3D Printing for Instruction

3D models produced on TLT’s MakerBot printer.

What is 3D Printing?

While there are several methods of 3D printing, Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is perhaps the most common in educational settings. FDM printers are similar to classic inkjet printers in that both have print heads that deposit material onto a medium. In the case of an inkjet printer, it’s ink on paper. For a FDM printer, it’s plastic on a print bed. Aside from the different print materials and media, the main difference is that 3D printers can go beyond the X and Y axes and are able to print upwards in thin layers, on the Z axis. This results in detailed, three-dimensional objects.

Our 3D Printer

TLT has a MakerBot 5th Generation Replicator to help faculty create models, manipulatives, and artifacts to enhance instruction. It uses Polylactic Acid (PLA) plastic which is made from cornstarch so it is both biodegradable and renewable. Click on the video below to see our printer in action!

Getting Started

Let’s say that you want to print a topographical map of downtown Charleston to help your students visualize elevation in relation to flooding. How do you get started? Well, we condensed our four-page 3D Printing Policy and procedures into five, easy steps listed below. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact tlt@cofc.edu.

Click here to review our full policy.

Print Reference Sheet

There are several variables that affect print time and plastic use–most notably the size and resolution of your print. Click on the chart below to see the of an example of an actual print.


The design software and apps listed below are for experienced CAD users and are not supported by TLT. Please refer to the tutorials listed on the publishers’ websites for support.

Don’t forget to export 3D objects as .OBJ, .STL, or .THING files.

= Recommended 

Database Notes Website
1) Thingiverse 100,000+ objects http://goo.gl/8x1GgX
2) NASA Spacecraft, planetary bodies, etc. http://goo.gl/BrKVhU
3) NIH Molecules, bacteria, cells, etc. http://goo.gl/TSNu5X
4) The Smithsonian High-quality museum scans http://goo.gl/sTrU7H
5) GB3D Type Fossils 16,000+ fossil specimens http://goo.gl/L9u15g
6) DigiMorph Vertebrate and non-vertebrate specimens http://goo.gl/NS9zet
7) YouMagine Similar to Thingiverse http://goo.gl/X4mwsA
8) ShapeDo Similar to Thingiverse http://goo.gl/tiv6dE
9) GrabCAD 100,000+ objects http://goo.gl/fL6qM6
10) My Mini Factory Exchange credits for objects (five free credits) http://goo.gl/xzqHq9
11) The 3D Studio Must pay for objects, but some are free http://goo.gl/ZSRHG2
12) TurboSquid Must pay for objects, but some are free http://goo.gl/hLQxDP
Search Engine Notes Website
1) ADDD Google custom search of 3D sites http://goo.gl/uPGEFQ
2) Yeggi 100,000+ objects http://goo.gl/XEE9Ag
3) 3dbility Mostly searches Thingiverse http://goo.gl/V0Sj4T
4) Bld3r Community-based http://goo.gl/IyOXVg
Software Notes Website
1) TinkerCAD Uses lessons to teach 3D design http://goo.gl/pMDQ4R
2) 3DTin Similar to TinkerCAD, but with more features http://goo.gl/dJS5iS
3) SketchUp Focuses on drawing http://goo.gl/nkhARQ
4) Blender Complex and geared toward professionals http://goo.gl/nMW8D1
iPad Apps Notes Website
1) 123D Design Create 3D objects Available on the App Store
2) 123D Make Turn 3D objects into 2D slices
3) 123D Catch Turn photos into 3D objects
4) 123D Sculpt Create 3D sculptures
5) 123D Creature Create 3D characters