How to clean up 3D prints

How to clean up 3D prints

by | Jun 6, 2017 | 3D Printing, Star Wars Props, Tutorial, Workshop Blog | 0 comments

Let’s get this out of the way with to begin with, there are dozens of ways to clean up 3D prints. Like most things, there are a variety of different approaches, and there is no “correct” way of doing things. What may work for me, may not work for you. There is no objective truth, reality is a persistent illusion etc.

How to clean up 3D prints.

I’ll take you through my methodology, mostly step by step, except for where I forgot to pick up the camera due to over excitement/distraction/partial complex seizure (delete as appropriate). I like to clean up 3D prints using the tried and tested sanding method. I’ve not had much luck with the fancy chemical melting methods that others use, and 3D printing smoothers like XTC 3D cost more than my car over here. Our subject for the sake of this tutorial is the Thermal Detonator from Return of the Jedi. The model was designed by the awesome April Storm.

This is the print straight off my Wanhao I3 Plus printer. I printed this at 0.2mm layer height, which isn’t all that fine. I did this as I knew I would have to do a lot of clean up anyway and printing at a lower resolution would just result in a much longer print time.

As you can see from this cruel close up there is a lot of stepping on the outer shell. This will need to be sanded back and filled to improve the surface texture.

On the underside of the print you can see the support material still in place. This usually just snaps right off.

The first step in the process is to go over the entire surface of the model with a low grit sandpaper. I like 80 grit for this job, but you do need to be careful here, as over enthusiastic sanding can destroy the details.

Here is the detonator after completing sanding with 80 grit paper. As you can see, most of the layer lines are now gone. Excellent!

I used small needle files to clean out the seams.

When you clean up 3D prints there is a lot of repetition. Here I have gone over the entire model again with 240 Grit sandpaper. It’s definitely getting smoother.

As this stage it’s a good idea to hit the model with a coat of automotive filler primer. This helps provide a little more material to sand away. Essentially you will end up filling low points and sanding away the high points, leaving a smooth surface.

After a sand with 240 grit and 400 grit sandpaper we are looking pretty smooth.

However not all is perfect. As you can see there are a few deeper layer lines that have been missed.

This is where I usually break out the model filler. I like Squadron putty and Humbrol model filler, both are excellent fine spot filling products. Others like to use automotive spot putty here. Find out what works for you, since you’re stuffed to the brim with free will and spiders* I imagine.

After sanding back the filler we are looking mighty fine.

And here’s the finished product. It can take a lot of work to clean up 3D prints, but it’s definitely worth the hassle. All in all, this took about 90 minutes, not including drying time for the primer and filler. Not bad for a quiet evening’s work in the garage while dinner was in the oven. If you want to see more of the Thermal Detonator prop, I’ll be posting a blog in the next couple of weeks detailing the painting process.

*I’m not sure why I think you’re full of spiders, you just give me a spidery vibe.


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