You can 3D print without a computer. However, you will need the other essentials: the design, the model’s file sliced and converted into g-code, and a connector or medium to feed the information to your 3D printer. You must have these resources ready for the following solutions.
Here are 6 simple ways to 3D print without a computer:
- Use an SD card.
- Connect a USB device.
- Use a phone or tablet.
- 3D print over Wi-Fi or Ethernet.
- Get a compatible 3D printer application.
- Create a remote 3D printer setup.
You can use one or all of these methods depending on the available tools and resources. The minimum requirements are access to a 3D model, slicer software, and the necessary connectivity. This guide discusses every detail you need to know to 3D print without a computer.
1. Use an SD Card
Many 3D printers over the years have compelled users to rely solely on an SD card. Users had to copy the g-code or another format of instructions to an SD card and then insert it into the 3D printer before initiating the subsequent process.
Contemporary 3D printers enable users to monitor every step of the live process. Most people use a computer or laptop for this purpose. If you want to 3D print without a computer, you can always rely on the humble SD card and let the printer do its job without any interference.
Here are the prerequisites to 3D print with an SD card:
- 3D design or model
- Slicer software or 3D printer application
- A device to copy the data to an SD card
If you have access to a computer, you can design or download several 3D models, use slicer software to convert the files, copy the data to an SD card, and then print one object at a time.
Alternatively, you can use a smartphone, tablet, or laptop to download a 3D design. You may also create 3D models using a smartphone or tablet.
Many 3D printers have native slicer software and third-party application compatibility. You can use one on your phone to convert the 3D design or model into the instructables for the printer.
Note: Some printers use a proprietary format instead of g-code and other cross-platform files.
Transfer this g-code or the compatible format of instructions to the SD card. You may use an SD card adapter or reader if you want. Once the data is copied, take the SD card and insert it into your 3D printer.
Follow the standard process of your 3D printer to load the instructions from the SD card. Keep your printer clean, loaded, and ready before doing this so you don’t start the process prematurely.
Here are a few tips to avoid errors during this procedure:
- Always format an SD card before you load the sliced file of a 3D model.
- Choose viable or printable 3D designs if you download or use ready-made models.
- Use 3D design or model libraries and slicer software compatible with mobiles and tablets.
Some 3D printers or their entry-level models may not have a built-in SD card slot or reader. Hence, you must use a USB adapter or a different method to 3D print without a computer.
Smartphones and 3D printers are not universally compatible with SD and microSD cards. You can use a solution like the INLAND 32GB Flash Memory Card on Amazon.com with adapters for phones and tablets.
2. Connect a USB Device
You may use an SD card adapter to connect to the USB port of a 3D printer. You can also use a smartphone or tablet as the source device for your printer’s USB interface. Some 3D printers have a micro or mini-USB port. Choose an appropriate USB cable or adapter accordingly.
This HOIOS SD Card Reader on Amazon.com is compatible with USB, Type C, and microSDXC. Hence, you can use it for Android phones, Windows, macOS, and 3D printers.
The other steps are similar to those when you use an SD card. Download or obtain a 3D model, use your preferred slicer software to get the g-code, and feed the instruction to the printer using the USB port.
You don’t need to dedicate a device for the entire time if you use an SD card adapter or reader to connect with the 3D printer’s USB interface. If you connect your phone or tablet with the 3D printer using a USB cable, the devices must stay synced for the entire session.
3. Use a Phone or Tablet
One advantage of using a phone or tablet to 3D print without a computer is the real-time access to information. 3D printer applications provide live updates about the print cycle. You can check if everything is panning out alright.
You can hook a smartphone or tablet directly using a USB cable. Alternatively and more conveniently, use an SD card or USB port and flash memory card adapter.
If the model has such connectivity and internal memory, you may also feed the instructables to a 3D printer over the internet.
3D printers with onboard RAM can store the slicer instructions. Hence, such models continue to print even if the USB interface or communicating device is disconnected.
You need the prerequisite essentials to use a phone or tablet via a USB port or an SD card. Let’s explore the simplest options for these essentials.
Download 3D Models
You can download 3D models for free from different online libraries or databases. Some of these sites have both free and payable designs. Choose a platform based on your preference and designs that are suitable for your 3D printer.
Here are a few popular 3D databases for free models:
- Cults 3D
- 3D Shook
- Free 3D
Check out Yeggi, a search engine for 3D printer models, for a quick glimpse of multiple databases.
Here are a few 3D databases with more payable models:
- Blender Market
- 3D Ocean
These platforms have more technical models, engineering prototypes, and premium designs.
Design 3D Models
You may download ready-made 3D models and start printing, whether free or paid. Also, you may want to design unique objects.
You can design 3D models using a smartphone or tablet. A computer is not necessary, albeit a desktop or a laptop may be more convenient.
Here are a few free apps for your phone or tablet to design 3D models:
- Microsoft 3D Builder
- SDF 3D
- d3D Sculptor
- Fusion 360
Here are a few paid apps to design 3D models on your phone or tablet:
- Luna Display
- Putty 3D
The paid apps typically have a free trial period. Some free apps have ads and subsequent optional purchases.
