One of the primary reasons why you would choose to use 3D software for a project is to design an object either for manufacturing or for 3D printing. We don’t all have our own factory for mass-producing parts, but more people now have access to 3D printers in their own homes.
Blender can be used to create 3D printable objects using its modeling and sculpting toolkits to design models that can be generated using home-based printers. We can also use the 3D print toolbox add-on to analyze the structure of our models and then export them to slicing software to be 3D printed.
The process of creating models for 3D printing is different from designing models for use in 3D animations or as video game assets. It is important to know the difference and how best to use your software for the task chosen.
Can You Create 3D Printable Models Using Blender?
Blender is a fantastic 3D modeling application for designing objects of any form, shape or size and for any purpose that the object is made for. What makes it an even better option is the fact that the software is absolutely free to use, which makes it more accessible to home users in particular.
Blender has a full suite of modeling tools and you are even able to design how you want to design your objects by using different workflows.
For example, you may want to design your 3D model using traditional polygonal modeling tools such as extrusions, insets, and bevels to construct the base shape. Then use retopology tools such as vertex sliding to clean up the topology of the model.
You can also use different methods for modeling your objects, such as the modifier stack which allows for a semi procedurally workflow with tools like the mirror modifier, subdivision surface, and the decimate modifier.
Or you can go full procedural and use the geometry nodes system to follow a completely different workflow when designing your models for 3D printing.
With the 3D print toolbox add-on, you are able to analyze your object as you are designing it to ensure that the model meets all the specifications required before sending it off to be 3D printed.
Yes, Blender is fully capable of being able to create objects for the purpose of 3D printing. While it is not specifically designed for 3D printing, the versatility of the Blender software allows it to be used for almost any purpose when it comes to 3D modeling.
Are You Able To Print Directly From Blender 3D?
While you are able to design any shape that you want for the purpose of 3D printing using the Blender software, you cannot send a model to be printed directly from the 3D modeling application.
Even though the software is capable of performing many different tasks, it is not intended to do everything, and so the data of the created model needs to be sent to another application whose purpose is to prep all models for 3D printing with the appropriate hardware.
This type of application is referred to as slicing software and is crucial to the process of creating 3D printable models. The main purpose of the software is to convert your model into a series of instructions for the 3D printer, which is referred to as G-Code.
The term slicing refers to the fact that in order for the model to be created it must be divided up into sections that are easier for the 3D printer to create. In other words, it slices the models up into smaller parts and then instructs the printer which parts to build in what order.
No, you cannot print directly from Blender, but you are able to do everything else up until the point where the model itself is completed and then needs to be set up for printing.
If you want to learn more about Blender you can check out our course on Skillshare by clicking the link here and get 1 month free to the entire Skillshare library.
What Are The Steps To Creating A 3D Printable Model In Blender?
You can divide up the process of creating 3D printable models into a clearly defined process, and as long as stick to that process, you should have a functional, physical object by the end of it.
Stage 1 – Defining The Object And Its Purpose
The first step is simply deciding what model you want to create and why you want to create it. For example, you want to create models of supervillains with various poses and print them as small-scale models that someone can have as an ornament on their shelf.
It is important not to underestimate this step as you should have a firm idea of what your model is going to be used for before you start the process of designing it.
Stage 2 – The Parameters Of The Model
When we refer to the parameters of the model, we need to gain an idea as to the various physical traits of what the object needs to have.
Perhaps the most important parameter is the model’s size. How large are the 3D models that your printer is able to produce? If the model is too big in Blender, then you won’t be able to replicate it with your printer.
Also, keep in mind that whenever you start a new project in Blender that the default cube will be 2x2x2 meters in size. Which is far too large for any 3D printer at home.
Other specifications can also be based on what the limitations are for your printer. The material that you plan to use may impact the structural integrity of certain designs.
Thickness is another parameter that may come into play, as your 3D printer may only be able to reach a certain level of precision smaller models may be structurally weak in places where it is too thin, and smaller details may be lost.
The 3D print toolbox add-on allows you to assess many of these parameters during the modeling process, which is covered in step four.
Stage 3 – Constructing The Base Model
The main stage of the process is where you begin to create the base shape of the model. Using the workflow that you have decided upon you can begin to create your 3D model, keeping in mind the specifications that you set out in the previous stage.
Your chosen workflow is up to you, but we like to use procedural methods where possible when generating our designs in Blender.
Some modifiers that are great for creating 3D printable models include the subdivision surface modifier for adding detail quickly, the mirror modifier for literally halving your working using at least one line of symmetry, the decimate modifier for reducing topology and improving performance, as well as the multiresolution modifier for when using sculpting tools.
If creating character models, it would also be ideal to create a rig for your model as this will allow you to try various poses without actually changing the base shape. We recommend that you only change the poses at stage 6 though, and ensure that your object meets all the required specs first.
Stage 4 – Analyzing The Model For Flaws
By the end of stage 3, you should have the ‘draft’ of your object, which should be an accurate representation of the final design but not always complete down to the last detail.
Stage 4 is where we analyze the shape and its effectiveness as a 3D printable model. The primary focus here is to ensure that there is no nonmanifold geometry on the model.
