot Simple Metal from Amazon. You can also get a kit and assemble it yourself for $539 but the assembling is kind of hard work.

Later as I was having so much fun I got a Dremel 3D Printer for $899 also off Amazon and it's been absolutely reliable and super fun. I now consider the Printrbot a great "prosumer" hobbyist printer for folks to tinker with and improve, but the Dremel just prints, and it prints well. I had it printing well within 10 minutes of unboxing it. Both of these printers are great, but the Dremel (in my experience) has required less adjustment.

I've learned three things. They are perhaps obvious to you, but they have been amazing for me and my sons as we learn more about 3D Printing.

Lesson 1 - You can upgrade your 3D Printer

There's a great website called Thingiverse that is filled with models that others have made or remixed. You can join in and just download, or, ideally, create your own models and share. I've used Tinkercad with the kids to create new models.

One of the great jokes in 3D Printing is that people with printers never print anything useful, they just print upgrades to their printers. When you are getting started, this is actually kind of true. I took my PrinterBot and printed a base, a spool holder (figuring out where to safely and reliably hang the spools of plastic filament is a big problem.


The Dremel has a top lid and usually you'll have the filament inside on a special plastic spool holder. However, if you use larger or non-Dremel filaments you'll want a reliable "big spool" solution. There's a "system" at Thingiverse called the "OmniStand" that you can print that will literally replace the internal one. You can also print an OmniStand for the top of the printer (as seen in this picture below) that will let it print off very large spools.


These were small but significant victories. This was a reminder to my sons and I that we could change these devices and make them work how WE wanted, not necessarily how the they were designed.

NOTE: You can also upgrade the Nozzle in your printer. Later I'll talk about "exotic" filaments that can give amazing results but are also more abrasive and can wear out the stock nozzles that come with your printer. I upgraded the nozzle on my Dremel for just $14.99 using this Brass Nozzle from Proto-Pasta and was able to make the swap and get back to printing in about 20 minutes, not counting the feeling of accomplishment.

OK, so you can print things to make your printer work better, cool...what else?

Lesson 2 - There are "exotic" plastic filaments that are game changers

There's a local small business just over the river in Vancouver, Washington called "Proto-Pasta." They a company of just three people that started as a Kickstarter two years ago. They sell "exotic" plastic filaments that have additives and properties that take your prints out of the "bright plastic crap" category and into something more interesting.

They have a filament with added Carbon Fiber that has created some of the smoothest and most amazing prints I've ever made. It doesn't gain strength with this addition, but rather rigidity. They have a Stainless Steel filament that is great for making jewelry or robots or anything that you want to have the heft and feel of steel. They've even got a filament with Iron so your prints can react to magnets.

I've used their High-Temperature filament that starts out clear but you bake it (literally, in your oven) afterwards and it'll shrink slightly and get VERY hard and turn opaque.

More recently I've been trying a filament with added Pine (yes, wood) that not only smells great but looks amazing with wood flecks inside the filament.

I've made dishes, vases, pieces of art for shelves, and geometric shapes for gifts this Christmas. Each one is VERTY different just by changing the filament. It's been more than changing color. These exotics change the texture and weight, and by making small changes in the software you can make them thicker or, in my case, thinner and more translucent.



I hope the folks who get these for Christmas appreciate the work and thought that went into them.

Lesson 3 - You can print parts and then assemble things using bolts, glue, etc.

This one may be obvious, but you don't have to do everything with plastic. My 8 year old and I are slowly making a "T4 Quadcopter" designed by Brendan from New Zealand (a reader of this blog) and this project will require not only lots of printed pieces but assembled pieces. You can super glue, screw, bolt, zip-tie and snap 3D printed parts together. I've been surprised at how string these parts can be when they are combined. This quadcopter will be held together with small metric nuts and bolts and zip-ties as well as some very clever snaps built-in as part of the 3D Printed model.


We are having a blast with this family hobby. We've fixed things around the house, made art, explored material science, thought about geometry, and learned about how software and hardware work together to create something bigger. Are you getting into 3D Printing?

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Also, please do follow my adventures on Instagram at @shanselman!

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Review: Dremel 3D Printer and initial impressions of the HP Sprout

September 9, '15 Comments [11] Posted in 3D Printing | Reviews
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HP Sprout and DremelI've been having a blast with my new hobby - 3D Printing. I've only been printing for about 9 months but my kids and I are having fun which is what matters.

