Completing a 3D print requires multiple steps – designing the 3D model, converting it to an STL file, slicing the STL file, and finally 3D printing. The conversion process from CAD model to STL file is crucial in order to produce a high quality 3D print. This blog post will cover the key things you need to know for properly converting 3D models to printable STL files.
Overview of the STL File Format
STL (STereoLithography) is a file format native to various CAD modeling software and commonly used for 3D printing. STL files describe a 3D model’s surface geometry using a mesh of triangles and store information about the edges, surfaces and vertices.
Most 3D printers accept STL files as input since STL files contain enough detail about the model’s surfaces to allow the 3D printer to reconstruct the physical model accurately.
Exporting the CAD Model as an STL File
- Select the model – Select the model components you wish to export. You can choose to export all components in the design or specific ones.
- Choose the export format – Pick STL as the export file format. Other formats like OBJ, 3MF or VRML may also work with some 3D printers.
3. Export Options – Adjust STL export options like units, coordinate system, and resolution/tolerance for better print quality.
- Save the STL file – Review the model geometry in the STL file before printing to catch any issues.
Autodesk Tinkercad also allows direct export to STL for 3D printing. Many CAD apps also let you directly send the model to a connected 3D printer.
Best Practices for STL File Export
Follow these best practices when exporting your CAD assemblies to STL for the best 3D printing results:
- Pick the correct coordinate system – Match the STL coordinate system to your printer’s build orientation for proper fitting.
- Check wall thicknesses – Ensure all walls are ≥ 1mm thick so they print properly.
- Set a small tolerance – Choosing a smaller chordal tolerance leads to higher quality STL with simpler triangles.
- Simplify the design – Remove small features, holes and chamfers that may be too tiny to print accurately.
- Split large components – Break up the assembly into smaller parts to avoid exceeding printer limits.
Tuning these parameters helps create cleaner STL files that contain watertight geometry printable by any FFF 3D printer.
STL File Repair and Validation
Despite best efforts, your model’s STL export may still contain issues like gaps, disconnected vertices or intersecting triangles. Repairing such defects in the STL file is essential prior to printing.
Several free tools like Microsoft Model Repair Service, NetFabb and MeshMixer help diagnose and fix STL files by doing things like:
- Automatically filling holes and gaps
- Removing disconnected components
- Flipping normal directions
These tools also let you visually validate the model geometry prior to sending it to the printer. Any defects could lead to failed 3D prints.
Validating watertight integrity and running the necessary repairs produces an optimal STL file ready for slicing and 3D printing.
Smooth Sailing with STL Files
Converting CAD assemblies properly into high quality STL files is vital for 3D printing success. By following the guidelines outlined here on selecting model components, tuning export settings, fixing defects, and validating models, you can streamline your overall 3D printing workflow.
Properly prepared STL files lead to smooth sailing by minimizing failed prints and expensive wasted material. Optimized STL conversion processes help make your path from 3D model concept to physical 3D printed reality easier than ever!