Dry Brushed SkullsWelcome to the third and final part of this mini blog series teaching you how to produce the best quality 3D prints with your home 3D printer.

In Part 1 we talked about an design of the object itself and the materials you should use to 3D print it.

In Part 2 we discussed the importance of the build plate, temperatures and extrusion process.

In Part 3 today, I intend to talk about post processing your 3D prints to achieve the best quality finish you can. I’ll also show you how to eliminate that plasticy look and feel so often associated with 3D printed objects.

Finally I’ll talk about why, when and how to outsource some of your 3D printing to achieve the best results, before doing a quick roundup of what we’ve learned in this series and how best to use your new skills.

Let’s now start with the different ways of finishing your 3D prints for the best quality results.

Post 3D Print Finishing

If you’ve read Parts 1 and 2 you’ll know how to create great designs and great 3D prints, but it doesn’t end there. Your 3D print has just finished 3D printing and it on your build plate.

It probably has some rafts and supports still attached, is a little rough in places and looks a bit plasticy, so what next?

Removing Your 3D Print

Firstly you’ll need to remove your object from the build plate without damaging it or the plate itself. If you have a good balance of adhesion (we discussed this in Part 2) then this shouldn’t be too difficult.

Remove your build plate from the 3D printer, then try removing your object from the build plate by hand. If this fails then try a plastic spatula or a metal scraper, but be careful not to damage your build plate if you use a metal scraper.

If you have used blue painter tape on the build surface then don’t worry about damaging the tape, it’s designed to be replaced regularly.

Using a spatula or scraper will work in most cases, just work the object away from the build plate slowly and carefully it if doesn’t just pop off. If this still doesn’t work, don’t worry as there are more things to try.

With blue painter tape you can always soak the tape in liquid (apparently alcohol works well) to further loosen the tape before attempting removal again.

Also, if you have a heated bed then allowing the build plate to cool first will often mean the print is easier to remove. I guess this is partly due to the different expansion/contraction rates of the two different materials.

I have also heard that putting the build plate and attached object into the freezer for a short while helps too and I’m guessing this is for the same reason as above, being due to the contraction rates as it cools.

Using one or more of the above methods will always get you there in the end, but if it was particularly difficult and scared you a little then you should revisit Part 2 and learn how to reduce your adhesion, because adhesion more isn’t always better, as you just found out.

Removing Rafts & Supports

3D Printed T-RexSo now your object is free of the build plate the first thing you’ll want to do is remove any rafts and supports.

These will usually snap off easily without damaging your 3D print, but large rafts and supports in tight spots can be tricky.

Using a scraper, long nosed pliers and a modelling knife will usually be enough to remove your rafts and supports, but for some detailed objects which haven’t been designed for 3D printing (scanned in objects for example) it can take some time.

If you designed the object yourself and read Part 1 first then you should have very little issues with rafts and supports, but if you scanned in or downloaded an object then it can be trickier.

Be patient because even if your object looks like it’s buried in supports, it’s amazing how a little time cleaning it up can yield great results. Some of my best 3D prints, like the T-Rex Skull and Human Brain for example have required lots of support removal but turned out great in the end.

Trimming Rough Edges

After the raft and support removal process your 3D print is still likely to have some rough edges. Even without any rafts or supports there may still be a little over extrusion in places which has caused little bobbles on the surface. These can all be cleaned up easily with a sharp modelling knife.

I think now is a good time to mention the dangers of cleaning up your objects after 3D printing. Why? It’s because more injuries are caused after 3D printing than before or during it.

To quote myself from a blog post I wrote a while ago about the Dangers of 3D Printing:

“Some of the tools you will use on a daily basis could cause you a serious injury. Knives, pliers, metal scrapers, even sharp bits of plastic. These are just a few examples.”

Unfortunately it’s true. Minor burns from touching a hot nozzle are a close second, but using other tools can be the most hazardous. I think it goes without saying here that if your children are involved in your 3D printing then be very cautious at this stage as most methods of cleaning up you 3D prints can cause harm.

The simple reason is that any method of removing, trimming or modifying plastic can easily do the same to your skin if you’re not careful. If in doubt, read this post about the Hazards of 3D Printing.

