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An Introduction to 3D Printing for Kids

An Introduction to 3D Printing for Kids

3D printing has surged in popularity over the last few years. With many machines finally reaching affordable levels, access to software and tools being better than ever, and general awareness for this awesome technology always increasing, it’s easy to see why 3D printing is hitting the news so often.

Children (and adults!) are often amazed when they see a 3D printer at work for the first time. Being able to turn an idea in your head into a real object can be a great learning opportunity. 3D design is an increasingly valued skill in all sorts of modern occupations from engineering to product design and even medicine.

Our computer science camps can take your children on a journey of 3D design and discovery, and we’re excited to share the benefits with you. First, though, let’s take a look at the 3D printing industry to get an idea of what it will take to get started with your own factory at home.

How to Make Models for 3D Printing

Every good 3D printer is backed up by powerful software which makes it possible to design in 3D. Known as Computer-Aided Design, or simply CAD, software, there are plenty of options for you to choose from, and it makes sense to research this side of your 3D printing adventure before you dive into it.

TinkerCAD is incredibly easy to use, and is our go-to when we’re teaching young children about 3D design. Most people will be able to get to grips with this free software, but it still has the potential to create complex designs and give your children the chance to let their imaginations run wild. Fusion 360 is far more complicated than TinkerCAD. Used by professionals across the globe, it’s easy to see why so many people are using this software when you see the work which can be done with it. We use Fusion 360 at our 3D printing summer camps, and students are allowed to use it for free. Skills with this software are in constant demand across the globe.

3D Printing Hardware

Once you have an idea of the software you’ll be using with your 3D printer, it makes sense to start looking at the printers themselves. There are countless options for those looking to get into this at home, but you have to choose carefully when you’re buying one for a child, as some are far harder to use than others. We build them from kits at our Easter & summer camps, but if buying one yourself, we recommend a model that comes completely built.

The FlashForge Finder has gained a lot of popularity amongst beginners in the world of 3D printing. With a simple interface, heaps of pre-loaded settings, and great documentation, it’s hard to go wrong with a printer like this. As of now (2020), it currently retails at around £260.

The da Vinci Nano is a cheaper option than the FlashForge (currently at around £135), but it still offers many of the same features. It will be easy enough for older children to use by themselves, with USB connectivity making it as simple as loading your model on your computer and sending it to the printer to be made. 

Hand-held 3D Printer Pens

Learning to use software can be a difficult process with a lot of children. 3D printer pens take this step out of the equation, giving your child the power to draw in 3D space, using plastic which hardens extremely quickly. Options like this are much cheaper than normal printers, whilst also providing instant gratification, rather than taking hours to print like a normal 3D model.

Isn't Plastic Bad?

While they are getting better all the time, it can be all too easy to waste a lot of the filament you buy for your 3D printer. Models won’t always be perfect, and you may need to tweak settings to get the ideal prints, but this doesn’t have to be a big concern. PLA is the most commonly used plastic for 3D printing, and this material is biodegradable. This means that using it doesn’t contribute to the world’s plastic crisis.

Printing Your Models

Once you have the right software and hardware behind you, the only thing left to do will be choosing what you’d like to make with your 3D printer. Kids will have wild imaginations when it comes to their designs. There are countless items they could make, and they may need some help to choose the very best, making it worth thinking about what they might make before they get started.

Toys are an obvious start. If they can make something they will play with or use after it has been printed, this will be great. Alongside this, though, you could also help them to run their own experiments. Some structures are stronger than others, and learning about the world of construction will be much easier when you can take a physical approach.

Websites like Thingiverse can be great when you’re looking for 3D printing ideas. You can either take other people’s models or use them to inspire your own.

What Are The Benefits of a 3D Printing Camp?

Learning about 3D printing at one our 3D printing camps comes with loads of different benefits. To start, it gives the chance to learn about design and 3D space. Alongside this, it also promotes problem-solving skills.  Whilst some of this can be done at home with an off-the-shelf printer, we take a slightly different approach at camp.  Firstly, the campers build a 3D printer from a simple kit.  This means that along the way they learn how it works, and more importantly, how to troubleshoot and fix their printers.  Even the easiest-to-use printers can be a bit temperamental with nozzle jams, bed-levelling issues, and other problems.  We take the campers through all of this so they don't get frustrated by the process and continue designing with their printers long after camp finishes. We also teach older campers professional CAD modelling skills, using software that is used by engineers in industry, meaning that they gain valuable skills that they can also use long after camp.