The Lazy Way to Make Your 3D Prints Look Great

by Jason King on March 26, 2017

Dry Brushed iPad StandAs great as 3D printing is, How Most Home 3D Printers Work is by melting thermoplastics to build up objects layer by layer.

Using plastic (usually ABS or PLA) unsurprisingly results in plasticy looking 3D prints.

After a while it’s natural to try to improve the quality and aesthetics of your prints.

To be honest there are lots of ways to improve the look of your 3D prints but not all of them turn out well and many are quite time consuming or tricky.

Compound Filaments

The most natural progression from plasticy looking prints is to use Compound Filaments. I’ve used a lot of these, which are effectively plastic infused with other materials.

Examples of such materials are metals, wood, glow in the dark powder, carbon, bamboo, the list goes on and is expanding all of the time.

Using compound materials does make your 3D prints look less like plastic and is a great solution for some people. Except it’s not a cheap or lazy solution. To invest in a spool of just a few of these isn’t cheap and these filaments are usually more difficult to print with, requiring some degree of post processing after printing.

Some Other Solutions

Before I describe my favourite (and laziest) way to improve the look of your 3D prints I think I should list a few of the other ways, with reasons as to why they’re not that lazy.

  • Layer Height – you can improve your 3D prints by reducing your layer height. Even though this will reduce the visible layering, your designs will now take much longer to print and they’ll still look plasticy. Not really a lazy solution.
  • Supports and Rafts – you can improve the look of your 3D prints with a reduction in the need for Supports and Rafts, by clever design and orientation of your designs. You probably already guessed that this isn’t a quick, effective or lazy solution.
  • Sanding and Painting – sanding reduces the visible layer lines but will take the shine of your prints, so you’ll probably have to paint them too. This takes time and effort and with the wide range of filament colours available nowadays, there’s little point unless you use a good metallic paint. This isn’t a lazy solution either.

There are other ways to Improve the Quality and Look of Your 3D Prints but they’re not really quick wins, which is what we’re looking for here. Also, you’ve probably heard of all these methods already, but there’s a fair chance you’ve not heard of the one I’m about to describe.

Dry Brush Highlighting

I’ll start with a few caveats for dry brush highlighting (or dry brushing for short). It does involve the use of paint thinners, which can be toxic and it requires the use of guilders paste, which if you get this stuff on your clothes, sofa or carpet, it’s probably not coming out easily.

Dry Brushed Celtic SkullBut, it also requires a stiff bristled paint brush which you could also do some damage with if you put your mind to it.

Just be careful with the paint thinners and guilders paste, keeping children, pets, valuable clothes and furniture well out of the way.

Yes I did learn this the hard way when I tried to read the bottom of the guilders paste tin when the lid was off. Swiftly moving on…

After you’ve spent a small amount of money on these basic tools you’re ready to transform the look of your 3D prints in just a couple of minutes.

How Does Dry Brushing Work?

Start with an old 3D print with lots of surface detail. Dip the brush into a very small amount of thinner and then into the guilders paste.

We only want a small amount of guilders paste on the brush so use some old card to rub the brush onto until most of the guilders paste has been removed from the brush.

Brush the 3D print with the side of the brush so that the guilders paste stays only on the most raised parts of the print.

3D Trilobite FossilTo dry brush the whole print like this will only take a minute or two at most but you’ll love the results.

Dry brushing works best with a light coloured guilders paste on a dark coloured 3D print with plenty of surface detail to highlight.

I did try dark paste on a light print and it just makes the print look dirty and doesn’t work too well.

My favourite coloured paste is silver as this tends to make your prints look like they’re made of old painted steel, where the paint has rubbed off only on the raised areas.

After dry brushing the guilders paste can still rub off from the 3D printed object so dry brushing is best suited to ornaments, as it looks great but you don’t want this stuff transferring to anyones clothes, furniture or pets.

Cheap, Effective and Very Lazy

The Guilders Paste, thinners and stiff bristled brush are all readily available and fairly cheap. A quick look in your garage may already reveal the brush and the thinners for free. I even used nail varnish remover instead of paint thinners which seemed to work just fine.

Although this solution to making your 3D prints look great should be limited to ornaments, it’s a very quick, cheap and effective solution. It also fits the criteria as being seriously lazy, as promised.

If you want to learn more about the different ways to make your 3D prints look great, including all of the ones described earlier, then you might be interested in my new How to Produce High Quality 3D Prints eBook.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to Like and Share this article with your friends.

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