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The print head of the Replicator™ 2 can move in two directions, or axis: left/right (x axis) and forward/backwards (y axis).The printing platform moves up/down (z axis). As the head moves, a motor inside slides the plastic filament downward to a heated nozzle, which melts and extrudes the plastic.
The movement of the print head, or extruder, is controlled by a small computer that tells the print head where to go and when to lay out the plastic. The R2 is a very delicate machine and in order for it to work properly, it must be calibrated, so the print bed and print head are exactly where the computer thinks they are.
While some machines can print in multiple colors or in a range of materials, the R2 just has a single printing head and only prints with a single kind of plastic.
The print head extrudes melted PLA plastic. Polylactic acid plastic (PLA) is produced from corn. If exposed to water, it will break down over time. While more expensive than many petrochemical plastics, it is regarded as being safer for the environment. There are a number of colors available.
There are sites such as Thingiverse that both give away and sell the design used by the printer to build objects. You can either use the designs as you find them, or you can use programs to modify them. You can also use design software, much of it free, to create your own pieces.
Blender is very powerful free software, but takes a while to learn.
123D Make is much simpler to use while still being a robust system.
SketchUp is a simple application with a fast learning curve and good tools.
Tinkercad is an online tool that has great tutorials and is very easy to use.
It is best to check your designs with Netfabb to be sure there are no errors in design. Or download the free Autodesk 3D Print Utility, which will repair any errors and prepare your object for printing.
These designs must be saved in the .STL format. This file is then converted by another program, supplied by Makerbot, which tells the printer how to orient the object, how to slice it into printable layers and at what level of detail to print.
Making your own designs is more complex that just putting a few shapes together. There are many considerations in creating a shape that will print well. Read up on how to get started in creating your own designs, some guidelines, and how to send your file to the Library. Or go directly to our easy, step-by-step instructions on how to customize a Thingiverse design and then share it with the Library to be printed.