That First 3D Print – Part 3, What Will You Print First?

Whether your printer came fully assembled and functioning properly or you had to assemble it yourself, assuming you’ve set all the adjustments to limit switches, levelled the bed and powered it up to test electronic worthiness, here is what you need to do to have a successful print every time, well, most of the time.  The first thing you need is something to print.  If you don’t want to print a sample print from the SD card, which I would recommend you doing because the manufacturer gave you a file they already know will work on that printer, but it’s not a big deal, most files that will print on one 3D printer will print on any 3D printer.  It’s really only a matter of size; will it fit on the build plate?   If you’ve decided not to print a sample file, you’ll need to download one from the Internet or design one in a CAD program.  I’ll save explaining how to design one for a later blog.  I will say that downloading an item or creating one yourself in a CAD program doesn’t mean it’s ready for 3D printing yet.  Most object files will need to be converted into g-code.  G-code is the language that commands most, if not all non-proprietary 3D printers.  You’ll need another program to translate the object file into a g-code file.  That’s called “slicing”.  It’s called that because the “solid” object in the design, is converted into slices, or layers to be printed out, one layer at a time.  That is essentially how 3D printers work.  They draw or paint one layer of plastic at a time.  Each layer is laid down on top of the layer before it, until there are enough layers to amount to the height of the object.  This is true, even for the SLA, DLP and SLS 3D printers.
Let’s make that look at file conversion a little simpler.  Suppose you design your own object in a CAD program.  Well, that CAD software will probably have it’s own file save format, so you’ll need to export your object into a file format the slicing software can read: usually that would mean, exporting your object as an .STL file. Then you import/open the object in the slicer program, make the necessary and/or preferred setting adjustments and export the file again.  This time in a g-code format that the 3D printer will recognize.  I need to make sure it’s clear, that if your printer speaks a proprietary language, it may not be g-code or in some cases, it will be g-code but with some custom syntax other slicing programs will not be aware of.  But for the sake of most of us with non-proprietary machines, we’ll not speak of these types of custom files again in this article.


After converting the object file to g-code, you need a way to get it into the 3D printer.  Most printers usually have more than one way they get the file.  Most can print over USB or Ethernet, just like a regular inkjet/laser printer and like a lot of printers, some can do it over wifi.  But all these ways require a laptop or desktop computer to be hooked up and running through the entire print job.  So if you don’t want to tie up your computer the whole time, there’s another very common and popular way and that is by using an SD memory card.  In this way, the file is transferred to the memory card and then the card is put in the slot for it on the printer.

For the other parts of the series:

Part 6: It’s Serious, But Don’t Get Discouraged

Part 5: The First Minute Of A 3D Print Is The Most Important

Part 4: You Made Your Bed, Now You Can Print On It

Part 2: The 3D Printer Does The Labor

Part 1: The Maker


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Darren Hughes

Darren is a Nerd/Jock hybrid. In fact, he maybe the original nerd. In the '60's, he and his Sister were certainly among the first Trekkies, having pretended to be the crew of Enterprise at night (after watching the original series during it's inaugural run) and playing little league in the day. Darren holds a few college degrees. One of them for Engineering and another for Computer Networking. He's always been a fan of learning and technology. Darren has only been 3D printing for a couple years and still considers himself a novice. It is his hope for this blog site to share what he learns as he goes with other beginners, to save them time and hassle finding the best 3D printing and avoiding the worst.