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3D Printing

The Design Studio is equipped with three Ultimaker 3 3D printers. 3D printers are rapid prototyping tools that use an additive manufacturing process, building up plastic layer-by-layer. With these printers, you can finish a 3D model on your computer and have a plastic part in your hand in a matter of hours.

All prints use PLA, a plastic derived from corn starch. It is non-toxic and is available in a variety of colors (whatever we have available at the moment).

Due to the limited facilities and resources available in the Design Studio, 3D prints may be limited at the mentor on duty’s discretion. The Design Studio has been setup and staffed by the undergraduate students within the School of Engineering and priority will be given to other undergraduate students within the School of Engineering.

What can I print?

You can print anything that can be exported as a .stl file. You can create and export models in CAD software like Creo (used by Mechnical Engineering students), TinkerCAD (great for beginners), OpenSCAD (intuitive for programmers), and FreeCAD. Besides models you create yourself, you can also print many designs that are freely available from sites like Thingiverse.

We can print objects that fit within the printer’s build plate volume. The printers have a nominal sub-millimeter resolution, so parts accurate to half a millimeter or so are easily achievable. See the Build volume section of the Ultimaker 3 Specifications for more information. A wide variety of objects which would be difficult to make with other processes like mold injection are made possible with 3D printing.

While 3D printing is very flexible, some objects are better made with other tools. Large, flat, objects, for example, can usually be built more quickly and cheaply from sheets of wood or plastic using a saw or laser cutter.

Getting your model printed

Once you’ve decided what to print, here’s what you need to do to use the Design Studio’s printers.

  1. Visit the Studio and talk to a mentor. They will know which printers are working properly and will help you prepare and start your print.
  2. Export your model as a .stl file. STL files can be created from many types of CAD software, like Creo.
  3. Give the file to the mentor Once you’ve exported your file, you can either give it to the mentor on a USB or send it to them via email.
  4. Log with the mentor We ask that you help us keep accurate usage records by filling out an online print log form which the mentor will show you.
  5. Finally, Print! The mentor on duty will start your part print. Most parts will take a couple of hours to complete. Very large prints may need to be postponed to happen overnight.
  6. Track print status We have live feeds of our 3D printers on our homepage which you can use to check in on your print.
  7. Pick up your print You can stop by and pick up your print anytime you see a mentor in the Studio.

3D Printing Software

  • CAD for Vanderbilt Mechanical Engineering Students: Creo (download from VU SDS site)
  • Free, easy to use CAD packages: OpenSCAD ,TinkerCad

SketchUp is no longer recommended. There are many other CAD software packages that are free for students.


All printer maintenance is handled by the Design Studio VPs of Equipment and other experienced mentors. If you see a printer that is having problems, please report it to the mentor on duty so they can cancel the print and update the printer status. Please do not try to maintain the printers yourself, as each costs upwards of $4,000. You will be removed from the studio and charged for any damage caused.