3D Printed Animals: How to Start

Introduction to 3D Printed Animals

Hey there! Welcome to the incredible world of 3D printed animals. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably fascinated by both animals and the amazing things technology can do. Well, guess what? When you combine the two, you get something truly special: 3D printed animals.

Now, you might be thinking, “What on earth are 3D printed animals?” Great question! Imagine being able to create a physical model of your favorite animal, right from your own home. That’s what 3D printing allows us to do. Whether it’s for educational purposes, conservation efforts, or just because they’re super cool, 3D printed animals are a game-changer.

The Emergence of 3D Printing in Wildlife Conservation

  • It’s not just about making cute models. 3D printing has a serious side, too. Conservationists are using this technology to help save endangered species. How? By creating replicas of animals for educational purposes, or even parts for animals that might need them, like beaks or shells.
  • The beauty of 3D printing lies in its precision and versatility. You can create almost anything you can imagine, making it a powerful tool in the fight to preserve our planet’s biodiversity.

Getting Started with 3D Printed Animals

Embarking on the journey of creating 3D printed animals is an exciting endeavor that marries the worlds of technology and nature in a way that is both creative and educational. Whether you’re a hobbyist, educator, or conservationist, the process of designing and printing your own animal models offers endless opportunities for learning and exploration. Let’s delve deeper into how you can begin this journey, focusing on the crucial steps of designing your model and preparing it for printing.

Designing Your Animal Model

Choosing the Right Software

The first step in your 3D printing adventure is selecting the appropriate software. Your choice of software will significantly impact your design process, influencing both the quality of your model and your overall experience.

  • Tinkercad: Ideal for beginners, Tinkercad is a user-friendly program that allows you to quickly bring your ideas to life. Its intuitive interface and array of basic shapes make it perfect for those who are new to 3D modeling.
  • Blender: For those ready to tackle more detailed and complex models, Blender offers a comprehensive suite of tools for free. From sculpting to texturing, Blender is well-suited for creating intricate designs that capture the essence of your chosen animal.
  • Autodesk Maya: Used extensively in professional settings, Autodesk Maya is a powerhouse for animation and modeling. If you’re aiming to produce highly detailed models with dynamic poses, Maya offers the precision and flexibility needed to achieve realistic results.

Essential Tips for Modeling

  • Start Simple: Begin with straightforward projects to familiarize yourself with the software’s tools and capabilities. Incrementally increase complexity as you become more comfortable.
  • Mind the Proportions: Use reference images to ensure your model accurately reflects the animal’s proportions. This attention to detail will enhance the realism of your final print.
  • Printer-Friendly Design: Consider the limitations and capabilities of your 3D printer. Designs should have a stable base and avoid overly thin parts that are prone to breaking.

Slicing Your Model for 3D Printing

Understanding Slicing

Slicing transforms your completed 3D model into a format that your printer can interpret and execute. This step is critical in turning your digital creation into a tangible object.

Best Practices for Slicing Models

  • Layer Height: The choice of layer height affects both the print’s detail level and the time required to print. Finer layers capture more detail but take longer to print. Finding a balance is key to efficient printing without sacrificing quality.
  • Support Structures: Some designs require support structures during printing to prevent collapsing or warping. Strategically planning these supports ensures they are effective yet easy to remove, preserving your model’s integrity.
  • Print Orientation: The orientation of your model on the print bed can significantly affect the appearance and strength of the final product. Orienting your model to minimize overhangs can reduce the need for supports and improve surface quality.

Choosing the Best 3D Printer Filaments for Your Animal Models

Choosing the Best 3D Printer Filaments for Your Animal Models

When venturing into the creation of 3D printed animals, one crucial decision that can significantly affect both the process and the outcome is the selection of the appropriate filament. The choice of filament not only influences the print’s aesthetic and tactile qualities but also its durability and functionality. Understanding the properties of different filament types is essential for making an informed decision tailored to the specific needs of your project.

Types of Filaments

Each type of filament comes with its own set of characteristics, making it suitable for various applications. Here’s a closer look at the most commonly used filaments in 3D printing:

  • PLA (Polylactic Acid):
    • Eco-Friendly Choice: PLA is derived from renewable resources like cornstarch or sugarcane, making it biodegradable and a more environmentally friendly option compared to other plastics.
    • Ease of Use: It prints at lower temperatures and does not require a heated bed, making it ideal for beginners and those with basic 3D printers.
    • Applications: Best suited for static models, educational tools, and decorative items that do not need to withstand high temperatures or mechanical stress.
  • ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene):
    • Durability: ABS is known for its toughness and resistance to high temperatures, making it suitable for parts that require structural integrity.
    • Printing Challenges: It requires a heated print bed and well-ventilated area due to its tendency to warp and the fumes produced during printing.
    • Applications: Ideal for functional prototypes, moving parts, or items that will be exposed to stress or higher temperatures.
  • PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol):
    • Flexibility and Strength: PETG offers a good balance between the ease of printing found in PLA and the strength of ABS. It is resistant to both high temperatures and impact.
    • Chemical Resistance: This filament is also resistant to moisture and various chemicals, making it suitable for outdoor applications.
    • Applications: A versatile choice for both decorative and functional prints, including those needing a degree of flexibility or durability.

