Getting Started with Cura

In this part of the article, we’ll walk you through how to get started with Cura. Namely – downloading and installing, optimizing your .stl and .obj files for further export to G-code.

Step 1: Installing Cura

Cura is a multi-platform program that is available for Linux, Mac and Windows operating systems. All versions can be downloaded for free at the Ultimaker website.

You will download the installer of Cura. The installation procedure may differ slightly depending on your OS. In this tutorial, we have used Cura version 2.3.1.

  1. Start Cura installer.
  2. Select your 3D printer model. On first launch, Cura will ask you to select your printer model. If you have Ultimaker or Lulzbot, then they come with a special version of Cura with ready-made settings. If not, or if you want to set up a new 3D printer, then after downloading the program, select ‘Select -> Printer‘.

The 3D printer selection menu will load. If you downloaded the program from the link above, then all available printers will be Ultimaker. To select another model, press Other. If you’re lucky, your 3D printer will be on the list.

If not, you can go to your printer manufacturer’s website and search for a custom version of Cura to download. If it is not there, then select Custom -> Add Printer.

A window will open with the option to add 3D printer settings. At this point, you will need information about your model. Again, you can probably find this information on the manufacturer’s website. And if you assembled a 3D printer yourself, then you probably remember all the parameters!

Enter all the required parameters and click Finish.

Step 2: A quick tour of the Cura interface

The screenshot below shows the main blocks of the Cura interface.

Top Navigation Block

  1. Open File: Use the button in the upper left corner of the menu or the option File -> Open File to open your .stl or .obj file.
  2. Edit: Use to select all models, delete or align 3D models. Standard, useful commands.
  3. View Mode: This button allows you to toggle between the Solid, X-Ray and Layers views of the model.
  4. Settings: Opens material and 3D printer settings.
  5. Extensions: This is for more advanced users. Allows you to install Cura Extensions, which, for example, enable manual editing of the G-code.
  6. Help: If you have questions but you can’t figure something out – this is a great place to

Toolbar block (left)

  1. Open File go to.: Allows you to open the .stl or .obj file you want to print.
  2. Move: When clicked, arrows will appear around the selected model. Using the arrows, you can move the model around on the desktop.
  3. Scale: Increases or decreases the size of your 3D model.
  4. Rotate: A handy tool for adjusting the orientation of the model, its rotation.
  5. Mirror: When clicked, arrows will appear around the selected model. Click to mirror the position of your model.
  6. Select Settings: A handy feature for adding frequently used settings to the sidebar. For example, it is possible to make the wall thickness(wall thickness),the filling pattern(infill)and velocity(speed). Active only for loaded 3D model.
  7. View Mode. Solid X-Ray and Layers. If the option is selected Layers, a slider will appear with which you can “cut” the model into layers.

Settings Palette block (right)

In this block you can adjust the print quality and select the material.

Printer. This is the 3D printer you chose in the first step. If you have more than one 3D printer, they can be configured and selected from this list.

Material. Quick selection of material used for 3D printing. 

Profile. There are three available 3D print qualities: Low, Normal, and High. Chosen from dropdown. In the first stages, it is recommended to use the provided blanks. Over time, as you become comfortable with your 3D printer and printing, you can experiment and create your own profiles that suit you best.

Print Setup. There are two options – Simple (Recommended) and Advanced (Custom)

  • Simple (Recommended). Pulled out of the 3D printer settings that you enter when you first start Cura. This option is a great option for beginners or for the first launches of a new 3D printer model, in order to understand if the connection between the printer and the software has been established. The number of settings is limited, but you can still quickly adjust the percentage of filling of the 3D model, adhesion of the printing table and add support material.
  • Advanced (Custom). This is where the main fun begins. With Custom Advanced Settings, you can tweak a lot, from quality to 3D printing speed. We’ll look at this section and its capabilities later in the article. 

Step 3: Processing the Model in Cura

Now that you are familiar with the Curs 3D interface, you can start working. The first step is to download the 3D model file. You can export to STL or OBJ file of your own model or download from one of the sites with models for 3D printing. 

Loading a 3D file into Cura:

  1. Click on the “Open File” icon or use the File -> Open File menu and select the desired STL or OBJ file. A 3D model was used for this tutorial. 3DBenchy. This is a great model for testing new 3D printers or software.
  2. When the model is loaded, you can evaluate if it is positioned correctly. If everything is OK, the model will be highlighted in yellow. If there is a problem, it will be highlighted in gray and Cura will tell you why it is impossible to start printing.