Sanding Down

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of sanding 3D printed objects unless I plan to paint them afterwards. Sanding can remove rough edges and layer lines so certainly has a place in 3D printing.

The trouble is if you use good quality filament then your 3D printed objects can sometimes look really glossy. This in itself is great, except that when you sand them you lose this glossy finish and your prints will have a paler, rough texture in the sanded areas.

If you use specialist filaments like woodFill which we talked about in Part 1 then having a rough wooden like finish might be just what you’re looking for.

Sanding down before you paint an object can be a good idea too as it’ll smooth the edges, reduce the appearance of layer lines and help the paint to adhere to your objects.

Painting Your 3D Prints

As we just mentioned, there’s nothing stopping you from painting some of your 3D prints. As it’s possible to 3D print in many different colors already there’s often no need to paint your 3D prints.

However, if you want a really shiny metallic finish to your 3D prints then copper, silver or gold spray paint can be an great way to finish your 3D prints.

Just be aware that spray paint can go everywhere and you’ll also need to do it in a well ventilated area. If you need your 3D prints quickly then don’t forget that most spray paints can take 24 hours before they’re properly dry.

Also, a few thin coats are much better than one thick coat as this stuff tends to run really easily and can ruin a good 3D print if you’re not careful.

Personally I’ve only painted a few of my 3D prints but I’ve usually combined them with this next technique too which is one of my favourite ways to finish a detailed 3D print.

Dry Brushing

If your 3D print has a lot of surface detail which you’d like to highlight then this finishing technique can be great. What it does is recolor the surface details making them stand out, whilst also reducing that plasticy look your object probably has.

One thing to note though is that if you have a light colored 3D print and highlight details in a dark color it’ll just look dirty. So I’d usually start with a darker colored 3D print and highlight the detail in a lighter color.

Feel free to experiment, but before you start you’ll need a few things…

  • Half inch wide paint brush
  • Tub of guilders paste
  • Acetone or nail varnish remover
  • Old paper or newspaper

If you usually print using ABS then the guilders paste may be the only thing you’ll need to buy. This is because you’ll probably already use acetone as it dissolves ABS and lets be honest, most people have an old paint brush and some old paper lying around somewhere.

3D Trilobite FossilStarting with your cleaned up 3D print, dip the tip of the paint brush into the acetone and then apply some of the guilders paste to the brush.

We only want a small amount of paste so rub the paint brush on the old paper until most of the paste is now on the paper.

The trick now is to use the side of the paint brush bristles to highlight the details of your 3D print. Don’t use the tip of the brush as the idea is to avoid the gaps and crevices, unlike traditional painting. You’ll see quite quickly that the detail is highlighted really well and your 3D print now has a new lease of life.

Don’t over do the dry brushing as less is often more when it comes to highlighting detail. Just be gentle and subtle and if you do it right even the biggest 3D print should be very quick to do, minutes if not seconds.

Just be careful if you intend to use your 3D print as anything other than an ornament as guilders paste is quite waxy and comes off easily. If you want to give the object away or sell it then please inform the recipient that this stuff comes off and keep these finished objects away from children.

For ornamental objects though I can highly recommend dry brushing to highlight surface detail and I find that silver guilders paste works the best on any darker colored print.

Unfortunately if your 3D print is smooth with little or no surface detail then dry brushing will probably add no value and may make it look worse. As with most things in 3D printing it’s a bit of an art and requires some experimentation, so try it first with some old, detailed, dark colored prints.

Vapour Polishing

We have already mentioned that acetone dissolves ABS plastic, so someone was bound to invent a method of using it to improve the finish of ABS 3D prints.

This method is called vapour polishing and involves warming up some acetone in a container with your ABS 3D prints hanging suspended inside, but not touching the liquid acetone.

The vapour produced gently softens the surface of your 3D print allowing the natural surface tension to smooth out and reduce/remove the layer lines.

Now then, I talk about this in my 3D Printing Dangers Post and for good reason. It involves warming up a flammable toxic liquid to deliberately produce fumes! Can you see the potential problems with this?

I primarily use PLA plastic so have never used this finishing method, but if I used ABS I still wouldn’t use it. The risks are too great and I value my health too much to try it.

