This is what I call a battle for the ages! Basically, it’s hardware vs. software, tinkerers vs. designers and choosing a camp isn’t as easy as ABC. To best determine in which category you fall, you have to ask yourself what you want from a 3D printer. If you want to feel like you’re working in a car service, then you might want to opt for printer kits, but if you want to save yourself the headache and just print whatever you want, the ready-assembled ones are the way to go.
So Many Parts, So Much Time!
Let’s talk a bit about printer kits and the things you need to be aware of when deciding to buy one. Now, this is not meant to discourage you in any way, but merely to shed light on the subject. There are hundreds of 3D printer kits on sale, but this shouldn’t be too confusing because there aren’t significant differences between them.
Essentially, all kits have the same parts just different manufacturers. This is not to say to you have to buy one blindly. As a matter of fact, look for kits that are complete but are, in fact lacking key parts like extruders. In some cases, they might go as far as leaving the guide out of the package. Sure, not all sellers are this cruel and most of them do specify what components are missing, but look for these things carefully if you don’t want to buy tons of parts and end up scratching your head because you don’t know how to assemble them.
You Want a 3D printing kit – But What Kind?
Even 3D printing kits are split into 2 categories. One category involves 3D printing kits which have all the parts you need in the box. In most cases, mounting them isn’t rocket science and detailed instructions are included. Some manufacturers like RepRap even offer a free service via phone or e-mail to guide you through the assembly.
I actually reviewed one of their kits right here on my website, which is the RepRap Prusa Mendel Iteration 2 (reviewed here) and you might want to have a look at it, since everything I’ve read about it makes me believe that it’s one of the best DIY printers around. Keep in mind though that even with all the parts included, you still have to be a mechanical enthusiast and have knowledge of the basics of geometry.
Also, be ready to drill, cut and maybe even perform some custom machining. In other cases, you will need to have a soldering iron nearby in case the electronics aren’t built in. In the end, it’s just a matter of knowing your limitations and pay attention to what each kit requires you to do.
The other category is open source which is the most challenging, since it involves building a printer from scratch and finding the parts yourself. However, once you get to the bottom of things you will find it to be a rewarding experience. That 3D printer will be your baby! You will know every component, every bolt, every corner of it and you will feel proud of what you’ve achieved. Still, getting there will require endless hours of sourcing because you will have to find every wire, every bolt, and every nut and there are hundreds of parts like these.
You can’t even start building a 3D printer until you’ve checked everything on your inventory. And even after you complete these steps you will still need a controller board, either purchased or built by you. It’s not over until it’s over! The good news is that you aren’t alone in your mission to find parts. Depending on the 3D printer brand, there are communities there to support and guide you. Since everything is open source, this means that everything is for free including design files, software and bills of materials, so that you don’t have to figure for yourself what components you need to get.
Keep it Cool. Keep it Simple With Pre-assembled 3D Printers
If your head is spinning with all the information about DIY kits and patience isn’t your strength then clearly, you belong to the pre-assembled camp. While the costs are higher than in case of kits, you will save a lot of hours which would otherwise be dedicated to building your own printer and use them for actual 3D printing instead.
This is a hassle-free option because when you receive that magic box, you won’t find hundreds of tiny printer parts that need to be assembled. You will just take it out as it is and start looking for designs or create them yourself instead of beginning the tiresome quest of completing an inventory.
I reviewed several pre-assembled printers and because I know how to recognize a special thing when I see it, even without being an expert on the matter, the MakerGear M2 is definitely a keeper in my book. Something interesting about this printer is that it comes in both variants – kit and pre-assembled. Also worth mentioning is the UP! Plus 2 3D Desktop Printer which I reviewed here, this might very well be the lightweight champ and a very solid entry when it comes to basic 3D printers for beginners.
At the end of the day, everything I am writing here is just a guideline. I’m not advocating either of the 3D printers, but merely listing the pros and cons in an unbiased manner. 3D printing can be a fun hobby, but it’s not as simple as getting on a bike and starting to pedal. It takes a lot of learning however, the idea is to just have fun!