Selecting the Right Filament for Animal Models

When deciding on the filament for your 3D printed animal projects, consider the following factors:

  • End Use:
    • For decorative items or models that will remain indoors, PLA is an excellent choice due to its ease of use and fine detail.
    • For toys, educational models that will be handled frequently, or outdoor applications, PETG offers the necessary durability and flexibility without the printing challenges of ABS.
  • Detail and Finish:
    • PLA and PETG can produce models with high detail and smooth finishes, suitable for painting or display.
    • ABS may require more post-processing to achieve a smooth surface but is unbeatable for strength in functional parts.
  • Environmental and Health Considerations:
    • If eco-friendliness is a priority, PLA stands out as the most sustainable option.
    • Ensure proper ventilation when printing with ABS due to the fumes it emits.

The Pros and Cons of Using Resin 3D Printing for Animals

Resin 3D printing, also known as stereolithography (SLA) or digital light processing (DLP), has revolutionized the field of 3D printing with its ability to produce models with exceptional detail and smoothness. This technology is particularly suited for creating intricate animal models, where every detail counts. However, as with any technology, it has its advantages and disadvantages, especially when compared to more traditional filament-based (FDM) 3D printing methods.

Advantages of Resin Printing

Resin 3D printing offers several benefits that make it an attractive option for printing detailed animal models:

  • High Resolution and Detail: Resin printers work by curing liquid resin layer by layer with precise UV light. This process allows for incredibly fine detail, far surpassing what’s typically achievable with filament-based printers. It’s perfect for capturing the delicate features of animal models, such as fur texture, facial expressions, or intricate patterns.
  • Smooth Surface Finish: The models produced by resin printers require less post-processing to achieve a smooth finish. The natural outcome of the resin curing process is a surface that’s already closer to the final desired look, reducing the need for extensive sanding or finishing work.
  • Strength and Durability: Certain types of resin offer enhanced properties, such as increased flexibility or toughness, making them suitable for functional parts or durable models that can withstand handling and display.

Disadvantages of Resin Printing

Despite its advantages, resin 3D printing also presents several challenges and limitations:

  • Cost: Generally, resin printing is more expensive than filament printing. The cost of resin, along with the printers themselves, can be higher. This makes it less accessible for hobbyists or those on a tight budget.
  • Toxicity and Safety Concerns: The liquid resins used in SLA/DLP printing are toxic and can cause skin irritation or allergic reactions. Safe handling requires wearing gloves and masks, and proper ventilation is necessary to avoid inhaling fumes. This adds an extra layer of complexity and caution to the printing process.
  • Post-Processing Requirements: While resin prints come out with a smoother surface, they still require washing in isopropyl alcohol to remove any uncured resin, followed by curing under UV light to ensure the model is fully solidified. This post-processing can be messy and time-consuming.
  • Durability Concerns: While some resins are designed for strength, many standard resins produce models that are more brittle than their filament counterparts. Care must be taken when handling delicate parts to avoid breakage.
  • Limited Build Volume: Many consumer-grade resin printers have smaller build volumes compared to filament printers. This can be a limiting factor when printing larger animal models or when looking to print multiple models at once.

Creating a 3D Printed Animals

Creating a 3D printed animal is a rewarding project that combines creativity, technology, and a passion for the natural world. This guide will walk you through the steps to bring your favorite animals to life, from the initial design phase to the final post-processing touches. Whether you’re a teacher, hobbyist, or conservationist, follow these detailed steps to create a stunning 3D printed animal model.

Step 1: Conceptualization and Design

Choosing Your Animal:

  • Start by selecting the animal you wish to create. Consider the complexity of the model and your level of experience.
  • Use reference images to understand the anatomy, textures, and proportions of your animal.

Designing Your Model:

  • Software Selection: Choose 3D modeling software that matches your skill level. Beginners might prefer Tinkercad or SketchUp, while more advanced users could opt for Blender or ZBrush.
  • Creating the Model: Start with basic shapes to form the body, then gradually add details like limbs, facial features, and textures. Pay close attention to the proportions to ensure realism.
  • Modeling Tips:
    • Keep the printing process in mind; avoid overhangs that require extensive supports.
    • Ensure the model is solid and has no internal gaps or non-manifold edges.

