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There are so many uses for 3D printing in today’s world, and now kids can get in on the action, too! Here is how your kids can design and print in 3D!
When it comes to kids coding activities, there are a lot of options for screen-based activities. Finding a good balance between unplugged coding activities and screen-based activities is always a goal of mine.
3D printing has become a big deal in the last few years, and can help reinforce some of the basic coding concepts and help kids learn valuable critical thinking skills. The process is fairly simple; design, slice, print. But when it comes to the execution, you can teach or reinforce all sorts of coding concepts.
Read on to learn the specifics about how Your Kids Can Design and Print in 3D!
3D Design For Kids!
For the design process, you will need some kind of 3D design creation software. These are sometimes called C.A.D., or “Computer-Aided Design”. For kids learning to design, you don’t need the top-of-the-line software. All the “extras” will just confuse your child. To help your child begin to design in 3D, first take a look at Thingiverse.
Thingiverse is an online library of sorts, but instead of books, you can download 3D designs. When kids start to look at designing in 3D, having an idea of what the model will look like is helpful. They can find pretty much anything they want on Thingiverse, so whatever they are interested in, you will probably be able to find a model of it.
Once you have an idea of what a 3D model looks like, you will need to learn how to move and design in a 3D space. It’s not quite as easy as designing in 2D or just drawing on a piece of paper. I usually head to TinkerCad to get kids started.
TinkerCad is awesome for helping kids learn to design in 3D. Once they get signed in, the “Starter” lessons teach them how to move, place, edit, and delete objects within the 3D world. After they get through the starter lessons, there is a bank of other, gradually harder lessons they can start on. If you want to get really fancy, you can have your child download one of the designs on Thingiverse, then drop it into TinkerCad so they can edit it and make it their own. Whatever they do, they will be working on visual-spacial skills and computational thinking, which are both wonderful skills to help develop a budding computer coder/programmer!
Slice (Adult Assistance Needed)
In order for a 3D design to be built, it has to be sliced into layers that the printer can understand. Each type of printer has it’s own proprietary slicing software, so make sure you get the correct software for whichever printer you will be using.
When you are done helping your kid design in 3D, you will export the print to a file. The best option is usually to export as a .stl file, the most common file type for 3D design. You will then open that .stl file in the software that works for your particular type of printer.
What you will see from there depends on the printer and its software, but most of them have similar features. You will probably be asked to run some kind of repair check – where the software looks for possible printing issues and repairs the model for you to take care of them. You may be asked if you want to add a “raft” to the bottom of the model, making it easier to remove. You may also have the ability to scale up or down depending on the software, And then you will probably have some sort of “Slice” or “Print” button.
Once you click on the “Slice” or “Print” option, one of two things will happen. If the printer is hooked directly to the computer, you might hear it begin to hum and warm up. If not, you might be asked where you would like to save the new file. This should no longer be a .stl file. It will now have a new file extension, which will probably reflect the type of printer you are using. A flash drive (Thumb drive/USB stick) will be helpful here to get the file from the computer to the printer.
3D Printing for Kids (Adult Assistance Needed)
However you get the file to the printer, you will now be able to select and print it. A 3D printer works very much like a robotic hot glue gun. The printer can move side-to-side, forward and back, and up and down. The model has been sliced into layers, so the only time the printer moves up is when it has completed a layer and is moving to the next one.
I like to teach my kids about 3D printing with a deck of cards. I hand them one
The next thing we do is stack the cards back up. As we go one-by-one, I teach my kids that this is how a 3D printer works; there are many layers that make up their model, and the printer simply stacks layer after layer to eventually create their design!
For adults, you should know that the printer nozzle gets quite hot. Once the printer is printing, you should encourage your child to watch, NOT touch. Many 3D printers in schools are enclosed in some kind of box or case, to make sure that no little fingers get hurt.
The Best 3D Printers for Kids
We use the Flashforge Finder 4.0 printer. We love this printer as its easy to use, comes with a flexible print bed (so helpful for getting the models off the plate!), and prints really well. There are a lot of other options on the Market. You can check out our full review of the best 3D printers for kids.
- ✅ 【Large Size & Direct Drive Extruder】Compared with Finder 2, the build volume of Finder 3 is increased by 270%. It increases the success rate of a perfect first layer and offers stronger compatibility and wider application range.
