3D Printing at the Engineering Library

3D printing has gained popularity in the past decade, with printers becoming cheaper and more accessible to the consumer market. It has allowed users to take manufacturing into their own hands with several advantages over traditional manufacturing. Read all the way to the end to find out how you can learn the ins and outs of printing through the Engineering Library.


The Basics

3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing. As the name would suggest, this means that items are created by building up material. The computer programs involved take the digital model the user has created and “slice” it into horizontal pieces. The printer then takes these slices and prints them one on top of the other, building the item. 

Consumer-grade printers usually print using thermoplastic graded according to the machine being used. The filament (1) is heated in the machine (2) and fed out through the nozzle (3) to build layers on the print (4) which starts on the build plate (5). Plastic is the most common, but some printers can use glass, ceramic, chocolate, and even biological tissue! 

A diagram of 3D printing



Advanced training in CAD software is no longer necessary to create your own 3D prints. Software like TinkerCAD and 123D Creature are specifically developed for ease of use. Not interested in making your own? You can download print files from a variety of websites, such  as Thingiverse. The maker of your 3D printer may also have their own online repository, so be sure to check the major brand websites.

Tinkercad is available on your computer or tablet


Consumer-Level 3D printers come in many different forms, and choosing the right one for you depends on what you are planning to print. For most home printing, a standard cartesian printer will work just fine. However, there are other options. Delta-style printers have small footprints, so they take up less space, but are also limited in their print capacity. If you wanted to go really overboard, you could look into a new innovation, a printer with a conveyor belt in place of the printing plate. This innovation allows for “infinite” printing. This means you could leave your printer to complete a multi-part print and not have to return and reset it as each piece finishes, or you could more easily print very long items, like swords or staffs. Of course, there is no need to buy a printer at all. Many public libraries now have 3D printers that can be used, or you can submit your files to be created by the printers at the Engineering Electronics Shop.

A conveyor belt printer completing multiple prints at a time

Learn & Create Workshops

Learn about 3D printing from the experts with our Learn & Create 3D Printing Workshop Series. Taught by Andrew Delgado from the 3D Print Club, the first class will cover the use of design software, and the second will focus on running the printers. More information is below. Visit our website to save your spot today!

October 6, 1:30 pm, Engineering Library Creative Space (2001C SC) – 3D Printing Designing

  • Want to learn how to use a 3D printer, but not sure how to get started?  Learn the basics of 3D Design and Modeling in this step-by-step workshop.  

October 13, 1:30 pm, Engineering Library Creative Space (2001C SC) – 3D Printing Operating the Printer

  • Have you ever wondered how 3D printers work? Join us and learn how to use slicing applications and the basics of operating a 3D printer.

Creative Kick-Start Funding Kicks Off!

It’s time for our annual Creative Kick-Start program! This program, created by the Engineering Library and the Engineering Technology Center, enables students to develop their ideas into viable products. Funds are generously provided by the Engineering Technology Center.

All Engineering students (both undergraduate and graduate) can submit their ideas for the program. Up to 10 projects will be invited to participate in the program and will receive $500 in funding. This award may only be used in the Engineering Technology Center for materials, tools, and labor. Any funds that are unused will be returned to the program.

So how do you get started?

  1. Think of a problem you want to solve. Do you want to improve the design of a tool you use a lot? Have a solution for the most annoying part of your day? The timeline for the program is approximately 3 months, so think big, but keep things in perspective. 
  2. Find a faculty or staff member to sign on to your project. All projects must have one.
  3. Fill out the application (Due October 29th) and tell us a little bit about your project.
  4. Wait to hear! Our Application Review Committee will evaluate your application and choose up to 10 projects.

Participants will take part in a workshop to help them get started and to receive their Creative Kick-Start RedBoxes. These boxes contain everything the participants need for the program, including timelines for reports, a contacts sheet for the supporting partners, and the funding card that they will use in the Engineering Electronics Shop and Machine Shop. Students will present their projects at the College of Engineering Annual Research Open House.

Applications are due October 29th, so start putting together your proposal now! Do you have an idea you want to submit? Visit the project homepage for more information and to see past participants. If you have any questions, reach out to the Engineering Library. Call us at 319-335-6047, text us at 319-250-2176, email us at lib-engineering@uiowa.edu, or just come in and ask.