Essential 3D Printing Tools and Accessories In 2017

Bring Out The Best In Your 3D Prints With These Must Have Accessories

When I first started 3D printing at home I had to down tools umpteen times and spend an hour getting to and from the hardware store just to pick up a roll of tape or a set of needle files.

In this guide, I’ll let you know exactly what’s in my 3D printing toolkit so you can hit the ground running and have all the accessories you’ll need to complete your first and many more subsequent projects.

Having the right tool available when you need it can significantly reduce frustrations and make 3D printing so much more enjoyable so you can get much better results with your 3D printer.

Part Building

3M Scotch Blue Painters Masking Tape – Original Multi-Surface

If you’re printing with PLA filament on a non-heated bed then you’re gonna need some tape to make your first layer stick to the build plate and also to make it easier to remove once the parts finished building.

I like to get the 2-inch wide tape because then it’s only about 3 strips to cover my build plate instead of 6 or so, and the less joins the less likely you are to have problems.

The other benefit of using tape is that it protects your build plate from damage, particularly when trying to remove residue from a finished build.

Usually I wouldn’t tell anyone they had to get the brand name but in this case, you really do! I’ve tried most of the others and they suck! Avoid the frustrating tears, left behind residue and lack of stickiness and get the 3M.

Also note the standard white masking tape and the green brand tend to rip easily, leave residue and inhibit first layer bonding.

Kapton Tape

Before I started 3D printing I’d never heard of Kapton tape, now I use it everywhere! I love the fact that it’s used by NASA so whenever I use it I feel like I’m on the ISS.

Anyway, in 3D printing Kapton tape is used when printing with ABS filament onto a heated build plate. It does the same job that blue painters tape does on a non-heated build plate i.e. it helps your build to stick to the plate and makes it easier to remove it once complete and cooled.

Ordinary tape can’t be used on a heated build plate as it won’t stand the temperature but Kapton tape can withstand temperatures up to 500°F!

Elmer’s Disappearing Purple School Glue

If you’re printing on a heated build plate then you’ll want to prime the surface with some glue to help your 3D print stick to the plate and not suffer from raised edges.

I’ve had good results using standard white PVA glue but it’s a bit of a hassle brushing it on, spreading it around and trying not to make a mess.

It’s far easier to use a good quality glue stick. I’ve tried Pritt, UHU, and generic brands but my preference is Elmers.

I really like using the Disappearing Purple Glue as it’s much easier to see where you’ve already applied the glue, especially on a clear glass build plate.

Digital Calipers

Digital calipers are basically a must have when you start 3D printing.

The ability to measure part thicknesses and dimensions accurately is essential so you can correlate the output of your 3D printer with the settings and part data that you input.

You need to know that when you tell your 3D printer to make a part 28.5mm long and 5.3mm wide the finished part is exactly that.

This is particularly important if you want to make parts that fit together or that interact with other objects.

Making parts that perfectly mate with each other is one of the first challenges of 3D printing and it’s very satisfying when they do!

I’m going to recommend two digital calipers because the best ones are expensive and I don’t think you should spend that amount of money if you don’t want to.

You need to be careful when buying calipers as the cheapest ones really are rubbish that will not be accurate and will break very quickly.

Unfortunately, the expensive ones are very prone to being faked in China.

For these reasons I recommend you only buy from a trusted seller, i.e. Amazon itself rather than a third party seller and avoid the very cheap options as tempting as they seem.

Mitutoyo 500-197-30 Advanced Onsite Sensor (AOS) Absolute Scale Digital Caliper

These exact calipers are used by engineers throughout the world and are a professional tool that will literally last a lifetime.

They are superbly accurate with a 0.0005″ (0.01mm) resolution so you can even double check the layer thickness on your SLA printer if you wanted! 

They are fantastic for battery life, the manufacturer quotes 4 years continuous use if you left them on! I last changed my battery in 2012 and the low battery indicator has just started showing!

