Preparing a file for printing
Once you have your .stl or .obj file use the free Makerbot Desktop software (available here) to prepare the file for printing. This is known as slicing.
First decision: how large is your object going to be? This will determine which printer the file can be sent to. From the Devices menu choose either Replicator (5th Generation) or Replicator Z18.
5th Gen printers can print up to a 9.9" wide x 7.8" deep x 5.9" tall
Z18 printers can print up to a 11.8" wide x 12" deep x 18" tall
Next up you need to choose the print quality. These settings are found in the Settings tab. Most people are quite happy with the default Standard setting as the difference in quality between Standard and High is almost imperceptible.
Low: prints 0.3mm tall layers
Standard: print 0.2mm tall layers
High: prints 0.1mm tall layers
Rafts: are strongly recommended. Rafts help in the printing process, smoothing out any imperfections in the print bed and providing a better surface for the plastic to stick to. I have not seen a successful print that had Rafts turned off.
Support*: creates little scaffolding to help the printing process. The printer cannot defy gravity and print on air. Supports hold up any parts that have nothing below them. Turning on supports for a file that does not need supports will not waste plastic. The software will determine if supports are needed. If they are not needed then no supports will be printed.
Extruder Type is next. The extruder is the print head. Basically a fancy hot glue gun. The latest version of the Makerbot extruder is called a Smart Extruder+. Files created for use in the Makerbot Innovation Center will need to be saved for the Smart Extruder+. If you send a file that was made for the Smart Extruder (no plus) it will fail to print and you will recieve an email saying that we were unable to print your file.
Load your file and then consider how it should be oriented. For most people the goal is to have as few supports as possible. Sometimes rotating an object can greatly reduce how many supports are created and thus have to be removed. For our example we will use Low Poly Whale created by simulacrumstudios.
This is the default orientation for the whale. Pressing Preview will show us how to the whale will print, including where supports will be placed.
Since the only part of the whale touching the bed was its fins, lots of supports were generated. It will print successfully, but there will be a lot of clean up necessary to remove all the supports. Although the supports are designed to come off easily, they often leave behind artifacts.
By rotating the whale onto its chin we can greatly reduce the amount of supports needed.
The Makerbot printers are capable of printing roughly 65 degrees from vertical without needing supports. Pressing Preview will show us how it will print now.
For this particular model we have reduced the need for supports to just the fins. This will be much easier to clean up after printing.
Once you are happy with the preview press Export. This will create a .makerbot file.
The next step is to login to the Makerbot Innovation Center and submit the print job. Directions can be found here.