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Advice, Design, Resources: 3D Printing Experts Are Here For You

Working with experts who have decades of experience working every day with 3D printing can be your entry point into a whole new world of making.

So how can 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, be useful for you? Let’s take a look at some of the most common questions people have about 3D printing and how our 3D printing experts can help.

What is 3D printing?

These technologies build a part up out of material, typically a polymer (plastic) or metal, but also ceramic, paste, or even exotic material like bio-based gels. Because the part is built up, it’s called “additive manufacturing” — as opposed to subtractive techniques like milling or cutting that remove material from a solid block of material to create a design, or molding or casting that use molds to form materials to preset shapes.

You can learn more about 3D printing in a brief history here and find a more complete background on the technologies involved in our comprehensive guide to additive manufacturing here.

Which technology is the right fit?

3D printing isn’t just one thing. Standards organization ASTM recognizes seven 3D printing processes as the most common forms of this technology suite. These include:

  • Material extrusion
  • Material jetting
  • Binder jetting
  • Sheet lamination
  • Vat photopolymerization
  • Powder bed fusion
  • Directed energy deposition

Each of these processes has its own parameters for best-fit applications. When you need something small and detailed, like jewelry or dental apparatus, for example, stereolithography (SLA, a vat photopolymerization technology) is often the best fit. For fixing a metal part, directed energy deposition (DED) would help build onto an existing structure. Making a prototype of a new pump part might be well-suited for selective laser sintering (SLS, a powder bed fusion process).

How do you decide which technology to use? A first step would be to talk to our experts to walk through what you need to make and what it needs to do. From there, we can help you find the right fit.

Which material should I 3D print in?

A variety of 3D printed models

Plastic or metal? Final part or rough prototype? There are a lot of considerations when it comes to which 3D printing material to select.

Fortunately, Shapeways has you covered! We offer more than 75 different 3D printing materials that work with our 10+ 3D printing technologies.

Shapeways offers a large variety of polymer materials, like Nylon 12 (Versatile Plastic), which meets needs from prototyping to finished product, and Fine Detail Plastic, an acrylic material capable of extremely high detail. 3D printed stainless steel or aluminum offer the geometrical freedom to design in familiar metals, while lost-wax casting expands offerings to precious metals like platinum, gold, and more using 3D printed wax molds.

Should I choose polished or natural? What’s the difference?

Once you’ve narrowed your material selection down, the final choice still hinges on a few factors — like finish.

Sometimes, look and feel are just as important as function. When you need that “final look” look, choosing a sleeker polished finish might make all the difference. A more natural look will be a bit rougher, but sometimes that texturing also makes a 3D printed part fit into a different aesthetic. Our experts can help guide you in your selection.

Is my model too big?

The print bed of a 3D printer is of a finite size, and that size varies between different 3D printers and even more so between different 3D printing processes. Sometimes a design might be simply too large to be 3D printed in a single part. In that case, a model can be broken up into smaller parts that can then be assembled.

The design guidelines available on each Shapeways 3D printing material’s information page highlight the appropriate sizing possible, such as by considering the bounding box. The bounding box is a 3D imaginary outline of a box that encloses the smallest area occupied by your model. Your model must be within the minimum and maximum bounding box sizes. If the size of the model is close to the maximum bounding box, then the printing orientation will be restricted.

No matter what size your final product will be, our team of 3D printing engineers can help you prepare your files accordingly.

Will my 3D print warp/fade/break?

When you’re paying for a production service, of course you want reassurance that your parts will survive the real world. Environmental conditions may impact 3D printed parts in undesirable ways, but knowing what your parts will be subject to can help you make the best decision ahead of time to make sure they’ll stand up to everything they’ll experience. For example, you wouldn’t want to make a window planter out of a plastic material with a relatively low melting point, as constant UV exposure from the sun may warm it too much to hold its shape. A part that will be subjected to outside forces — think arms on a pair of tweezers — will also need to be strong enough to endure those forces without breaking.

Picking the right material and color for how your part will actually be used will ensure that it will be ready for that use once it gets to you. Our team of experts are familiar with the properties of every 3D printing material we offer and can help guide you to make the best choice.

How do I work with a designer?

If you need help designing a part, we’re here for you. You can simply reach out to Zverse, our design partner, for expert guidance.

Through our partnership with ZVerse, every customer has access to expert 3D Design solutions for any project need. ZVerse’s CAD as a Service design platform combines machine learning with expert designers to provide the fastest path from idea to 3D printable file.

Expert help is available for every project, however large or small, from start to finish. If you have a sketch on a napkin for a new idea — great, a designer can help you create a viable 3D model that can be 3D printed to bring your idea into reality. Already have a model? In some cases, a 3D file is not ready to be manufactured.  ZVerse will work with you to get your file into a manufacturable state.

Expert designers are available to help you design for additive manufacturing, whether you need end-to-end guidance or just a little push to get your project across the finish line.

Can you fulfill my orders on demand and ship directly to my customer?

Shapeways offers a full manufacturing-on-demand approach and has years of experience helping our customers run their own shops. We ship right to your customers for you. Need one or a few? No problem! Looking for bulk 3D printing? No problem!

Need help from 3D printing experts?

When it comes to additive manufacturing, we’re here to help you every (or any) step of the way. Our team of experts can answer any questions you may have and help you take your next creation from an idea in your head to a finished product in your hand. Contact us today and let’s get that next idea in motion!

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