One outstanding feature of 3D printing is its accessibility. Sure, it helps to have previous drafting or engineering training, but if you don’t, there are plenty of ways to learn as you go. Here’s our list of the best 3D printing classes you can find. And remember, 3D printing technology is ever-evolving, so if you don’t find a course you like here, there are a lot more available for whatever your niche need.
Before we go into specific classes, let’s go through the types of 3D printing classes that are on offer. Knowing what each type of class covers, how it’s delivered, and what you’re expected to get out of it will help you find what you need with minimal issues. It will stop you from getting frustrated while combing through all the possibilities because there are a lot and it’s easy to get overwhelmed if you don’t know exactly which type of class you need or want, pick a free version of a type that looks interesting. If you don’t end up liking it, no big deal, you can always stop it whenever you want and move on without feeling obliged to finish because you paid for it.
Also, 3D printing courses are a little bit like recipes: they’re a lot easier to understand if you take an overview of the whole process before you start on the specific steps. So, keep that in mind – courses that cost money won’t let you view all their content for free before buying, of course, but check out their outlines, presenters, and final projects before you decide to purchase. That will save you a lot more than cash if you are looking at something that doesn’t end up working for you.
First, decide what you want to use this class (or classes) for. Is it for your enjoyment to experiment with a new hobby? Do you want a way to create your designs to sell professionally? Are you going to be teaching other people how to 3D print based on your own knowledge? Will you be using these instructions on one especially tricky project, or will you need to be able to refer to it for a variety of printings? These answers are going to be crucial for your choosing process, so make sure your project parameters are defined before you search for a class.
Now it’s time to decide what kind of class will best suit your needs. Here are your options:
These are the most common type of courses for people who are looking to explore 3D printing as a hobby. These are typically a series of instructional videos that break down the 3D printing process into steps, with each step being its own video. They’re posted in an order that’s meant to progress on what you learn, but nothing is stopping you from going through them in whatever order suits you best. Some have quizzes and projects meant as progress checkpoints. These are especially useful if you end up having to go through at non-regular intervals. Plus, you can always go back to previous lessons for a refresher and repeat them as many times as you want, which is great for beginners and people who learn best by repetition.
If you want to learn about 3D printing on your schedule and in your workspace, self-paced classes are awesome. You can find a lot for free on YouTube from people who started at your same skill level and are now further along so they know what questions you might have, but the helpfulness of these is as varied as the personality of the posters, so make sure you find someone you like and understand if you go this route.
Many learning sites also offer self-paced courses in 3D printing with more regulated teachers and curriculums. If you’ve ever gone to lynda.com to learn another language, for instance, the same sort of structure and delivery applies to their 3D printing courses. Learning sites almost always charge for the courses, but their costs are a lot lower than courses taught through universities or colleges, so if you’re looking for flexibility with just the smallest bit of structure, they may be worth it.
- Top pick: We briefly mentioned lynda.com in the previous paragraph, but it can’t be said enough how awesome their whole catalog of courses is. The selection for 3D printing is wide enough to cover any skill level, and you’ll get the same expertly measured pace as you do for everything else on the site. You don’t pay per course, but rather subscribe to the site for $25 – $37.50 per month. That includes all the courses you can take, and oftentimes, public libraries have a deal where you can join the site for free with your library card. Either way, Lynda gives you a free trial month, so it’s definitely worth checking out.
- Honorable mention: Shapeways Beginner 3D Modeling for 3D Printing. It’s free, on demand, and covers a variety of programs used across the 3D printing world. Plus you know Shapeways knows what it’s doing since it’s been in the 3D printing game since 2007.
Massive Open Online
Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, are gaining immense popularity as Ivy-league colleges and universities are harnessing the internet to reach anyone who wants to learn from their top experts without the expense or inconvenience of attending the actual institutions. It’s a great way to get a thorough education in a specialized subject without going through a whole degree course.
MOOCs are college courses that are offered online. They’re structured like traditional classes, with scheduled lectures, coursework to turn in on deadlines, final exams or projects, all that fun stuff. Except you access everything through a specific class login on the web that lets you take the course from anywhere as a non-degree student. You can learn about 3D printing in your pajamas on the opposite coast as your lecturer and without the pressure of your future career relying on how well you do – but keep in mind, these are still classes.
The Massive Open Online Courses much more structured than self-paced ones in that they don’t let you set your own schedule, and a lot of them require you to turn in your progress work to a third party for judgment. If you can’t rely on your own internal motivation to carry you through a full 3D printing learning experience, a MOOC may be a great option. You’ll also have the advantage of choosing seasoned experts who have impeccable credentials and formal teaching experience to boot.