It is also helpful to become familiar with the navigation options in the Cura work window.

Moving. Hold Shift and the left mouse button to move the workspace along the coordinate axes. This is a useful option when using the zoom to check small details of the model.

Turning. Hold Ctrl and the left mouse button to rotate around the workspace. This is useful for checking the model from different angles.

Zooming. If your mouse has a wheel on the middle key, use it to zoom. If not, then we recommend buying :).

Different Display Options for a 3D Model

Cura has three main options for displaying a model. Each of the options is useful in its own way, and if you are having problems with 3D printing, one or the other can help you deal with it.

Solid. This display is used by default and allows you to evaluate how the model will look after 3D printing. The dimensions and shape of the model are shown relative to your print bed. Generally, if you have viewed the model from all angles and it looks good, 3D printing will be successful.

X-Ray. If you run into problems during 3D printing, this display option will help you evaluate the internal structure of the model. Perhaps you will see what exactly is worth reworking into details (for example, intersecting planes may appear inside).

Layers. If you have a problem with 3D printing at the same point, or you just want to see a certain section by layer, you can use this option. The most accurate way to move between layers is to use the up / down buttons on your keyboard. There is also a second option – use a slider for quick viewing. Over time, as you become more experienced with 3D printing, this display option will help you to change settings in the G-code (for example, increase the rotational speed of the cooler, adjust the layer height or the amount of material fed into the extruder) at the level of certain layers.

Setting up a 3D model for Cura. If you need to adjust the model, all you need to do is click on it to highlight it and select one of the options from the toolbar on the left. Here you can quickly move, rotate and scale the model.

When you click on one of the options, arrows will appear around the model. Just grab the arrow or ring to apply the changes in the direction you want. If you make a mistake, right-click and select Reset.

If you need to print more than one model, right-click on the base surface and select Duplicate. Cura will automatically try to fit the models as well as possible. If there is enough space to print two or more models, the platform will be yellow. If there is not enough space, the print space will be grayed out.

The simplest 3D printing option is to let Cura apply the settings Simple (Recommended). Although most of the settings will already be listed, you will be able to select the 3D print quality and specify the support material settings.

  1. Printer. Make sure your 3D printer is selected.
  2. Material. Make sure the listing is up to date with 3D printing material.
  3. Profile. Select the 3D print quality.
  4. Infill. Hollow – Printing will proceed as quickly as possible, but inside the model will not be filled with material. Solid – The model will be at maximum stiffness due to full filling, but it will take a lot of time and material to print. It’s best to use the most versatile setting for a light start Light.
  5. Helper Parts. These are the settings for the support material and adhesion. If this is your first time typing, it is best to enable both options. If the contact area of ​​your model with the printing table is large, then you can disable the option Print Build Paste Adhesion. If the model does not have abrupt changes in angles and peculiar “canopies” (for example, arms spread out to the sides at 90 degrees in a human model), then you can disable the option Print Support Structure.

Step 5. Generate the G-code

At this stage your model is ready for 3D printing and all you have to do is export the file from Cura to SD card or send it directly to your 3D printer. Cura will carry out all the necessary operations to convert an STL or OBJ file to a G-code that your 3D printer can understand.

  1. Save the 3D model file. In Cura, click Save to file, Save to SD, or Send to Printer.
  2. Estimate 3D printing times. Cura will provide you with a preliminary estimate of the time it will take to print your model.
  3. Start 3D printing. If you’ve passed the G-code directly, sit back and relax while your printer prints. If you are using an SD card, insert it into the 3D printer and start printing.

Cura Settings

Using the Simple (Recommended) settings is just the beginning. Over time, you will want to implement more flexible settings. You can find these settings in the tab Advanced. We’ll cover them below.

In the print settings pane on the right, select Advanced (Custom).

