Make Detailed Architectural Models with a 3D Printer
Despite the ease of creating a virtual 3D CAD model, Architects and their clients still often prefer to see traditional physical scaled models to visualize architectural ideas and construction projects.
3D Printing is now increasingly being used in the architectural field to manufacture these scale models.
Traditional model making methods rely upon skilled craftsmanship. 3D Printing can, therefore, offer both a cost and time benefit over these manual methods.
Here are the 3D printers I’ll be recommending in this article:
Benefits of 3D Printing Architectural Models
You will often use Architectural models because they allow you to present your architectural vision in a very clear way.
Highly detailed models can impress your potential client and allow you to convey your ideas clearly without ambiguity.
Models and mockups are also a handy tool for you to use in the design process. It is often much easier for you to spot a design flaw or aesthetic defect in a physical model than it is in a virtual CAD model on a screen.
Compared to traditional model making methods, 3D Printing offers many benefits due to their low cost and quick turnaround.
You will most likely already have 3D CAD models of your projects. To turn these into a 3D Print can be as easy as scaling to your chosen size and then exporting the file to your 3D Printer.
3D Prints are usually complete in a matter of hours. The total print time is dependent on the level of detail you require and the size of the model.
This compares very favorably with traditional manufacturing methods. You will often need to send detailed specifications, exchange quotations and purchase orders and then wait for your job to be completed within a production window.
You may be used to traditional manufacture time being expressed in days or weeks. 3D Printing manufacturing time is usually expressed in hours! In fact, even the largest of 3D prints will only take a matter of a few days.
This fast turnaround allows you to quickly and easily visualize and test new design concepts.
Compared to traditional methods, the material and running costs of 3D Printers are tiny.
Because of the nature of 3D Printing, adding extreme complexity and detail to your model doesn’t make it any more expensive! The only factor that affects the cost of a 3D Print is the quantity of material used.
If you or client requests a change, it’s straightforward for you to make the change in CAD and re-print your model to allow your client to see the change and approve it.
3D Printers can print in great detail. Your model can even include details as small as 0.025 to 0.2mm.
Such precision is virtually impossible to achieve by hand and so only possible in traditional methods with the use of expensive CNC machined tooling.
3D printing is excellent for modeling the detail needed for interior design. It’s very easy for you to accurately replicate textures, finishes, and colors associated with building interiors.
3D Printing is great at fostering your innovation. When you can see your ideas become a reality in a matter of hours, it’s much easier for you to take a chance at a new design.
Best 3D Printer for Architectural Models
Ultimaker released their first model in 2011. Since then Ultimaker has built a solid reputation with its prosumer 3D Printers. They specialize in printers that are capable of printing complex, high-precision geometries.
The Ultimaker 2+ is the latest addition to their range and offers above all else the highest quality prints you’re likely to achieve on an FDM 3D Printer.
When you take the UM3 out of the box, you can’t help but be impressed by the build quality. It certainly looks like a professional piece of kit.
The main feature of the Ultimaker 2+ is that it can print in many different filament material types. ABS, PLA, Nylon, and CPE are all useable.
The build volume is a generous 8.5″ x 8.5″ x 7.9″. As with all 3D printers, if you need to print something larger than the build volume you can simply split the model into several parts and bond them together with a suitable glue afterward.
The Ultimaker 2+ excels when it comes to print quality. At the highest quality setting the build layers are genuinely barely visible.
Print resolution is between 20 to 200 microns, which is outstanding and more than enough for the most detailed of scale models.
Z positioning is within 5 microns, XY positioning 12.5 microns.
Such a small resolution will allow you to print very small scale models if you require or you can model ultra fine detail on larger scales.
You are unlikely to achieve more detail than this on any other FFM 3D Printer. In fact, the detail the Ultimaker 2+ achieves is close to that of a resin printer but without the additional mess and cost.
Of course, this high quality comes at the cost of build times. The UM2+ is noticeably slow to build compared to its rivals, especially when set to a high-quality setting.
There are three default quality settings; draft, normal, and high. So you can use the lower settings when speed is more important than quality.
The Ultimaker 2+ uses the slightly less common 3mm filament. If you use Ultimaker’s own filament, then the reels contain an NFC tag that tells the printer the filament type and color.
