VCU Libraries

Research Guides

Use the 3D printers

VCU Libraries is excited to announce the availability of three 3D printers in the Innovative Media department on the lower level of Cabell Library. Explore the guidelines and other materials to help you use them effectively.

Quick Guide to Printing an Object: MakerBot

MakerBot 5th Generation Instructions

First, check out the printer from the information desk; the logbook will be found next to it. Next, prepare the surface of the 3D printer build tray if necessary. The build tray is made of glass and requires masking tape on the surface before printing. This helps the plastic adhere to the build tray. If necessary, apply fresh blue build plate tape sheets or blue painter’s masking tape in strips on the board. Do not overlap the tape.

Before printing an object on the MakerBot 5th Generation, the build tray must be leveled. This ensures you will not damage the 3D printer. In addition, a level build plate is required for best print results. To level the build tray:

  1. Remove the filament using the assisted Unload Filament script. Be sure to read the directions on the MakerBot screen.
  2. Under the Utilities Menu select Level Build Plate and follow the on screen directions. 
  3. Load the plastic filament using the assisted Load Filament script. Again, read the on-screen directions. 

After properly leveling the build tray, send your .makerbot file to the printer through one of these two approaches:

  1. Insert your USB drive (containing the .makerbot file created by the MakerBot Desktop software) into the front USB port located towards the top right of the instrument front panel and finding it with the screen menu system.  Next select the Print icon, navigate to your file, and select Print.
  2. Or if you’re sitting at the computer attached to the MakerBot, send the print request directly to the printer from the MakerBot Desktop software. 

The 3D printer will now start heating the extrusion print head, calibrate itself, and then start printing. Before leaving, watch the print job for 10–20 minutes to ensure the raft print was successful (e.g. clean print lines that are not wavy, good adhesion to board) and there are no early errors with the print job. If the raft part of the print was successful, you can safely leave the print job to complete automatically. See above for overnight printing policies. 

Please place the sign on the 3D printer to notify others that the printer is in use. If the raft print was not successful, cancel the print job and recalibrate the instrument. An Innovative Media staff member can assist you with the calibration. See the Innovative Media information desk with questions.

Removing an Object from the Build Plate

First, verify that the screen says that 100% of the job is complete and that the printer is not in operation. Using the thin scraping tool, carefully pry around your object, lifting it off of the board. Note: the MakerBot build plates can be removed, which may make scraping easier for you.

Post-production Clean Up

Once you have finished printing and removed your object from the build plate, you may need to:

  • Remove the object from the raft: usually the raft can just be broken off with your fingers.  You may need to use the thin scraping tool, a pair of needle nose pliers, or an X-ACTO knife to assist you.  These can be found in the toolkit, along with a small cutting board if needed.  Ask for assistance from the IM staff if needed.  Be careful with delicate objects.
  • Break off supports: similar to removing the raft, you should be able to do most of the work with your fingers, but tools are available to help you remove the supports.  Be very careful with delicate objects.
  • Clean the surface: most 3D prints have extraneous plastic threads, bits of flashing, or other rough artifacts from the print process.  These can be sanded, filed, and cut down as needed.  Tools and various grades of sandpaper are available in the toolkit.
  • Glue parts together: if you need or want to glue any parts together, there is glue (Super Glue and plastic epoxy) in the toolkit.
  • Paint your printed object: if you’re interested in painting your printed object, you can do so with acrylics, cellulose spray paints, or oil paints.  Acrylic paints are considered to be the best choice. Ask for our basic color set and brushes at the IM information desk. We recommend that you prime the surface first and then apply your colors.  If you wish to practice (which is recommended), grab a printed object from our Scrap Box.