Web search shows maps with locations being added at a rapid rate

Prototype production at the library offers the lowest-cost option.


Inventors have a significant advantage if they own the often-expensive equipment that allows them to make 3D models for their initial models or prototypes.

But did you know that many libraries have added 3D printers that you can use?

There are about 800 3D printers in libraries worldwide (and there could be a lot more). The easiest way to get the list of those libraries is to do a web search for “library locations 3D printers Google Maps.”

Next to the map is a list of libraries with 3D printers. But call your local library, even if it is not listed as one of the libraries on the site; after all, libraries are adding 3D printers at a rapid rate.

Libraries’ 3D printers are typically lower-cost FFF fused filament fabrication printers that are easy to use for beginners.

3D printing advantages

Models and prototypes used to be made with a variety of manufacturing methods, which often increased the time required to put together a prototype. Speed is probably the biggest benefit of 3D printing.

But another factor that is just as important is the number of materials you can use with 3D printing. Most libraries will only use plastic, but the range of plastics can be wide—from high-strength ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) and flexible nylon to a host of other standard, lower-strength plastic resins. This range of material allows you to choose which one works best in your application.

The final important benefit is cost. It used to be that making a model or prototype required using many different manufacturing vendors or a higher-priced prototype vendor. Even if you use a vendor who sells 3D printing services the cost of a prototype is less expensive than traditional methods, but prototype production at the library offers the lowest-cost option.

CAD/CAM drawings

Many inventors are reluctant to use 3D printers because they typically need CAD/CAM (computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing) drawings. But that shouldn’t be a deterrent.
Free CAD/CAM software packages are easy to use for beginners. My experience is that Sketchbook and Tinkercad are probably the easiest to use. An excellent source for information about free or low-cost CAD/CAM software for 3D printing—and for all issues related to 3D printing—is all3dp.com.
Another option is using 3D scanners. These can view your part or product and produce instructions for the 3D printers to reproduce the part. They are available at many but not all libraries with 3D printers.

This is a popular method when you are making a replacement part that has been broken or damaged.

What to prepare

3D printing works by depositing layers, one after another, until the part or product’s final shape is formed. One description might be that a 3D printer produces many 2D pieces that are merged one to another.

This means you can’t print in one piece a part with two sections that fold or unfold around a hinge. You might need to produce two or three separate parts that then will go together.

Another consideration is the size of parts that can be made by the 3D printer at your library. You might need to adjust the size of your model, or turn certain parts into two or three pieces to accommodate the printer’s size.

Make a list of all parts that are in your product. Check with your patent drawings if you have them to be sure you have every part. Then do a 3D CAD/CAM drawing for each part you need produced with 3D printing.