However, you’re not tied to Ultimaker brand filament, but you are in fact free to use whichever filament brand you like.
Because the build plate is heated, you can successfully print ABS as well as PLA, CPE, Nylon, and PVA.
Of course, in an office environment, it’s useful to have as many options open to you as possible. Thankfully, the Ultimaker 2+ comes readily equipped with Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and USB.
You can also remotely monitor your print progress by accessing the onboard webcam via Wi-Fi. This is useful for you to keep an eye on progress.
Ultimaker’s include their own Cura software. It’s free to use and works on macOS, Windows, and Ubuntu. I use it for all of my 3D printers because it gives you great out of the box default settings that work well, and the ability to tweak almost any setting should you need to.
Cura also includes default settings for Ultimaker’s filaments, so there’s little need for you to experiment to get the best results. You can just upload your geometry and press go using the optimal settings.
If you want to delve into the settings then you can be equally at home with Cura as it offers hundreds of tweakable settings should you need them.
The Ultimaker 2+ is a sturdy, quality machine, built for business. Above all else it offers quality.
If you need fine detail and a perfect finish every time, then you won’t find better than the Ultimaker 3.
The Ultimaker 3 is based on the UM2+, but it features dual extrusion technology, which as we’ll see is very useful for complex architectural models.
The main feature of the Ultimaker 3 is the dual extrusion capability. This means the printer is fitted with two separate extruder heads that are fed with two different material types.
The main benefit of dual extrusion is that you can print using PVA in one of the extruders to use as a dissolvable support structure.
Dissolvable supports mean that when your model has finished printing, instead of manually clipping and sanding support structures from it which can leave witness marks.
You simply run your model under running water and the support structures dissolve and wash away. This leaves you with a perfectly finished 3D Print for much less time and effort.
You can also use dual extrusion for aesthetic reasons. It can allow you to print using two different colors, finishes, or material types.
For example, you can use wood or steel based filament. These will give you their respective finishes, in terms of color, texture, and luster without the need for further painting or surface treatment.
The build volume is a generous 8.5″ x 8.5″ x 7.9″.
As its younger brother, the Ultimaker 2+ above, print quality is exceptional and unrivaled amongst FDM printers.
The Ultimaker 3 offers the same quality and reliability as the Ultimaker 2+ but with the added benefit of a dual extrusion capability.
If you need to produce highly complex models that will need additional build supports then being able to use a dissolvable support will be of great benefit to you. Saving you hours of post-processing and maintaining the quality and detail of your models.
The Zortrax M200 is the most reliable, high-quality FDM 3D printer available today.
The brand has become synonymous with high-quality 3D printers that require zero setup and maintenance.
If you want a 3D Printer that works like an Apple product (you switch it on, and it works flawlessly), then the Zortrax M200 is for you!
I’m starting with reliability because along with quality this is one of the Zortrax’s best features.
With most 3D Printers, you have to carry out at least a few tweaks and set up operations when you first buy them. And you then have to carry out similar tasks as regular maintenance throughout their life. But the M200 is completely different.
Zortrax has used the highest quality components in the M200, and the attention to detail is spot on. This means it performs perfectly right from first use.
Build plate leveling is automatic and also very stable. Therefore it often doesn’t need setting for months of continuous use. This is very impressive, considering most rival printers would need such setups tweaking almost daily.
The unique perforated build plate means you don’t need to use glue or tape to make your first layer stick. It’s a great design that solves one of the most common 3D printer issues perfectly.
The Zortrax M200 features a moveable direct feed print-head design and a unique perforated design build plate that moves in Z.
The build quality of the machine is very evident with the aluminum chassis giving it a sturdy feeling and all components look and feel high quality.
The maximum build volume is 200mm x 200mm x 180mm.
Thanks to the fully enclosed chassis, a very stable environment is created that results in ultra reliable and repeatable printing, especially in materials that can otherwise be hard to use such as ABS.
The minimum layer height of the M200 is a fairly standard 90 microns. But it’s the 1.5 micron XY precision that gives it such an edge over the competition.
The quality of prints is nothing short of impressive. I’ve not seen any FFF prints this good with so few visible layers.
