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Makerspace: 3D Printing and Design

Welcome to the Xavier University Library Makerspace!

3D Printing Basics

3D printing creates physical objects from computer-created 3d designs (not photos or other 2 dimensional objects). All of the printers at the Xavier Library Makerspace are fused filament printers, sometimes called extrusion printers. These types of printers interpret computer code and build objects layer by layer using melted plastic. Check out this great 3D glossary to learn all the lingo!

Creating a Successful Print

A successful 3D print requires properly functioning hardware, well kept and appropriate plastic, and proper environmental conditions.

Slicing A Model

Before an object can be printed, it must be "sliced" using slicing software. The slicing software converts a computer-created object into layers and paths that a 3D printer can understand and execute. The slicing software allows custom settings to be made:

  • Raft: a disposable layer that is printed on the build plate that the printed model adheres to. This helps prevent warping and makes many prints easier to remove from the plate once they are completed.
  • Supports: printed alongside or inside a model that has delicate parts, overhangs, or extreme angles to help ensure a successful print. These are removed after the print is completed.
  • Shells: outside layers that define the shape of a print. The more shells, the sturdier a print is.
  • Infill: the density of a print. The lower the percentage, the lighter and less sturdy the print will be. The higher the percentage, the more solid the object will be (with 100% being completely solid). 10% is the default infill setting and is appropriate for for most prints.
  • Layer Height: determines the resolution of a print. The smaller the number, the higher the resolution (and the longer a print will take).
  • Temperature: sets the temperature of the extruder and the build plate if applicable.
  • Speed: the speed that the extruder moves when both printing and traveling.

Once an object has been sliced, the resulting file can be sent directly to the printer (or saved on an SD card or flash drive).


Filament should be flexible and not brittle. If the filament is too brittle, it is easy for it to break while printing and cause a print to fail. Makerbot recommends that only their brand of plastic is used with their machines (of course), but there are several other cost-effective options available that work just as well.

Filament must be stored in a low humidity environment. A desiccant like a silica gel can be used to ensure this environment in your storage cabinet.

Although it is not required to watch the printer at all times when it is operating, occasionally check the filament feed. If the filament binds or twists on the spool, the print will fail and it may cause damage to the machine. Do not allow the end of the filament to be loose during storage to help prevent the filament from crossing under itself.

PLA often has issues with jamming when extruding. In these cases it can be helpful to use an oil with a high smoke point to lubricate the filament. We use sunflower oil other people have had success with canola.

Build Plate

The build plate is the surface on which a 3D print is printed. Ensure that the plate is level at all times and that the extruder is at the proper position over it. Leveling the plate is easy and should be done regularly. The surface also needs to be clean. This can be done with rubbing alcohol and a lint free cloth.

There are a few things that can be done if your print is having difficulty adhering to the plate:

  • Level and level again!
  • If using PLA, a layer of blue painter’s tape can be used, adhesive side against the plate, to help the print stick. There are precut sheets available, but if you use a roll make sure not to overlap the tape. Also be aware that the tape is likely to adhere to the bottom of the print, so you may wish to use a raft.
  • If using ABS, it is recommended to have a kapton tape layer to print on.
  • PLA does not require a heated plated. ABS requires a heated plate. The default temperature is 100ºC, but we’ve had more success at 120-125ºC. Be aware that room temperature is going to affect what works best for you.

Resources from Our Collection

3D Printing Photos