I guess this is more of a warning than an idea for you to try, as you’ll hear people talking about it so I just thought I’d make you aware of what it was.

By all means, if you’re a chemical expert with the right safety equipment then give it a go, but short of that I would leave it well alone as there are far better and safer ways of finishing off your 3D prints.

It’s also possible to vapour polish with PLA but as far as I’m aware, the chemicals required to do this (acetone doesn’t work with PLA) are even more toxic.

Outsource Selected 3D Prints

Owning a 3D printer is great, but sometimes it makes sense to outsource some of your 3D printing to someone else. You might be wondering why, but there are a number of very good reasons relating to quality and safety. Let me explain this a little more.

Why You Should Outsource

As much as I don’t like to make assumptions, for the purposes of this blog post series I have assumed you’re using a desktop Fused Filament Fabrication 3D printer as these are by far the most popular type.

This type of 3D printer has a number of limitations because you can only 3D print using thermo plastics…

  • Your 3D prints have very limited strength
  • Jewellery is impossible to make well in plastic
  • Bacteria live in FFF prints even with food safe plastic
  • Your 3D prints aren’t heat resistant and melt easily
  • FFF prints often leak liquids too due to tiny holes
  • Rafts and supports are sometimes unavoidable
  • Even with great finishing, objects can still look cheap
  • The resolution for small detailed prints is limited

This list isn’t complete, but it gives you some idea of the limitations of your 3D printer for creating useful everyday objects.

3D Printed JewelleryThis is where outsourcing some of your 3D prints becomes really useful.

For example if you wanted to design a coffee mug for someone (I use this example in my Designing Objects for 3D Printing post) it would have a number of issues.

If a mug was 3D printed in PLA/ABS plastic on your desktop 3D printer it would melt in use or when washing, leak liquids, have bacteria living in the microscopic holes, leak toxins from the plastic into the drink and look cheap too.

As great as desktop 3D printing is, for certain items it’s useless. In this example we could outsource the 3D printing to a company who can 3D print in glazed ceramic (Shapeways for example), then suddenly all of the above issues have gone away and you have a perfectly safe, functional, great looking product.

Admittedly it’s usually more expensive to outsource, but for some objects it’s absolutely necessary if you want to design and make them. It’s not always expensive though, as I’m about to explain.

Prototyping First

One of the great things about outsourcing your 3D prints is that you can design and create all sorts of things in some cool materials that are not possible to make at home.

I have even Designed and Created Gold Jewellery for birthday presents, but the beauty of this process is that I can still design and prototype them at home.

There’s nothing stopping you from using something like OpenSCAD to design an object, then using your home 3D printer to prototype and perfect a design. Once you’re happy with the design you can send it away to be made out of some other amazing materials. In fact I follow this exact process a lot and highly recommend it.

Personally I use outsourcing mostly for 3D printing in metal, where strength or just a good finish and heavy feel is required. This is something that I cannot achieve at home using current technologies.

These outsourcing companies sometimes use million dollar 3D printers, so as you might imagine the results can be great. It isn’t always cheap but it can be and I prove it in a blog post I wrote a while ago.

If you want to learn more about outsourcing on a budget, then check out my 3D Printing for $10 blog post which shows you how to design and have something made very cheaply, without even owning a 3D printer!

Summary of What You’ve Learned

That concludes the third and final part of this three part blog post on how to produce high quality 3D prints using a desktop 3D printer.

We’ve learned all about object design, materials, build plates, temperatures, extrusion, post print finishing and even outsourcing your best stuff.

3D printing is an art as well as a science, so what you need to do now is apply your newly acquired knowledge to your future 3D prints. Take baby steps and do it bit by bit as you can always refer back to these blog posts from my Beginner Series whenever you like.

As I said at the start of this series, I cannot promise you perfection but I can promise you a significant increase in the quality of your 3D prints if you apply some of what you’ve learned.

If you’d like to learn more about desktop 3D printing then Download my Free Beginners Guide and Join my 3D Printing Facebook Group for questions and discussions.

Lastly, feel free to Like and Share this post and the other two posts if you enjoyed reading them.

Thanks for reading and happy 3D printing!

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