What’s a slicer? How does it work?
If you are interested in the world of 3D printing, you may have read or heard many times about slicer software, but what is it and how does the slicer work?
Slicing is one of those stages of 3d printing that you do not fully understand until you try it out physically or explain it accurately, and this is what I will try to do.
Even if we talk about “slicing”, you don’t have to worry, you won’t run the risk of cutting yourself! In fact, during the slicing phase, the three-dimensional model, in *.stl format, is divided into mini horizontal slices (even thinner than ham).
Printing with the FDM (Fused deposition) method, the printer melts the plastic, normally in reels, and deposits it layer by layer on the printing plate.
Then we will have a first layer that will be the equivalent of our foundations, and gradually follow all the other layers one on top of the other.
This series of slices, which make up the entire model one on top of the other, also determine the movements and the amount of plastic that the printer must leave on the plate. The succession of layers on layers of material deposition and the consequent creation of an object is the real 3D printing.
To make this concept clearer, I enclose a few photos that will allow you to understand the principle.
The interpreter who translates our wishes to the machine
Once the slicer processes the various movements you have to make, just like a good interpreter transforms our instructions in *.Gcode format: the language that printers speak. The translated commands are the movements of the motors on the x and y axes, the advancement and retraction of the filament. And the movement on the z axis, which occurs only in the transition between one layer and the next. Basically when a layer is finished and you have to move on to the next one.
What I have omitted before is that in the phase of “slicing”, therefore in creating the series of layers, we can intervene and modify substantially a series of parameters. We can vary them according to the technical characteristics that we want our object to have or not.
The difference our intervention can make
Human intervention and the elaboration of a strategy in setting the correct values inside the slicer is to determine in order to obtain an excellent print rather than a mediocre one.
Experience will help us to analyze the various objects we want to create. For a beginner many strategies may not be clear or intuitive.
One is the orientation of the piece, then move, turn, flip the model until you get the minimum need to use the supports possible. Creating a support for a suspended part, besides being an additional consumption of material, can also be a source of problems both in the construction phase and in the detachment phase. You will learn that each substrate carries a scar, more or less evident depending on the quality of our printer and our skill.
Among human interventions, even the definition of speed can make a difference. Acrylic printers, maybe not so stables can’t physically reach very high printing speeds. Having taken note of this, just be careful to slow down slightly. The parameters on which we can intervene are really many and I wanted to summarize below the most common, that each slicer allows us to vary.
If you start from scratch and want to master a slicer I recommend the very detailed guide (divided into 4 articles) of Cura 3.0 that you can find here on the Blog. Cura is one of the most performing slicers in circulation and we are fortunate that it is totally free. Through the Guide you will be guided step by step in all phases of the program, from downloading, configuration, preparation of the model until you learn some tricks.
- Installation and creation of printers, materials and profiles
- The working area
- Print settings
- Special modes and some little tricks
We have a good guide on Simplify 3D as well. You can find this. If you want to know in depth all the possibilities that Simplify offers you can read the whole series of our Guides!
Now as promised a brief introduction to the most common printing options.
All slicing software gives us the ability to vary a lot of parameters:
indicates the number of concentric layers that our object will have, a real shell. Objects that will have to withstand shocks will have to have the widest shell. I advance to all that having a shell size that is not multiple of the width of the hole of the nozzle from which the plastic comes out can bring some problem.
is the percentage of filling. The higher the percentage, the higher the material density of the object. In some software you can also choose the filling pattern and the shape to give to the internal polygons.
the thickness of each level. Low values must be set to increase the definition of the object. Usually commercial printers reach 0.1 mm, some KITS even 0.05 mm. In some cases the value reaches 0.02mm but the costs start to rise.
is the temperature of the extrusion head and therefore of the melting of the plastic, which must be set according to the material used. In our reviews you can find the ideal temperatures for many materials reviewed.
some materials, such as ABS, Nylon and other special materials, need a heated surface that can reach 100°/120° to adhere to the printing surface.
All slicer software has the ability to create support structures for parts that pass a certain angle of suspension. The molten plastic must have a base of support, so if the layer below does not support the next one we can intervene (or rather the slicer that creates them automatically) and create a support structure. In some cases it is also possible to indicate the angle above which to create the support. With overhangs of up to 50° the print is self-supporting, going beyond is risky and the success may depend on the used material.
This option defines the speed of movement of the various motors, there are many speeds to adjust, printing, printing of the interior, the shell, displacement and others. The same speeds can also vary depending on the material used (generally softer must be printed more slowly) and the speeds that can withstand the machine we are using.
Raft– the function generates an additional first layer that acts as a horizontal support on which to build the object. It is used to facilitate plastic adhesion and to reduce deformation.
Brim- starts the first layer wider than normal (by a measure decided by the user), to increase the points of contact to the plane and then consequently increase adherence.
Skirt– it creates a thread around the perimeter of the object, it is generally used to understand where it will be made and to purge the extruder of any impurities
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