I've been using an HP Sprout PC (full review of the Sprout coming soon) along with a Dremel 3D Printer to build stuff with the boys. The Sprout is interesting not just for it's form-factor and Intel RealSense camera but also its 3D scanning platform. I don't have the platform yet but I have one on order. The idea is that the platform rotates the object to be scanned while the Intel 3D camera gets depth information, along with structured light scanning and a second 14 megapixels camera capturing textures.  I've got a video here showing the scanning of a teapot. The scans are not perfect, but the scans are a great kickstart for a new project. I'll cover the 3D scanner and HP Sprout more in another separate post, but I will say that it's very fast (an i7!) with a great touchscreen AND a projector with touch mat, so it's effectively a multimonitor multitouch two screen system. My wife has been "scanning" bills with it, while my boys have been spending many hour making StopMotion videos with their LEGOs.

Dremel 3D Printer

In this post I want to focus on the Dremel 3D printer. I've used a Printrbot for several months and have been very happy with it. It's definitely a hobbyist/hacker machine. Many people choose to build a Printrbot from a kit, not just to save money, but also to (forgive me) build one's own lightsaber.

The Dremel feels more Consumer, or at least, Prosumer. While the Printrbot required a few hours before I was printing a basic object, with the Dremel I was printing within 15 minutes. No joke. Now, for a non-techie that might be an hour or so, but seriously, I unboxed it, leveled the bed, and pressed Build on the touchscreen.

The Dremel uses PLA and a non-heated bed. There's special Dremel 3D Build Sheets, essentially like "BuildTak," that adhere to the bed. You also should (you don't have to, but it's easier) use Dremel's filament. Why?

Let's unpack a few things here. No heated bed, use their filament, and just PLA. For the pro this might give you initial pause. But let me tell you - the prints are amazing. Here's a close up.

My first @dremel 3d print. Was absolutely perfect and very smooth first try. #GoMakeThings

A photo posted by Scott Hanselman (@shanselman) on

This is the very first print. The filament runs at a much hotter temperature than I'm used to with PLA. They run it at 220C when I use 180C on my Printrbot. In the Dremel Reddit AMA they mentioned that all this is to maintain "it just works" quality, and I can say now after having printed about 40 things with the Dremel and am currently on my 4th Filament roll that it does just work. I have had one iffy print in 40 prints and it's still usable. Their build tape REALLY works, even with large surfaces. I have had no peeling up or warping.

Here's a video of the Dremel in action.

Video of the @dremeltools 3D printer in action. #GoMakeThings

A video posted by Scott Hanselman (@shanselman) on

And here's a pencil holder that turned out great.

Just had a 4 hour 3D Print finish on the @dremel printer. #GoMakeThings

A photo posted by Scott Hanselman (@shanselman) on

My 7 year old and I wanted to see how far we can push this printer so we are currently trying to print a Crossfire 2 Quadcopter. This is a complex print with over a dozen parts in tight tolerances that will be put under stress (assuming we get it to fly) so it seems like a reasonable test.

So far it's coming out nicely and it's huge. The Printrbot Simple Metal is a great printer with a 6"x6"x6" bed but this is where I really appreciate Dremel's 9"x5.9"x5.5" bed size. You can see the quadcopter's legs below. We're printing two in black so we can tell the copter's front from its back.

In this pic you can see the size difference between the Printrbot and the Dremel. The Dremel is like a small microwave. It's enclosed (which is really nice) and maintains its inner temperature nicely during the print which may be why it hasn't needed the heated bed. At 220C and a very warm inner environment I have had no peeling or sticking issues.

A Dremel 3D Printer printing a Quadcopter

The last quirk about the Dremel that was interesting was that you don't get direct access to it from any app and you can't send it gcode (raw instructions). Instead you use their Dremel all to import STLs and then export them to their g3drem format. This concerned me originally, but opening the g3drem file in notepad shows that it's simply gcode with a small thumbnail image prepended in front. This is a nice touch as the Dremel has a small color touchscreen that shows you what you're going to print.

The standard workflow is simply:

  1. Design or download an STL however you like.
  2. Optional: If it needs supports, open in Meshmixer and add supports. Click Send to Printer.
  3. Dremel 3D opens the exported (with supports) STL file. Click Build to save a g3drem to an SD card.
  4. Take the SD card to the Dremel, click Build on the touchscreen and print!