MOOCs can vary widely in their pricing structure, with some being offered freely by their college and some costing as much as a full course would so make sure you know your budget as well as your ability to commit to a whole semester-like schedule before you pay for any.
- Top pick: Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies. It’s an online course that will let you earn continuing education credentials as well as take you on a thorough guide of 3D printing, and its cost of $195 will save you plenty of money to spend on some sweet hardware.
- Honorable mention: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, through Coursera, has a series of 3D printing courses that encompass a multilevel viewing of the process that gives you a great broader context of 3D printing’s history and applications. You also get discounts on software through the course, so if you’re worried about not being able to afford to follow along, you should check this one out.
Close on the heels of MOOCs are full, degree-granting accredited college programs that let you get a BS or higher in 3D printing. Since 3D printing is typically part of an engineering program, be ready for some intense math and physics – if you don’t enjoy or aren’t good at both of those subjects, you should choose a lower stakes way to learn about 3D printing. But if you want to make 3D printing your livelihood, programs are popping up in many accredited colleges and universities that you can go through to become a true expert with the piece of paper to prove it (and job search support that many institutes of higher learning give their students).
- Top pick: Penn State. Its Masters of Engineering in Additive Manufacturing and Design concentrates on how 3D printing is changing manufactory industries like aerospace and medical technology. A degree from Penn State is a major endorsement of your skills, so this program will take you far into the future of working with 3D printing.
- Honorable mention: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the premier engineering school in the United States, has its own 3D printing course. It’s not a full degree program, but it’s a five-day crash course in everything 3D from MIT, so you’ll definitely learn a whole lot.
A sort of hybrid that combines the open access of MOOCs with the hands-on learning style of accredited courses, continuous education courses are often a happy medium for 3D printer users who learn best in person. These are courses that are taught at local education centers, community colleges, or public libraries, which also makes them great for people who can’t afford or access their own 3D printing equipment. You go in person to a single program or series of them and listen to the instructor, then watch and participate in demonstrations of the techniques you heard.
Often you’ll get to take away a 3D printing souvenir that you’ve made yourself with your new skills. Like MOOCs, the price range of continuous education courses vary; for these, it usually depends on where the course is given. If it’s through your local library, recreational center, or other public places that offer educational programming for free or with a small general membership fee, it will probably be free, with the institution absorbing the fee for the materials. If you take a continuous education course through your local community college, they may charge you as they do for fully enrolled students, albeit only for the single class.
- Top pick: You should definitely check out your local offerings, but, New York University’s 3D Printing and Fabrication is top notch if you’re able to get there in person and pay the $810 course charge. You’ll get hands-on access to 3D printers from the LaGuardia Studio for practice, not to mention continuous education credits from an Ivy League school.
- Honorable mention: Another good one is Blue Ridge Community College’s 3D printing group of courses. You can choose either their live or online sessions (they’re based in Weyers Cave, Virginia), and the tuition per course is considerably less than a four-year college. Blue Ridge Community College also offers related courses on Adobe and other design programs that are useful additions to your 3D printing knowledge.
Related to self-paced courses, almost every 3D printing product you buy will have some sort of instructions or tutorials to help you figure out what to do with them. And a good chunk of them will show you multi-step courses on how to do general 3D printing processes. Granted, these are basically ads for all that company’s products, but they are also super useful if you’re looking for courses that take into account the specific quirks and best practices of the equipment you bought (or are thinking about buying). They also have the advantage of going through professional lighting and filming – from a marketing standpoint, it’s because they want to show off the goods as nicely as possible, but that also helps you the learner see the processes more clearly than an independent YouTuber may be able to provide.
Of course, beware of any part of the course that seems too good to be true from either your personal experience with the products or your general knowledge of 3D printing or engineering. Your research and purchase experiences, along with thorough review reading, should give you a sense of whether something is too good to be true.
- Top pick: Leapfrog 3D. As a fast-growing 3D printer company, Leapfrog has been running laps around other manufacturers with its integrated educational offerings. It has a wide range of 3D printing instructions for all levels and types of education, from classroom-guided courses for teachers to individual instructional videos meant to clear up specific issues you might have as a solo printer. It’s a great range, and you can check them out before you buy anything from them, which makes it a great way to decide if their products are for you before spending a dime.
- Honorable mention: Printrbot. Starting at its founding in 2014, Printrbot has been crowdsourcing 3D printing information for its course offerings, which creates a huge variety of educational material that’s both open access and hardware neutral.
Whether you’re teaching yourself how to design your first figurine, or gearing up to teach a class yourself, now you’re ready to take on anything you want to 3D print. Enjoy!