3 Mistakes Most People Make When Using A 3D Printing Service
Opting for a 3D printing service feels like a dream to some.
Send them the file, and you will get your part the way you design it.
Except…, it doesn’t.
The process of getting a great part from a 3D printing service provider is not too straight forward, and will likely need both parties to cooperate in order to get what you want.
Every step of the 3D printing process (from the source file to the final part) has to be well performed in order to achieve the part you are looking for.
With 3D printing being relatively new in Malaysia, it makes it very likely that consumer did not figure some of these unknowns, and cause them to receive bad parts from their service provider.
To help reduce the possibility of such issue, we highlighted below 3 most common mistakes most people make when using a 3D printing service.
Mistake Number 1: Sending Bad Quality File
Bad Quality Files Will Greatly Affect the Final 3D Printed Part
Quite a long time ago (when 3D printing is still not very popular), I have some parts that I was looking to 3D print.
I looked up online to search for a 3D printing service provider.
Eventually, I found one.
They were very convincing, I heard of great reviews about them, they were very clear with their communication.
Overall, just convince they can do a good job for me.
Therefore, I decided to send them the file and have them 3D print the parts for me.
After a few days, I received the parts from them.
As I opened up the package, I noticed…, the parts were not satisfactory.
It wasn’t too bad, but the part just looked a lot more blocky than the original design.
Although the parts could still function properly for my application, I decided to reach out to them for further clarification.
After a little bit of discussion with the service provider, I discovered that the problem, was actually me.
As it turns out, the part that I have converted to STL on my side, was of pretty low resolution and badly converted.
So when I sent them the low resolution STL for 3D printing, the output on their side, was a direct reflection of my low resolution file.
In other words, it is a bad part, just not due to their printing process, but due to the file.
Original File (Left), High Resolution STL (Middle) and Low Resolution STL (Right)
A good quality file is critical in order to 3D print a good quality part.
This is especially true for round parts (or parts with round edges, fillets, etc.).
STL files are basically a bunch of triangles which represents the shape of your part.
For round parts, your parts will end up very blocky if saved in very low resolution STL file (as shown in image above).
This will result in dimensionally inaccuracy, and makes the part look, well, blocky (or if you prefer another word, it looks pixelated).
So to go around this mistake, try to save in a higher resolution STL file.
Or if you are not sure if you could do it properly, send STEP or STP file to the 3D printing service provider.
And then they can help you to convert to a high resolution STL using your STEP/STP file.
STEP/STP file stores the original geometry of your part without any conversion.
So when you send them the STEP/STP file, you can be very sure it is exactly what you have designed.
Also, by sending them the STEP/STP file, it means they have seen the original part.
In the event that they made any mistake during the conversion to STL, they will be aware of the difference in the geometry of the parts and fix the issue immediately.
Also, low resolution STL file is not the only possible issue.
You could encounter missing faces, flipped normal, intersecting faces, non-manifold edges and a couple more issues with STL file.
If you want to avoid all these possible issues, we highly advise you send them STEP/STP file, it will give you an absolute peace of mind.
Mistake Number 2: Choosing 3D Printing Service Provider Based on the Cheapest Price
Previously, we had a client who reached out to us for our 3D printing service.
During the discussion, he mentioned that he was not very satisfied with the quality of their current service provider, and looking around to see if there is a better one.
He then pulled out a model that was previously 3D printed by that service provider.
He pointed at the model and asked, “Could you guys print better than this?”.
I looked at the model, and as I slowly notice more and more regions of the part, it freaked me out.
That printed part has gaps everywhere.
Not regular layer lines inherent to 3D printing process, but literally gaps (large gaps).
That part is a pretty thick part, so there is no see through gaps.
But the part it so badly printed it looks like someone peeled off its skin (yes, that bad).
Our client told us they chose that particular service provider because that service provider reached out to our client with a promise of the cheapest price.
He even say that the service provider further backed his promise by saying “If you can find someone cheaper, we will match that price for you.”
This in itself, should be the biggest sign you should not go with them.
When people are able to push price their price so low that it sounds like a steal, there is definitely compromise.
And for this case, it is very likely they are using poor quality material, low specs machine, and probably a bad software for generating the g-codes (the command that is fed into the machine).
Also, this is usually a big sign of “Print Only” Service Providers (service providers who Print Only, without other complementary services).
And if you really think about it, did they gain any cost advantage from using the cheaper service provider?
No! They spent even more to get their parts reprinted again.
If you are still thinking about going for the cheaper service provider, and hoping that better communication and a couple more reprints could result in better parts but still with less cost, I really wish you could think again.
