A few years ago, 3D Printers were something abstract for everyone. They were also very expensive machines that only extremely big companies could afford. After the open source 3D printing movement, these machines became affordable for designers, engineers, hobbyists, schools and even regular costumers. If you want to buy one you should consider the following issues in order to choose the best 3D printer according to your needs.
- The first question is what you want to print. Everyone can use a 3D printer. From consumers interested in printing toys and professionals to professors who are looking for printers for their lessons. For example, hobbyists and artist will need 3D printer with special features. They would like printing in multiple colors or using different filament types. On the other hand, consumers and schools would need a model that is easy to set up. They need a model that doesn’t require a complicated maintenance and that is easy to use. Also, the designers, engineers and architects are the group of professionals that will seek for exceptional print quality.
- What materials would you use? From this point of view there are a lot of types of materials that can be used, so there are many techniques and many different printers. The most frequently used technique is FFF in which plastic filament is melted and extruded and then it solidifies to form the wanted object. At this point, mostly used filaments are the ABS and PLA. ABS melts at higher temperature and is more flexible. On the other hand, PLA prints look smooth, but tend to be on the brittle side. Filament comes in two diameters (1.85mm and 3mm).
- What is the size of the objects that you want to print? When buying a 3D printer, you need to be careful with choosing the one that has the appropriate build area for the objects that you want to print. A 3D printer’s build area can be defined like the size of the largest object that can be printed with a given printer, in three dimensions. The most common 3D printers are with a build area between six and nine inches square, but they can go up to more than two feet on a side.
- 3D printer with closed or open frame? There are pros and cons on each one of these types of printers. Closed-frame printers have closed structure with a door and walls. It is more silent (especially when printing with ABS) and safer because it is impossible for its users to touch the hot extruder.
- Do you need your printer to print in various colors? Besides the regular 3D printers, there are ones that can print in two or more colors. Most frequently, the multiple color 3D printers are dual-extruder models and every extruder uses different color of filament. When creating the model you want to print, in this case, you should make a individual file for every color and then the areas will fit together like a puzzle.
- Which software would you need? Usually, printers come with software or you can download it. This software is a complex of several parts. These parts are: printing program that controls the motion of the extruder, a healing program to optimize the file to be printed, a slicer to prepare the layers to be printed at the proper resolution and the Python programming language. Also, you can use separate component programs individually if that’s what you like.
- What is the height of resolution that you need? In the technology of 3D printing, resolution equals layer height. Resolution is measured in microns. Almost every 3D printer which is sold nowadays can print at a resolution of 200 microns and many can print at 100 microns. The lower the number – the higher the resolution.