Plan on 3D printing out some miniature trees, board for a table or cabinet, or maybe a baby Groot? 3D printing is a versatile technology that can allow you to produce the look and feel of all kinds of materials on your prints, including wood!
Here are the basic steps to make your 3D print look like wood:
- Find a good wood filament.
- Setup the printer and prep the materials.
- Execute your 3D print design using your wood PLA.
- Incorporate fine details by altering the temperatures.
- Use 3D texturing.
- Use displacement mapping.
- Use 3D sculpting.
- Add the post-processing details.
There are a variety of options that will add shape and texture to your wood filament. In post-processing after the print, you can carve, color, and even sand your production to perfect it. Read on for a quick guide on producing a 3D model that looks and feels just like wood.
1. Find a Good Wood Filament
Before you can print, you will need to find a good wood PLA filament.
This is an essential step in its own right and will likely require a good amount of research to find the right fit, depending on your project.
Wood was introduced to the 3D printing world in 2012. This unique material choice can make a unique aesthetic statement, allowing you to print detailed models that look like hand-carved wood.
Since its introduction, the wood-printed look has risen in popularity, and it isn’t difficult to find simulated wood filaments.
Practically every major PLA filament seller now provides some variation of wood-based material for use in a 3D printer, and each one has different colors and wood contents.
Still, when you purchase a filament, you must ensure that the wood filament you purchase is compatible with your 3D printer. Some filaments require a heated print bed, while others do not.
Here are some of the very best wood filaments, which are all available on Amazon.com:
- Colorfabb’s WoodFill: This filament is a popular high-end material due to its stunning finish and high-quality durability.
- Enotepad Wood Filament: This filament is made from 100% biodegradable materials, making this the best option for eco-conscious printers.
- AMOLEN Real Wood Filament: AMOLEN’s wood filament comes in four different colors, making it highly versatile. Give this bundle pack a try to see which one is your favorite!
- FormFutura EasyWood: This cedar filament is affordably designed and priced for beginners, although it always leaves a pro-quality finish.
- Hatchbox 3D Printer Filament: Hatchbox 3D Printer filament is very popular since it is incredibly durable yet easy to sand. It is made of PLA, which is odorless and doesn’t require a heated print bed.
- SainSmart Wood Filament: SainSmart wood filament comes in two colors, light and dark brown, and it always leaves your prints smoother than other filaments.
Wood filament for 3D printing is typically around 30% wood fiber materials and 70% PLA, giving the filament a heavy, soft, and authentic wooden feel. It even smells like wood!
During the 3D printing process, the material may begin to smell like burning wood. So, you may want to prepare yourself for that and consider the ventilation in your printing room before you start your work.
More research may produce more specific filaments to use, and you might be able to find filaments that use exotic woods. However, some of the most popular and commonplace wood PLA’s range from cedar to birch to cork and bamboo.
2. Setup the Printer and Prep the Materials
When printing, you should always make sure that your printer and your chosen printing material are in proper working condition before beginning. That way, you can avoid print failures and reduce the chances of printer errors from here on out.
The 3D printing website 3drific provides a handy guide on adding wood to your 3D print and offers a trio of tips for preparing your printer and printing materials:
- You may need to dehydrate the filament, but this isn’t always required.
- Set your print temperature for wood filaments (you will need to check the label on your filament for the specific temperature).
- Use a bigger nozzle to prevent clogging, oozing, and stringing.
To dehydrate your filament, you will need to throw it in a dehydrator, bury it in silica gel, or place it in the oven at 104º F to 113º F (40º C to 45º C) for a few hours to ensure that it is dry and ready to go for your next print.
Since the wood-based filament is still mostly PLA-based, the temperature for your print should not change that much from what you would usually expect.
For most wood filaments, you’ll want to set your print temperature range somewhere between 356°F (180 °C) and 464°F (240 °C).
However, be careful with the higher temperatures, as the wood within your 3D printing material is flammable.
Therefore, you should always keep a close watch on your printer while it works, ensuring that none of your wood-based PLA material starts to smoke or catches fire during the process. Though fires are a rare occurrence, it is worth knowing about the risks ahead of your 3D print session.
Finally, you may opt to use a bigger nozzle diameter (0.5mm/0.019 in or greater) during the preparation process to avoid any clogging issues.
Clogging is a common, frustrating problem for many 3D printers but is quite solvable. Here is a shortlist of common issues that cause clogging and some proven solutions to get rid of the problem.
Additionally, to avoid any oozing or stringing, you will need to tweak the retraction settings on your printer. Simplify3D provides a set of common solutions for both oozing and clogging on 3D prints.
3. Execute Your 3D Print Design Using Your Wood PLA
At this point, after you have prepared your printer and selected your wood PLA materials, you can begin printing your 3D project using the design you have prepared.
The remainder of this guide will feature some options on adding more of a wooden shape and texture to your design while it prints and during post-processing.