First of all, a more proper 3D printing service providers are usually not much more expensive than the really cheap ones. (Definitely not more than 2x.)
That means if just one of your prints need a reprint from the cheaper service provider, it would have already costs you more than if you were to choose the more expensive one from the beginning, and got it right the first time.
And secondly, the time saved and the peace of mind that you gain when going with the slightly more expensive service provider is probably worth the extra cost itself.
Imagine just spending days going back and forth just to get something right (which should have been right the first time), the time wasted on such back and forth is worth far more than the extra cost you would pay a better service provider.
And if you are using 3D printing for product prototyping, are you really sure you want to let such delays to cause your product to be one step slower to market than your competitors?
The saying of “You get what you pay for” is very true for such service.
Never ever try to save unnecessary cost on such services.
Mistake Number 3: Choosing A 3D Printing Service Provider That Lacks Range Of Complementary Services
This is the most common mistake, and one that people usually don’t care, but is especially important if you are new to 3D printing.
And since 3D printing is still quite new in Malaysia, chances are this is something that most people will have to consider.
When you are new to 3D printing and not too sure what to expect, just sending them your digital file and expecting the outcome to be the way you want it to be is very unlikely.
Now I am not saying that particular 3D printing service provider might be a bad one.
But if they lack a range of services complementary to the main 3D printing service, it is very difficult to ensure the parts you get will be what you want.
Let me explain.
If we refer back to the first mistake of bad quality file, this mistake could be easily avoided by choosing a 3D printing service provider that is able to prepare a higher quality file for you (don’t take this for granted, this is an additional service, that is very important, and not all service providers can provide).
This will involve taking STEP/STP file from you (instead of STL), and then the 3D printing service provider will convert the file to STL from their side to ensure a high quality STL.
And if you have been using 3D printing service for quite some time, you know that this is quite rare.
Most service providers usually request STL files directly.
And it is very likely most of them are the “Print Only” Service Providers.
In other words, they lack the range of service needed to meet your needs.
Apart from that, the service that comes after printing the part, such as providing surface smoothing might be important for some.
3D printed parts tend to have layer lines everywhere.
And for people who are new to 3D printing, they are often surprise by how obvious those lines are.
And if you chose a “Print Only” service provider, there is pretty much nothing you can do.
Since they…, well…, they Print Only.
Speaking of post processing, let me share with you a story.
Back then, one of my friend used a 3D printing service for his personal projects.
It wasn’t something complicated, just a simple custom bracket for his project.
That was actually his first time using 3D printing service.
And like many others, he had no clue of what to anticipate.
But since it was a pretty simple design, he wasn’t really bothered.
So he simply did some Google search, pick a few of the service providers that appeared on Google.
Get quotes from a few service providers, and picked the cheapest. (Note, this is mistake Number 2.)
And after a few days, he got his parts.
I knew this story because he sent me a message describing the whole thing, and then he sent me a picture of the part.
When I saw the picture of the part, I busted out laughing.
The supports actually remained attached to the 3D printed parts.
For those who are unaware, support materials are sacrificial materials used during the 3D printing process to support overhangs (due to the layer by layer process).
These supports are, in most cases, by default removed by the service providers.
But for this particular case, it turns out that there will be extra charges incurred when you need them to remove it for you, and will only be removed upon request.
I have no issue with the extra charges, because different people charge their services differently.
But I have quite some issue with it not being the default.
Like my friend who is completely new to 3D printing, he wouldn’t even be aware of such a thing as supports.
Also, supports can sometimes be very difficult to remove (especially without the right tools).
Since service providers usually do this all day and will have the right tools to do it, I don’t see a reason why it is not the default to have the supports removed by the service providers.
In addition to that, my friend realized that after adding in the support removal fee, that service provider is not the cheapest amongst the others whom he requested for quote anyway.
So the service provider likely removed the support removal fee just to keep his fee competitive.
Now, this is definitely an exaggerated case, most service providers these days do remove the supports for you.
But the lesson remains, for those new to 3D printing, there is just too many unknown involved.
And the best way to ensure all these unknown don’t haunt you at the end, is to choose a 3D printing service provider that has a wide range of service and will handle all these unknowns for you.
When approaching these service providers, you don’t have to figure out all the services they have.
All you need to do is to be clear with what you want the outcome to look like, and possibly where it will be used for, and the service provider will then include all the necessary services to make sure you will get what you want.
How To Find The Right 3D Printing Service Provider?
If you notice, choosing the right 3D printing service provider plays a huge role in ensuring you get a good 3D printed part from a 3D printing service.