I continue to use both the Printrbot and the Dremel day to day. I've added/upgraded the Printrbot with a heated bed so I can print ABS plastic as well as PLA, but I've turned to the Dremel as my "daily driver" due to its rock solid reliability. I can definitely recommend the Dremel as a good beginner 3D printer for families, classrooms, or hobbyists. While it's not hackable, it's not meant to be. It Just Works and does exactly what it's advertised to do.

I'll blog in the future as our quadcopter build continues!

3D scanning with #SproutByHP. @hp. Really insane.

A video posted by Scott Hanselman (@shanselman) on

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Disclosure of Material Connection: HP sent me this Sprout and Printer in the hope that I would review it on my blog and because I've been talking actively about 3D Printing and Maker Culture. Regardless, I only talk enthusiastically about products or services I would use and think you would find useful. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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3D Printer Shootout - $600 Printrbot vs. $20,000 uPrint SE Plus

February 6, '15 Comments [35] Posted in 3D Printing
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First, let's level set with a disclaimer. I am a smart enough person but a total beginner at 3D printing. I've been 3D printing for about two weeks using a Printrbot Simple Metal from Amazon that I got for US$599. Other than Amazon affiliate links (buy from my links and you buy me tacos!) I don't have ANY relationship with Printrbot or anyone in the 3D Printing space. I'm unaffiliated. This "shootout" is an interesting experience. I'm sure I did something wrong, or perhaps my partner in crime on this experiment, Brandon Potter, missed a step. Who knows? But this is how it went down.

Brandon saw that I was doing some 3D printing and mentioned they had a <$22,000 3D printer at his work and what did I think about doing a comparison? I had been having trouble printing with success, ruining at least 2 out of 3 prints, but recently got my Printrbot dialed in nicely. '

Here's my investment so far both in time and money.

So I'm into it for $722 and my time. I did NOT use a Heated Bed for my Printrbot Simple Metal but I am told it's a great upgrade.

Here's Brandon's company's outlay in his words:

  • uPrint SE Pro Printer and Dissolving Bath – about $22,000
  • 1 Spool of Model Material (Black) – $205.00 (produces 42 cubic inches of printing)
  • 1 Spool of Support Material – $200.00 (42 cubic inches worth)
  • Box of Build Plates – $125.00 for 24 (you need one for each print, so it costs about $5.20/each)
  • Soluble Concentrate – $149.00 for 12 bottles (dissolves support material, aka fancy drain-O)
  • Warranty Support – $2,000/year – because it does break from time to time.
  • Brandon says - Add a little bit of shipping, and for a mere $25K you’re ready to print your very own coffee cup.

We decided to print a coffee cup. I don't plan on drinking from it because who knows if the plastic will leech off, but it seemed like an interesting and common object. As a 3D model it has some nice curves, the handle overhang is a small challenge and it's something we can easily compare.

I printed one on my Printrbot and Brandon printed one on their Stratasys uPrint SE Pro. Then Brandon mailed me his cup and I'm sitting here holding them both in my hands.

Here is a timelapse video of my cup printing. My 0.2mm print took about 7 hours and this video is 90 seconds. I used Octoprint and the Raspberry Pi to create the video.

I downloaded the Coffee Cup model from Thingiverse as an STL 3D model. I ran the STL model through the Microsoft 3D Printing NetFabb online service to make sure the model was watertight. Then I loaded the result directly into Repetier and used Cura to slice the model into individual instructions for the printer. I made one adjustment to the slicing settings, telling it to make a "support structure" when it sees an overhang over 30 degrees. I was concerned about the cup's handle. Other than that one settings change which resulted in the support being added (which is easily pulled off after the print) it was a "printing as is." Brandon's model also used a support structure to print the cup and keep the handle stable so we decided this was pretty typical. He also printed on his pro printer with no changes.

My 3D model with support

Here is a picture of my setup. There's my printer on the right with some stuff I've made and my box of tools/crap on the left. You can see the spool, the printer (the red lipstick looking thing is where the hot plastic comes out), the Raspberry Pi and the tape that I print on. I can print objects up to 6 inches on a side, so a big 6 inch cube. If I paid more money I could get the 10 inch model, but so far for my hobbies I'm happy with that size. I can break things up and assemble them with acetone or bolts if I want to make larger models. One fellow 3D-printed a whole full-sized motorcycle with a small printer and assembled the parts.

My 3D Printing setup with Octoprint and a Printrbot Simple Metal

Here is Brandon's printer. Again, $600 vs. $25000.


