June 28, 2012 AT 9:22 am

ASK AN EDUCATOR! “What software would you use to design a 3D printer?”

Caanon asks:

There’s a ton of software out there that lets you design things that will eventually be printed with 3d printers, but what about designing the 3d printers themselves? Say you wanted to design your own 3d printer; something akin to a Makerbot, ORD bot or a RepRap. What software would you use to design and model the printer itself?

Interesting question! Whenever I begin the design process, I take a look at the manufacturing tools I have available and design around their capability. For example, I LOVE my laser cutter. If I could recommend any one piece of Maker equipment to everyone, it would be the laser cutter. Its versatility and ease of use make prototyping a breeze. I also have available to me a pretty large amount of CNC machinery including lathes, mills, 3D printers. Each one of these pieces of equipment require different types of software to take a design and create a product.

If you are looking to create your 3D printer from ~2D material, like the ply they use on the MakerBot and have it cut on a Laser Cutter, I would recommend 2D drawing software like DraftSight. Very similar to AutoCAD, DraftSight provides a very capable FREE work environment to produce line drawings. These are then exported as a DXF/DWG and are interpreted by the laser cutter to make the appropriate cuts.

If you are looking to create a 3D printer like a RepRap, that uses complex 3D components, I would recommend 3D drawing software like Solidworks or AutoDesk Inventor. Both of these pieces of software are offered as trials and have student versions for relatively cheap. (You could use Sketchup with the STL plugin….but I find it to be a bit limited and slow)The designs you produce with the software are then saved as solid object files (STL or equivalent), deconstructed into g-code through a processor, then read by the machine to produce the part.

This is the sequence of steps I used to build my 3D printer:

2D Parts:

  1. Hand sketch the idea
  2. Dimension the drive components (steppers, pulleys, bearing mounts, etc.)
  3. AutoCAD to create the designs for the acrylic pieces
  4. Print through Epilog Print Driver configured for cutting

3D Parts:

  1. Hand sketch the idea
  2. Dimension the space in which the part will occupy/support/etc.
  3. Solidworks to solid model the part
  4. Export as an STL
  5. ReplicatorG to generate the g-code and run the machine

As reference, the CNC Panel Joinery Notebook has a ton of great examples of joining components. A good example is the “Pettis Joint,” as it was highly utilized in the MakerBot design.

I hope this has helped to answer your question and good luck making your printer!

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“Ask an Educator” questions are answered by Adam Kemp, a high school teacher who has been teaching courses in Energy Systems, Systems Engineering, Robotics and Prototyping since 2005.


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1 Comment

  1. Just wanted to say thanks for the answer :) Was looking forward to hearing your views!

    P.S. **LOVE** the captcha! :D

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