Install Slicer Software App
There are many open-source slicer software applications that you can install and use for free. You may consider premium slicer software, too. Ensure the slicer software is compatible with your 3D printer.
Here is a list of some popular slicer software for your phone or tablet:
Slicer software apps may need a mini-computer or embedded device in some cases.
You can use your mobile or tablet to transfer the instructables data to an SD card. Alternatively, you can connect slicer software apps with a 3D printer via USB, Bluetooth, or the internet to control a print through their interfaces.
Use a Web Interface
Some 3D models databases and slicer software have a cloud-based web interface. Solutions like AstroPrint and Printoid enable you to use such a web interface on your mobile or tablet. You don’t need a computer unless you want to make significant changes to a design or a print cycle.
You may consider other convenient options depending on the 3D printer and software slicer available. For instance, Prusa has a web interface called Connect Local.
4. 3D Print over Wi-Fi or Ethernet
SD cards don’t offer much interim control for you to intervene during a printing cycle. USB cables hooked with an embedded device, a mini-computer, and through a mobile or your tablet may or may not be entirely convenient for everyone.
You can connect your 3D printer to the internet for remote and real-time access. Some high-end 3D printers have Wi-Fi compatibility. A few models are compatible with Wi-Fi adapters.
Brands are introducing solutions like the Creality Wi-Fi Box on Amazon.com that connects to the 3D printer’s mainboard via the USB port. You may also use a USB device server to connect a 3D printer to Ethernet or Wi-Fi.
The Silex DS-520AN USB Device Server, available on Amazon.com, can connect the 3D printer to 802.11n Wi-Fi and Ethernet. This type of device server works with regular printers, scanners, and a plethora of USB-enabled hardware. Hence, you will find other significant uses, too.
You can feed data or instructions to a 3D printer over Wi-Fi or Ethernet when you use a web interface, mobile app, an SD card, or a USB port, even when you are not physically present.
5. Get a Compatible 3D Printer Application
A smartphone or tablet may not deliver the convenience of using a desktop computer or laptop. However, downloading a ready-made 3D model and slicing the file to get the compatible file utilizing an application is easy and swift.
Then, you can use an SD card or the USB interface for conventional 3D printing. Alternatively, you can use an application or web interface for mobiles and tablets to connect with an internet-enabled 3D printer.
You can simplify this process further with a compatible 3D printer application. Consider a solution like OctoPrint or one of its variants. You can extract design files effortlessly, get the g-code, and use it to operate the 3D printer.
Take the example of how you can use Thingiverse and OctoPrint.
If you have a model or download one from Thingiverse, you can use the OctoPrint to get the sliced file for the 3D printer. Copy this data to a formatted SD card, insert it into your 3D printer, and select the relevant settings through the onboard control panel to get started.
This video demonstrates how simple the entire process is:
You don’t have to use a computer to download the 3D model and get OctoPrint to deliver the g-code. You can use a mobile or tablet.
AstroPrint is a lighter and simpler version of OctoPrint. You can leverage the cloud-based web interface that doesn’t necessitate a certain minimum processing power in your mobile or tablet.
If you opt for an internet-enabled 3D printer using the 4th step in this guide, AstroPrint could make the entire process a cakewalk.
6. Create a Remote 3D Printer Setup
You may consider a remote 3D printer setup if you wish to be mobile or have complete real-time access, irrespective of your location. An internet-enabled 3D printer synced with an application is a feasible way to create a remote setup. You may explore alternatives, too.
Consider Raspberry Pi or similar setups if you wish to use downloaded designs, slicer software applications, and print at any time with remote access, including video surveillance.
You can use a Raspberry Pi 4 on Amazon.com, OctoPrint, and the USB port in your 3D printer to create an isolated setup with full remote access. You will get real-time updates about the entire process. You can use a camera on a Raspberry Pi to stream live footage of your in-progress 3D print.
The other steps are still relevant if you wish to 3D print without a computer. You will need a 3D models database, slicer software, either SD card or USB interface, perhaps both, and ideally an internet-enabled printer if you wish to have real-time access, monitoring, and control.
Check out this video about a remote 3D printer setup using Raspberry Pi and OctoPrint:
Alternatively, you can use brand-specific solutions like the Creality Smart Kit, including a Wi-Fi box and an HD camera for real-time monitoring. The kit also provides access to cloud-based slicing apart from remote print control.
SD cards and USB interfaces are the simplest ways to 3D print without a computer. Consider SD card adapters for USB ports if the 3D printer has the latter only.
Embedded devices or mini computers and dedicating a phone or tablet throughout the print cycle may be unviable for some users. The former requires an upfront investment if you don’t have such devices already.
If you want a state-of-the-art remote 3D printer setup, opt for a full-throttle approach with a USB device server or Raspberry Pi and Octoprint or similar hardware and software and cameras.