By the way, is this a silly comparison? Perhaps. But no more than a Tesla vs. a Challenger Hellcat. Actually, I think my printer is a Geo Metro. But I get great mileage!

Ok, here's the prints. Feel free to click to zoom in to make your decision. Which cup came from which printer?

Coffee Cup 3D Print from a Printrbot Simple Metal on one side and a Stratasys uPrint SE Pro on the otherCoffee Cup 3D Print from a Printrbot Simple Metal on one side and a Stratasys uPrint SE Pro on the other

Coffee Cup 3D Print from a Printrbot Simple Metal on one side and a Stratasys uPrint SE Pro on the otherCoffee Cup 3D Print from a Printrbot Simple Metal on one side and a Stratasys uPrint SE Pro on the other

Here's slightly larger pics. Note I am not/have not moved the cups side to side. Left/right is consistent for this photo series.

Coffee Cup 3D Print from a Printrbot Simple Metal on one side and a Stratasys uPrint SE Pro on the other

Coffee Cup 3D Print from a Printrbot Simple Metal on one side and a Stratasys uPrint SE Pro on the other

Which is which?

The $599 Printrbot Simple Model printing at 0.2mm is on the left. The $20k uPrint SE Plus printing at 0.1mm is on the right.

The uPrint's base was messed up somehow. A bad start perhaps, but unfortunate as it's supposed to just work since Brandon used the one-time-use custom bases that the uPrint comes with. He also used the dissolving bath to take the white support structure off. You can see some of the white still there, perhaps it wasn't in long enough. My print had supports but I just pulled them off with my hands. Of course, if you have an intricate print with small parts that's not always possible. This is a very simple object, to be clear. It's not interlocking gears or something.

Here's the uPrint cup. Brandon said it took 8 hours and 22 minutes.

Coffee Cup 3D Print from a Stratasys uPrint SE Pro

Here's the Printrbot's cup. Note the "Z scar" (an artifact from the printer moving up the Z-Axis) on the print? On my print it ended up by the handle, but on Brandon's it ended up on the side of the cup, marring the print, in my opinion.

Coffee Cup 3D Print from a Printrbot Simple Metal

What's the takeaway? If we assume that I have a totally dialed-in well calibrated super cheap consumer/hobbyist 3D Printer and that Brandon has a $20k professional 3D Printer that's maybe got some calibration issues, they seem very comparable.

However, in real one-time costs my cup cost me 21.02 meters of filament, costing me perhaps $2 maybe a little more if you count the few pieces of tape. For Brandon and his Pro printer, in direct costs, he used $23.62 in model material, $2.06 in support material, and $5.20 build plate, for a total of $30.88 for this cup.

Naysayers will say that this isn't a great model to have chosen. Clearly my little Printrbot Simple Metal can only make things of a certain size, but it's clearly fair to say that it's a surprisingly competent printer when it's calibrated well. Additionally, if I were a 3D modeling shop with a Pro printer, I think I would definitely pick up a few sub-$1000 printers for basic stuff as the big printers may be costing you money. If I was a small business I would really do my homework before buying a pro printer that claims to be problem- and maintenance-free. Go read Brandon Potter's account of his "pro print" and compare notes!

NOTE: This post is intended in no way to talk up Printrbot nor to talk down Stratasys. It's a simple one time anecdote as it happened, using a simple model.

What do you think, Dear Reader?

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Creating exact 3D Models for 3D Printing with JavaScript and OpenJSCAD

February 1, '15 Comments [18] Posted in 3D Printing | Musings
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I have this 3D Printed Spool Holder on the top of my Printrbot Simple Metal 3D Printerl that looks like this:

Printrbot Simple Metal

It works great and fits my RioRand generic PLA Filament spool exactly. However, I went down to Fry's Electronics to get some filament today and all they had was small Makerbot spools. They were cheap, so I got two. When I got home I noticed that the hole in the spool is HUGE. It totally won't fit my spool holder.

This brings us to..

The Three Rules of 3D Printing

  1. All problems in 3D Printing can be solved by 3D Printing something
  2. The only things that 3D Printing people print is stuff to make their 3D printers work better.
  3. See rules 1 and 2.

So, I needed an adapter for my 3D Printer (which I have nearly a week of experience with, so fear me) and opened up to create it. Someone recommended Tinkercad as a great HTML5 website for doing quick designs.


