There is no debate that 3D printing is trending as one of the most exciting hobbies nowadays, and the fact that it’s also possible to use a 3D printer to manufacture things that have functional purposes on top of hobby-related prints gives it a whole new dimension that is not possible to find elsewhere.
On the other hand, it is also no secret that 3D printing does look to be more complex than many other popular hobbies due to the technical depth involved, whether it’s the process of choosing a 3D printer for the first time or finding out how to fix a particular problem.
To hopefully make things easier for everyone on the verge, in today’s article, we will be diving into a topic that many potential 3D printing enthusiasts have in mind before committing to purchasing a 3D printer and the necessary equipment to start 3D printing, which is whether it’s hard to learn 3D printing or not.
So, is 3D printing hard to learn for a beginner?
While mastering 3D printing is pretty challenging as it requires a good understanding of computer software, electrical hardware, mechanical hardware, and even 3D modeling, if you plan to create custom models, learning to operate a 3D printer, provided that no issues occur, is relatively easy.
In the upcoming sections, we will discuss whether 3D printing is hard to learn in more detail, go through the skills you will need in 3D printing, find out how long it would take to learn 3D printing, and finally, answer the commonly asked question of whether learning 3D printing is worth it or not.
Is 3D Printing Hard to Learn?
The difficulty of learning the 3D printing process is a deciding factor for many potential 3D printing enthusiasts who are considering the purchase of their first 3D printer, as a hobby that is too difficult to learn is not an alternative for some.
Due to its highly complex nature that involves many different scenarios, it’s practically impossible to say whether 3D printing is easy or hard to learn without going further into detail, as both answers would essentially be misleading without a more detailed explanation.
If we think about the simplest form of 3D printing, which involves using a pre-assembled 3D printer to print a pre-designed, small, and uncomplex 3D model, such as a small figurine, with an easy-to-print filament, such as PLA, and assume that no issues occur during the process, the process of 3D printing is indeed easy.
On the other hand, a more advanced form of 3D printing, which involves using a semi-assembled 3D printer, such as the widely used Ender 3, to print a custom-designed, large, and complex model, such as one that contains sharp overhangs, with a more challenging type of filament that would require you to modify your 3D printer, such as ASA, where issues are more likely occur, would require a lot more expertise.
As a result, we can say that it’s definitely possible for 3D printing to both be a breeze and a very challenging journey depending on the scenario, and while the advanced prints can require a serious time commitment, the more straightforward prints can be enjoyed by any beginner who is starting out for the first time.
What Skills Do You Need for 3D Printing?
As 3D printing is a complex process that utilizes software, mechanical hardware, and electronic hardware, at the same time, there is no denying that some skills are required to be able to 3D print high-quality models.
The general skills you need for 3D printing largely depend on what you’re trying to achieve in 3D printing and the hardware you have access to, as each use case and each distinct type of 3D printer come with their own challenges that you will need to go to through.
First, let’s start by going through the skills you would need based on the hardware you’re using.
If you are planning on picking up a 3D printer that isn’t fully assembled, some mechanical and electrical knowledge can definitely come in handy, as you will need to go through the process of putting the 3D printer together with screws and bolts and also correctly wire the components to the mainboard.
On the other hand, with a fully assembled 3D printer, the demand for mechanical and electrical knowledge will be pretty much non-existent, and you will only need to perform maintenance tasks such as filament changes, nozzle cleaning, Bowden tube cleaning, and print bed cleaning.
Now, let’s talk about the skills you need based on what you’re trying to achieve in your 3D printing journey.
To be able to print fully-customized parts, you will need to have a good understanding of 3D modeling specifically for 3D printing, which essentially includes expertise with 3D modeling software, such as Blender, and general physics, for the model you have designed to be printable.
While not directly a part of 3D printing, for producing high-quality decorative objects, you will need to familiarize yourself with post-processing a 3D printed model, which includes processes such as sanding, priming & painting, smoothing, and polishing, as the raw 3D printed model usually won’t be good enough.
