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3D Printing: The Basics

3D printing services are now available at SSPL!

What is 3D printing?

3D printing results in the transformation of a three dimensional design into a physical object. This object will not only have measurable length and width but also height! The first step is to create or otherwise acquire a 3D design (for help with this step, click on the Getting Started tab). Next, special software is required to translate the design into language (called G-code) that the 3D printer can interpret and use to print. This process starts with slicing: the software virtually "slices" up a design to determine what each layer of a print will look like. 

Next, the design is ready to print! While it is not the only type of 3D printing, a commonly-used method is Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM); this is how SSPL's 3D printer operates. In FDM, the printing material is heated until soft and forced through a small nozzle on the printer. It follows a path for each layer set by the slicing software. Once a layer is complete, the printer builds the model up vertically, adding the next layer of material on top of the previous. The layers slowly build until the design has reached its full height and dimensionality, much like adding layers of bricks to build up the walls of a house.

3D printing may be useful for fabricating prototypes, specialty part creation, sculptural artwork, and for countless projects devised by various hobbyists. 3D printers are now available for hundreds to a few thousands of dollars and many consumers have purchased them for home use. Some libraries and makerspaces also have 3D printers available for use by the public. The Saratoga Springs Public Library is pleased to be a part of this group, now offering 3D printing services for library patrons!


The 3D design to the left was created in Tinkercad with just a few simple clicks. It measures 1" x 112" x 12" (LWH) both virtually and in its physical printed form. It took 50 minutes to print on SSPL's Ultimaker2 3D printer and required nearly 21" of PLA filament to print. It weighs less than a quarter of an ounce and was printed with an automatically generated brim at the base, removable if desired.

IMAGES: design mode in Tinkercad; model view in Tinkercad; printing initiated and brim nearly complete; 25% of print complete; 50% of print complete; 75% of print complete; finished print

3D Print Material

There are numerous materials that can be utilized for 3D printing. The material available for use with SSPL's 3D printer is PLA (polylactic acid) filament. It starts out as a long cable wound on a spool which is fed into the printer, heated, and extruded to create a 3D print. PLA is very lightweight and is one of the most commonly-used materials in 3D printing. It is considered a bioplastic, made from renewable resources, and will eventually biodegrade under the right environmental conditions.

Please Note: This is NOT a food-grade material. It is also relatively sensitive to heat, meaning that temperatures upwards of 110°F (hot liquids, direct sunlight, etc.) may soften a finished print or alter its shape.

Quality of 3D Prints

3D printed objects may have small bumps, holes, and rough edges. These can be cleaned up using fine sandpaper. Objects are printed from the bottom up. If a design has a large overhang or suspended parts, support material may be used. These additions can be removed by the patron. The library is not responsible for removing support materials added during printing.

The 3D printer has the capacity to print objects up to 8.5" wide x 8.5" deep x 8.0" high. Objects will be printed in one color (whatever is on the spool) using PLA filament.

Please Note: Patrons will not be charged in cases of mechanical failure of the 3D printer. No refund will be given if an object does not print correctly due to design errors. Patrons will not receive a replacement print of the original due to dissatisfaction with color, scale, quality, design, or required support material.

Safety Concerns

The 3D printer at SSPL is perfectly safe when handled correctly. That being said, it does have both moving and heated parts. The best way to stay safe is to simply follow a "do not touch" policy! This will prevent injury during use as well as damage to the printer at any given time. Only trained staff members have a need to come into contact with the printer - anyone requesting a print need only follow the online submission procedure.

What about print materials? PLA is a non-toxic plastic that is considered safe to use. It does not emit any offensive smells during printing as do some other 3D print material options.

As for the finished prints themselves, submitted designs are screened per our Usage Policy to deny any print that would be considered "Unsafe, harmful, dangerous, poses a threat to the well-being of others, is obscene, or is otherwise inappropriate for the library environment - including weaponry or parts of weapons..."