The earliest 3D printers for consumers or hobbyists were not internet-enabled. However, some contemporary and many of the latest 3D printers are compatible with wired and wireless internet. So, do 3D printers need the internet to print a model?
3D printers do not need the internet to print unless you want to load a design or its file using a network, be it through a local wired connection, wirelessly, or remotely. But 3D printers need the internet to communicate with devices not connected through a USB.
Even if you use the internet to feed or load a sliced file into a 3D printer, the model won’t need an active connection to print, as the printer will download the file’s G-code. So, let’s talk more about how 3D printers work with an internet connection and when you might consider using internet networks in 3D printing.
What Type of Connection Do 3D Printers Need To Print?
The first type of connection 3D printers need to print is an external power source.
3D desktop printers need a constant power supply to function and print. Otherwise, 3D printers will stop operating unless you have a backup system to power them for a while.
Unlike the power requirement, 3D printers do not need the internet to print.
The first 3D printers didn’t have an Ethernet or LAN port to connect to an internet network. The earliest Prusa 3D printers had only an SD card slot to load the design files.
However, the Ethernet or LAN port is standard hardware in most modern 3D printers. However, the functioning or printing isn’t dependent on an active internet connection.
Also, you don’t need the internet to interact with 3D printers since all contemporary models have at least one USB port.
3D printers have USB ports. These ports are versatile, and you can use them to connect the 3D printer with a flash drive or personal device, such as:
However, 3D printer manufacturers don’t necessarily use the same USB port type for all their models or across variants.
Companies also have their preference for one USB port over others. Hence, you are likely to find one or more of the following connectivity ports on 3D printers:
- USB Type A
- USB Type B
- Mini USB
- Micro USB
Here are a few examples of the type of USB port on a few popular 3D printers:
- The Prusa i3 MK3S has a USB 2.0 Type B port.
- The Creality Ender 3 Pro has a Mini USB port.
- The Creality Ender 3 V2 has a Micro USB port.
3D printers include compatible USB cables in the kits and may also have “thumb drives” or USB flash drives for you to upload files.
You can use a compatible device to set up the USB connection with the 3D printer’s port. After that, you’ll be able to load the designs, make changes, and monitor everything on your device through this USB connection.
Also, you don’t need this USB connection to be active for the 3D printer to print. If a design file is sliced correctly and loaded into the 3D printer, disconnecting the USB cable from either or both ports doesn’t influence the printing session.
However, you won’t be able to interact with the 3D printer through your chosen device, nor have any monitoring access through a compatible application or software. You must be at the 3D printer to access and regulate the onboard controls and settings.
Many contemporary 3D printers have an Ethernet or LAN port, but not all. Also, such a port for a wired internet connection isn’t a substitute for USB connectivity.
Consider the example of the 3D printers manufactured by Formlabs.
All new Formlabs’ 3D printers have an Ethernet or LAN port that you can use for a shielded CAT 5 cable with an RJ-45 connector, including the following variants:
- Stereolithography (SLA)
- Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
- Low Force Stereolithography (LFS)
However, the LAN ports aren’t in the same place for all the printers, and the Ethernet specs are not identical. Here’s one difference among the Formlabs models’ LAN ports:
- Form 2 has a 10BASE-T/100BASE-TX Ethernet port (100 Mbit).
- Form 3 has a 10BASE-T/100BASE-TX/1000BASE-T Ethernet port (1,000 Mbit).
These printers have other differences, too, but all these Formlabs 3D printers have USB as the primary connection. The Ethernet or LAN port isn’t necessary for these printers to print.
Similar to the Ethernet port or LAN connectivity, a 3D printer’s Wi-Fi feature is for convenience, particularly wireless and remote access.
Still, these printers can print like they should if you load the files through the USB port unless there’s no electricity.
That said, 3D printers need the internet if you want real-time connectivity through a network. A 3D printer also needs Wi-Fi if you want to use remote or wireless access for interaction or monitoring.
Also, 3D printers don’t have the same Wi-Fi standards. For example:
- The Formlabs Form 2 is compatible with the IEEE 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi standard that only works on the 2.4 GHz frequency with WEP and WPA security protocols.
- The Formlabs Form 3 and later models are compatible with the IEEE 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi standard and later versions, so they work on both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies with better WPA and WPA2 security protocols.
Many enthusiasts use Raspberry Pi and Octoprint to equip their old 3D printers with Wi-Fi, but those models can also function without the internet, whether wired or wireless.
You may know how conventional printers connect to a local area network (LAN).
You can use your LAN connection with or without active internet connectivity to print with traditional 2D printers. Likewise, you can use an offline LAN connection with 3D printers to print.
The same Ethernet or LAN port and CAT 5 cable with the RJ-45 connector will serve as the wired connection after you configure the setup according to the relevant transmission control protocol (TCP).
From a non-technical perspective, an offline LAN connection will serve the same purpose as the 3D printer’s USB port and cable. You can communicate with a 3D printer and load files through the offline LAN. Still, downloads and firmware updates will require an active internet connection.
3D printers don’t need the internet to print, as they have many options for uploading files. Most people use a USB or flash drive to upload files to 3D printers.
However, many modern 3D printers have wireless or ethernet connectivity, allowing you to wirelessly send files to your 3D printer.
This connection will work, but if you lose an internet connection during the upload, your device won’t feed the complete code or file into the 3D printer.