The 3D printing industry is slowly but surely coming into its own. This can be seen from the Forbes 2017 report which highlighted the fact that 27% more 3D printers were purchased in 2017 then 2016! And the numbers are set to keep increasing as more people continue to notice the advantages it brings to rapid prototyping, and manufacturing as a whole.
Like the phenomenal adoption of personal computers in the 90s, the rise of 3d printing owes part of its growth to the domestic adoption of additive manufacturing in many homes. This adoption is what creators of 3D printers seek to exploit and that’s why today, there are a plethora of brands you will have to choose from when going to the market to purchase one.
Therefore, to ease this stress as well as help you make better decisions, we have come up with this comprehensive guide that touches on the different features, specifications and criteria which should determine what you finally buy.
Categorizing 3D Printers
In this guide, we will rely on 3 categories to provide a structure for the different types of 3D printers out there and their 3D printing capacity.
These categories include:
Note that this guide will focus squarely on desktop 3D printers—machines that fit onto a desktop or domestic workspace—due to the fact that these are definitely the types you are likely to purchase. Read on as we explore the best ways to go about purchasing 3D printers in these 3 categories.
Most people’s entry point to the world of 3D printing starts with the purchase and use of a desktop 3D printer for beginners. And 3D printers for beginners are rightly tagged so due to the quality of 3D prints they produce and the ease of getting started with one.
So if this is your first foray into the world of 3D printing, then this section is definitely for you and here are the major features and criteria you should consider:
Ease of use
your first foray should be as uncomplicated as possible which means you must consider purchasing a 3D printer that can be made use of 5 minutes after unboxing it.
3D printers come in different packages and kits which are usually clearly spelled out for interested customers. The 3 options available to you are; assembled, semi-assembled and un-assembled kits.
There are approximately 5 different types of 3D printing techniques which today’s 3D printers employ and they include Fused Deposit Modelling (FDM), Stereo lithography (SLA), Digital Light Processing (DLP) etc.
Learning to use a print bed can be a tasking process for a beginner, therefore it is important that you understand the issues print beds can pose before picking from the different types available to you.
Choosing a Beginners 3D Printer
Now, using the highlighted criteria as reference points, the perfect 3D printers are the devices that have the following features:
As a beginner, the 3D printer you should be looking for are the ones that are fully assembled or semi-assembled for they ensure that you get started with ease.
Choosing these options means that you do not have to screw or assemble the components of your 3D printer together before hitting start! But if you are one of those who love DIY tasks you could also consider building a 3d printer from scratch.
In terms of printing technique, Fused Deposit Modelling-based 3D printers are clearly the best option for beginners to exploit. This is because they work with filament materials and are generally easy to 3D print with.
Lastly, there are a couple of desktop 3D printers for beginners that come with self-levelling technology which eliminates the need for your to periodically adjust your print bed while you print.
Desktop 3D printers for beginners are also quite affordable and it is recommended that you do not spend above a $1,000 when purchasing one. Working with PLA or ABS filaments—which are basically plastics—will also save you a lot of money for you will definitely make errors during your learning phase.
So here are five options from $500 - $1,000 which meets the above criteria that you should consider purchasing:
The next category to explore are 3D printers developed for semi-professionals and hobbyists looking for something more durable and stable to build personal items, gifts and even 3D objects for commercial uses. Here, we will explore the most important criteria to consider when purchasing a mid-level 3D printer for either your personal use or for your organization. The criteria include:
here again, you must consider the time taken to assemble a 3D printer from scratch and if purchasing either a semi-assembled or fully assembled kit will serve you better.
As a hobbyist, most people will be interested in expanding their horizons by taking advantage of the different filament types out there. You can learn more about the different filament types by exploring our filament guide provided here.
3D printing enthusiast will definitely appreciate a printing bed with enhanced features that can help simplify the task ahead of you.
When building commercial or gift items, having the option to vary your object’s size whenever you choose is something that cannot be overlooked. For mid-level 3D printers, the bigger the build volume the better for its user.
There are diverse extrusion nozzle types available on various 3D printers. As a mid-level hobbyist, versatility should be your watch word when considering the different extruder features on the market.
There are also different types of software applications out there which can be used to control the features of your 3D printer. When in the market for a mid-level 3D printer, purchasing options that allow you use these multiple software apps are recommended.
