520 Virginia Drive, Fort Washington, PA 19034 | Tel: 215-628-8744

Today′s Hours

3D Printing FAQs

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are not able to process 3D Printing requests at this time. Please contact Molly Kane at mkane@mclinc.org with any questions.

Image of a 3D Printer and a Word Bubble with the Letters FAQ

3D Printing at UDPL

What are UDPL’s 3D printer policies and guidelines?

Please click here to see read UDPL’s 3D printer policies and guidelines.

What is 3D printing?

3D printing, also referred to as additive manufacturing, is the process by which digital files are converted into three dimensional objects. The printer melts and extrudes the printing material in a very thin layer. Following the directions of the digital file, the printer builds layer upon layer until object is complete.

Which printers does UDPL own?

The first 3D printer purchased for the UDPL STEAM Lab was a Cube. This printer and the filament cartridges needed to run it are no longer being made and is used primarily for demonstration purposes rather than daily printing.

The second 3D printer purchased for the UDPL STEAM Lab is the MakerBot Replicator. This is our “workhorse” printer. The majority of our prints are done on this printer because it has the largest build plate (for larger prints) and is the most consistent quality wise.

The third and fourth 3D printers purchased for the UDPL STEAM Lab are MakerBot Replicator Minis. These printers have identical extruders and print quality to the larger Replicator, but a smaller print plate. These smaller printers are ideal for printing single items as opposed to the Replicator that we often use to print four or more objects at a time.

The fifth 3D printer purchased for the UDPL STEAM Lab is a ToyBox printer. This is our smallest printer and the one we use when we want to do demonstrations in schools or at community events. It’s also the easiest to operate. Prints are sent to this printer with a single click and are generally printed very quickly.

The sixth 3D printer purchased for the UDPL STEAM Lab is a Creality Ender 3 Pro printer. This printer was purchased during the COVID-19 pandemic in Spring 2020 to assist in the creation of PPE that was then donated to medical facilities in and around the great Philadelphia area. It is the first printer UDPL owns with a heated print plate and allows for the largest finished object size.

Photo of a Creality Ender 3 Pro 3D printer


What material do the STEAM Lab 3D printers print?

Currently, we are using Polylactic acid (PLA) filament in our printer. PLA is a bio-degradable polymer  made from renewable resources such as corn starch, tapioca root or sugarcane. The PLA comes in many different colors and is wrapped around a spool and then fed into the printers’ extruders.

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) filament is another kind of plastic that can be used in 3D printers. This is the type of plastic LEGO bricks are made from. UDPL has explored using ABS in our printers but have found that without heated printing beds, which none of our printers have, it is very difficult to get a successful print. For this reason, we print primarily in PLA.

When we first started printing PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic, we realized that we wanted to use a plastic that was more durable than PLA and could be sanitized more easily. We started experimenting with Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) enhanced with glycol, or PETG. PETG is typically used for printing objects that need to be sturdy, have a smooth surface, and require lower shrinkage. The filament is also food safe and easier to sanitize.

What is the largest size object the printers can print?

The maximum object size that the MakerBot Replicator can print is 9.9″x 7.8″ x 5.9″.

The maximum object size that the MakerBot Mini can print is 3.9″x 3.9″ x 4.9″.

The maximum object size that the ToyBox 3D Printer can print is 3″x3″x3″.

The maximum object size that the Creality Ender 3 pro can print is 8.6″x 8.6″ x 9.8″.

How long does it take to print?

Printer speed depends on the size and the resolution of the file being printed. A smaller object will take a shorter period of time; so will an object printed at a lower resolution.

The video below shows a 3D print from beginning to end. It only lasts for a little over two and a half minutes, but that’s with the video sped up considerably – the actual print took almost three hours to make!



What programs are used to create files for the 3D printer?

There are many different programs that can be used to create 3D files. Some of them are software programs that need to be installed on computers like AutoCad. Others, like Tinkercad, are run through the internet and can be used without installing anything onto a computer.

The UDPL Steam Lab recommends the following web-based programs to create 3D files:

  • Tinkercad – allows you create files from scratch
  • SketchUp – allows you to create filed from scratch
  • Thingiverse – a website dedicated to the sharing of user-created digital design files
What kinds of files can 3D printers print?

All of UDPL’s printers need specialized file types in order to print.

All designs, whether they are designed or downloaded, need to be STL or OBJ files in order to be printed.

All files, whether they are STLs or OBJs, need to be translated into files specific to each of the printers. Library staff members will automatically translate your file when preparing your file for printing. You do NOT need to do it yourself!