Every 3D print’s success will depend on its complexity and size. Keep your design in mind as you follow the guide and consider these strategies in your upcoming project.
If you are still unsure what you want to print, you might want to search for innovative wood designs on Pinterest. Etsy also provides a bevy of 3D wood designs for sale by artful DIYers.
4. Incorporate Fine Details by Altering the Temperatures
One of the keys to making your 3D print look more like wood is replicating the physical attributes of natural wood. There are a couple of options when it comes to making sure that your design fits the bill.
First, you can adjust the temperature on your printer, as it’s printing, to give it the effect of tree lines and rings.
At each stage of the 3D printing process, you can change the hot end’s temperature to try and produce lines and rings to your object, making it appear more like wood.
Every tree has dark and light-colored rings, which are a sign of natural growth.
To replicate these colors, you can raise the temperature for a few layers of your print, slightly burning the filament, then lowering it again. With the proper adjustments, your model will have stunning, changing hues that genuinely replicate the multicolor variations of natural wood.
You can make this temp adjustment manually for more control. Alternatively, you can also try out an automated script, such as this one from Jeremie Francois, via GitHub here.
Either way, manually or automated with code, temperature control is one way to shape your project further into a wood-like appearance.
5. Use 3D Texturing
Your standard 3D model will usually print smooth, making it appear as a more prepared, carved wood. However, a 3D-textured model, once input into the printer, will have a more natural, rugged appearance, like that of real wood. It will also retain a similar texture to wood, with bumps, ridges, and crevices on the exterior. You’ll likely need a basic understanding of 3D modeling to get your print’s texture just right.
For many, 3D texturing is a time-consuming process that can take time and knowledge to complete effectively. You can check out this guide from online 3D printing expert Roman Reiner for a primer on the topic of 3D texturing. If you feel like trying something new, give it a shot for your next 3D wood print.
6. Use Displacement Mapping
Displacement mapping is a popular technique for texturing a 3D-printed wood design.
A displacement map uses a unique texture file (based on an actual 2D image of a wood surface that you want to use) and sets it to the print to mimic the same design in 3D format.
So, you can go outside and take a simple snap of the nearest tree trunk to help you craft your next 3D wood print.
GrabCad provides a helpful guide on the subject of how to use Photoshop to perform displacement mapping.
Though it may look complicated, the process is quite simple and should just take some time and experience to get used to. Here is a quick summary of the displacement mapping process:
Materials needed to start include:
- A .jpg or .png image file
- A 3D shape
- Photoshop (or other equivalent software)
- Your 3D printer
- Put your chosen image file on your 3D shape.
- Use Photoshop’s “Generate Bump From Diffuse” option.
- Use Photoshop’s “3D Print Settings” menu to finalize your 3D model.
- Print your model!
Displacement mapping is a powerful and highly functional technique for more than just your wood print. Many 3D printing projects could benefit from knowing how to do it.
7. Use 3D Sculpting
3D sculpting is an advanced 3D printing technique that can be useful if you desire to customize your print further.
As opposed to the 2D picture-based texturing from the displacement map option, sculpting allows an experienced user to go in and create custom geometries for their 3D design.
If you want to produce a unique wood-grain look or provide another aesthetic to the print, 3D sculpting may be worth learning.
The author at FormLabs provides a short guide on this subject for modeling for 3D printing. Here are some of the fantastic tips that expert 3D sculptor, Jeremy Ortiz, provides:
- Ensure that your 3D design is well-executed and that all parts have a point of contact.
- Use intersecting shapes in your design to add strength.
- Maximize the space on your print bed, using angles and supports to keep everything in one single print.
- Smaller prints should have exaggerated details.
- Save material by using a ‘vent hole,’ making large prints hollow on the inside.
- Clean up residues by soaking your finished object in isopropyl alcohol for 12-15 minutes.
- Use an X-Acto knife to remove any supports and rough edges carefully.
8. Add the Post-Processing Details
After your print is completed and your near-finished project emerges from out of your printer, now it just comes down to some post-processing work to provide the finishing touches.
Fortunately, to bring your wood print to life, you have many options at your disposal. Wood-based PLA materials allow for various satisfying and straightforward methods to provide a good finish for your project. Similar to natural wood, it’s possible to paint, stain, and sand your 3D print.
You can also give it engravings or carve it down into other shapes.
Most people use sandpaper to give their models a smooth, seamless finish, but with wood, leaving some rough spots can give the piece a more natural look.
If you want your piece to look as authentic as possible, you may also want to apply heat to the print with a heat gun, a lighter, or a soldering iron, creating a natural-looking stain and ring pattern.
You can also choose to paint, stain, or provide other finishes to your print to make it look as natural as possible.
Making your 3D print look like wood is a comprehensive and detailed process. From choosing your material to preparing your printer and texturing during and after the procedure, there are many things you can do to give your models an authentic wood look. I hope that you found this guide handy! It should get you started on your wooden 3D printing journey.