Practicality, Usefulness, and Ease of Access of Modern 3D Printing

Capstone - 2017-2018
Hunter Harris


Materials, Strength of Prints, Cost, Skill and
Time Required…


Spare parts, Decoration, Fixing things, New Creations, Prosthetics, Buildings, Prototyping, Toys, Cars, Manufacturing 

Ease of Access

Varies per printer, requires leveling, alignment, calibration, repairs, modeling, post-processing, time…

What is 3D Printing?

A new form of manufacturing with unlimited potential 

Consumer 3D printing usually involves some sort of filament being melted and extruded in a specific pattern to form a 3D design. This design can be almost anything imaginable, with more possibilities being available every day.

Fused Deposition Modeling

Fused deposition modeling (FDM) or fused filament fabrication (FFF) is the current most popular method of 3D printing. These are generally interchangeable terms that mean that filament is heated up, melted, and extruded from a hot end on an extruder.


Special software is used to create a 3D model, which is exported into a different type of software called slicers. This slicer creates the GCODE that the printer uses to perform all the operations to build the model. 


These are plain text instructions that use various codes to tell the printer what to do. Some examples are heat to a certain temperature, move to a location, and extrude some amount of filament. 


Spools of filament (commonly PLA or ABS) are pulled into the extruder and forced through the hotend to be melted and then pushed out the nozzle and on to the build plate.


As the printer moves around the build plate, it extrudes the filament in order to build an object from the ground up with the instructions from the GCODE file. 

What Gets Extruded? 

Polylactic Acid, or PLA

The most commonly used material for 3D printing is PolyLactic Acid, or PLA. Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, or ABS, has different properties that makes it a popular alternative material.

However, materials all have diferences that makes each of them better suited for different tasks. 


Different materials need different temperatures to become molten. ABS typically requires more heat, which could require a better extruder. 


ABS is often stronger than PLA. However, it warps much easier, making it harder to print.


ABS can be melted with acetone in order to give it a smoother texture after printing.


PLA is one of the cheapest materials, and the easiest to print, making it the most popular material to use. 


Other materials such as PETG, wood, metals, or even chocolate can be used as well, but those often have special requirements. 

What about SLA? 

Stereolithography, or SLA

SLA converts liquid plastic into 3D objects by hardening the liquid to form the object using a laser. In this case, there is a tub of resin which has a build plate that starts at the top and the layer hardens the filament on each layer. The plate is then lowered deeper into the resin, and the process continues.


Much higher levels of detail and smoothness can be achieved.


Solven rinsing and UV light curing is required after printing.


Much more expensive printer required, and more expensive materials are used.


3D Printing is an expensive hobby, with many ways to empty your wallet.


The price of the printer can range from very cheap ($150-$500) to multiple thousands of dollars ($2000-$6000) or more.


Blue tape, sandpaper, paint, tools, grease, or acetone are common consumables. However, things sometimes break, or upgrades are needed, all of which adds up.


A single kilogram spool of PLA is $15 to $45, with ABS being $5 to $15 more expensive than that. PETG or wood are around $30 per kilogram, and more exotic filaments such as those made from waste byproducts of ground up coffee beans being upwards of $40.


While not a huge concern, printers draw on average 10-15 watts while idle, and 50 to 150 watts while printing. If the cost per kilowatt hour from the electric company is high and the printer is running often, this could be something to consider. 

Time Required

The time it takes to print objects can range from a matter of minutes for a tiny item to many hours for a larger one, and even to multiple days for very large prints.

Some factors to consider are how long it takes to model the item you want to print (or you can acquire one online), the speed of your printer, and how much time you may need to touch up the model afterwards. All of these factors vary heavily for each print.

For example, my printer working on a moon. 

Print Speed

Printing Time

Post Processing


From a 3D model to reality

While more advanced users will create their own models (and probably don’t need to see this presentation!), most people will simply get their 3D models from a free website such as

They then use special slicing software to turn the model into code the printer can interpret and use to build the model. 

However, this code is unique to the printer and the filament, and multiple steps must be taken to prepare the printer before you can actually run the print. These vary per printer and can take some fine tuning and practice before gotten right.

Visit Thingiverse

Getting the  
perfect print  isn’t easy

Many things can go wrong while printing, such as it detatching from the print bed, clogs, and more.

Once you get a successful print, many models can be painted to give it more color and life than previously possible.



There will always be waste filament such as from a raft or brim. These could end up in landfills if thrown away, or sent for recycling.

Filabot makes machines that take in old plastic and can extrude them into new rolls. They also sell fully recycled pellets for use in their machines.

As for the actual printed products, they should last many years without any degradation.

Is 3D Printing for you?

3D printing has many uses and drawbacks, which makes judging the practicality, usefulness, and ease of access difficult. However, generally speaking, if you have a desire to try out 3D printing, it is definitely worth the shot. If you’re not very interested, maybe stay away from it until it becomes a bit easier, or try any of many online 3D model printing services.  

3D Benchy

Adjustable Wrench

Prosthetic Leg

View my prints


Welcome to the bottom of the page! Hope you learned a lot!

Questions? Comments? Send me a message!