I got lost in this app. I couldn't find a way to make two cylinders and simply center them within each other. You can nudge them around but can't center them against their own centers. I actually found forum posts going back to 2012 with members of the team saying "yes, we need that feature" but couldn't figure it out. It's a lovely app and my kids enjoy it but I feel like if you want absolute precision this may not be the place. Then I realized that perhaps this 3D Model was more of a math problem than a modeling problem.

Now I realize I'm biased, and I am a programmer, but with a small set of digital calipers and the excellent OpenJSCAD documentation I was able to create my adapter in just 10 minutes of hacking and just 7 to 12 lines of JavaScript (depending on how you count).

function main() {
return union(
cylinder({h: 40, r:26, center:true}),
cylinder({h: 40, r:15.5, center:true})
cylinder({start: [0,0,0], end: [0,0,24], r1: 52.5, r2: 26, fn: 50}).translate([0,0,-44]),
cylinder({start: [0,0,0], end: [0,0,24], r1: 32.5, r2: 15.5, fn: 50}).translate([0,0,-44])

From here I downloaded my STL (the 3D description of the object)...


I then ran it through the Microsoft 3D Model Repair Service (a good idea to make sure all your designs are manifold and watertight).


Then into Repetier and sliced into G-Code (instructions to the printer on how to move) and printed it with OctoPrint on my OctoPi.


I'm clearly not a 3D designer or modeler and I apparently don't have the patience for CAD tools that won't let me type in a direct number. I KNOW this should be 31mm in diameter, don't force me to use a mouse to "eyeball it." I was thoroughly impressed with the concept and execution of OpenJSCAD. Of course, OpenJSCAD is a JavaScript implementation of OpenSCAD, the "Programmers Solid 3D CAD Modeler" so I'll be exploring their software and amazing gallery as well! If you're creating anything with regularity that's more mechanical and less organic, OpenJSCAD or OpenSCAD is the way to go, clearly.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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The Basics of 3D Printing in 2015 - from someone with 16 WHOLE HOURS' experience

January 27, '15 Comments [44] Posted in 3D Printing | Musings | Reviews
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Printrbot Simple MetalI bought a 3D printer on Friday, specifically a Printrbot Simple Metal from Amazon for US$599. I did a few days of research, looking at all the consumer models under $1000. Some were enclosed, others not. Some made of wood, some of plastic.

I selected the Printrbot Simple Metal because the reviews consistently said it was physically well made, rock solid, didn't require me to buy filament from the printer manufacturer, and Printrbot offers a number of updates like a heated bed and other attachments. I have the sense that this printer is basic, but flexible and expandable.

I've been using this printer now for basically 16 total hours over a few days, so we'll call it two days. I went through a number of emotions over this last two days an learned a TON, some about the Printrbot Simple Metal specifically, but also about 3D Printing in general.

Here's my 16 hours laid out for you, Dear Reader, so that you might save this time that was stolen from me. ;)

Disclaimer: I know jack squat about 3D Printing. If you're reading this, it's more likely than not that you know little as well. Any mistakes here are my own, but I hope my learning process helps you in your 3D printing journey.

Each hours includes an emotion and a lesson.

Hour 1 - Anticipation

Lesson 1: 3D Printers do not just work out of the box.

It's a hobby, not an appliance. Yet. There's a LOT of art to it, in addition to all this science. There's a million acronyms to remember. Here's the ones I've found useful.

  • PLA Filament - "Polylactic acid (PLA) is a bio-degradable polymer that can be produced from lactic acid, which can be fermented from crops such as maize." It's the basic starter plastic you'll use. It's harder than ABS and melts above 180C.
  • ABS - "Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) is a commonly used thermoplastic as it is lightweight and can both be injection molded and extruded." It melts over 200C and should be used in a ventilated area.
  • JsCad and OpenJSCAD - It's JavaScript for CAD! Lets you design stuff procedurally like a programmer.
  • STL - Standard Tessellation Language. It's the most common format you'll find as you look around for models of things to print.
  • G-Code - RS-274, a numerical control (NC) programming language. It's the "Assembly Code" for your printer. It is ASCII and uses control codes to tell your printer what to do. You'll take STL which is generic 3D and combine it with your specific settings and preferences to create G-Code that is the instructions that will be sent to your 3D printer.

3D Printers are like those cake decorator pipings. The 3D Printer pushes hot, molten plastic through a tiny tube in layers to make a real object just like a cake decorator pushes hot sugar through a piping tube to write Happy Birthday.

3D Printing is like Cake PipingCake Piping is like 3D Printing

Hour 2 - Annoyance

Lesson 2: 3D Printers really need to be calibrated.

