SOLIDWORKS allows you to better understand your designs in the context of 3D printing. SOLIDWORKS provides several 3D printing visualization and analysis tools and all of them can be accessed through the SOLIDWORKS Print 3D tool (File > Print3D). Let’s take a look!
Does My Part Fit on My 3D Printer?
The first step in analyzing your design for 3D printing is to ensure that it will fit inside the print area. Under Printer, you can select the 3D printer that you will be using. If this is your first time using the Print3D command, you will need to add your printers to your favorites list. Click on Manage Favorites to browse all available 3D printers. SOLIDWORKS has added a comprehensive list of 3D printers with up-to-date envelope information so you can quickly find your most used printers and add them to your Favorites for easy access. If for some reason your 3D printer is not listed under this library, you can define a Custom Printer by manually inputting the print volume dimensions.
Under Print Bed Location select a plane, or planar face, to be defined as the bottom plane of the model. This will automatically orient your model on the print bed. If the model is larger than the print volume, the geometry outside the print volume will be highlighted in red and you will not be able to print. If you need to change the orientation of the model, you can use the translation controls, manually type in the desired print bed angle and offsets in the Print3D PropertyManager, or click Orient to Fit to let SOLIDWORKS orient your part or assembly for you.
Under Scale, you can also choose to print your design at a scale other than 1, which is the current size of the model in SOLIDWORKS. To do so, type a value for the scale factor. The new value is saved as a document property in the SOLIDWORKS file so if you print the model again, the saved value is used still there. The Scale to Fit option sets the scale to the largest value that will still fit inside of the print volume.
Can I Analyze with SOLIDWORKS Print 3D?
Sure! You just have to switch over to the Preview tab in the SOLIDWORKS Print3D PropertyManager. There are several analysis tools that you can use to get a better understanding of the design to be printed.
- Build Analysis
- This allows you to preview the faces of your model that may require supports. Depending on the printer being used, at a certain overhang angle, the print quality is greatly affected unless supports are used. Type in the maximum angle for the faces that will require support. I recommend changing the Support face color to red and checking Show As Transparent to make it easy to visualize all of the faces that will need support.
- Layer Height
- This option lets you visualize the height of each print layer in order to determine whether the print resolution is sufficiently fine to produce the desired print. Type in a layer height and turn on Show Striation Lines in order to get a preview.
- If you are planning on exporting your file as a .3MF (3D Manufacturing Format), you can choose to let SOLIDWORKS generate the slices for the 3D print and embed those into the .3MF file instead of slicing the model using the printer’s slicer software
- Thickness/Gap Analysis
- If you are using FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) for your prints, this calculates the ideal wall thickness/gap based on the material that you set and the layer height.
How Do I Export the File to Be 3D Printed?
When you are done analyzing and visualizing your design, you are ready to export the 3D print files. You can export part and assembly files to STL (.stl), 3D Manufacturing Format (.3mf), or Additive Manufacturing File Format (.amf) files.
- STL (*.stl)
- This ASCII or binary format file describes only the surface geometry of a 3D object as a raw, unstructured triangulated surface.
- 3D Manufacturing Format (*.3mf)
- This is a 3D focused file format that contains 3D model, material, and property information for sharing full-fidelity 3D models to other applications, platforms, services, and printers.
- Additive Manufacturing File (*.amf)
- This xml-based file lets you select export options that store the color, scale and materials of the object to be 3D printed in the .AMF file, as well as the geometry of the model.
Under Save To File, select your desired format and click Save File. Once you have one of these files, you can import it into your printer’s slicer software to generate the G-code that the printer will use to print your design.
Can I Print Directly From SOLIDWORKS?
Yes, but only if your 3D printer manufacturer uses the SOLIDWORKS 3D Print API. As soon as you finish using the Print3D command and click OK, the 3D printing rapid prototyping dialog box will open to ensure that your printer’s build area is empty. The printer will start to warm up get ready to print. If your 3D printer does not use the SOLIDWORKS 3D Print API, you can still export the file as described above and import it into your printer’s slicer software.
How Do I Set My 3D Printing Options?
If you are planning on printing directly from SOLIDWORKS, you can set the 3D printing options that you would typically set in the slicer software. Job Quality corresponds to the print layer height and is the printer’s approximation to match that resolution. Infill Percentage lets you select the percentage of the part that is solid. You can select between 0%, 10%, 40%, 70%, and 100%.
Infill percentage can greatly affect print times and part strength. Include Raft builds the print output on top of a raft of disposable material that you can remove after printing. This option is cleared by default. Include Supports adds supports for model faces that are in open space with no part of the model supporting the face. This option is selected by default and resets to the default each time that you open the Print3D PropertyManager.
The tools available inside of the Print3D command are easy to use and set up. Even if a different slicer software ends up being used to send the model to the printer, these tools can serve as a great starting point to understand the 3D printing requirements that your specific design may have.