3d printing for idiots...all the mistakes I have made so far and I'm not finished yet!
Lost Kingdom - Medraut (am using as The Green Knight)
I am not a technical whizzkid or at 58 any sort of kid. Or any sort of whizz really so it was with some trepidation that i decided to back the Anycubic Photon Ultra kickstarter last year. I wanted figures for my soon to be published set of Historical/Fantasy crossover rules wherein Ancient Greeks lead by Alexander using centaurs and a medusa can fight against Samurai with Ashigaru and Oni. Alternatively an Atlantean force with mermen and other fish based goodness can fight an Aztec army equipped with dinosaurs. Many of the figures were just not available conventionally but were out there in 3d land.
I watched the youtube videos and thought how hard can this be? That was my first mistake, underestimating the opposition. When the machine arrived I thought I was ready, had my notes and knew the techy terms, however what I was not ready for were the actual practicalities that people who know how to do this stuff take for granted as so obvious you dont need to tell anyone. This article is here to tell beginners all the mistakes I made so that you dont have to. It will not be about the technical side, exposures, lift times etc as the experts cover those well enough.
#1 Tighten the screws - The build plate which hangs upside down on a resin printer needs to be levelled which is easily done on the Ultra has four screws which are loosened for levelling then tightened once levelled. I assumed you could just tighten these using your fingers. I have a knack for breaking stuff and was wary of overtightening so just used my fingers. This is a mistake as the plate works loose on its peregrinations up and down and a loose plate results in failure and a messy circle of half baked resin in the bottom of the resin tray. Tighten the plate with the tool.
Archvillain - The Bishop (Ratmen)
#2 Warm your resin. where i print the temperature is not really warm enough. During March it was too cold to be honest. Printing in the cold is apparently a recipe for disaster. Quite how here in the UK the manufacturers think we are supposed to be printing in temperatures above 21 degrees I don't know. Frankly that is beach weather in the UK and with heating costs being more expensive than the printer a solution was needed. Firstly i put my resin bottle in warm water to get the print off to a good start at the base layers. I also bought a small greenhouse type heater off Amazon and built a box big enough for both to fit in. This keeps the temperature up and at 40w for the heater is not breaking the bank.
Highland Miniatures Trebuchet
#3 Press Slice - Embarrassingly I spent several hours wondering why the STL minis I had placed on the 3d virtual plate and SAVING did not appear on the memory stick when I tried to see them on the printer. This was because you have to press SLICE! Sounds obvious but it was not..
#4 Failures - failures usually end up stuck to the FEP. This is a bloody nightmare. I did not know how to remove these at first and went at them with the scrapers... with obvious results, a scratched and ruined FEP. I have since learned that patience and a different method work better. Instead of digging at the FEP rub the offending Klingon from underneath GENTLY. As it separates from the FEP there is a satisfying crackle as the little bastard comes away!
However when I first did this I was, as usual, too heavy handed and the resultant dimpling in the FEP was yet another prelude to disaster. If at first it doesn't come away do not force it. Instead get all the remaining resin out of the tray back through a filter and into the bottle (see next). Once done pop some IPA in the tray, cover and leave for a while. How long depends on how patient you are! the IPA will loosen up the piece and if you again press from underneath it should dislodge. If it doesn't you are knackered and best just change the FEP. If you leave the klingon in the FEP then it can be pushed through the FEP resulting in resin leaking over your printer....yep lesson learned!
Lost Kingdom - Lady of the lake
#5 Close the bottle - only an idiot would forget to put the lid back on the bottle and leave it where sunlight could enter the neck of the bottle...This is a bad thing and ruins the resin for obvious UV based reasons....
#6 FEPs - At first I was buying the precut preholed FEP which at £25 for 5 was not great. Then I saw FEP at 5 for £12 on Ebay. This cheaper FEP needed cutting to size and holes drilling in the right places but I just made a template off one of the more expensive FEPs and away you go. At £2.50 a go I am happy to just throw these away as soon as they start looking a bit rough. I also bought a Sokol Vat which is really easy to change the FEP and has a chunky solid feel. As a bonus it comes with covers to stop UV getting in should you leave resin in the Vat.
#7 Check the Vat - people who print regularly and with few fails seem to be happy to leave resin in the vat and just top up the resin for new prints. I am not one of them yet so I am in the habit of draining the resin into a spare bottle through a filter and checking the FEP for bits even on what seem like successful prints. It takes a lot less time than that invested into a failed print and damaged FEP.
Kyousheneko Japanes peasantry
#8 Paper towels - Aldi. You will need lots so just buy cheapy ones from Aldi. you dont need really absorbent thick ones that come with puppies as often its just a bit of resin to clean up and absorbency isn't the issue.
#9 Clean the plate - after scraping the prints off the plate make sure you give this a really good clean. Some people put it in their washer but i just use IPA on a paper towel and then check it against the light for imperfections. I suspect that I will soon buy a Flexible plate just to extend the working life of the machine and treat the flex plate as a disposable like FEPs which I can replace if i somehow damage it.
Lost Kingdom Bannerman
#10 Dealing with failure mentally - shit happens on a regular basis when you start out, failure is annoying especially when its taken 6 or 7 hours. It feels worse than if it had failed after 5 minutes but to be honest you weren't waiting like Blackfriars Bobby at his master's grave so it's no great loss in the eternal scheme! I have adopted a stoical approach and just try to make sure I dont make the SAME MISTAKE TWICE!
#11 Listen up - I have realised that you can get a reasonable idea of how well the print is going by using your ears long before your eyes come into play. After the initial layers have gone down you can actually hear a sort of crackling as the plate and newly created layer pull away from the FEP due to the suction, This lets you know early doors that at least something is printing or not. I have stopped two prints so far after not hearing enough crackle and found that as suspected there was failure.
#12 write it down - bigger prints come in many parts with very similar sounding names and have to be printed over several days. I copy a list of the object parts and cross them off as they are successfully printed. This might seem unnecessary to you young ones with great memories. However printing 3 left legs for a dragon or two sets of horns is just annoying so I find a list helps.
I hope these are useful to other newbies. It can be frustrating however I find myself drawn back into printing after failure not because I need to print off more and more figures that i will not have time to paint for months but because of the Alchemy. 3d printing is like magic as we turn yukky grey resin into beautiful miniatures. It is genuinely 21st century Alchemy.
It is also a way that those of us with no skill in sculpting can create outstanding miniatures and models based on the skill of others. The range and quality of miniatures on offer now is amazing. The 12 year old me would never have believed this was possible and the 58 year old me is still finding it hard to comprehend. I have signed up for a number of Patreons and literally am spoiled for choice. Currently my favourites are Archvillain, One page Rules and Lost Kingdom but there are many otheres.
The photos here are of my successes to date rather than my failures, I never really think of taking photos when being stoical!
Pictures are of items from, Lost Kingdom, Archvillain, Highland miniatures, Kyousheneko miniatures and Titanforge.