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Optimizing Your Models for 3D Printing: A Comprehensive Guide

3D printing is a remarkably versatile technology, allowing us to transform our ideas into physical objects. To achieve the best results with your 3D printer, it’s vital to understand how to prepare your models for the printing process. 

This comprehensive guide written in collaboration with CGTrader will teach you how to design models specifically for 3D printing and optimize them for beautiful, successful prints. Whether you’re a beginner or ready to take your skills to the next level, get ready to explore the exciting world of 3D printing!

Understanding the Fundamentals of 3D Printing

Let’s start by understanding how 3D printing works. Most common 3D printers use a process called Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). In FDM, a filament, typically a plastic material, is heated and extruded through a nozzle. 

The printer deposits this molten material in precise patterns, layer upon layer. With each pass, the cooled layers bond together, gradually constructing your 3D model.

Designing with 3D Printing in Mind

Now that you understand the basics of how 3D printing works, it’s time to shift your design approach. To ensure your digital models translate seamlessly into successful prints, let’s explore some key principles to keep in mind when designing specifically for 3D printing.

Choosing the Right Software

Your 3D modeling software is your primary tool. For beginners, Tinkercad offers a simple web-based interface for creating basic shapes. You can use this tool to create simple 3D models, such as  cookie cutters, logos, keychains, picture frames, or low-poly designs. If you need more complex modeling capabilities, Blender is a powerful and versatile open-source option. For professional-grade design work, Fusion 360 is a widely used commercial CAD software.
At 3Demon, our go-to programs are usually Blender (for sculptures, miniatures and textured props) or ZBrush, and Fusion 360 for props like Star Wars blasters and lightsabers.

File Format Matters

Most 3D printers utilize the STL file format.  STL files turn your 3D model into a mesh of triangles, making it compatible with the 3D printer’s instructions.
At 3Demon, our models always come is STL ( the print-redy cut parts) and OBJ.
The OBJ file format is a simple and open format with wide export and import support among computer aided design software (CAD). This means if you share your 3D model as an OBJ file, it’s highly likely that other CAD software will interpret it correctly and consistently. In other words, if you want to adjust, cut differently, or completely rescale our 3D models, you can use the OBJ file. The OBJ format is 3D printable too, most slicers have no problem exporting it into a g-code for your printer. 

Key Design and Printing Principles

  • Manifold Geometry: Think of your model as needing to be “watertight.” It must be a fully enclosed solid without any gaps, holes, or surfaces that intersect with others. Slicers such as Prusaslicer can ofter auto-repait minow errors in the 3D files. The best tools for simple auto-repairing are however 3D builder and Meshmixer.
  • Wall Thickness: Ensure your model’s walls have sufficient thickness to withstand the printing process and provide adequate structural support. The ideal wall thickness will vary depending on your 3D printer and the material you choose. In your slicer, this can be named an outer perimeter.
  • Overhangs and Supports: Very steep overhangs can be challenging to print. They might require temporary support structures during the printing process to prevent drooping or warping. Your slicer can auto-generate supports, or you can manually “paint” them. Adding too many supports can damage the surface of your print. Having too little supports causes the print to fail. 

Finding 3D Models for Printing

If you’re looking for ready-to-print designs rather than creating your own from scratch, there’s a fantastic array of resources at your disposal once you have access to the right 3D Asset Stores

  • CGTrader: 

This platform offers various high-quality 3D models in various categories, making it a one-stop shop for inspiration and project ideas. Whether you’re passionate about 3D printing characters for tabletop games or miniatures for wargaming, CGTrader has a vast selection of STL files. You can find our models on CG trader as well! 

  • Free 3D print models

Free files can be a great way rto get into 3D printing. Keep in mind that these are often fan-made models in various qualities. 🙂 Our free files can be found on Printables, Thingiverse, and Maker World. CGTrades also offers a wide library of free models.

  • 3D Printing Blogs and Forums

Many blogs and forums dedicated to 3D printing offer a wealth of information. They cover design tips, the latest trends, troubleshooting advice, and often share links to useful resources and models.

Remember: When exploring resources, keep an eye on licensing terms to ensure you’re using any designs you find in accordance with the creator’s wishes.

