The 3D Printing Process - What to Expect When You’re Expecting a 3D Printed Part

“We print to file”

When a service bureau receives a CAD file, the industry standard is to “print to file.” This means that the people at the bureau print what you send. The 3d printing process is as simple as that.

No buts! Sure, in some cases, a file may be reviewed for printability and any concerning features may be highlighted and reflected back to the customer … But this shouldn’t be the expectation. It is not the purview of the service bureau staff to make assumptions about what features should or should not be printed (that’s like someone expecting us to read his or her mind). The job of the service bureau is to print. So they print the file sent by the customer because why would a customer send a file that wasn’t the way that they want it printed? EVEN if a print is sent with the file showing a feature, it is not to be assumed that the service bureau will add this feature to the submitted CAD file prior to printing.

Still confused about the 3d printing process?

Let’s look at a very basic example. Here’s what you want printed; a nice apple with your name on it. You send your service bureau this picture and a 3D CAD file of the apple:


But the file you sent didn’t have the text included (oops) and you didn’t specifically communicate to the service bureau that you want your apple printed with your name in 18-point Arial font in a particular place on the apple. You assume that the bureau will see your picture and make sure that’s what gets made (assumptions never end well).

It may be that you sent the wrong file (we all make mistakes), but if you don’t catch it before it’s printed, this is what will get printed; a nameless apple. Service bureaus PRINT TO FILE, it’s that simple! It is the responsibility of the client to ensure that the CAD file is a correct representation of the end-product desired. Double check, triple check those CAD files and your 3d object will be everything you hoped it would be!

How do you make sure you get exactly what you want out of the 3D printing process? Communicate, communicate, communicate! Provide EXPLICIT INSTRUCTIONS for your service bureau to follow. These instructions can be emailed or included on a drawing, or even discussed over the phone. But if you are asking the bureau to add features to your CAD file, you should expect to approve the changes prior to printing and to pay to have the features added for you.

Even sending a picture like this can be helpful for all parties:

3D printing can seem magical, but your friendly service bureau people are NOT mind readers – as much as our spouses may wish that we are! Communicate with us in a more traditional way (I know, much less exciting than mind reading but it’s practical and necessary) and we’ll both be much happier with the result. Help us help you get your 3D printing done right the first time!

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