San Rafael Public Library

3D Printing FAQ

What kind of 3D printer does the library have?

How did the library acquire its 3D printers?

  • We purchased our two 3D printers using grant funding from the California State Library.

How does it work?

  • 3D printing is the process of making a physical object from a digital model by using melted plastic. The object is built one layer at a time, from the bottom up.

Why does the library have/need a 3D printer?

  • 3D printing democratizes the design and creation of objects. It gives anyone the opportunity to create things very cheaply that they would otherwise have to purchase. Imagine a future where, instead of going to a store or shopping online for a bicycle, you simply print one at your local library or maker lab. On a smaller scale, have you ever shopped for a small item like a hook, and couldn’t find one that was just right? Now you can design the perfect hook (or whatever) and print it yourself inexpensively. Right now the technology is in its early stages, but its potential is only limited by our imaginations.
  • Public access to 3D printing technology supports three of the Library’s five strategic priorities: Provide collections and services that provide value to our community, establish an improved infrastructure for current and future technologies, and be a learning organization for both customers and staff.
  • Both library users and staff like to learn about new technology. We want to share our excitement with the public, and get everyone imagining, building, and printing their ideas.
  • 3D printing technology is not available at a price point that would make it feasible for purchase by most households. We are excited to be a point of access to this new and exciting technology for all people in our community.
  • Many public libraries introduce new technology to their customers. Public libraries offered desktop computers with Internet access before it was common in households. Going back further, libraries offered typewriters for public use when those were a new technology and too expensive for the average library user. Even books were once a technology so expensive and difficult to come by that the idea of lending them in a library was thought a radical concept.

What kinds of things can you make with it?

Can I print something?

  • Yes! We are now offering one-on-one sessions for patrons to learn more about 3D printing from a knowledgeable staff person or volunteer. During this session, you can choose an object to be added to our queue of prints. You are also welcome to bring your own .STL file to be printed.
  • If you already have an object in mind that you would like us to print for you, you may fill-out our form to be added to our queue of prints. Wait times will vary depending on the number of prints in our queue (currently unavailable).

Can I purchase my own filament to use in the printer?

  • Not at this time.

How much do you charge members of the public to print something?

  • 3D printing at the Library is currently free. This is subject to change in the future.

Do I have to have a library card to sign up for a print?

  • We do not require a library card to sign up for a print at our 3D printer labs.

Is there eco-friendly filament available?

  • The majority of printing we do is with PLA, or polylactic acid, a biodegradable plastic derived from renewable resources, such as corn starch. PLA products take about 6 months to compost in an industrial/commercial facility. Unfortunately, home/residential composting and standard landfill do not provide the conditions necessary for this short biodegradation period, and most commercial recyclers do not take this kind of plastic yet. On the plus side, it is at least possible for this type of plastic to be composted, and more commercial and residential recyclers are beginning to accept PLA in bins. Also, it is not a petroleum-based plastic, and requires less energy to produce than traditional plastic. Relatively speaking, it is one of the greenest choices of filament for 3D printing at the moment.
  • Other filaments are commercially available, such as metal, wood, and food-safe plastics. The relative eco-friendliness of each type varies depending upon the material type and whether or not local recyclers will accept it.

What about fumes or toxic emissions?

  • The Material Safety Data Sheet for this PLA filament product recommends housing the 3D printer in a well-ventilated area. We have situated the printer for maximum ventilation by placing it in an open area near the front door.  American Chemical Society publication Environmental Science & Technology published a study in 2013 regarding 3D printing and filament use.  While results were inconclusive, use of PLA filament was clearly preferable, and again, situating the printer in a ventilated area was recommended.

Where can I find a 3D file to print?

  • There are many sites where you can find designs for 3D printing. The most popular and well-known site is Thingiverse ( There are other sites, but Thingiverse is the one with which our staff is most familiar.

What software do you use to design things to print?

  • There are several free, cloud-based 3D modeling software options. Tinkercad ( is a great option for kids and adults who are new to creating 3D designs. Users can build their designs by dragging and dropping simple shapes. Tinkercad also offers high-quality hands-on tutorials to help you get started.
  • Other design software options include: 3D Crafter, Blender, Meshmixer 3.0, OnShape, and Sketchup.
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