The most important thing I've found is the "Z-Stop." Basically, you need to make sure that when your Printer's Head is at X0 Y0 Z0 that you can just barely fit a piece of paper between your extruder nozzle and bed.

The most important part of any print is the first few layers. If you build a good solid base for your 3D print then it will at least have a chance. If something goes wrong in the first few minutes it's not going to get better. Cancel the print before you waste more time.

I also found this list of tips useful: 10 Rules for top notch prints with your Printrbot Simple.

3D Printing Animated Gif

Hour 3 - Frustration

Lesson 3: 3D Printers are persnickety.

They are easily affected by the environment/temperature/your mood/Mercury in Retrograde. Cold garages aren't a great place for 3D printing as cold plastic is hard plastic and that breaks easily.

Temperature control : each filament has an optimum temperature for its extrusion. If you do not know, a value between 190 and 210° Celsius (374°-410° Fahrenheit). Start at 190° C and adjust the temperature according to the behavior of the filament: Shiny, too hot, Dull, not hot enough. Find balance.

Early on, expect only 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 prints to be useful. Fail fast, fail often. When you do have a failed 3D Print, write down your settings and compare it to previous prints.

Have a clear, solid table, find your place to print, and get organized.

Where I 3D print.

Hour 4 - Resentment

Lesson 4: This freaking piece of crap is incapable of producing anything other than a molten pile of crap.

Learn about how there's different kinds of support mechanisms to sit under and support your model. There's Rafts, Skirts, and Brims and they all have different uses.

3D Printing often requires a base

When in doubt, check your 3D Printer's Skirt.

Hour 5 - Disgruntlement

Lesson 5: Documentation for 3D printers is spotty because the tech changes every few months.

Collect links and compare notes. Start small. Don't print something massive (as I tried to, which made me more angry), print something tiny. 10 minutes max, then try again, change a setting. See what happens. There's a "calibration cube" file you can use.

The docs for your printer are useful, but you'll find even better information on Reddit but most of all on YouTube. There's a million great videos showing different techniques. Start by subscribing to Tom's YouTube Channel and go from there.

Hour 6 - Unfulfillment

Lesson 6: The first half-dozen things you print will be parts and improvements to the printer.

You'll wonder why it didn't come with all these things. There's no filament spool, no feet for the printer, no where to mount extra stuff. Fortunately for every problem I've had, there's someone on the Thingiverse 3D website that has had the SAME problem AND designed a part for me to print out.

My first "fix" was to print this small filament guide. A tiny victory, but still unfulfilling.


Hour 7 - Vexed

Lesson 7: Getting the filament to stick to the base will be your primary challenge without a heated bed. Ideas 'solutions' abound.

Whenever you have a problem with your 3D printer you will go and Google with Bing and find others with your problem. The 3D Printing community (in my 16 whole hours in it) is super nice. Everyone wants to help and share.

ASIDE: I LOVE ThingiVerse, it's like Wikipedia for stuff, and it's all Creative Commons. Share and Share Alike. I'm here.

However, when you search for your problem there are one of two things that will happen.

  • You find someone just like you with the same software and same printer and they SOLVED IT AND THEY HAVE THE SOLUTION THERE FOR YOU TO USE.


  • You find someone just like you with the same software and same printer and they NEVER FOUND THE ANSWER AND THIS QUESTON WAS ASKED IN 2009AND YOU WILL ALWAYS BE ALONE.

So. Ya. Be ready.

Hour 8 - Chagrin

Lesson 8: 3D Printing can take HOURS. Like, hours. Many hours. And then halfway through you'll bump it and start over.

But, while you're waiting for things to print, there are some amazing websites to explore, like You can write JavaScript (you know JavaScript!) to describe the things you want to build.

Here's a cool example. Sometimes you'll find JsCad files and you'll want to turn them into STL files, then eventually GCode files to be sent to your printer.

function main() {
return union(
cube({size: 3, center: true}),
sphere({r:2, center: true})
sphere({r: 1.3, center: true}),
cube({size: 2.1, center: true})

Go and explore the relationship between STL and G-Code. Get the basics of G-Code in your brain. Remember typing "ATA" to answer your modem manually? No? Well, you had to do this back in the day, young lady, and it was magic. G-Code is just like typing ATA or ATDT to your modem, except it's instructions for your 3D Printer.

