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What is the ultimate DIY—do it yourself—tool? A mechanic’s tool kit or the human brain? What about a device that can be used to create every tool you own and have used to date?

For many people, especially 3D printing enthusiasts, the 3D printer, is seen as the ultimate DIY tool because it can bring out the creativity hidden in all of us by allowing us to develop the diverse items our mind-eyes can envision. Today, with the right 3D printer, there’s virtually no 3D object you can’t produce if you put your mind to it.

But sadly, even accurately printed models suffer one blemish or the other and this is why acquiring some knowledge about finishing techniques is important. Read on as we take you through an explorative journey on enhancing the aesthetics of your 3D prints.

smoothing 3d prints

Priming, filling Gaps and Smoothing Techniques for 3d Prints

Generally, completed 3D prints do not immediately end up looking like the smooth, well-structured objects you end up admiring in blogs and magazines. The average 3D printed project comes with its fair share of blemishes which must be corrected to achieve the high aesthetic standards you desire. And here are some ways to achieve this:

1. Sanding

This technique involves the use of sandpaper to smoothen rough patches on the surface of your 3D prints. The tools you will need to accomplish this include:

• Sandpaper: 150 – 2000 grade sandpaper

• A used toothbrush

• Water and a cleaning agent.

The Process: start by getting your sandpaper a little bit wet—for it reduces the heat produced by friction—then proceed to run it through blemished surfaces. Make use of smooth circular motions when applying the sandpaper till your 3D print is as smooth as you want it.

2. Polishing and Coating

In situations where you have used decorative filament such as wood, metal or ceramic and you need the material to shine, adding some polish or coating is the way to go. The tools you’ll need are:

• A polishing compound like Blue Rouge

• A coating agent i.e. XTC 3D

• A paint brush

• Microfiber cloth or a buffing wheel

    The Process: Polishing your 3D model is done with the aid of a polishing compound and a buffing wheel. To do this, simply dry out the 3D print, spray your polishing agent onto its surface and smooth it in using a buffing wheel or a small cloth.

    The coating is similar to polishing just that in this instance, you will be working with a coating agent and a small paint brush. To accomplish this task, simply paint the coating agent over the 3D print to get that quality shine you desire.

    3. Dealing with structural gaps

    Structural gaps are the holes that occur on the surface of a 3D print or in-between structural components that can’t be sandpapered or smoothed out. This is where you need to fill up structural gaps. Your tools to accomplish this are:

    • Auto body fillers

    • Epoxy resins

    • ABS filament and acetone mixture

      The Process: working with epoxy resins—which are already liquefied—is one way to fill up structural gaps. All you need to do is pour it into the cracks and apply some heat till it solidifies. Same goes for working with an ABS/acetone mixture—which forms slurries—that can also be poured into the cracks till they solidify. Once cracks have been filled up, simply sandpaper the surface to ensure that the structural symmetry remains balanced.

      4. Painting

      One of the best ways to enhance the look of your 3D print is by applying paint on it. This is due to the fact that you can actually use paint to fill up cracks, cover up blemishes and more importantly, decorate your 3D print. The tools you will need to paint your 3D objects are:

      • Acrylic or aerosol paint

      • Hand or airbrushes

      • Palette

      • A painting kit

        The Process: your ability to paint generally depends on how much practice you put into the craft. Therefore, if you are a newbie, the first step is starting out with a hand brush and acrylic paint. Once you have gotten the hang of it, you can then move over to painting with an airbrush. Mastering the use of one will definitely take some time, so keep airbrushing till you hit the artistic heights you desire.

        5. Cutting out Supporting Material

        Supporting materials are used in 3D printing to provide 3D prints with more balance during the printing process. This means that they have to be removed once you have completed the 3D print. Therefore, the tools you will need for this include:

        • A hand knife

        • Small pliers

        • A retouching tool

          post process 3d prints

          The Process: cutting out supporting material is a manual process that involves using the right tools—knife, pliers etc.—to cut out erring parts from the main 3D print. Alternatively, when you have to use some form of support to 3D print, making use of soluble filament types—PVA or HIPS—that dissolve in water is recommended.

          6. Attaching 3D Printed components

          When 3D printing complex or large models, it is sometimes advisable to 3D print different complimentary components and assemble them once all the parts have been 3D printed. The assembling tools you will need are:

          • Acetone

          • An earbud

            The Process: first, clean both surfaces and with your earbud, apply acetone to these surfaces before sticking them together.  for a couple of minutes and both parts will stick together.

            So here you have it. The six common techniques you can apply to elevate your 3D prints from looking just ‘OK’ to ‘wowing’ anyone that comes in contact with them. You can also find supporting materials that dissolve in water such as PVA and HIPS here.