This is a question we get asked often from hobbyists alike, ranging from those new to the hobby and want to get a better understanding of how long it will take to 3D print something to those looking to upgrade and/or change their current printers and the answer is invariably the same – it depends! Let me explain.

When considering print times for your designs, there are a few aspects you will need to take into consideration to in order to be able to accurately (or as accurately as currently possible) estimate the printing time of your objects. These key slicing options are:

  1. Layer height
  2. Level of infill
  3. Speed of print
  4. Support material

Before we begin running through the list, I want to make a distinction between the two most common type of 3D printing at the hobbyist level – FDM which is the process of melting plastic through a nozzle of some sort and building the object in a layer by layer approach and SLA which works using a projector under photosensitive plastic that hardens when light shines on it. Typically speaking, SLA provides a faster print, however, there are a number of unique processes and chemicals involved that make this process very specialized to a smaller number of people. We will be discussing FDM in regards to the 4 mentioned points above and their impact on your 3d printing speed as this is the most accessible and widely used method today.

1. Layer Height is essentially the height of each extruded layer. Typically the layer heights are denoted in micron increments (1/10th to ½ millimetre increments) so that is .1mm to .5mm. The print micron size is arguably one of the biggest factors when considering the print speed of your work as the number of layers required to complete a print will vary depending on the micro sizes of your print. For example, a print with a micron layer height of .2mm will typically take half the time of that of a .1mm print.

relationship between micron size and print quality

Relationship between micron size and print quality

There is, however, a tradeoff you have to consider when deciding the best micron layer height to print and that is one of quality over time. Smaller micro prints (thinner layers) will take longer to print but will produce better quality, finer prints whereas larger micron prints will complete quicker but may not have the smooth quality print similar to that of a finer micron setting, so keep this in mind when deciding your layer height.

2. We have a more in-depth article on level infill, however, here are the high-level points you need to remember. In essence, your 3D prints could be taking longer to print because your infill settings are incorrect. A sure way to telling if this is the case is if you have never changed your infill settings from default in your slicer and as a result, you could be spending a lot more time and plastic on your solid object prints. Solid objects can be ‘honeycombed’ rather than fully layered up solid and using the ‘honeycomb’ technique where you can speeds up your printing time and saves you on filament.

Infill Slicer images

Infill Slicer options

In an effort not to keep harping on about the point of infill layers as we have already covered this in detail in previous posts, it is important to consider the percentage infill based on the object you are printing. In theory, the less infill percentage you can get away with the better as it will save on resources, however, do remember that printing at really low infill percentages such as 10% will lead to inferior top surfaces as the printer starts to fill the top of your object, so keep this in mind when deciding on the percentages of your prints.

Infill Slicer Percentages

Infill Slicer Percentages

3. There are two essential aspects when it comes to printing speeds. One is the speed you tell your slicer to use, the other is how fast the printer can follow along with those instructions and how fast it can move between two printing areas. Typically speaking, the print speed of your 3D printer is more of a function of the type of software you are using with most printers using default settings that are suited to that particular machine. If you really want to print out your parts quickly, this would be the place to go in order to tweak your settings, although be warned, this can result to a fair few trial and error prints before nailing the correct speeds to complete your prints fully.

4. Again, we briefly touched on the basics of support material, however, I have included the key ideas for you here. Depending on the model, it may add a significant amount of plastic and time to your prints. Remember, supports are used for areas where the printer will technically print in mid-air and so without any type of support the extruded filament will not have an area to print on and thus fail, so supports are a critical part of any print. However, having too many supports can be a bit of a pain as you have to remove them afterwards. A way to fix this problem is to make sure that your model is touching as much of the build plate as possible. You can also reduce your printing time slightly when it comes to supports by being selective about where your support material is used. Your slicing software will automatically include support material in the places it thinks your model requires it (where there are steep overhangs), however, you can manually select and/or remove any support areas with not so steep areas on your print. This will vary from model to model and it will be a case of judging whether your overhangs are steep enough to require support material or not.

Using Support Material - Digital Cubed

Using Support Material

All in all, depending on your particular model and the print size, your 3D model could take a number of hours. The time it takes to print something and if you consider it a “long time” is subjective to each individual. What someone may consider a long time another person may think is reasonable. Nevertheless, I hope this article has helped to provide an overview of the different ways you can save printing time regardless of how long your print is scheduled to take. Not only are the above great practices to get into as they potentially help to save you time and money by using less plastic, they will also give you a deeper understanding about the particular models you are printing that you can use as a platform for your future prints.

I hope you have enjoyed this article. If you did, you may want to check out our diverse range of filaments exclusive to Digital Cubed. If you are into trying new things and pushing the boundaries of printing, you may want to check out our range of Metal filaments such as Tungsten and Titanium – yes, you can now 3d print in metal! You can check out our fill filament material range here.