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I am trying to 3D print an object from Shapeways. Confidentiality prevents me from sharing the actual STL files publicly, but what I can say is that it's a shape about 2 cm tall x 4 cm wide x 4 cm deep, and where the design specifies a vertical hole 5 mm in diameter, the hole comes out fine, but where the design specifies multiple holes 3 mm in diameter, passing diagonally through the shape (at a 45° angle with the ground), the holes seem to collapse (i.e. I can't see through them, and if I push a straightened paper clip through the hole, it's blocked). This has happened repeatedly (e.g. Shapeways offered to re-print some shapes for free when they came out defective, but this happened the second time too).

I am new to 3D printing and trying to figure out:

  • Is the hole more likely to "collapse" if it's diagonal rather than straight up and down? Is this because when the shape is being 3D printed, it's oriented exactly as shown in the design, and so before the 3D printing materials have fully solidified, the holes are more likely to be collapsed by gravity? Or does it have more to do with the diameter of the holes, and if I made the shape with 5 mm diagonal holes, they might not collapse?

  • The material I'm picking from Shapeways's options is "Black Natural Versatile Plastic". Are there other materials that are less likely to have this problem?

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    $\begingroup$ could you make a stand in model, for exampe a cube with the holes you describe? Is it SLS or FDM printed? $\endgroup$ – Trish Oct 10 at 20:11
  • $\begingroup$ I had never heard of SLS or FDM. I looked them up, but I still can't tell from Shapeways' checkout process which one they use when I order a print in "Versatile Plastic". I asked customer support to find out. @Trish when you say "could you make a stand in model", do you mean make a design with the same types of holes in it, for the purpose of testing whether it has the same printing problems, and then if it does, I can share that STL file without violating the NDA? $\endgroup$ – Bennett Oct 10 at 23:10
  • $\begingroup$ A simple cube with just random holes does not allow to identify the project or item, but it helps to identify the possible print problem. A simple cube, same holes, no other features. $\endgroup$ – Trish Oct 10 at 23:29
  • $\begingroup$ SLS is Selective Laser Sintering/smelting, where a laser melts a powder (usually nylon) to create 3D objects. FDM is Filament Deposition Modeling, where a plastic filament is melted and pushed through a nozzle. FDM is visibly made from layers, SLS from nylon is somewhat porous but layers can't be distinguished. $\endgroup$ – Trish Oct 10 at 23:31
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A member of the public on Stack Exchange's forum gave me the answer:

"The problem is not the hole 'collapsing' in and of itself. The problem is the material. Versatile Plastic is a layered powder fused together with a laser in multiple layers, so the unused power has to come out from the various holes in the model once printing is completed. However, these layers are also very thin and compact. Therefore, if you make a small enough hole, the powder simply won't flow through it and it becomes stuck. Due to the small dimensions you listed (of said hole) it's gonna be difficult to free it due to the sheer compressing forces involved. When working with such fine details Versatile Plastic is not the most indicated material.

The only correction you can make to rectify the problem is changing material. Fine Detail Plastic would be a good choice for a new test, although it is not cheap compared to Versatile, is certainly cheaper than metals.

Fine Detail Plastic should provide you with a good result if you feel like trying it out."

ShapeWays technical support told me basically the same thing, and added that ordering the shape in black might also exacerbate the problem:

He said that when a model has holes in it, a human actually pokes the holes to get residual material out if possible. Then he adds: "The last issue would be that Black indeed causes additional issues. If the production team isn't able to clean the model properly, or didn't do their work right, this could become and issue when we dye your model. All Versatile Plastic is printed in White, when selecting a colored finish such as black, we dye the model using a bath of regular RIT DYE. If the hole still has trapped powder, the bath will make the loose powder wet and make it become sticky, in combination with the dye this causes it to become chunky on the inside."

TL;DR: I can try to fix it by using Fine Detail Plastic, or I could try ordering in white and then painting it black myself to avoid gunking up the holes (the insides of the holes don't need to be painted black).

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  • $\begingroup$ I had a suspicion that way, but without the information about the method (nylon powder SLS) I couldn't guess. $\endgroup$ – Trish Oct 13 at 2:09

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