Can I Create A 3D Print Directly From Blender 3D?

In addition to modeling for animations and video games, you can also design a model to be 3D printed as a real-world object. But are you able to complete the entire virtual stage of the process using Blender alone, or do you require other platforms and applications for the actual printing?

While Blender can be used to design 3D objects for printing, you cannot create a 3D print directly from Blender. Instead, you need to export your model using either the stl, obj, or ply file formats to software that is dedicated to the 3D printing process. This software can be from the manufacturers of the 3D printers themselves for compatibility reasons or another source.

So if you cannot print a 3D model directly from the Blender software what exactly is the process for designing a 3D model and then print it as a physical object, and what other software do you need to do so?

Why Can I Not Send A Model Directly From Blender For 3D Printing?

There are certain file formats that are suitable for 3D printing objects. The blend file type used by all blender projects is not on this list of suitable file formats for 3D printing, because it is a format created specifically for use within Blender and holds many different types of data that are not related to 3D printing such as rigging and animation data.

In most cases, 3D printers may have their own specialized software associated with them so that you can print out your models using that software as the go-between.

Admittedly, while Blender does possess many of the tools necessary to design 3D printable models the user interface is not particularly suited to the task. This is why other alternatives such as Autodesk fusion 360 are considered better objects for creating 3D printable models.

What Do I Need To Do Then Once I Have Designed My Model?

You can always use Blender for the designing phase of your 3D printable model. Once you are done though you will be required to export your model as one of several different file formats that are suited for the task of 3D printing.

There are many different file extensions out there that store data in various forms, with each having its own set of use cases. For example, the FBX format has been extremely popular for many years for storing data of video game assets, but it is not very useful for storing data on assets created for 3D printing.

This is because you need to be able to store specific types of data when performing any task, from video games to 3D prints. The FBX file type can be used to store object data, rigging, animation, and basic material data. This makes it a great option for game assets.

So What Data Is Required To Successfully Print 3D Models?

The data that is required for 3D printing is related to the structure of the object itself. In other words, the file format selected needs to focus purely on the object itself and not additional types of data. For example, a file format that stores animation data is not suited because your printing model is not going to be moving (Hopefully!).

Object data can be broken down into several different forms of information, all of which are important for 3D printing. Below we have a list of the different data types that a file format should contain when used for 3D printing.

  • Normals
  • Vertex Data
  • Vertex Coordinates
  • Face Data
  • UV Coordinates

All of these relate to the structure of the models’ geometry and are important for when your 3D model needs to map out the object’s form.

What Are The Main File Formats That I Can Export As?

The question now is which file formats are suitable for 3D printing? However, it should be noted that not every file format is currently compatible with Blender. 3D printing is a relatively new field still, and there are some newer formats that have not made the transition to Blender just yet.

That said these formats are newer and less widely used anyway, so it is not that big of a deal. The file formats that are most commonly used for 3D printing are available for use with Blender, so long as the respective add-on has been enabled.

Below is a list of file formats that are suitable for 3D printing AND are currently compatible with Blender.

  • OBJ
  • STL
  • PLY
  • 3XD
  • GLTF

Of the options listed above, the STL file format is the most commonly used for 3D printing. A good alternative is the OBJ format, which is simple yet versatile and suitable for almost any 3D application.

The Two Ways Of Creating 3D Printed Objects After You Export?

Once you have exported the model that you created in Blender, you then need to send it to an application that is capable of sending that information to the 3D printer to complete the process.

What Software Do I Need For 3D Printing?

After you have created your model you will need to then ‘slice it’. Slicing is a term used in 3D printing to describe the process of dividing up a 3D model into a series of layers. The software assigns an index o numerical value to each layer that is created.

The reason why this is important is that the index values determine the order in which the layers are going to be created by the 3D printer. The software will then generate what is known as a tool path, which uses the file extension .gcode and sends the data to the printer to complete the process. You can consider slicing software almost as a middle man between the design software and the 3D printer.

There are several options out there for good slicing software, but the one that we recommend is Cura, which is free, open-source software like Blender that was developed by Ultimaker, which is a manufacturer of 3D printers.

While it is developed by a specific brand the software will work with the large majority of 3D printers on the market.

An alternative solution that we recommend is AstroPrint, which is a cloud-based solution that can be used for slicing as well as monitoring your 3D printer from anywhere that has an internet connection.

What If I Don’t Have My Own 3D Printer At Home Or At My Workspace?

Not everyone has a 3D printer in their own home. It may be a case that they are just too expensive, or that the added cost of buying material is unappealing. Or it could be a case where you just don’t have enough space in your home, as even the smaller 3D printers can take up a fair bit of space.

If you fall into the category of wanting to try 3D printing but don’t have access to a 3D printer then you can try sending your file off to a 3D printing company to be printed there and then posted to you for a fee.

If you choose this route be mindful that you want to get your model right before you export it and send it off for someone else to print.

A great website that we have used in the past is Sculpteo, which is an online surface that allows you to upload your file to the website and then pay for the product to be printed and shipped to you.

There are a growing number of websites similar to Sculpteo but they are the ones that we recommend as we have ordered from them in the past with no issues.

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