How we clean up 3D printed parts to make impressive models and prototypes

3D printed Einstein
3D printed Einstein

This 3D printed part shows the rough finish from sand-based 3D printing

One of the biggest, and relatively recent, game-changers to modern manufacturing is the explosion of readily available and affordable 3D printers. As the quality and efficiency of these machines keep improving, it’s worth noting that they aren’t magic; they follow the same principles as other manufacturing machines. These include trying to make exactly what it’s told (which is why programming and design are so important), imperfections will happen, and works of art rarely come out of a machine fully-formed; there’s artistry and skill involved in finishing off these items.

We use 3D printed components as parts of scale models, architectural models, artwork and a variety of other areas; SLA, SLS, 3D printed wax for castings, sintered metals, we’ve utilised all of them to create complex bespoke products for artists and businesses.
3D printed components can be used as masters or moulds for a wide range of casting applications; lost wax casting can utilise complicated 3D printed masters, foundries can cast directly into 3D printed sand-casting moulds, and injection moulding and vacuum forming tools can be created from 3D printed designs. However, as with all casting projects, the finish of the mould is then repeated on all the replicas you are manufacturing. To get a high-quality surface finish, the most cost-effective method is to spend the time getting the best quality surface from the right material for the job. We’re happy to advise on different 3D printing technologies, and which one will suit your project.

Cleaning 3D parts requires experience

3D printed skull

PLA printing leaves striations that will show through paint; the best way to get rid of them is to fill and sand the surface

While 3D printed parts can often allow you to manufacture designs that would be difficult or expensive at low volume, they don’t come out looking perfect; most 3D printing technologies use a build-up of layers to create complex 3D shapes, which leaves striations on the finished product. Some 3D printing technologies also leave support material in or on the print; these are the bridges and foundations that the printed part is made around, giving it structural stability. To remove these without damaging the 3D print can involve finesse, special tools like needle files and Dremel drills, and plenty of patience.

To get rid of striations and imperfections in a 3D printed part, we tend to use all of our model-making expertise; countless hours of hand-sanding, filling and polishing allows us to even the outside of a 3D printed component without losing any of the intricate detail that can be created during manufacture. This then gives the piece a great surface upon which to apply paint, chrome, or a wide range of finishes.

Between the shapes that can be achieved with 3D printing, and the finishing techniques applied at JH May, the possibilities are almost endless. Get in touch to discuss your next 3D printed project by calling 01277 365500 or by emailing