3D Printing: Tools of the Trade

 In 30 days of education
Alright. You’ve got your 3D printer. You’ve got your filament. You’ve got your model all ready to go and you have everything set up on the computer. What else will you need to print successfully? We’ve assembled a list of useful tools to have handy for maintenance of your 3D printer, post-processing of models, and more. So let’s dive in.

Build surface helpers – These are very important, but the type you’ll want depends on the type of printer you have.

Image result for kapton tape
Kapton Tape
If you have a heated build plate, you might not need anything additional to help your objects stick to the plate, but if you do, this is a good material to look into purchasing.

Blue Painter’s Tape
For non-heated build platforms only, this provides an affordable solution to help objects adhere to the build plate but still remove easily.

For non-heated build platforms only, this material serves the same purpose of painter’s tape, but tends to adhere to the objects a bit stronger. This makes wobbly prints easier to print but all prints a bit more difficult to remove. One of the benefits is that this will last a very long time, as it is more difficult to tear.

If you’re using a non-heated build platform, we recommend a layer of BuildTak with a layer of painter’s tape on top of it. The combination seems to work for the majority of prints.

Keep in mind, if you’ve adjusted the build surface by adding or removing any layers, be sure to re-level your printer accordingly!

Hair Spray
(Yes, we’re being serious.) Another helpful tool to keep near the printer, this can sometimes add a bit of stickiness to the build plate to help the object adhere better. We rarely use this at the office, but it is a common tool many makers use.

Object removal helpers – Use these to remove your model from your printer once it is finished. Some printers come with these already, and some models can be removed easily without tools.

Clam Knife
By far the most useful tool we’ve used to remove objects from build plates, its thin edge yet sturdy design make it optimal for sliding under objects and then applying force like a lever to pop objects off the build plate. Note, however, a clam knife is sharp! Be very careful when using it and use your best judgment in entrusting it to the users of your printer. Choose a blunter tool depending on the age and responsibility your users. We do not suggest integrating these into school environments. Nor do we claim any liability for injury, etc. obtained using or providing a clam knife with your 3D printer.

Scraper/Putty Knife
Available in a variety of designs, these make decent alternatives as a blunt object to use for model removal.

Post-processing helpers – Every printer prints differently. Which means you might need to adjust your models after they’ve been printed, especially if you’re trying to integrate real-world objects (see our blog post on that topic here), or if you’re designing your own models. And either way, you’ll often need a tool to remove printed supports. The following are tools you might use to adjust your model after printing.

Needle Nose Pliers
Use these to remove excess filament from the extruder head prior to leveling or printing. Perfect for removing supports, use these to snap-off the built-in supports on our models. Also can be useful in removing objects from the build plate or shearing off unwanted portions of a model (most useful while models are still in development phase).

Wire Cutters
Useful for cutting filament or breaking off supports from flexible filament, these are good to keep on hand.

Very useful for getting objects to connect to each other seamlessly, either tape them together directly, or use tape to thicken one of the objects until you reach a pressure fit. That way you’ll still be able to connect and disconnect the objects easily. Very useful, for instance, if your pencils are a different diameter than the ones we designed our kits around, etc. For information on which brands we work with when developing, visit this previous post on integrating everyday objects into your designs.

Permanent Marker
If you don’t have a multi-color printer, using a permanent marker to accentuate details of a print can be a really simple way to get two-tone models with minimal effort. We suggest using this on a number of our kits.

Not something we tend to use, it can nonetheless be a useful tool for smoothing out models if you’d like your models to have a cleaner finish than what your printer creates by default.


3D Printer Maintenance Tools – Keeping your printer running smoothly is important to getting quality prints consistently. Here are a few tools you’ll want to keep handy to keep your printer running when it runs into issues jamming, etc.

Hex Key/Allen Wrench
A vital tool to opening up most any printer, keep a set of these handy for clearing jams, tightening belts, and more.

Always good to have around, keep both a flathead and a Phillips head screwdriver on hand.

Unbend for an easy way to unclog your printer without disassembling it. Some printers come with official alternatives. Will not work for all jams, but is a good thing to test before disassembling the extruder setup.

Use to heat the end of the paperclip for more efficient unjamming. Not recommended for use with children. Nor do we claim any liability for injury, etc. obtained using or providing a lighter with your 3D printer.

Bristle Brush
A brush with short, metal bristles can be useful in cleaning out the stepper motor or cleaning off the extruder head.

Certain printers require regularly greasing of their gears to run in optimal condition. If this is the case with your printer, it most likely supplied some grease/oil when originally purchased.

For leveling, simple printer paper often provides a good reference point for leveling your machine. Most printers require just a little bit of friction between the paper and the extruder head while still allowing the paper to slide in and out from under the extruder head easily for a good leveling. Cut the paper into small squares for easier manipulation and refer to your printer’s instructions regarding leveling procedures. Some printers provide their own specific alternatives.

Now that you’ve assembled all the additional tools of the 3D printing trade, you’re ready to get started.

Have any other tools you use with your 3D printer regularly? Share them in the comments!

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