Just a couple of years ago, in-house 3D printing sounded like an abstract concept for the average user. The technology was merely limited to prototypes and performed by design engineers. But what was yesterday, considered to be a luxury has today, become something affordable.
However, just because you can finally buy 3D printers it doesn’t mean that it’s as simple as checking out a retailer and choosing a random device. When I started my research on this, I stumbled across numerous technical details and abbreviations I couldn’t understand. As I was trying to find suitable 3D printers, I kept bumping into acronyms like FDM, SLS or SLA, which weren’t telling me anything. That’s when I realized just how complex the 3D printing world is, and it hasn’t even reached its full potential yet!
If you’ve visited my website because you are as confused as I was in the beginning, you’re in the right place. I’ve added this buying guide so that you can have all the information you need on the same website, thus avoiding the stressful job of having to find a 3D printer on your own without any indications.
Before choosing a 3D printer, you have to ask yourself what you want to do with it. You might be tempted to answer: “Well, there is only one thing I can do with a 3D printer!”, but there is a catch, since the buyers actually fall into two main categories: the tinkerers and the designers.
You see, while many are keen on the idea of 3D printing because it allows them to materialize their imagination, others are drawn to the DIY aspect of the printers because they can start one from scratch and even contribute to the design, making changes to it along the way. The DIY printers are also a cheaper alternative as opposed to the pre-assembled ones. This is because plenty of them are open source, so you can pick materials from various suppliers.
Designers are less tech-savvy. They don’t care that much about hardware and mechanics, but rather about the functionality of 3D printing. If a kitchen tool gets broken, they will design a replacement and print it out. If they lose the knight from their favorite chess set, they will print a replica of the remaining piece. If their office looks boring, they will design and print a cool ornament, to make it more vivid. The possibilities are endless!
There is a constant need in our lives – the need for speed! In 3D printing, there are usually two types of speed: the print speed and the travel speed. The print speed determines the velocity of the tool head when plastic is being added, while the travel speed determines the velocity of the tool head moving from one printing area to another.
In order to save time, 3D printers are able to achieve insane speeds due to the acceleration feature, at the same time keeping the quality of the end-product intact. For instance, the Replicator Firmwares 5.5 and later for the MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer come with this acceleration option, which doubles the print speed of 40 mm/s when turned on.
Choosing the right materials for 3D printing can be a daunting task, but I am here to serve and help you with that.
There are quite a few options available, each with its own qualities and assets.
Here is a breakdown of the most popular ones:
- ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) A thermoplastic used frequently in 3D printing. It molds when heated, since it turns into a soft texture and it hardens when it’s cooling off. To get an idea of the feel of the plastic, think Lego.
- PLA (Polylactic Acid) See ABS, with the main difference between the two being that PLA’s decreased tendency to warp, unlike ABS. This means that it doesn’t necessarily need a heated print bed.
- Nylon This plastic’s special ingredient is powder. While it’s naturally white, it can be colored according to your tastes. Nylon is both flexible and durable, being more malleable than ABS, allowing you to bend it to create chain links for instance.
- Stainless Steel Needless to say, it’s a strong and sturdy material, using around 6 layers per 1 mm.
- Transparent Resin for smoothness and delicacy, this is the material you want. It has a rich texture, but you have to be careful when exposing it to UV light because it causes discoloration. To prevent this from happening, paint the models with varnish.
3D printing mostly uses two technologies: SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) and FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling). SLS employs a powerful laser which joins small particles of different materials into a 3D mass. The process involves scanning the cross section and applying the layers from top to bottom until completion.
FDM uses a plastic filament working as a material supplier for a nozzle responsible for melting said materials when heated. FDM provides durable materials and has the highest accuracy when building parts, while the SLS technology uses a high speed prototyping machine. As for the materials, FDM goes for the thermoplastics, while SLS builds prototypes in nylon.
3D printing is a revolutionary technology, offering tons of advantages across the complete process of creation, from the early stages of the concept design until the manufacturing of the end-product. Buying the right 3D printer for your needs can be quite a challenge, but I hope the information I’ve provided on this page will save you headaches and will answer your questions.