Skip to Main Content

University Library


3D Printing at UIUC: Home

This guide is for anyone in the UIUC community who is interested in learning about 3D printing.

In This LibGuide

On this page, you will find the following information:

If you are interested in getting started with 3D printing, whether at UIUC or elsewhere, refer to the How Do I Get Started? tab. Additional resources are available on the Books, Websites, & News tab.

For information about using the IDEA Lab's facilities, refer to the 3D Printing at the IDEA Lab tab, the FAQs tab, and The IDEA Lab @ Grainger tab, which takes you to the main website. Other resources on campus and in the area can be found on the 3D Printing Resources in Champaign-Urbana tab.

What Is 3D Printing?

Fused deposition modeling (FDM) is the most commonly used 3D printing technology. These 3D printers feed filament (thermoplastic that melts when heated) through an extruder head to print layers of material into a three-dimensional object. The filament is heated to melting point, then extruded onto a printing bed based on precise plot points. Subsequent layers of filament fuses with layers already printed, and the filament hardens as it cools.

There are other types of 3D printers, such as resin printers. Resin printers utilize photosensitive resin instead of filament. The liquid resin is exposed to UV light in order to create and harden each layer.

3D extruder head diagram and photo

Helpful Information

  • Many filaments are biodegradable.
  • Some commonly used filaments: PLA (polylactic acid), ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), HIPS, NinjaFlex, T-Glase (PETT), LayWood
  • When used properly, 3D printers are considered safe (your personal computer gets even hotter).
  • Filament SpoolPLA Information:
    • Most commonly used filament, which is compatible with almost all FDM printers.
    • Good for rapid prototyping.
    • Minimal ventilation is required when printing.
    • Spools cost from $19 to $29 for 1 kilogram.
    • Most prints use less than 200 grams of material with "standard" settings.
  • ABS Information:
    • Cost is comparable to PLA, but it is stronger and more flexible.
    • Can print more with ABS, but it is harder to handle.
    • Higher melting point and can warp if cooled during printing (210°C vs. 230°C).
    • Can produce fumes during printing.
  • Resin (or Stereolithography [SLA]) Information:Resin bottle and model
    • Printers can be cheaper (Elegoo Mars: $199 vs. $3k) but…
    • Resin is more expensive ($80+) with;
    • More post processing (wash in 99% alcohol + more ultraviolet curing)
    • Resin material requires more care in handling, can irritate skin and respiratory system
    • Disposal of resin is tricky

What Can I Do with 3D Printing?

3D printing is useful for rapid prototyping.

  • Traditional Design Method: Research ⇒ Design ⇒ Build ⇒ Test ⇒ Iterate
  • Rapid prototyping: Design, build, test, and iterate in real time
  • Print a prototype fast and economically
  • Iterate and re-print as much as needed
  • Do not need industrial-sized manufacturing equipment

3D printing is for everyone!

  • No major expertise needed
  • Learning curve for 3D printing is accessible to most with 1 hour of training
  • 3D printing is discipline-neutral
  • Can be applied to most subject areas
  • Traditional manufacturing is only available to certain labs or programs
  • 3D printing helps democratize access to design learning

What About 3D Scanning?

3D scanners allow you to reverse engineer an object (including the human body) or space. These scans can be turned into .stl files to be printed with the 3D printers. The IDEA Lab owns an Artec Leo structured-light mobile and handheld 3D scanner, which is available for use by anyone affiliated with the U of I. Watch the video below for more information on this scanner.

Ask a Librarian