  1. Quality. It has to do with Layer Height. This setting depends on the capabilities of your 3D printer. The lower the layer height, the better the quality, and increasing the layer height will increase the print speed. The default layer height is set to 0.1 mm for the Ultimaker 2 Extended.
  2. Shell. This parameter is responsible for the wall thickness of your model, as well as the thickness of the bottom and top layers. This parameter should be proportional (1x, 2x, 3x, etc.) to the nozzle diameter. For example, a wall thickness of 0.8 if you are 3D printing on an Ultimaker 2 would mean that the wall will consist of two lines, since this model has a nozzle diameter of 0.4 mm.
  3. Speed. Generally speaking, the lower the speed, the better the 3D printing.
  4. Cooling. An important component of any 3D printer, and you definitely need to activate this option. As a rule, coolers do not work at full capacity until the end of the 5th layer.
  5. Support. Allows you to add support structures.
  6. Build Plate Adhesion. Not all models have sufficient footprint to make good contact with the print bed. If so, this setting will help you ensure good contact with the substrate.
  7. Special Modes.If you are printing more than one model, this option will allow you to specify that they will be printed one by one.

Quality settings of printing

  1. Quality. Each 3D printer has a maximum and minimum material layer height. In this window you can specify the desired layer height. 0.02mm is high quality and slow 3D printing speed, and 0.6mm is on the contrary, low quality and fast printing speed.
  2. Shell. Choice of wall thickness. Higher wall thicknesses will allow you to print a stiffer model with a better surface. If a nozzle with a diameter of 0.4 mm is used, then the wall thickness must be set proportionally: 0.4, 0.8, 1.2 mm, etc.
  3. Top / Bottom Thickness. Again, it is usually set in proportion to the size of the nozzle. One of the recommended practices is to start with double the size of the nozzle diameter.

Material settings

  1. Material. Each material for 3D printing has its own characteristics. In most cases, the ability to use a particular material is determined by the structural units of the 3D printer, and not by the software. So this setting is unlikely to be useful to you.
  2. Enable Retraction. It is recommended to always enable this option. Thanks to it, the material is fed in the opposite direction during idle movements of the extruder.

Speed settings

  1. Print Speed. This is the overall speed of 3D printing during direct material feed. Generally speaking, the lower the speed, the better the print quality. The recommended 3D printing speed is 60mm / s. If you want to increase this speed, it is recommended to increase  at the same time Printing Temperature.
  2. Travel Speed (idle speed of moving).This is the speed at which the print head moves when no material is fed. The Ultimaker 2 defaults to this speed at 120mm / s. It is recommended to set this speed depending on the print speed. To be more precise, it is 2 times more. In this case, the acceleration and deceleration will occur smoothly enough to ensure high-quality and fast printing.

Filling settings

Infill Density. This is the amount of material that is supplied to the interior of the model. The higher the filling, the more rigid the model. As a rule, this parameter is set at 20%.

Cooling

Enable Fan Cooling. Disabling this option is not recommended. Typically, no matter what material you use, you need cooling for high-quality 3D printing.

Support Material Settings 

  1. option Enable Support best not to disable the unless you are 100% sure that you do not have any sharp angles.
  2. The Option Placement allows you to choose where exactly the calipers will be located: Touching Build Plate means that the calipers will be located only on the print table. Everywhere means that support structures can be based on parts as well.

Table Adhesion Settings

One of the most common 3D printing problems is when the model is detached from the print table. Build Plate Adhesion is the setting that will help improve the contact between the model and the platen. There are three options for improving contact – Skirt, Brim, or Raft.

Skirt. This is the setting that is best used at all times. This is the line around the 3D model while printing the first layer, which helps to clear the nozzle when starting 3D printing.

Brim. These are a few extra lines that are printed in front of the first layer of the model and provide better cohesion between the lower layer of the model and the table.

Raft. Mesh under the first layer of the 3D model, due to which the contact between the model and the table is significantly improved.

Each of the listed settings has additional options that will allow you to more flexibly adjust the contact quality of the 3D model and the printing table.

Generating a G-Code File

Once you have defined these settings, the model is ready to print. All that is left is to export the file from Cura to the card or directly to the printer. Cura will, without your participation, convert the OBJ or STL file to a G-code that your 3D printer understands, just like exporting it in Simple (Recommended) mode. 

  1. In Cura, click Save to SD or Send to Printer.
  2. Cura will give you a preliminary estimate of the time it will take to print your 3D model.
  3. Start printing and wait for your part to be ready!

We hope you found this Cura beginner’s tutorial helpful. Leave feedback, share your successes in the form of comments below. In the discussion, new ideas are often born and you can get answers to questions that were not paid attention to in this manual.

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