File Preparation

Here I’ll walk you through the steps to prepare your files for printing in the Makerbot 5th Generation 3D printer.

You can either prepare your file on your own and bring it in on a USB drive or prepare your file on one of the computers in the Fab Lab and then transfer it using one of our USB drives.  Either way these instructions should help get you started.  If you’re doing it on your own then you’ll want to download and install the Makerbot Desktop software.  (The newer Makerbot Print software isn’t that functional with our older-model printer.)

To prepare your print you’ll need a obtain or create a .stl file of the object you’d like to print.  There are lots of websites where you can download already prepared .stl files of 3D-printable objects but you can also create your own .stl files from pretty much any CAD or solid modeling software (links to follow).

Once you have obtained or created your .stl file follow the steps below to prepare it for the printer.  Makerbot has a step by step tutorial you can follow but I’ll walk you through my workflow so you can know how we have been doing it here. There is also detailed help info available on the Makerbot website if you’re interested in learning more about the software.

  • Set your Makerbot Desktop software to 5th Generation Makerbot by going to the Devices menu and choosing Replicator(5th Generation) under the Select Type of Device menu.
  • Open your file in the Makerbot Desktop software.  It should look something like this: MakerbotDesktopEx
  • Position and/or rotate the part so that it’s oriented the way you want to print it.  Personal preference can play a role here but it behooves you to orient it so that it sits flat on the print bed. (On Platform in the Change Position menu is helpful with this.) It’s also a good idea to minimize overhanging or unsupported areas since these will either need supports or will not print properly.
  • Once your part (or parts, you can do multiple parts in one print) is laid out properly then select the Settings button above the work area.  Click here to read through a detailed description of the settings.  I suggest using the following settings for most prints.
    • Quality – High
    • Raft – checked (on)
    • Supports – unchecked (off)
    • Layer Height – 0.20 mm
    • Infill – 10% to 40% (choose 20% as a baseline for most prints)
    • Number of Shells – 2 to 4 (choose 3 as a baseline for most prints)
    • Extruder Type – Smart Extruder +
    • Material – MakerBot PLA
    • Extruder Temperature – 210C (for very “airy” prints use 200C for less stringing)
    • When you’re done it should look something like this:
  • Exceptions to these settings:
    • For open prints with lots of airy structure using 200C Extruder Temperature will help prevent stringing.  
    • If you end up with lots of little globules of PLA on your print you may want to tweak the Retraction settings in the Custom tab.  Faster and larger retraction can help with that.
    • Supports are necessary for some prints (anything with overhangs greater than 60 degrees from vertical).  Check the Supports button to add them in.  Try to orient your part to minimize use of supports and also to place supports in less-visible areas as the supports are difficult to remove cleanly from your finished part.  
    • Higher resolution is sometimes better and so changing Layer Height to 0.10mm may improve the quality of your part.  That being said, I have found that most parts actually look better in the end with Layer Height set to 0.20mm instead of 0.10mm.   
  • Click OK to save the print settings and then click Preview in the menu above the work area. A window will pop up while the software processes the file and then a preview window showing the print platform and the print appears.  It’ll provide info regarding the estimated Material Use and Print time and allow you to scroll through the layers to see how the print will be laid down.  It’ll look something like this if things go well:MakerbotPreview
  • To finish the file prep just click the Export button and save the file to your USB drive (the format is .makerbot).   It’s a good idea to also save the file from Makerbot desktop software (.thing format) as well so you’re able to use it again if you like.

Now you’re ready to go.  The .makerbot file on the USB drive is all you’ll need in order to get the print started.  If you want to use one of our USB drives then you can e-mail the file to yourself and use one of the computers in the Fab Lab to save it to the USB drive.

For instructions on how to actually get the print going on the printer click here (to be added later).