Do 3D Printers Need Internet or Be Connected to A Computer?


Depending on the size, complexity and the printing technology used, a 3D print can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a week. 

A common question beginners have is whether an internet connection is required to use a 3D printer. An internet connection is not a requirement during printing. It is, however, a part of the process of creating using a 3D printer. 

You might be asking why you need the internet if you can print without a connection. In this article we look at the steps involved in using a 3D printer. We look at what a 3D printer requires and what role a computer plays in using one. 

Can You Use A 3D Printer Without Internet?

A 3D printer works without an internet connection. Designs can be read and printed from a portable storage device such as an SD card or USB flash drive. Alternatively, they can be printed directly from a computer. 

3D Printing Is Here To Stay

A 3D printer works offline like an ordinary office printer. There are some models like the ToyBox that require an internet connection to print. Most 3D printers do not. There are also models that might give you more functions when connected to the internet. 

While you do not need an internet connection to print, you do need it to:

  1. Download designs you can print.
  2. Download any additional software you might need.
  3. Upgrade your existing software.

Does A 3D Printer Have To Be Connected To A Computer?

A 3D printer does not need to be connected to a computer to print. 3D prints can be made from a SD card, flash drive or other portable file storage device. An alternative option is to print wireless from a device like an Ipad if the printer is set up to print over a wireless connection.

For more on this, we highly recommend that you check out our post “Can You Use A 3D Printer With An Ipad / Tablet? Simple 3 Steps Process!

The necessary component is the STL files the printer uses to print. A computer is mainly used in the design and preparation phase of a print. Once your STL file is ready, the printer runs autonomously.

Do 3D Printers Have WiFi?

Most older model 3D printers are not WiFi enabled. There are, however, brands like Ultimaker and MakerBot that have newer 3D printers that can print over WiFi. In addition, some 3D printers can be made to print over WiFi using a combination of software and a hardware intermediary.

The most popular method for achieving wireless printing is using a Raspberry Pi and OctoPrint. A Raspberry Pi is a single-board computer with general purpose input/output (USB and HDMI) that lets you control electronic components for physical computing. Source

OctoPrint is software you can use to control your printer. It can be run on your computer or on Raspberry Pi. The basic steps to making your printer wireless using Raspberry Pi and OctoPrint are:

  1. Get a Raspberry Pi 3B or newer. Older models run into issues like longer loading times.
  2. Get OctoPrint Firmware and Etcher for creating the boot drive.
  3. Save the firmware on an SD card.
  4. Configure the WiFi settings (SSID and password) using a code editor. 
  5. Insert the card into the Raspberry Pi.
  6. Login and complete your WiFi settings (Username and password)
  7. Connect your printer.

What Type Of Software Does A 3D Printer Use?

3D printing requires 3D design software and slicing software. The design software creates while the slicing software interprets the design for the printer.

A 3D printer creates 3D items by printing successive layers of plastic material on a print bed. Software is used to model and map out the design for the printer to print. Filament is the material the printer uses to print. 

3D printing is a multi-stage process that starts off with a model. The model is then converted to the machine readable instructions (G-code) that your printer uses to produce an item. Software and material make the whole process possible.

3D design software

Before you can create anything three-dimensional, you first need a 3D render or design. Design software like Photoshop or After Effects create designs that are two-dimensional and viewed on screens or in printed form. 

3D designs on the other hand, are created using 3D modeling software. The software lays out the details of the design like shape, texture, color and more. There are several 3D design software to choose from. The most popular are:

  • Blender
  • AutoCAD
  • Fusion 360
  • SketchUp
  • FreeCAD

With the exception of AutoCAD, all of this software are free to use.

How about using a phone or an Android? We highly recommend that you check out our post “Can You Use A Phone Or Tablet To 3D Print? (List Of Software Needed )

Slicing software

Your 3D designs are then exported. There are hundreds of formats a 3D design file can come in. Standard Triangle Language (STL) is the most commonly used file format. This file will hold all the details of your design. Source

However, the printer cannot print directly from the file. It needs additional information. Slicing software or slicers take the information from your STL files and use that to create the layers that will make up your 3D print. They also control print settings like temperature, layer height, thickness, speed and infill. 

There are several slicers available to buy or for free. Some free slicers include:

  • Cura
  • PrusaSlicer
  • IdeaMaker
  • OctoPrint
  • Lychee Slicer

Once your design is configured into a machine-ready format, all that’s left is to print it. For that you need material.

What Type Of Material Does A 3D Printer Use?

A 3D printer uses filament. There are over 25 different types of filament with more varieties coming out to meet demand. Most filament is made from plastic but there are types that combine plastic with additives like metal or carbon to produce stronger or more flexible filament.

The two most commonly used types of filament are PLA and ABS. 

PLA (Polylactic Acid)

Both beginners and professionals prefer PLA to most filament types. This is primarily because it has a low melting temperature which makes it easy to use. 

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)

ABS is the second most popular type of filament after PLA. Although it is stronger and more durable than PLA, it is not as popular because it is slightly harder to use owing to its higher melting point. 

sherifjallad

I am a very well experienced techie civil engineer who's extensively interested in 3D printing technology and even more captivated by the potential of 3D printing livable structures

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