Preparing Your Model for the Printing Process

Once you have a 3D model ready, follow these steps to ensure it prints successfully:

Scaling in Blender:

  • Import your model by going to File > Import > STL.
  • Select your model and press ‘S’ to activate the scaling tool. Adjust the size by moving your mouse. For precision scaling, type in a specific numerical value.
  • Check the units of measurement (meters, centimeters, etc.) in the ‘Scene’ tab of the Properties panel and adjust them if necessary.

Slicing Software

This is where the magic happens—your 3D model is translated into instructions (G-code) for your printer. Popular slicers include PrusaSlicer, and Simplify3D. Many people enjoy Cura for it’s simplicity, but we can’t recommend it as it doesn’t perform well compared ot other slicers.
During slicing, you’ll determine:

  • Bed Orientation: Consider the best placement of your model on the print bed to minimize supports and optimize strength.
  • Infill: Choose a pattern and percentage for the internal structure of your print. This affects both the model’s strength and the amount of material used.
  • Supports: Enable the generation of support structures if your model has significant overhangs.

The Printing Process and Post-Processing

 It’s time for the moment you’ve been waiting for! In this section, we’ll delve into the printing process and the finishing touches that will transform your design into a tangible object.


  • Material Selection: The filament you choose plays a significant role in your print’s success. Popular options include:


  • PLA: Easy to print, biodegradable, and available in a wide range of colors. Easy to melt – you can use this to change the shape of your printed object!
  • ABS: Strong and durable, but can be more challenging to print due to warping. Easy to sand down, more temperature resistant.
  • PETG: A good balance of strength, ease of use, and temperature resistance.


  • The Importance of the First Layer: A well-calibrated print bed (ensuring its level and the correct distance from the nozzle) is crucial for getting that first layer to adhere properly. A strong first layer is the foundation for a successful print.


  • Post-Processing: Once your print is complete, some finishing touches might be necessary:
    • Support Removal: Carefully remove any support structures that were added during the printing process.
    • Sanding and Smoothing: If you desire a smoother surface finish, you can sand your model and apply techniques like acetone smoothing (for ABS prints) to achieve the desired level of refinement. Anothger option is covering your print in resin, or sandable putty/filler! We have plenty of tutorials and youtube videos about post-processing! 

Tips for Flawless 3D Printing

Now that you’ve grasped the key design principles, let’s delve into some practical tips to help you achieve flawless 3D prints. By following these guidelines and experimenting with your setup, you’ll be well on your way to turning your digital creations into stunning physical objects.

Start Simple

To make the most of your 3D printing journey, start with simple models designed for beginners. This will help you master the fundamentals of the printing process, software settings, and troubleshooting common issues. As your skills and confidence grow, you can then take on more complex projects, pushing the boundaries of what you can create with your 3D printer. Try printing our simple low-poly Pokemon, or Harry Potter wands.

Join the Community

CGTrader offers more than just models – it’s home to a thriving community of designers, makers, and 3D printing enthusiasts. Connect with others, get feedback on your designs, and find inspiration in project showcases and discussions. Remember, broader 3D printing communities (online forums, social media groups, and subreddits like r/3Dprinting) are also fantastic resources for support and inspiration.

Experimentation is Key

Experimentation is key in 3D printing! Each printer, filament type, and model might need slightly different settings for the best results. Don’t be afraid to experiment with temperatures, print speeds, and other parameters to find the sweet spot that delivers the quality you’re looking for.

Embrace the Learning Process

3D printing is a rewarding skill, but mastery takes time. Be patient with yourself, embrace the learning process, and don’t get discouraged by the occasional failed print. Remember, both your successes and failures offer valuable lessons that will help you refine your technique and produce even better results in the future.

Safety First

Safety first! Always operate your 3D printer in a well-ventilated area to minimize exposure to potential fumes, and carefully follow the manufacturer’s safety instructions. This will help ensure a safe and enjoyable 3D printing experience.


The Transformative Power of 3D Printing

The world of 3D printing is constantly evolving, with the market projected to grow by almost 24% between 2023 and 2025. Embrace the learning process and explore exciting new filaments, software updates, and cutting-edge printer technologies. 

Don’t be afraid to experiment, push your creative boundaries, and seek inspiration from a vibrant 3D printing community. As you delve deeper, you’ll discover the incredible potential of this technology and the amazing objects you can bring to life.


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