3D printers are one of the latest technologies to become available to the general public that will soon revolutionize our economy in many ways. Simple things such as buying a new salt shaker will become a thing of the past as slowly but surely 3D printers find their way into homes across the world.
Currently, we are experiencing the start of the “automation revolution” with these products and as you are here looking for a guide to purchasing your very own 3D printer, you are looking to get in on the ground floor.
In this article, we are going to briefly discuss how 3D printers work, the questions you must ask yourself first in order to determine what kind of 3D printer you should be looking for and then we will take a look at some of the best products on the market today in order to give you a head start in deciding which 3D printer is right for you.
How do 3D printers work?
To start, you need a model which the printer can use to create the object. This can be achieved though software that allows you to scan existing objects or though downloading a model from the internet. I would personally recommended searching for various models of what you would like to produce before buying so that you know that you can create a product and so you know where to look when you have purchased your printer, you don’t want to buy a printer with a specific object in mind and then find your printer is too small or that the product is unavailable.
The printer separates the model into a series of layers and then prints them one at a time and then binds the layers with a resin or a melted/liquefied powder to quickly harden the object.
Some printers come ready built, which is great for beginners. Though if you are technically minded I would recommended buying a printer that you must assemble yourself as you will gain an understanding of how it works much deeper than can be found in a any article. I’d wager if you can put together any type of flat-pack furniture, you can likely assemble a 3D printer.
Firstly, what do you wish to use your 3D printer for?
Determine what types of products you wish to be able to create, though at present the actual range of products is somewhat limited, there are still plenty of options for what you can produce. It’s all about what sort of maximum size you will be happy with. Generally speaking, the higher the cost, the larger objects you can create and the higher quality they will be. The amount of time that 3D printers take to produce the finished product varies though you can expect to be waiting several hours realistically at this early stage of the technology’s development.
Secondly, how much are you willing to spend?
Here we will discuss the costs of buying a 3D printer and also include some recommended products within each price range. Your budget will determine exactly what kind of 3D printer you can purchase.
At this price level you will likely only be able to produce a product in a single color/material and you will also probably be looking at a maximum size of around 4x4x4 Inches.
Recommended Printers (Low Cost):
Printer 1: Flashforge Dreamer
Printer 2: Flashforge Creator Pro
Once you start looking at printers at around $1000 you will find that the build area has increased, the complexity of the objects you can create has increased and your ability to use multiple materials on the like has also increased dramatically. If you can afford the price, this is where I would recommend you start if you want the full 3D printer experience.
Recommended Printers (Medium Cost):
Printer 1: Ultimaker 2+
Printer 2: LulzBot TAZ Desktop 3D Printer
Printer 3: Zortrax M200
If money is of no concern you may wish to try the latest in 3D printing technology. From the $5000 – $12,000 point you can purchase printers that (although expensive in both initial purchase and upkeep) will ensure that you have commercial grade access to the powers of the 3D printer. These printers often use a solvent or a form of powerful laser and so are more accurate in terms of quality. They are often also powder based.
Recommended Printers (High Cost):
Printer 1: Cloud 3D Printer Overlord Adapter
Printer 2: NewStarWay NSW Giant1000 Printer
Important features to take into account when purchasing a 3D printer
This is the basic print speed of the printer. Though you will notice that many factors on an object to object basis can impact this (due to levels of detail ect…) you should be looking for a printer with a print speed of at least 2cm (20mm) per second. Not all printers measure print speed in the same manner.
Just like with computer screens, this is the detail that the printer can operate in. The smaller the better generally, although this will always impact the print speed.
Similar to resolution, however this will impact how smooth the object is instead of how much detail the object can have. Once again this will impact the print speed.
Simply put, this is the maximum size of any single object that can be produced in your printer. Note that many objects can be put together from several parts so the limit is not always the same as the build size.
This is the part responsible for melting down the material. If the printer has a single extruder it is one of the printers that can only produce in one color/material at a time.
This is the plastic that is used to produce the objects. Depending on your printer you may be able to use a cheaper, more generic plastic available in many places though with some models you may find that you have to purchase a specific type directly from the manufacturers, usually at a marginally higher cost.