How to Use an FDM 3D Printer for the First Time

3D Models

3d printer quality


How to Use an FDM 3D Printer for the First Time

3D Models

3d printer quality


Using an FDM 3D printer for the first time can be intimidating, but with the proper knowledge and preparation, it can be an easy and rewarding experience. This outline will provide an overview of what you need to know before starting your FDM 3D printer.


Step 1: Understand What FDM Is

If you’re still unclear on what an FDM 3D printer is, we’re here to clear it up. FDM in 3D printing is a type of technology that works by extruding thermoplastic filaments through a heated nozzle onto a build platform layer by layer until you have a completed part. It is one of the most popular 3D printing technologies due to its ease of use and affordability.


Step 2: Prepare Your Model

Before printing a 3D model, a slicer must be used to convert it from a three-dimensional entity into GCODE, the format that most 3D printers use. Ultimaker Cura and Prusa Slicer are two popular slicer software packages; they 'slice' the 3D model into several 2-dimensional layers, which can then be printed one by one, building up the model layer by layer for a fully printed piece.


For those new to 3D printing, slicers often have both a beginner and an export mode. Beginner mode simplifies the experience by allowing users to select basic settings, such as the type of filament used and the temperature and layer height, automatically selecting reasonable defaults. Experts, on the other hand, can take control over all aspects of their prints thanks to the sophisticated options available in expert mode, allowing them to fine-tune layer heights, fill percentages, speeds, supports, bed adhesion, and more.


Fortunately for newcomers to 3D printing technology, today's beginner modes are highly advanced so that you can get a high-quality result immediately.

Step 3: Set Up Your Printer

Once your model is ready, you need to set up your printer. This includes loading filament into the extruder, leveling the build platform, and calibrating the nozzle height. It is essential to follow all instructions provided by your printer’s manufacturer to ensure proper setup. 

Many modern 3D printer owners assume that their auto bed leveling system takes care of the process, but they are mistaken. While auto bed leveling in newer printers measures the height at multiple points and adjusts the nozzle distance in real-time to compensate for an uneven bed, it doesn't level it. Understanding this key distinction helps beginners get their 3D printing jobs off to a good start and ensures that prints turn out as expected. It also helps if you utilize the best 3D printer filament for beginners as there are various types of filament for 3D printing.

With or without an auto bed leveling system, if your printer supports it, I recommend you begin by manually leveling the bed.

A level print bed is essential in 3D printing to ensure the nozzle is at a uniform distance from the print surface. This process, known as manual leveling, uses springs at each corner of the bed. By adjusting these springs, you can ensure that the bed remains flat and level. Unfortunately, as one corner is pulled down to make it level, it can often cause the opposite corner to rise, meaning that multiple passes are likely necessary to be made around the bed until all corners are similar distances from the nozzle. This tedious manual process allows better results during 3D printing and is worth investing time in if an accurate end product is desired.


Step 4: Start Printing!

Once your printer is set up and ready to go, you can start printing! There are several ways to transport your Gcode, your slicer's output, to your printer. The most common is via a storage device supported by your printer. This could be a micro-sd card, a USD key, or a full-size SD card. Alternatively, you may be able to connect your printer to your computer via a USB cable or even wifi.


For your first prints, I recommend you save your GCODE from your slicer to your printer's preferred media and walk it over to the print. Once your 3D printing has started, you must take the time to observe it. Many factors can affect how well a print is produced. After checking that your printer is working correctly, one of the first things to check is whether the newly printed first layer sticks firmly to the print surface - if not, manual adjustment of the print bed may be necessary.


Move the nozzle closer to the print surface by turning the dials connected to the corner springs a quarter turn to the right, allowing the bed to move up. Some 3d printers support adjusting a Z offset instead of re-leveling the print bed. Setting a negative Z offset will move the nozzle closer to the bed, while a positive Z offset will move the nozzle away from the nozzle.


Make sure you monitor your print throughout its duration to ensure everything goes smoothly. Once finished,use a side cutter or exacto knife to carefully remove the supports and raft and you're ready to share your print..


Using an FDM 3D printer for the first time doesn't have to be difficult if you are prepared and knowledgeable about how it works. With these steps in mind, you should be able to get started with your own FDM 3D printer quickly and easily!

Make sure you look at the following MakeWithTech playlist for more information on getting started with a 3d printer.


Irv Shapiro