Post Processing in 3D Printing

The 3D printing industry is growing faster than ever, with constantly changing upgrades and improvements to print quality and speeds. According to Canalys, the size of the 3D printing market, including 3D printer sales, materials and associated services, has reached US$2.5 billion globally in 2013, and is predicted to reach US$16.2 billion by 2018. As a result of this rapid growth, there has been a lot of hype and misconceptions about 3D printing. One of the most common misconceptions is the as printed look and feel of a 3D printed object. Many expect a 3D printed part to look completely smooth and finished when it is done printing. While in reality, almost all of the 3D printing technologies to date, including Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF or FDM), Stereolithography (SLA), Multijet Modeling, and Inkjet Head Printing require some levels of post processing after the parts done printing. In a previous blog, we have shared some insights with TCT Magazine on Post Processing 3D Prints. In this blog, we are going to dive deeper into the options available for post processing 3D prints, especially for the Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) 3D prints. For those of you who prefer watching videos, we have also created a 7 minute clip to walk you through the process.  

Before You Start a 3D Print

Post processing can significantly improve the surface finish of 3D prints. Depending on the 3D print design and final application, different 3D prints might require different amount of post processing efforts. To reduce the amount of post processing required after a 3D print is done, there are three things your can do before starting a 3D print to get the best surface finish possible. 1. Determine the best nozzle diameter and layer resolution for your project. Keep in mind the relationship between layer resolution and print time. A large diameter nozzle with a thick layer resolution will print much faster than a small diameter nozzle with fine layer resolution. 2. Once the layer resolution is determined, the speed settings for the printer have a direct effect on the quality and surface finish of the printed part. 3. If the part you are printing requires supports, the choice made regarding support material has a direct impact on the surface finish of a printed part.


Post Processing for Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) 3D Prints

The post processing in Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) 3D prints is fairly easy. Once a part is finished 3D printing, let it cool down if it is printed on a heated bed, and then remove it from the print bed. A typical 3D print generally requires two post processing steps: deburring and sanding. Priming and airbrushing can also be applied after if you would like to take your finished prints to the next level. Take this rim as an example, it was 3D printed using a commonly used plastic called PLA polylactic acid. When the print was complete, the support structure needed to be removed before proceeding with more advanced post processing steps. To achieve the aluminum surface look, the following processes were performed:
  • Deburring removes all sharp edges of plastic that may be remnant of the support structures
  • Sanding ranging from course to fine grit
  • Priming and, airbrushing artistic details
Similar to the rim, this 3D printed Frankensteins head is also finished with the previous steps. Watch our time-lapse video here to take a closer look at how it was done.

Other techniques for finishing 3D prints:

  1. Acetone vapor treatment of ABS – acrylonitrile butadiene styrene
  2. Water and ultrasonic waves combined to remove support structures
  3. A variety of other chemical and sealant treatments to smooth outside surface finish.
Whether to post processing the 3D prints or not, determining the end-use of any object prior to printing is the key. It is also important to understand that while there are many post processing techniques that can be applied to your 3D printed parts in order to make it show room quality, you have to have the tool and know how to accomplish this. Here at 3D Platform, we trust the artist at Psycology in Evansille, Wisconsin, and the 3D printing experts at CIDEAS in Crystal Lake, Illinois to help bring our prints to live. CIDEAS 124 Erick Street Suit #A115 Crystal Lake, IL 60014 847-639-1000 PSYCOLORGY 498 Water Street #3 Evansville, WI 53536 608-884-3260 www.psycoshopcom

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