Choosing a Mid-level 3D Printer
Now, the mid-level 3D printer to choose should have the following features across the different criteria that have been outlined. In terms of kit type, a fully or semi-assembled 3D printer kit should be your preferred choice for it also saves you the time taken to assemble a kit from scratch.
A 3D printer that works with the FDM 3D printing technique is also recommended and it is best you purchase a 3D printer that has the ability to 3D print the different types of filaments out there. This makes it possible for you to work with standard 3D filament types, decorative filaments and some industrial-grade materials.
Choosing the right print bed has an important role to play when selecting mid-level 3D printers for they can be the determinant between a quality 3D print and dealing with multiple errors such as warping, stringing and non-extrusion. Therefore, it is recommended that you choose a 3D printer whose print bed comes with self-levelling technology and is heated.
The build volume of your 3D printer should also fall within the 250 * 230 * 200mm range or higher. This will give you more than enough space to explore the different ideas you have in mind.
A versatile 3D printer with an inter-changeable nozzle head is also recommended for it gives you the ability to 3D print small, medium and large layers within the range of 0.4 – 0.8mm. If you also intend to work on decorative pieces, a dual extruder—which extrudes filaments of different colours simultaneously—is something you should consider working with.
Lastly, how you feed your 3D printer with sliced models must be considered. It is best you choose an open-source 3D printer which means your device will be compatible with most of the slicing software applications available at no cost.
Here are some mid-level 3D printers that bring the dynamism you should expect in a mid-level 3D printer:
In diverse commercial industries—automotive, Biomed, engineering, architecture etc.—, making use of a 3D printer is gradually becoming the accepted means of manufacturing many components/products.
This can be seen from the example of Osskins who create orthotics and medical braces with a 3D printer as well as Ford’s integration of 3D printing in its production plants. But what kind of 3D printers do these organizations use?
Industrial-grade 3D printers are the machines capable of 3D printing at the high standards and quality required to pass the different product standards set by your government.
Therefore, if you are considering purchasing a 3D printer for commercial reasons, this section is dedicated to you. The criteria to consider when choosing an industrial-grade 3D printer include:
The ability to 3D print industrial grade materials such as; PBC, Carbon fiber etc. cannot be underestimated when choosing an industrial-grade 3D printer.
The components native to the aforementioned industries where 3D printing is been welcomed, are usually larger than your average pet projects.
Rapid prototyping also plays a major role in industrial manufacturing and this is where a 3D printer excels in. so the ability to vary printing speed due to the needs of a production cycle is highly welcome.
To pass the various ISO standards test for commercial items, the 3D printer must print at a high resolution when and where needed.
Choosing an Industrial-Grade 3D Printer
First and foremost, it is important to note that industrial-grade 3D printers come in either semi-assembled or un-assembled kits which means you may need to do some assembling before getting started. Now, you would want to choose 3D printers that can 3D print any filament type regardless of how brittle and strong it is.
This is because you require a durable 3D printer that can work repeatedly for long hours without experiencing immediate wear and tear to its moving parts. An industrial 3D printer should be able to 3D print all the materials commonly used in producing items in your specific industry.
A 3D printer with a large build volume—approximately 300 * 300 *300mm or above—is recommended. This is because it gives you the capacity to 3D print large objects at a go without having to break these objects into different components before printing.
You should also consider picking a 3D printer with an automated heat bed as it will save you the need to regularly adjust your printing platform when working on multiple projects.
When 3D printing with desktop 3D printers, the rule of thumb is to 3D print intricate models with your nozzle set at a slower speed, while printing larger or more generic layers should be done at higher speeds.
But during rapid-prototyping projects, where you might need to print and reprint a model within a specified time, it is preferable to choose an industrial-grade 3D printer that can achieve the precision you desire quickly. Therefore a 3D printer that can print at a speed of approximately 300mm/s or more and at a resolution of 150 microns should be considered.
Using the specified features discussed above, here are some options for you to consider when searching for an industrial-grade 3D printer:
Here we come to the end of our comprehensive guide on choosing the best desktop 3D printers that fit the situation and project you are interested in working on. You can also learn more about the materials/filaments needed to power these 3D printers by checking out our guide to 3D filaments.