Step 2: Preparing the Model for Printing


  • Once your model is complete, it needs to be sliced using slicing software compatible with your 3D printer. This software converts your 3D model into layers and generates the G-code necessary for printing.
  • Adjust Settings: Customize settings such as layer height, infill density, and support structures based on your model’s needs. Lower layer heights are used for finer details, while a higher infill density strengthens the model.

Preview and Adjust:

  • Use the slicing software’s preview feature to spot potential issues before printing. Look for areas that might need additional supports or parts that could be prone to breaking.
  • Make adjustments as needed to optimize the model for printing.

Step 3: Printing Your Animal

Choosing the Right Filament:

  • Select a filament that suits the needs of your project. PLA is great for beginners and detailed models, while ABS or PETG offer more strength for functional parts.
  • Consider special filaments like wood-fill for a unique, textured appearance or glow-in-the-dark for playful effects.


  • Ensure your printer is calibrated and the print bed is level.
  • Load your filament and begin the print. Monitor the initial layers closely, as they are crucial for the success of the print.
  • Troubleshooting: Be prepared to pause or restart the print if you notice issues like warping or the model not adhering to the print bed.

Step 4: Post-Processing

Cleaning and Smoothing:

  • For filament prints, remove any support material and sand the model to smooth out layer lines. Start with coarse grit sandpaper and move to finer grits for a smooth finish.
  • Resin prints require washing in isopropyl alcohol to remove uncured resin, followed by curing under UV light.

Painting and Detailing:

  • Apply a primer to prepare the surface for painting. This helps the paint adhere better and provides a uniform base.
  • Paint your model using acrylic paints, starting with base colors and adding layers of detail. Use a fine brush for intricate details like eyes or fur patterns.
  • Consider sealing the paint with a clear coat to protect it and enhance durability.

Finishing Touches and Post-Processing for 3D Printed Animals

Creating a 3D printed animal is only part of the journey. The magic truly comes to life in the post-processing stage, where your print transitions from a simple object to a piece of art. This phase is critical for achieving a professional look that breathes life into your model. Whether you’re working with resin or filament prints, the right finishing touches can elevate the realism and appeal of your creation.

Cleaning and Curing

  • For Resin Prints:
    • Cleaning: Immediately after printing, resin models are covered in uncured resin, which is sticky and can obscure details. Submerging and gently agitating the model in a bath of isopropyl alcohol will remove this excess resin. A soft brush can help dislodge any stubborn spots.
    • Curing: Once cleaned, curing under UV light is essential. This process hardens the resin, solidifying your model’s final form. Depending on the resin type and the size of your model, curing times can vary. A dedicated UV curing station ensures even exposure, though sunlight is a viable alternative for hobbyists.
  • For Filament Prints:
    • Sanding: Layer lines are a common characteristic of FDM prints. Starting with a coarse grit sandpaper and working your way up to a finer grit can smooth out these lines, preparing your model for painting. For intricate details, consider using tools like needle files or sanding twigs.
    • Support Removal: Supports are often necessary to print overhangs or undercuts but leave marks when removed. Carefully cutting away supports and smoothing the affected areas integrates these sections seamlessly into the rest of your model.

Painting and Detailing

The transformation of your 3D printed animal model is most dramatic during the painting and detailing stage. This is where your creative vision comes into play, adding color, texture, and life to your print.

  • Priming: Applying a primer is the first step in the painting process. Primer helps paint adhere to the model and can also highlight any areas that may need additional sanding. For best results, choose a primer that is compatible with both your model material and the acrylic paints you’ll be using.
  • Painting: Acrylic paints are widely recommended for both resin and filament prints due to their ease of use, fast drying times, and water solubility. When painting, start with broader base coats, working up to finer details with each layer. Thinning your paints can help maintain the intricacies of your model without clogging up fine lines and textures.
  • Detailing: This is where your model truly comes to life. Adding small details like eyes, fur textures, or specific markings can dramatically increase realism. Fine brushes, micro pens, or even a toothpick can be used for the minutest details. Consider using gloss varnish on eyes or wet surfaces to simulate moisture and add depth.

Innovative Applications of 3D Printed Animals

Innovative Applications of 3D Printed Animals

3D printed animals aren’t just cool to look at; they can serve a variety of educational and conservation purposes.