For example, my Printrbot was locking up at the same place during a print. I had no idea why. Rather than accepting the system is a "load a file, print, and pray," I looked at the G-Code and saw it was turning on a Heated Bed. I don't have a Heated Bed. I commented that part out and my print finished. Stuff like that will save you hours.

Hour 9 - Triumph

Lesson 9: Think about your printing area. Consider how your filament will feed into your printer and make a filament holder.

The Printrbot SImple Metal doesn't come with any formal way to feed the filament spool into the printer. I ended up having to move it every few minutes. After a while I used a broomstick and put the spool on it horizontally. Then I got sick of it and printed a Filament Spooler from Thingiverse to put on top of the printer. This was EPIC. This was my "I can do it" moment.

It was rough, and it broke off with just a few layers left, but it WORKED. It fixed a problem I had. Boom. I think this is going to be OK.


Hour 10 - Bitterness

Lesson 10: I didn't notice that all the printing and shaking was literally causing the printer to shake slowly off the desk.

In my last print the piece shook itself off the print bed. 4 hours almost wasted. I was able to use some sandpaper and fix it, but for a few minutes there I was pretty upset. Watch for things like shaking and look for solutions. I printed a set of feet and put rubber bases on them.

Hour 11 - Rage

Lesson 11: Remember what I said about heated beds and stuff sticking to the base?

It hurts even worse when it breaks off and is thrown across the room and you're left with a pile of hot plastic spaghetti. I've decided I want to upgrade to a Heated Bed at this point. This $99 attachment will keep the bottom of the model warmish and pliable so it doesn't warp as it cools. It also helps keep it stuck to the base.

Before this Heated Bed shows up, here's some things you can try to help prevent peeling of your 3D print:

  • Glue Sticks - Get the Purples ones that dry clear. 99 cents.
  • Blue Painters Tape - Required. Don't print directly on the bed. I put my tape lengthwise and I'm sure NOT to over lay them. Make it FLAT.
  • Nail Polish Remover - Smear this over the tape with a cloth. I dunno if it works, and it stinks, but folks swear by it. I'm still testing it myself. Seems to do SOMETHING.

Also consider how thin/thick you're printing. I found that 0.2mm was my default, but for my current setup was hard to keep flat on the non-heated bed. I am having more success with 0.4mm, although the quality is less. There IS a setting that will work for your setup.

Avoid being near a vent or the AC. Cool air being blown inconsistently in a room can affect a print. I like to keep it toasty. Gotta get that Heated Bed soon. Damn these expensive hobbies that make you buy stuff after you just bought stuff.

Hour 12 - Heartened

Lesson 12: Use OctoPrint. It's amazing, it's brilliant, it's everything.

I started using the Repetier software that Printrbot recommends to load up STL files. These 3D models are then "sliced" with your choice of slicer software. The slicer is the thing that takes the 3D concept and makes it a series of G-Code instructions that will be fed to your printer. However my Printrbot would freeze up and I'd have to manually press OK in the Repetier software. I found lots of people with this problem, some fixed it with new USB cables, some never did. For me it came down to deciding NOT to use my Laptop as a print serve for 3 hour prints. If my 3D printer isn't wireless, well, darnit, I'm gonna make it wireless. So...

Hour 13 - Satisfaction

Lesson 13: Hook up a camera to OctoPrint so you can safely leave a print going while you go about your business.

As I read and absorbed, I found lots of references to OctoPrint as something I should explore. However, my Printrbot recommended software called Repetier and I didn't feel like setting up more software to get this thing to print, so I wasted a few hours NOT installing OctoPrint. This was foolish of me. Let me save you some time now. If you're not using OctoPrint you're in for a treat. Take the time.

Turns out since I had a Raspberry Pi and a spare Webcam lying around, this setup only took me 30 minutes. The basic idea is that rather than using your computer as a Print Server, you use a small embedded system. This can make your 3D Printer wireless!

What you do is this:

  • Get a Raspberry Pi B+ or newer and a fast Class 10 SD Card.
  • Optional: A cheap wireless USB dongle. I got this Edimax and it works great. Got two actually just in case.
  • A 1A or greater micro USB power supply. I used a Samsung phone power supply.
  • A USB keyboard (not wireless) temporarily.
  • A Logitech or Microsoft USB Camera.
  • Use Win32DiskImager and install OctoPi to the SD Card. Boot off the Pi, expand the partition to fill, optionally setup the WiFi on the PI, and you're set.

