For the past 3 years in school I’ve been using a 3D printer with the children. It’s been a wonderful journey and experience, but it’s been really tricky at some points. I’ve decided to put together all of the hints and tips I’ve gathered over those years into one helpful guide. Hope it helps!
My old favourite. It’s a wonder bit of free software that is relatively easy for the kids to pick up. After a few hours of learning the kids can make some pretty cool shapes and models that can be exported and printed. If you pupils are gifted in 3d design, sketchup can also build some really advanced models too, allowing them to flourish. Sign up for the free online version, it’s great!
This one is a great entry level bit of software for a novice to 3d design. It uses simple 3D shapes to create models and is really easy to pick up. This is the software I’ve used with the younger kids as it’s really user friendly. I find with older kids, or higher ability kids, that it’s not very intuitive. They find themselves drawn to the complexity and detail of SketchUp.
BeetleBlocks is really cool! It’s a bit like if you crossed Scratch with Sketchup. You can build and design 3d shapes using scratch like coding blocks. It’s a great way to combine Computing with 3D Printing. This year I made jewellery in year 6 with it, some really great results.
Fusion is great, but I haven’t seen it used in many primary schools. This one is more for the teachers. It’s very very detailed, and requires a huge learning curve, but if you can get your head around it, it’s worth it. Allows for loads of scope, and some really cool demonstration pieces for the kids.
MagicaVoxel is something a little different, but my personal favourite. It’s a voxel based build program, that’s basically like Minecraft for grown ups. My pupils love it at school, and it allows for some really cool and interesting builds. Give a child a box of Lego and they’ll come up with some amazing stuff, give them magicavoxel and a PC and you get the same. Give it a go – it’s a free download!!
I’ve had the opportunity to work with a few different printers over the past few years. All have their positives and negatives, but it’s all about what you want to do with the printer and how much money you’ve got in your budget. Below I’ve listed 4 example printers. They range from super cheap and cheerful to the deluxe models. I’m not affiliated with any of them so please don’t take it as a sales pitch! There are also LOADS of different models to the ones I’ve listed, so make sure you have a good look around online.
This one is the absolute ‘dogs’, and if I could get my hands on one I’d love it. Compare it to a car and it’s a Ferrari. Beautiful quality, excellent builds, and a bucket load of class based resources for you to access. Looked around the internet and £3,354 is about as cheap as I can find it, but I’d say it’s well worth it if you can afford it.
XYZprinting Da Vinci Jr
This is the one I started with in school. They’re a really cool printer, simple and easy to use, with great online support. The casing is very ‘Primary’ too, and the kids are interested in what’s in the box! Having it encased is great too, no little fingers touching the super hot extruder! One downside is the fact that you have to use their own plastic, rather than buying your own online. However, for £295, I think you get a great printer.
Cheap and cheerful, and the one that sits on my workbench at home! Really cool little printer, that has a huge fan base. For only £190 you get a great bit of kit. The printer is solid, and you get really good quality prints. You do have to tinker with the settings to get the most out of it, but there is loads of help online for that. The downside is the build plate isn’t huge, and it’s open to little fingers. An enclosure might be a good idea for a printer like this one.
This one really interests me, and is on my wish list (don’t tell the Mrs!). For £700 you get a fantastic quality printer, but you have to assemble it yourself. For the money, I think it’s an absolute bargain, but I’m not sure this one is for the beginner. Might be worth a look as you develop your maker skills!
- Print bed
- Heated or not heated, that is the question.When the plastic cools quickly on the print bed, it can lead to some contraction and peeling. This is the last thing you want. You want your print to really stick to the bed so it’s solid and stable. A heated bed slows down the cooling and helps with peeling. Really useful, but it does add to the cost. Something to think about when purchasing.
- The nightmare for the 3D printer. Getting your prints to stick! As I said earlier you want you print to stick solid. Getting the plastic to stick at the start is the key to this, and something that still drives me mad sometimes! There are a few different options, and it’s best to tinker and play to see what suits you best. You could try simple blue painters tape, with a little bit of pritt stick. Works well but leaves marking on the bottom of your print. Glass with a quick spray of hairspray is another option too. Makes for a really clean print, but you have to spend a bit of time making sure your extruder is the PERFECT distance from your print bed. My preference is something called BuildTak. Buy it online and the print just stick! It’s the perfect printing surface, the downside is you have to pay for it!!
- This has become one of my most visited sites! It’s a website filled with thousands of 3d models you can download for free. Full of ideas and inspiration for you and your kids. Make sure you give it a look!
- This tip made a huge difference in my success rate. Dust and mess on your bed can really kill your adhesion. Give your print a quick rub with 99% alcohol before every print to ensure it’s clean. The sweat and muck from your hands can be enough to spoil a good print!
- I can guarantee that there will be a Facebook group dedicated to whatever 3d printer you choose. Make sure you join it! It will be full of inspiration, like minded people, and help! If you have a problem with your printer, or just need some advice, it’s the perfect place to go!
- Boring for my last point I know, but so true. You will have so so so so so many failed prints! I have stacks of them! It happens! Make sure you come back to it though and try again. Your children will always remember when they designed a model on the PC, printed it, and took it home. It’s totally worth all of the effort and pain!!