- ✅ 【260℃ High Temperature Nozzle & Support Various Filament】High filament compatibility. More printing possibilities. Finder 3 3d printer shows great performance on 3d printing PLA/ABS/HIPS/PETG/PETG PRO/TPU 95A and etc.
- ✅ 【Glass Platform & PEI Magnetic Build Plate】Good adhesion to the printed model and enables fast heating up of the heat bed. The build plates is not only durable but also flexible. Once the printing completes, users can remove the printed model effortlessly.
- KID FRIENDLY: Built to be used by children, Toybox can be controlled with simple one-touch functions. No adult assistance needed, no need to adjust removable print bed, easy filament loading and novel print bed design that doesn't require a knife to remove prints like most 3D printers
- UNLIMITED CATALOG OF TOYS: Thousands of awesome toys are available at your fingertips in our Toybox catalog. New toys added weekly and seasonally.
- CREATOR SPACE AND EASY IMPORT: Upload designs to create your own toys or draw them and bring them to life through our user-friendly apps and tools. Your creations are stored on the cloud for easy access.
- 3D Printers for Kids & Beginners: Fully assembled, Auto bed leveling, Massive pre-sliced files. You can get the mini printer up and running in minutes. It is a perfect entry level FDM printer! The size of the small printer is 210*210*290mm, the print size is 100*105*100mm, it rarely takes any room.
- WIFI Printing: The printer can print by SD card/ USB/ WIFI. It compatibles with Wiibuilder, Cura, Simplify3d and PoloPrint Pro App. You can control print wirelessly and remotely. TINA2S upgrade wifi module to ensure faster and more stable transmission.Notes：Printer only supports 2.4G netwotk
- APP Model Library: Awesome pre-sliced models are available at your fingertips in our Poloprint Cloud app. You also can slice your own model with the easy to use Wiibuilder Software. Printing is a breeze. It is a perfect gift for kids on Christmas, Birthday, Thanksgiving, Halloween.
Where to find a 3D printer
There are now so many 3D printers on the market, and there are quite a few affordable 3D printer options. You also might try contacting your school librarian – They may be able to tell you where in the community you can find a public-use printer. If you can’t find anything
Step By Step Guide to 3D Printing With Kids
Ok let’s review the exact steps needed to get started 3D printing with kids.
- Brainstorm ideas for 3D print designs. Look on Thingiverse for inspiration. Or consider our 3D printer tutorial for a ready to go project.
- Get started designing your first 3D print on TinkerCad. Keychains, bookmarks, and name tags are a great starter project. We have specific tutorials below that take you step by step through TinkerCad.
- Once your design is complete click ‘export’ and save as an .stl file.
- Open the software that came with your specific 3D printer. This will be different according to your printer model. Import the .stl file into this software and confirm the settings on your printer. Export this file to a usb stick and plug it into your 3D printer. Get ready to press print!
3D Printing for Kids Tutorials
Check out our collection of step-by-step guides to 3D printing with kids. These guides are designed to be used in a classroom setting and come with a google slides presentation and a set of worksheets for students.
- 3D Printing Tutorial: Design Your Own Custom Name Tag
- 3D Print and Code Tutorial: Code Your Own Thanksgiving Turkey Napkin Ring
- 3D Printing Tutorial: Create your Own Custom Ornament
If 3D printing is something you never considered for your kids, you should start thinking about it!
Not yet ready for a 3D Printer? Why not try a 3D pen! 3D pens have become very popular for kids and will get your kids started with basic 3D design. Read our guide to the best 3D pens for kids.
3D design and printing is a great way to get artistic kids into coding and computational thinking. What experience do you have with 3D design and printing? Have you heard of the medical breakthroughs that are becoming possible thanks to this technology and dedicated designers? Did you know Your Kids Can Design and Print in 3D?
Frequently Asked Questions About 3D Printers for Kids
We recommend 3D printing for kids 8 and older. There are a variety of options of 3D printers perfect for this age group.
Of course! 3D printing teaches kids about problem solving, spatial skills and critical thinking.
3D printers can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. We have a range of affordable options reviewed above.
Check out Thingiverse to see all the great designs you can create with your 3D printer. From figurines to practical home accessories, the sky is the limit!
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Kate is mom of two rambunctious boys and a self-proclaimed super nerd. With a background in neuroscience, she is passionate about sharing her love of all things STEM with her kids. She loves to find creative ways to teach kids computer science and geek out about coding and math. She has authored several books on coding for kids which can be found at Hachette UK.