You notice when the M200 Pro is running, just how smooth all the mechanisms are. There are no jerky movements, loud noises, or vibrations. All this points to the quality and precision of all the components used by Zortrax.
The perforated build plate works perfectly to ensure first layer adhesion and users report the failure rate to be close to zero.
Previously there was one negative point with the M200, but Zortrax has now solved this problem; Originally you were unable to use filament brands other than Zortrax’s own.
However, Zortrax has now lifted this limitation. The software now allows you to use any filament and the warranty has been updated to make it clear that it won’t be voided if you use off-brand filament.
Having said that, the Zortrax brand filaments are exceptionally good quality and a reasonable price. So there is little reason for you to use other brands unless you have a very specific color or finish requirement.
The Zortrax M200 Pro can print an impressive range of materials. As well as the standard PLA and ABS, it can use the following unique Zortrax filaments:
Z-ASA Pro – a UV stable material that you can use in outdoor applications.
Z-Glass – a translucent material that mimics the visual properties of glass. This can be very useful for creating an architectural model of a glass building or glass features.
Z-Hips – a highly matt finish material that gives an ultra smooth finish.
The Zortrax M200 is perfect for printing your architectural models, where quality is key and your clients can’t be kept waiting for failed prints.
It’s one of the best FDM 3D Printers currently available. Rather than designing to a budget, Zortrax has used the highest quality precision components in a conservative design.
This has resulted in a very reasonably priced 3D printer that can claim a near 100% successful build rate and possibly the highest quality prints of any FDM printer.
The Replicator+ is Makerbot’s latest addition to the popular Replicator range of PLA only printers.
It has a large build volume at 11.6 x 7.6 x 6.5 inches which is useful for printing architectural models.
Compared to previous models is has had mechanical improvements for better accuracy and reliability.
The Z-axis has been completely re-designed and is now a very solid single piece of aluminum. Out of the box, this is an impressive looking printer. It has a very sturdy, well-engineered appearance.
MakerBot is another company that is trying to perfect the reliability of the build surface. The Replicator+ has a flexible build plate that has a grippy surface. This helps first layer adhesion and makes it easier to remove a completed print.
Like the Zortrax, the build plate is very easy to remove from the printer as it simply slides out. This allows you to perform part removal safely away from the confined
The business end of the printer is called a ‘Smart Extruder+.’ It features automatic jam detection and auto calibration. The Smart Extruder can be easily swapped out with a replacement if necessary. This is a useful feature when clients and colleagues cannot be let down while you wait for maintenance and reprints.
A camera is fitted inside the build area that you can access through the app on your PC or phone to keep a check on the current build progress. This can be quite useful for you to have the ability to check your print progress without leaving your desk. Or you could even check it while you’re away from the office, visiting a client or construction site.
The Replicator+ has numerous connectivity options, the usual SD card, and USB but also ethernet, wifi, and a smartphone app.
The Replicator+ is a genuine setup free printer. No bed leveling, no calibrations just plug in and go. The large color LCD screen and navigation wheel look very cool and are super easy to use.
The accuracy of the printer is exceptionally good with XY precision of 11 microns and Z axis precision of 2.5 microns.
Compared to the Zortrax M200 and the Ultimaker 2+, the Replicator+ is slightly behind in terms of part quality, with more evidence of build lines. However, it is noticeably quicker to print.
For architects or architecture students, the Replicator+ has some worthwhile benefits over other 3D printers if your requirements are for printing many 3D prints every week. It’s straightforward to turn the Replicator+ into a near continuously running 3D Print factory.
If you buy an additional print bed and a pack of grip surfaces, then you can get a near constantly running production line going. The software can support multiple printers so you could have two or three running at once.
Given the exceptionally well-engineered mechanism and chassis, I have no doubt the Replicator+ is capable of running for thousands of hours and producing hundreds of architectural models without a hitch.
You will be able to successfully and reliably print architecture models with any of the 3D Printers I’ve reviewed here. Ultimately your decision will come down to personal preference.
However, in my opinion, the Zortrax M200 is very hard to beat. Its print quality is superior to almost any comparable 3D printer as is its reliability.