This little Raspberry Pi is now running my 3D Printer. Watch this wonderful YouTube by Tom who explains setting up OctoPrint on a Raspberry Pi better than I.


I hit http://octoprint.local and BEHOLD. I've got a nice bootstrapped website where I can see and control all aspects of my 3D Printer AND see the print via either my USB Webcam or a Raspberry Pi Camera.

OctoPrint is glorious

Now I can use my iPhone or Tablet to watch my print and shut it down if something goes around. No more babysitting!

Even better, you can setup OctoPrint to create cool Time-lapse videos of your 3D prints.

Hour 14 - Reassurance

Lesson 14: Maybe it will be OK. Why was I so angry early on?

I need to chill and 3D print some stuff. After a while things are starting to make sense. I'm still an unranked amateur but I'm one who can write this giant blog post, so I musta learned something.

I also learned that Ii t turns out that Windows 8.1 has support for 3D Printers built in. I didn't have to install any drivers, one was already on my machine. There's also a 3D Builder app in the Windows Store.

Here's the apps I've been trying and using:

  • 3D Builder - Can model, slice, and print.
  • Autodesk 123D Design - Free and for Windows, Mac, and iPad. Stores your designs in their cloud. NOTE: This has been deprecated but there are copies archived online.
  • TinkerCad - A great online service from Autodesk that lets you do design in your browser!
  • Repetier - Loads STL files and can launch a Slicer to make G-Code, then send the instructions to your printer.
  • Cura - A very well-thought-of slicer. You should explorer different slicers as you gain experience. These slicers have different algorithms, and some are smarter with different kinds of shapes. Some are focused on reducing "travel" (how far the print head moves) or minimizing your use of filament. Others are great at setting up "supports" for when you have a piece floating in mid-air, as I do in the pic below. That side bit will need a small temporary support to hold it up. I'll remove it later.
  • OctoPrint - YES. DO IT. It's the best app to manage your G-Code and your printer. Model with whatever you want, but print with OctoPrint.
  • Tinkercad - Do your 3D modeling all in the browser. Great for kids.

Also check out Jon Gallant's blog as he's on a quest for the perfect 3D Model Software. Here's his list so far:

Here I'm working on a holster for my Dyson Handheld Vacuum. I have a DC56 though, and this is a DC34. It's close...but, not quite.

3D Builder

Hour 15 - Encouragement

Lesson 15: In which I take a JsCad into a STL then into G-Code and successfully 3D print.

I made a Dyson Holster. I AM POWER.I want a holster for my Dyson Vacuum so I found this DC34 Wall Charger holster/holder. In this comments of this other model on Thingiverse, I saw someone modify the JsCad for the design to add a little room for the DC56 over the DC34. However, it was in this JsCad format.

  1. It took me a second but I realized I just needed to take the original JsCad file (remember this is JavaScript that expresses a 3D design), open it in Notepad, and change the parameters with the new measurements.
  2. Then I ran my new file through the OpenJsCad parser online.
  3. I took the resulting STL file and loaded it into Repetier and sliced it with Cura. This made a G-Code file that's MY custom instructions with my preferences.
  4. I then loaded the G-Code into OctoPrint and printed.

Here it is. Now I'll mount it to the wall and check that off my Bucket List. What should I print next?

Hour 16 - Power

Lesson 16: You can do this. I can do this.

It will take days, perhaps weeks, but you'll have a satisfying new hobby that will make you more powerful than before.

OK, so I can't just print all the free LEGO I want whenever I want. (I would never do that, I respect the LEGO Group too much.) I mean, I can't just make stuff on-demand. Yet. But I can solve some small problems and I am learning. I'm getting better. Each print teaches me something. I'm MAKING physical stuff with Software. This must be what Woodworkers and proper Handypeople feel like.


  • Is 3D Printing ready like Inkjet and Laser Printers are ready? Nope.
  • Is 3D Printing ready like Microwaves are ready? Nope.
  • Is this Plug and Print? You'll need a few hours, days, weeks. Hopefully I've saved you some time or at least helped you decide if you want in.

But I bet in 3 to 5 years I'll be able to buy a solid enclosed reliable prosumer 3D printer for $599 from Office Depot, bring it home and have it just work. I'm stoked and I am happy with my Printrbot Simple Metal even if I don't get any further than I have after these last 16 hours.

What do YOU think?

* These are Amazon referral links. I use the few bucks I get if you buy stuff from Amazon to buy 3D Printer Filament! ;) Click click!

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.