They also come in a rugged plastic case that can easily take a few drops from your workbench onto the floor without damaging the calipers.

VINCA DCLA-0605 Quality Electronic Digital Vernier Caliper

These VINCA calipers are a good budget choice. They have good enough accuracy, two decimal place precision and very good consistency for a budget brand.

The display is clear and can display mm, inches in fractions and inches in decimal.

Post Processing

Foreasy 3D Printer Tool 3D Print Removal Tool

Once you’ve used a proper thin edged metal removal tool to gently lever your part off the build plate you’ll wonder how you ever managed without one.

Most newbies to the world of 3D printing think they can either manhandle the print off with brute force or worse ease a razor blade underneath without cutting their finger off.

This set of two removal tools is great because the steel blades have a thin enough edge to let you gently tease under the part and enough strength to apply some leverage to get things moving.

It’s very useful to have two blades as the shorter one is great for initially getting under an edge and applying a force while on larger parts the larger blade can be slid in afterward to separate the part from the plate across the whole mating face.

The smaller knife has a 0.3mm edge increasing to 0.45mm at the center. The longer knife has a  0.35mm edge increasing to 0.5mm at the center.

There are many other removal tools available but they’re very often just artists palette knives which are far too thick at the edge to get between the part and the build plate or they don’t have the strength to apply adequate leverage to the part.

This pair of tools are perfect for the job!

Excel K18 Grip-On Knife

You’ll want a good hobby knife for trimming away build supports on overhangs and various bits of excess plastic that will appear on your builds.

Most hobby knives are fine. I like the Excel Grip-on range as they have a much better way of attaching the blade compared X-Acto knives that invariably loosen and need re-tightening frequently.

They have a soft grip handle which is a nice feature and a good sturdy feeling whilst being lightweight and easy to make an accurate cut.

They also come with a cap which is a good idea to protect the blade and your precious fingers, and a few spare blades are thrown in too. Surprisingly a lot of other brands don’t come with these simple extras.

Sharpie Oil-Based Paint Marker

When you experiment with 3D printing settings like layer heights, temperatures, speeds and support types you’ll need to remember which part was built with which settings.

The best way to do this is to write on it.

You can give it a part number or a code that you understand or if there’s space write a description.

The best type of marker pen for writing on a range of materials, especially plastics, is oil-based paint pens. These give a nice opaque clear mark that won’t wear or rub off like ordinary ink markers will.

You can get a range of colors and tip sizes to go with the material and part size you’ll be making.

Wet & Dry Sandpaper 120 to 3000 Grit

No matter how good your 3D printer is your finished parts will have build supports and build lines that you’ll want to trim off and smooth out to make them look their best.

If you want to give your build a really smooth finish for example if you’re making gaming miniatures then you’ll want a good selection of sandpapers like these to work you way up to a quality finish.

This set of sandpaper is great value for money with 9 grades from 120 to 3000 which is enough to get you from rough to smooth as glass!

You may see comments about cheap papers not being very hard wearing but that applies more to wood and paintwork. For the type of plastic used in 3D printers, these will work well and should last well.

Once you’ve done a few projects you’ll know which grades you use the most and can stock up on just those.

JawayTool Needle File Set

A set of good quality needle files is essential for removing burrs and tabs left behind when you’ve cut off build supports.

Whilst sandpaper is great for smoothing over larger surfaces small needle files like these are perfect for more detailed work and cleaning up sharp features without spoiling their definition.

You can often make a part as good as you need to with a couple of quick goes with a file and nothing more.

This set of six files from JawayTool is of good quality with a nice soft grip and a fancy case to keep them in good condition.

Stanley STST19410 One-Latch Toolbox

Finally, get yourself a nice lightweight toolbox to keep all your 3D printing tools in. That way you won’t be searching around for that one thing you need. Good engineers are organized!

I have this Stanley toolbox, it’s light and just about the right size to fit the essentials in. I’m pretty sure it will never break!

Have fun filling up your toolbox with all your 3D printing essentials!

-Dylan Miller

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