3D printing is a relatively new industry. However, many different types of 3D printers are already available on the market. 3D printing enthusiasts buy a 3D printer in the heat of the moment and later regret. The 3D printing industry is advancing very rapidly. But, do not expect miracles to happen with your first 3D printer.
3D printers that can print objects on demand are now affordable. If you have patience and are okay with using limited materials, then you can buy the decently priced models available for sale. These take several hours to build an object and can usually work with two types of thermoplastic, namely PLA and ABS.
The best consumer 3D printers cannot print objects bigger than a loaf of bread, but they print with amazing clarity, strength, smoothness, and finish. They are very useful for printing household objects such as small spare parts that are difficult to find in retail shops, or personalized salt-and-pepper shakers.
Here are 8 points to consider when buying your first printer.
1. What are you?
Depending on whether you are a tinkerer or a designer, you can choose and buy a 3D printer that exactly suits your needs. Tinkerers are attracted to 3D printers because they are drawn to mechanical devices or hardware, and they like to study how a machine is built so that they can make one themselves from scratch or even introduce modifications and improvements. Many kit-based 3D printers have the design and the list of materials made available to you, so that you can make modifications to the design and help improve the machine.
So, if you are a tinkerer, you should look for low-cost, kit-based 3D printers that have a relatively large community where you can ask questions if something goes wrong. The RepRap family of 3D printers is the most common community for DIY 3D printing. A commonly bought printer by this category of people is the MendelMax 1.5.
If you are a designer, you will want to buy 3D printers so that you can print your own creations. You can make desktop ornaments or functional art, hardware enclosures or product concepts, or even prototype board game pieces.
Many people want 3D printers just so they can print functional objects to fix broken or missing things around the house.
If you belong to any of the above two groups, then you should be looking for ease of use, speed of print, and consistency in your 3D printers. Commonly bought 3D printers by this group of people are Makerbot Replicator 2 and Ultimaker. These printers come pre-assembled and different models have varying prices.
2. Decide what is needed
After you have figured out which category of people you fall in, deciding what is needed becomes easy. Whether it is printing out household objects or full-scale industrial printing using techniques such as laser sintering, you now have a fair idea of what will suit you best.
Also, decide your budget. It is important that you conduct your research to understand the various technologies used in 3D printing, including fused deposition modelling, stereolithography, selective laser sintering, and Jetting stereolithography. Wikipedia and Google are good places to look for information on the benefits and drawbacks of these technologies.
3. Pay attention to the conversations in forums
A good starting place to find information and view opinions are 3D printing forums. Before making an important purchase, always browse through the concerned forums. Users can openly post their experiences with the particular product, which helps others decide whether it is worth the buy. Any queries that you may have about the technical support provided, the issues faced, or any complaints about the product can be found on these 3D printing forums.
4. What is your budget?
This point should be very clear in your mind since it is pivotal to the kind of 3D printer you are going to buy. Usually, kit-based 3D printers are cheaper than pre-assembled 3D printers. Also, self-sourced 3D printers are cheaper than kit-based 3D printers.
However, you will be able to find a solid pre-assembled printer in the price range of $500-$800. Good pre-assembled printers should cost you up to $1,500. If you are willing to pay more than $2,000, look for the following features in the machine that separate it from the cheaper models – speed of print, easy to use software, solid metal frames, belt-less drives, a flat build platform, and straight metal guides.
Two 3D printers that are considered to offer value for money are the Solidoodle and the Printerbot Jr.
5. Observe how the 3D printer works
You can browse through pictures of 3D printers online and assess the models you could buy. However, without observing how the printer works in reality, you will not be able to judge the quality of its output or the solidness of its operations. Visit a 3D printing conference or go to a vendor to see a demonstration of the printer’s working. If this is not possible, you can watch videos on YouTube to see how the printer works. This will help minimize the chances of future problems. Read comments about the printer’s working and you will get a feel of the model’s popularity or otherwise.
6. Compare 3D printers at 3DHubs
Go to 3D Hubs and compare different models of 3D printers, in case you find yourself unable to decide between two machines. You can evaluate each machine by its specifications and decide which is more suitable. You can also get in touch with local stockists through this website.
7. Check if the 3D printer has a guarantee
A majority of the consumer 3D printers available on the market do not offer a guarantee. You will need to spend some time and effort browsing through the various models to find the ones that do offer a guarantee. Buy from a vendor who will repair or replace the printer if something goes wrong. This will ensure that the money spent in buying the machine does not go to waste.
8. See if support is offered
Technical support should be offered for your 3D printer, and you should ensure this before buying it. Since these machines are complex, you can save time and money by contacting the company’s support wing whenever problems arise.