  • Educational Tools:
    • In classrooms, 3D printed animals can help students learn about anatomy, biodiversity, and conservation efforts in an interactive way.
  • Conservation Efforts:
    • Conservationists use 3D printing to create replicas of endangered species, allowing for awareness and education without disturbing the actual animals.
    • Prosthetics for injured wildlife are another incredible application, offering a new lease on life for animals that might otherwise struggle to survive.
  • Custom Pet Replicas:
    • For pet lovers, 3D printed replicas of their furry friends can be a unique way to celebrate their bond or memorialize a pet that has passed away.

Tips for Success in 3D Printing Animals

Embarking on the journey of 3D printing animals can be both exciting and challenging. To help navigate this creative endeavor, here are some essential tips aimed at enhancing your print quality and avoiding common pitfalls. Whether you’re a seasoned printer or just starting out, these strategies will ensure your projects turn out as intended, bringing your digital creations to life with precision and beauty.

Maximizing Print Quality

Achieving high-quality prints is paramount in 3D printing, especially when creating detailed animal models. Here’s how you can enhance the quality of your prints:

  • Calibration Is Critical: Regularly calibrating your 3D printer is essential for maintaining print quality. This includes adjusting the print bed level, ensuring the extruder is at the correct height, and verifying that the temperature settings are optimal for your filament type. A well-calibrated printer reduces the chances of printing errors like warping or poor adhesion.
  • Optimize Print Settings: Before embarking on a large or complex print, experiment with different print settings on smaller models. This can include adjusting layer height, print speed, and temperature. Finding the right balance can significantly improve the quality of your prints and reduce material waste.
  • Use Quality Filament: The quality of filament can greatly impact the outcome of your prints. Invest in high-quality filament from reputable suppliers to ensure consistent results. Quality filament flows more smoothly and is less likely to cause issues such as clogging or irregular extrusion.

Avoiding Common Pitfalls

Even experienced 3D printers encounter challenges. Here are some tips to help you avoid common pitfalls:

  • Proper Filament Storage: Filament can absorb moisture from the air, which can lead to printing problems such as bubbling or stringing. Store your filament in a dry, sealed container, possibly with desiccants, to keep it in optimal condition. Consider using vacuum-sealed bags for long-term storage.
  • Patience Pays Off: 3D printing, particularly complex models like animals, requires patience. Rushing the process or attempting to shortcut can lead to mistakes. Be prepared for a learning curve and view each project as an opportunity to improve your skills. If a print doesn’t turn out as expected, take the time to analyze what went wrong and how it can be corrected in future attempts.
  • Post-Processing Skills: Mastering post-processing techniques can significantly enhance the appearance of your printed animals. From sanding and painting to gluing and assembling, these skills are crucial for achieving professional-looking results. Invest time in learning various finishing techniques to bring out the best in your prints.
  • Stay Updated: The 3D printing community is constantly evolving, with new techniques, materials, and software updates regularly introduced. Stay engaged with online forums, social media groups, or local clubs to learn from the experiences of others and keep abreast of the latest advancements in 3D printing technology.


The world of 3D printed animals is vast and full of potential. Whether you’re a hobbyist looking to create your favorite animals, an educator aiming to bring new resources into your classroom, or a conservationist exploring new ways to protect endangered species, 3D printing offers a unique avenue to explore your passions. Remember, the journey of 3D printing is a blend of creativity, patience, and continuous learning. Embrace the process, and let your imagination run wild!


  1. What is the best 3D printer for animal models?
    The best printer depends on your specific needs. For high detail, resin printers like the Anycubic Photon are excellent. For larger models or functional parts, filament printers like the Prusa i3 MK3S+ are versatile choices.
  2. Can I 3D print endangered animals for educational purposes?
    Absolutely! 3D printing offers a harm-free way to study endangered species and raise awareness about conservation efforts.
  3. How long does it take to 3D print an animal model?
    Printing time varies based on the size and complexity of the model, as well as the printer’s speed and settings. Small models may take a few hours, while larger, more detailed ones can take days.
  4. Are 3D printed animals safe for children?
    When printed with non-toxic materials like PLA and properly finished (i.e., no sharp edges or small detachable parts), they can be safe. Always supervise younger children with 3D printed objects.
  5. How can I contribute to animal conservation with 3D printing?
    Consider printing educational models for schools or local communities. You can also support organizations that use 3D printing for wildlife conservation by donating models, time, or funds to their projects.


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Daniel Brooks

Join me the author of Explore 3D Print, on an exhilarating journey through the captivating world of 3D. Discover the endless possibilities of 3D printing and immerse yourself in a vibrant community of enthusiasts. Explore, learn, and unlock the limitless potential of this fascinating realm.

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