Because even for mistakes that might occur on your side (such as a bad quality source file), a good 3D printing service provider can compensate for those mistakes.
If there is just one takeaway you can have from this article, it will be this, avoid “Print Only” Service Providers.
Avoid “Print Only” Service Providers, because their job is just to help you print, nothing else.
The 3D printing process from start to finish is crucial to ensure you get a good part.
If all they want to do is just to print, and then leave the rest for you to figure out, you are better off not engaging with them at all.
Now this begs the questions, how do you avoid a “Print Only” Service Providers?
Honestly speaking, they are everywhere.
It is so difficult to avoid them, there is probably one under your chair right now.
Jokes aside, there are some criteria you can look for that will eliminate 99% of these “Print Only” Service Providers.
Below are the top 3 criteria to look at before choosing a 3D printing service provider to print your parts (to avoid “Print Only” Service Providers).
3 Criteria of a Good 3D Printing Service Provider
1. They Can Accept STEP or STP Files
STEP/STP file type makes the 3D printing process a lot smoother
This is important, because if they reject STEP/STP file, and only take STL, it means that they lack the capability to check and analyze your file.
The software used to open your STL (for processing into commands for the machine), cannot open STEP/STP files (at least at the time of writing this).
Instead, STEP files are opened in a different software, which can then be used for converting into a high resolution STL files.
If they reject STEP file, it is a huge sign they are a “Print Only” Service Provider.
Also, STEP/STP files are far easier to fix than STL files.
Occasionally, you might send in a faulty file that requires fixing.
And fixing STL, can be quite labour intensive, if not impossible in some cases.
Sending them STEP/STP files ensure fixes will be fast and smooth.
You usually do not have any issue with STEP/STP files, but even if there is, the fix is much easier.
Also, if you have specific fitting requirements for an assembly and not sure if your parts will fit, sending them the STEP/STP file will allow them to easily adjust the model with various different sizes and test which fittings will meet your requirement.
Basically, other than using this as a criteria to avoid “Print Only” Service Providers, finding one that can accept STEP/STP files can open up a lot of possibilities that was impossible with STL files.
Definitely something great to consider.
2. They Have A Range Of Complementary Services
This is intuitive, when they have a range of services, they are not the “Print Only” Service Providers, those who just treat it as a side hustle.
And for these service providers with a range of services, it is not just about getting the files printed, but more about ensuring the final part being able to meet the intended application.
First of all, they should carry different range of materials from general purpose ones to engineering grade ones.
This in itself will help to ensure the 3D printed part is able to meet the intended application through the right selection of material.
But just relying on printing with the correct material in order to meet all possible applications, can be difficult (experienced service provider knows it, the range of applications can sometimes be too big).
To overcome that, complementary services are there to support a wider range of applications.
The complementary service ranges from surface treatments options (for aesthetic applications), to reinforcement options (for functional applications).
So that whatever your applications are, they will have a way to make the part fit your intended application.
When you can find yourself such service provider, all you have to do it to tell them your requirements, and they will figure everything out for you.
Unlike the “Print Only” Service Providers, which you will have to figure out everything by yourself.
3. They Are Willing To Provide Free Samples
Free Samples, Get Them.
I know this is hard to understand, but stick with me.
When you request for free sample, you tend to fend off cheap service providers (most likely the “Print Only” Service Providers).
They usually have tight cash flow, which makes it difficult to pull additional resources to give you a free sample.
(And it is probably just their side hustle, not even their main business.)
In fact, the purpose of the free sample is not that much of validating the part quality (although you can definitely take that chance to do it), but more so on making sure they actually have the capability of providing a free sample.
You will want to work with service providers with the capability (and cash flow) to provide free sample, especially if you are planning to work with them long term.
Else, they will probably be gone the next month (either they run out of cash, or they found a better side hustle.)
Now you know the 3 criteria to avoid the “Print Only” Service Providers, the next time you reach out to a 3D printing service provider, check them out on these criteria.
If you follow through all 3 criteria, you will eliminate 99% of “Print Only” Service Providers (without them even noticing).
And if you do find a service provider that ticks all 3 boxes, congratulations, you just found your ideal 3D printing service provider.
Getting a 3D printing service to work out the way you want is not easy, but if you are willing to put in the effort to read through this article and use them, you will eliminate 99% of the problems that many others encounter.
And if you are using a 3D printing service very often, you will save yourself tons of headache.
I hope you find this article useful.
And I wish you good luck in finding the ideal 3D printing service provider for your next project.
To your success,