Generally speaking, preparing for 3D printing is remarkably straight forward. Depending on the design software you are using, Save As… or Export an STL file. That's it.

However, like everything else in life, you have more options to consider. The information in this document will help ensure a prompt and accurate production of your rapid prototype.

STL File Options

STL files are different from many other types of interchange formats, they define parts as an mesh of triangular surface. This means that once you save the part into the STL format, you are also defining the maximum quality of the final output. Fortunately, most design package will provide you options for controlling the resolution of the triangular mesh.

As you can imagine, a super-fine mesh will result in a file that is many times larger than one produced using a coarse mesh. Fortunately, the default "Fine" setting in Solidworks generally provides a nice balance between detail and reasonable file size.

Other Supported File Types

We have the capability to handle Solidworks (SLDPRT), STEP, & IGES files, in addition to STL files. We prefer to receive STL files directly. This saves us time, and that savings is passed along to you.

File Validation

When an error is detected in a part, this indicator appears in the lower right quadrant of the netfabb Studio window

One thing we never anticipated when we started offering rapid prototyping services is the number of files we would receive with errors. There are a few different ways these errors can occur. For example, if you are creating surface models, as opposed to solid models, small gaps in the surfaces are quite common. These gaps can manifest as large printing errors, because until your surfaces are entirely closed, the computer, which is a highly sophisticated idiot, really can't tell what is the inside vs the outside of the model space. When pressed, it will guess - with absurd results.

Likewise, sometimes the export function just malfunctions, creating bad files.

To save yourself time and headache by checking your files before submitting them. This sounds like a chore, but really isn't. There is a program called netfabb Studio Basic, which is a free download available for Mac, Windows, and Linux. Simply open your STL file in netfabb Studio. If there are errors in the file, a large alert icon (shown to the right) will appear in the window.

File Repair

If your design has unclosed surfaces, your best bet is to fix the holes in the original model and make a new STL file.

And if your model is free of design defects, try saving a new STL file after slightly altering the resolution options. That sounds silly, but usually works.

netfabb Studio also provides an automatic repair option for your STL file, which sometimes does the trick. Should you upload a file with errors, we will attempt to fix it with netfabb, using this procedure. However, it's a last line of defense. We recommend fixing your model whenever possible.