For producing functional parts through 3D printing, some engineering knowledge becomes significant, as such components require calculating factors such as exact measurements, the correct level of durability, strength, and flexibility, and resistance to factors such as heat and impact.
Finally, regardless of the situation, general know-how for computer software that allows you to find your way around things is always a fantastic trait in 3D printing, as it will help you have an easier time using the slicer software.
How Long Does It Take to Learn 3D Printing?
The required time commitment is a vital factor to keep in mind before committing to any hobby, as there isn’t much of a point in investing in one only to find out that you don’t have enough time to learn and enjoy it thoroughly.
As there are so many different scenarios that you can face in 3D printing, it would practically be impossible to come up with a particular number of hours that it would take you to learn it without knowing factors such as your current knowledge, the 3D printer you intend to use, and your purpose.
To put things into perspective, let’s go through a few different examples that will make it easier for you to estimate how long it would take you to learn 3D printing to a level that would be sufficient for your purposes.
With a pre-assembled 3D printer, you can most likely start your first-ever 3D printing process with PLA filament within a few minutes of unboxing and obtain a successful final product for a simple 3D model.
On the other hand, with a semi-assembled 3D printer, getting to the same point will take a couple of hours longer, depending on your expertise, as you will need to get the 3D printer to work before you can print.
Switching to a filament that is harder to print than PLA, such as PETG, will come with its own learning curve in most cases, and you will most likely end up spending some extra hours on factors such as getting the bed adhesion and the layer adhesion right.
Being able to print fully-customized parts will require you to pick up the whole new skill of 3D modeling, which can take anywhere from tens to hundreds of hours, depending on how complex the parts you intend to design are.
We can list hundreds more similar scenarios, and as you can see, there are considerable differences in the amount of time required to learn 3D printing based on each one, as each case requires a different set of skills that are of varying difficulties to master.
Is It Worth Learning 3D Printing?
As 3D printing is a relatively new hobby that is constantly growing, it’s entirely natural not to have a clear understanding of what to expect from it, what it can produce, and whether it would be able to create an enjoyable and valuable experience for you.
Even though whether it’s worth learning 3D printing or not ultimately depends on you and what you are looking to get out of it, we can essentially split the purpose of 3D printing into two main categories, and if you believe that you belong to either of them, it will most likely be worth learning 3D printing for you.
The first category is 3D printing for decorative purposes. If you find yourself wanting to obtain new decorative pieces frequently, whether it’s an abstract vase for your home or a figurine of your favorite video game character for your collection, 3D printing will definitely be worth it for you.
The second category is 3D printing for functional purposes. If you find yourself requiring specific plastic parts and components that are hard to get a hold of, such as a particularly-sized gasket or an SD card holder capable of holding an exact number of SD cards, then you will enjoy 3D printing and greatly benefit out of it.
Finally, if you feel like both of these categories suit you, you will absolutely love 3D printing and most likely never run out of things to print.
While every hobby comes with difficulties of its own, which are possible to anticipate in most cases, the fact that 3D printing is a newer hobby that involves complex machinery makes it slightly more challenging to find out whether it’s hard to learn or not, especially at first look.
To quickly recap, we can say that 3D printing is easy to learn (at least if the right conditions are fulfilled) but definitely hard to master due to the proficiency required in so many distinct skills to be able to adapt to every situation and 3D print anything that crosses your imagination.
Ultimately, as it all comes down to factors such as how much you enjoy the process of learning more about 3D printing, how much 3D printing benefits you, and whether you have enough time, deciding to pick up 3D printing as a hobby is entirely up to you.
Mike started his 3D printing journey with the Anet A8 when it first came out back in 2017, and has been obsessed with 3D printers ever since. Nowadays, he primarily uses his Ender 3 to print functional parts that make his life more convenient whenever possible.