Nonmanifold is a term given to geometry that would not be able to exist in its current form in the real world. One example of this would be a single face extruding out from a cube. Another example is a hole on an object’s surface that exposes a model as hollow.
In addition to this, we also need to check for many of the specs that we would have listed in step 2. For example the thickness of the object, and if there is any geometry that may be too small for the printer to be able to model (Fine Detail).
The best method for analyzing the model is to use the 3D print toolbox, which is designed for the specific purpose of checking to see if the models that we create in Blender are print-worthy.
The addon needs to be enabled by going to Edit > Preferences > Addons and typing 3D print in the search bar at the top corner of the panel. Then check the box to enable the addon.
To start using the toolbox, close the window and open up the side panel in the3D viewport by pressing the N key.
Here you will be able to check for the current volume or surface area of your model, which is the first thing that you should always check to ensure it is the right size for your printer.
You can also check for the various factors that can occur when 3D printing that can lead to issues, like the thickness level and the amount of overhanging geometry.
Stage 5 – Correcting Your 3D Model
Using the toolbox you will be able to check for any problem areas on your mesh, and so this would be the time to address those issues by correcting your final model.
You may also look to try out various poses at this stage using your rig but make sure to analyze the model for each pose that you consider using.
At this point you should be switching between steps 4 and 5, making changes to your model based on your analysis and making iterations until you are finally happy with the result.
Stage 6 – Exporting The Model
When the model design is itself completed, you then need to export the model as a file format that is 3D printer friendly.
This does not mean that we are exporting as a 3D printable format, but instead as a format that our splicing software can successfully read so that it can be converted into G-Code for the printing process.
File formats that you can use to successfully export your 3D data include the STL and OBJ file formats.
Stage 7 – Slicing And Printing
Now that you have exported your 3D data from Blender you will need to import it into your slicing software so that it can be converted into G-Code ready for the 3D printer.
There are plenty of options available when it comes to slicing software, but the ones that we have tried and would recommend at this time are Cura for beginners and Slic3r for more advanced users who are looking for more features.
When you are ready try to print the model using the slicing software and if you have done everything right you should have a functional, physical work of art.
How Do You Use Sculpting In Blender For 3D Print Models?
It is absolutely possible to create a 3D model using the sculpting tools in Blender and then export the model to be 3D printed. The general process is the same as it is for general sculpting, where you use sculpting brushes to create the shape and the details of the 3D model.
Effectively you can replace stages 3 and 5 of the above process with the sculpting workflow instead of the modeling workflow, but keep in mind that you will still want to check for any abnormalities in the model itself using the 3D print toolbox.
One tip when creating your model is to try and have a flat base where possible, as this will make it much easier for the slicing software to calculate how to start the print.
If you design a character model, for example, that may have plenty of overhanging faces, then create a circular ground part that the character stands on to make the design more viable.
Exporting 3D Models From Blender To Be 3D Printed
When everything is done in Blender the next step is to export your 3D object as file format that is usable for 3D printing. All Blender formats use the .blend file extension which is only really good for Blender itself, and so we need to use a universal format that holds the correct data for our 3D format.
What Data Needs To Be Store On Our Chosen File Format?
There are many types of data that can be stored, from 3D data to sound and image data, but what data does the slicing software require to create a successful 3D print.
Since the object is probably not going to be moving by itself, we are not going to need animation data in our exported file, so using something like FBX is not going to be the best option, but can still be used as it also has the required data.
And since we are looking to 3D print an object we won’t need image or sound data either. What we do need is the data related to the 3D models construction, such as its vertex positioning, and normal direction.
There are several file formats that are suitable for the transfer of our 3D object from Blender to out chosen slicing software. The best way to export your model is to use the 3D print toolbox add-on.
Why? Because if you go to the bottom of the toolbox in the viewport you will find that you can export your selected model using one of the four available options from the toolbox, all of which are suitable for 3D printable objects.
These formats are…
Are There Better Options To Create 3D Printable Models?
While Blender is a perfectly viable choice for printing 3D printable models but some models may be easier to create in other applications.
Blender 3D is a jack of all trades application, and as such can do far more than just create models for 3D printing. However, this also means that it does not specialize in just one form of modeling, and so there may be better applications that do specialize in creating our 3D print designs.
Now if you are going to be creating high detailed, complex objects like character figurines, then we still recommend using Blender. If on the other hand, you are looking to create parts for objects that require specific dimensions, or are to be used in some form of additive manufacturing, then a better choice would be o use CAD software.
With CAD software, you are able to better design models for 3D printing and manufacturing, as the modeling and analysis tools are both better optimized for this task.
There are many options available for CAD software including both free and paid ones. Below is a list of some of the applications that we have tried and would recommend for 3D printing.
- Fusion 360
Thanks For Reading The Article
We appreciate you taking the time to read through the article, and hope that you found the information that you were looking for. We have compiled a list of articles on additional topics that you may be interested in Reading.
- Using Smooth Shading And The Autosmooth Tool
- Why Does Blender Crash While 3D Modeling?
- What Shortcuts Do I Need To Know When 3D Modeling?
- What Are Overhang Faces And How Do They Affect 3D Printing?
- Using The 3D Print Toolbox Add-On
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