Guerrieri Academic Commons arial view from front entrance.

Getting Started with 3D Printing

Everyone can make use of the MakerLab’s 3D printing services, whether you have years of 3D printing experience or you’ve never even seen a 3D printer before. If you need a little help getting started, this guide will teach you the basics so you can plan your visit.

Where to Start

The first thing you’ll need to start working with 3D printing is an idea of what you want to print. These ideas will fall into one of two broad categories: (1) ideas for things that someone else might have already created, and (2) unique ideas that no one else has thought of before. The next steps toward 3D printing your object will depend on which of these types of ideas your object falls into.

Existing Ideas

If you think someone else might have already come up with your idea, it’s much easier to try to find a 3D model for your object online than to create it yourself. The less specific your idea is, the more likely a suitable object will be easily findable online. Examples of something that might already exist include:

  • Any common objects that you might be likely to find in a store that could be made out of a solid piece of plastic
  • Replacement parts for plastic pieces in many types of objects (laptops, drones, cars, household appliances, etc.)
  • Scientific or anatomical objects like atoms, DNA, bones, and organs
  • Animals
  • Cartoon/video game characters
  • In general, most other items that aren’t your own original idea

If you think a suitable object might already exist, start by visiting Thingiverse and do a search. There are many other websites that provide 3D models, but Thingiverse is an excellent place to start. The models there are free, and there is a large community of 3D printing enthusiasts who upload new models to the site frequently.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for on Thingiverse, you can do a general web search for your object and “3D model” to see if you can find what you’re looking for. But be careful downloading files from unknown websites since they can contain malware, and be wary of any site that asks you to pay for a model without a clear reason why the model should cost money. If you are ever unsure if a website is safe or reputable, feel free to contact us and we’d be happy to help you.

Unique Ideas

If your idea is one of you own creation, it’s likely that you will need to create a 3D model yourself using 3D modeling software. This software comes in many different varieties, but the easiest place to start if you have no 3D modeling experience is Tinkercad. Tinkercad is browser-based software, so there is no need to install anything, and it is free to use. You will only need to create an account to start using it.

Once you create an account, you will have the ability to go through an in-depth series of tutorials. We recommend that you do as many of these as you can to fully understand the way the software works. This will save you time in the long run as you work on your object. If you need any help getting started or if you just want some feedback on what you’ve designed, feel free to contact us and we’d be happy to help!

If you do have some 3D modeling experience, there are many excellent 3D modeling tools you can use to design your models for printing. We would recommend starting with Fusion360 or Blender, but any 3D modeling software will work as long as you can export your model as an STL or OBJ file. Fusion360 is easiest to start with and is free for students. Blender is a bit more complex but is also open source and free for everyone.

3D Printing Your Model

When you’ve found a model online or designed your own, you just need to download or export the 3D model file for it to 3D print it. There are many different 3D model types, but the most common are STL and OBJ. If you can’t find a way to download or export your model as one of those file types, just bring in what you have and MakerLab staff can help you figure out how to get the files we need.

Once you have the 3D model file, you’re ready to visit the MakerLab. You can make an appointment online or just stop by, but we recommend having an appointment so you can have the best chance that there will be an available printer when you show up.

MakerLab staff will load your model into our 3D printer software and provide a consultation so you can get the best results for your print. We offer several different types of printers and 3D printing technologies, so we will make recommendations for the best ones to use based on your model and what you want to do with it.

Once printing has started, it can take quite a while to finish depending on the size of your model. Even small objects can take several hours, and large objects can take 24 hours or more. We will let you know by email when your object is ready to pick up.

Getting Help

That’s pretty much all there is to 3D printing with the SU Libraries MakerLab, but if you need help or have questions at any point in the process, please don’t hesitate to contact us. You can reach out to us through our online chat (during our open hours), by email at, or by just stopping by the MakerLab in room 118 of the Guerrieri Academic Commons. We are always happy to hear about your ideas and provide advice and feedback!