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Wilson Library's Makerspace

3D printing

3D Printing at the Wilson Library's Makerspace   

What is 3D printing?

3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes. In an additive process an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the entire object is created. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the eventual object.


How does 3D printing work?

It all starts with making a virtual design of the object you want to create. This virtual design is made in a CAD (Computer Aided Design) file using a 3D modeling program (for the creation of a totally new object) or with the use of a 3D scanner (to copy an existing object). A 3D scanner makes a 3D digital copy of an object.

3d scanners use different technologies to generate a 3d model such as time-of-flight, structured / modulated light, volumetric scanning and many more.

Recently, many IT companies like Microsoft and Google enabled their hardware to perform 3d scanning, a great example is Microsoft’s Kinect. This is a clear sign that future hand-held devices like smartphones will have integrated 3d scanners. Digitizing real objects into 3d models will become as easy as taking a picture. Prices of 3d scanners range from very expensive professional industrial devices to 30 USD DIY devices anyone can make at home.

3D Modeling Resources:

Free 3D Modeling Software

Blender - open source 3D animation suite. Enable the 3D Printing Toolbox.

OpenSCAD - free software for creating solid 3D CAD models. Useful for creating models of machine parts.

Sketchup - comes in free or pro versions. Get the Sketchup STL from the Extension Warehouse.

Tinkercad - a browser-based 3D design platform, now part of Autodesk (free version available).

123D Design - a free, powerful, yet simple 3D creation and editing tool from Autodesk.

List of additional free software packages from

Free 3D Models

You can search for pre-existing models on the Internet to print as they are, or to modify using 3D modeling software.

3D Warehouse - Sketchup's searchable design library.

Instructables - from the 123D community.

Thingiverse - MakerBot's searchable design library community.

3D Modeling Tutorials

3D modeling for beginners (Shapeways)

How do I make a solid model (Rhino)

How to fix and repair your 3D files (Shapeways)

Geometry Check

Check your design for holes, gaps, or other problems before submission. Numerous third party tools can help you fix geometry problems, including:

  • NetFabb - provides a cloud base service and free downloadable software that can check you files
  • MeshLab - open source software for checking files

Shapeways offers a tutorial for fixing and repairing 3D models using these services.

Common Problems

Other things to be careful of when creating your model:

  • degenerate faces - Mesh faces that have 0 area
  • zero length edges - Edges with no length, created by degenerate faces
  • non manifold edges - Faces that have more than one face connected to a single edge
  • naked edges - A surface or polysurface edge that is not connected to another edge
  • duplicate faces - Identical faces in a single mesh
  • faces should be flipped - The faces in a mesh object should point in a consistent direction
  • disjoint pieces - Mesh objects that do not connect but are considered a single mesh

Creating or Editing a Model

You can design your object in any 3D modeling software such as Fusion 360 (free 3 year license to anyone with a .edu email), Blender(free), or online software such as TinkerCAD.

You can also use or modify a pre-existing file from websites such as Thingiverse.

File Format

Export your model as a stereolithography file, with an STL extension (.stl)


Submitting a file

Email your STL file to Please allow us two business day to review your file and give you an estimate cost and turnaround time.