A few years ago, 3D printers were limited to industrial uses only. They were very expensive to acquire and required lots of technical skills to operate. Fast forward several years later, and 3D printers have become commonplace in households. Today, you can purchase a great user-friendly printer for under $500.
That being said, you still need to know your way around these printers to make the right decision when buying one. Here’s what you need to consider:
1. What Are Your Objectives?
Picking the perfect 3D printer is much easier when you know what you hope to use it for. Do you simply want to create small household items, or are you hoping to make complex structures for research and scientific purposes?
It would also help to know the size of the models you want to create. As the experts at Printing Atoms report, the expected build volume will directly determine the size and even type of printer to use. Write down your goals and find the perfect printer for your unique need. You can also consult the 3D printing community for assistance.
2. Type Of 3D Printer
3D printers employ different technologies to produce models. Therefore, the type and quality of models you’ll create will largely depend on the specific type of printer you choose.
There are three common types of printers on the market at the moment:
a. Fused Deposition Model (FDM)
FDM printers are very popular. They work by heating a plastic filament and extruding it into a shape one layer after another.
An FDM printer can either be Cartesian, Delta, or Polar. Cartesian FDM printers are highly recommended since they offer more control and better results.
b. Stereolithography (SLA)
SLA printers harden and solidify a resin to create a model. This is done by focusing an ultraviolet light beam on different parts of the resin.
The technology in SLA printers is very precise, and that’s why it creates smooth and high-quality structures.
c. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
SLS printers work just like SLA, but they use lasers in place of UV light beams and powder instead of a resin.
SLS is an excellent option for creating complex industrial models.
3. Printing Materials
Most 3D printers use Poly Lactic Acid (PLA) and Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS).
PLA is a plastic material derived from plants. It’s a decent option for beginners. Its typically used to create simple household materials. PLA models are biodegradable, so it’s great for the environment. It also comes in translucent and solid colors, plus it cools pretty fast. On the flip side, the plastic has a very low melting point limiting its use to indoor models alone.
ABS plastic is stronger than PLA, meaning it can make strong outdoor structures. The tradeoff is this material takes a lot of time to cool off. This exposes the model to warping issues. ABS also emits lots of fumes. It must be used in a well-ventilated room.
Note that some printers use only one type of material so consider your current and future needs.
If your printer is using liquid resins, your options would be standard, though, and medical-grade resin. Standard resin is used for small prototypes, while the other two are utilized in professional fields to create engineering models and medical items like hearing aids.
4. 3D Printing Software
You’ll need software for the computer you are using for printing and the 3D printer itself. For the computer, make sure the software, also known as a slicer, provides all the capabilities you need. It’s also vital to get user-friendly software. The most common 3D printing computer software are Slic3r and Cura.
Meanwhile, Marlin is the most popular firmware for 3D printers. It has an enormous community that offers great support and usage tips.
5. Safety Features
Make sure the printer you are buying has the necessary safety measures to protect you against fumes, heat, and other dangers. If you are making kitchenware, use food-grade materials and ensure your printer is clean. It’s also vital to coat the models to cover porous surfaces.
6. Printing Speed And Resolution
Printing speed and resolution affect the quality of your models. Printers that are too fast get the job done pretty quickly, but your end product may not be as detailed as you want. Similarly, a high-resolution printer takes a lot of time to print, but it’ll help you get the details as accurately as possible.
FDM printers are the most affordable. They’re great when you’re doing 3D printing as a hobby and are not too keen to get the highest quality products. The other options are a bit costly, but they offer better quality and functionality.
Hopefully, the above guide has given you all the gems you need to shop for a 3D printer like a pro. Don’t hesitate to consult the online 3D printing community if you feel overwhelmed.