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3D Printing

Category: Where The Child Things Are
Posted: October 12, 2017

By: Megan Stepniewski, Youth Associate

3D Printing is slowly becoming mainstream due to the machines becoming more and more affordable and consumer friendly. It’s a beautiful fusion between science, engineering, technology, and art. So here are some things to know if you want to get into 3D printing.

The Machine

For the average consumer there are several affordable machines to choose from, but which one depends on what you plan on using the machine for and how much you are willing to spend. If you want to print out very intricate and detailed art pieces such as jewelry and shoes, or you want to print certain parts to a large and heavy duty machine, you are going to want to fork out that extra cash to buy a machine that can handle exactly what you need. If you are making simple designs, toys, or prototypes, then you can afford to be on the cheap side when purchasing.

Popular and reliable companies/machines for 3D printing are:

  • Formlabs
  • MakerBot*
  • LulzBot
  • XYZprinting
  • Flashforge
  • New Matter
  • Robo 3D
  • Ultimaker

*The Glen Ellyn Public Library owns two MakerBots with nick names. You can stop by anytime and see them at work in the Youth Department.

One of two 3D printers in Youth Department.

Greetings! My name is Eugene. I am a MakerBot Replicator 2. Did you know that I can heat up plastic filament to 419°F?

One of two 3D printers in Youth Department.

Hi!!! My name is Gertrude or Gerty for short. I am a 5th Generation MakerBot. Did you know that the plastic filament is made from corn?!

The Filament

Filament is the term used for the material that the 3D Printers print with. The most common is plastic filament. You can choose from many different kinds of plastic and which one depends on the strength you need for your print. Common plastics are ABS, PVA, and PLA. The Glen Ellyn Public Library uses PLA, which is a corn-based plastic. It is super safe and produces a minimal amount of fumes. It is slightly flexible and shouldn’t be used for part that will be put under a great amount of stress.

3D printers are not just restricted to plastic. Other filaments include metal and glass. Stranger filaments include concrete, which can print out large buildings and structures, and biological material, which is used to print skin, organs, and other body parts. Currently there are even 3D printers for food! One successful one is a candy 3D printer for sugary sweet creations.

How it Works

There are several different ways that a machine can print in 3D. The most common way is through melting plastic filament and pushing it through an extruder. It works just like a super hot glue gun! The MakerBots at the library heat up their extruders to about 215°C (419°F). As the plastic starts oozing out of the extruder, the arm connected to the extruder moves around layering the plastic on to the build plate. Layer upon layer the plastic builds up until the print is finished.

Diagram of a 3D printer, showing wear the placement of certain parts.

Most prints start with a raft, which is a layer of plastic that assists in keeping the design secured to the build plate while it is being printed, and is removeable once the print is finished. If the design has any overhanging parts, the machine will build supports in order to print them. Remember, since it builds upon previous layers, if there is nothing underneath it, the plastic will sag and ultimately not print correctly. Supports are thin columns of plastic used to up hold those overhanging parts.

After the print is finished, you can remove the raft and any supports. Sometimes, there are little extra pieces of plastic or bits of the supports that are tough to remove, sanding it down can give the print a nice finish. There are also varnishes and other solutions for making the print smooth and shiny, if that is the desired result. You can also paint on it to give it any fine, colorful details. Sometimes, parts break off. If it’s a functional part, it’s suggested that you adjust the design to make it stronger and reprint, but if it’s just part of the print, then using a hot glue gun repairs it fairly well. You don’t even need to use the glue! Most glue gun nozzles get just hot enough to melt the plastic so you can fuse the pieces back together.


There are many free and paid programs for designing your 3D prints. The most common free ones are:

Paid ones are obviously going to give you more control and be able to create things with more detail. Most programs offer free lessons and tutorials to teach you how to design. is also a great website that offers hundreds of free lessons, videos, and tutorials on designing 3D prints, and it’s free through the Glen Ellyn Public Library! We also offer 3D Printing Open Labs about once a quarter to give one-on-one training on TinkerCAD.

Printing at the Library

Printing at the Glen Ellyn Public Library is for all ages and it’s free! So how do you go about printing something? Easy! Just follow the steps below:

  • Create an original 3D design using whatever program you wish.
  • Make sure it complies to our 3D Printing Policy. (Must be original — unless it’s a specific part for something, no weapons, etc.)
  • Save the file in a .stl format.
  • Attach the file to an email, and send it to:
  • List any particulars, like dimensions and color preferences if you have them. Just an FYI, our printers only print in one color and are limited to what we have available.
  • After you send the email, you will receive an automatic reply saying we got your email. If you don’t receive one, check your junk mail and/or resend.
  • It typically takes 1-2 weeks to process your print, depending on our queue.
  • Finally, you will receive another email when your print is finished and ready for pick up!

There you have it! Your very own 3D print. It’s super easy and really fun to do. If you enjoy 3D printing and design, then enter our 3D Printing Competition! It’s for all ages and runs through October 27. The object is to design a Christmas ornament. Preference will go to ornaments that are library themed, since we are celebrating our 110th anniversary. Winners will get 100 copies of their ornament printed and it will be sold to the public during our Holiday Walk! So come on and design a print already!

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