3D printing is a great hobby, but it can be intimidating at first when you’re trying to choose a printer. There’s a huge amount of variety in the options available, knowing what to pick can be hard. The first step is to confirm if you even want to get a 3D printer. They are very technical pieces of machinery that can be expensive and will need maintenance. If you just want a single model printed, then you can save money by using a 3D printing service. This still gets you the exact same product just with a production fee rather than the upfront cost of an entire printer too.
If you want to get a 3D printer but are unfamiliar with them then visiting some form of maker space can be a great option if there’s one nearby. The makers that frequent these sorts of spaces are often very helpful and can be a great way to learn the ropes and get some hands-on experience rather than struggling alone at home.
What process do you want?
There are two main process types that are available for home 3D printers, FDM and Vat Polymerisation. FDM, or Fused Deposition Modelling is the most well-known process of printing layers of melted plastic. This can be the cheapest option, but some printers and materials are expensive.
Vat Polymerisation, or resin printing, is a process where light-sensitive resins are cured with ultraviolet light. There are three subtypes of this process: SLA, DLP, and MSLA. Each subtype varies how the ultraviolet light is emitted: SLA uses a mirror to direct a laser beam, DLP uses a projector to cure an entire layer at once, and MSLA uses an LCD screen to mask an ultraviolet backlight, again curing an entire layer at once.
These two processes come with their own safety issues and with different post-processing requirements. FDM printers have very hot moving parts and are a fire risk. Resin printers are not a fire risk, however, the resins themselves are toxic and care must be taken – and PPE worn – when handling them. In both cases, ventilation is a positive as it prevents the build-up of airborne particles and fumes.
Both processes involve post-processing, you’ll likely need to use support structures at some point, and these will need to be removed. As FDM has larger layer heights than resin prints, you are much more likely to need to sand down surfaces. Resin prints also need to be cleaned and then cured before any post-processing can occur.
What materials do you want?
FDM offers a wide range of materials all of which have different printing requirements. Some need a heated print bed, some need a wear-resistant nozzle, and each has its own print temperature requirement. If you have a plan for something specific that you want to print with, then make sure that the printer you want can get up to the temperature that you need.
It’s also a good idea to consider what you might want to print with in the future. If the first few projects you want to do only require a relatively low-temperature filament, you might decide to buy a relatively cheap printer that gets hot enough. If you have something you want to make later with a high-temperature filament then you could find yourself in a position where your printer can’t get hot enough to print the other materials that you were interested in trying.
Resins can all be printed with the same printer. This means it doesn’t matter what resin you want to use, any resin printer can handle it. They do have different properties once they’re printed, so you should still make sure you get the material you want, but it shouldn’t impact the printer you get.
How big are the parts you want to print?
The size of a printer’s build volume is the hard limit on the size of print it can create. If you’re wanting to make particularly large models, you’ll have to split them up and assemble them later. If you’re just wanting a slightly large print though, there are some printers that can handle that and some that can’t. For example, if you plan to make figurines, any printer should be able to handle small ones, but if you’re planning to make large-scale figurines, you may find that many printers just can’t go as high as you want. Unfortunately, large build volumes are often fairly expensive because the machine needs to be sturdier to avoid any wobbling.
How much money are you willing to spend?
Price is often a deciding factor. It’s a good idea to have a rough budget before you start looking. While you can get really cheap printers for less than $200, these tend not to be the most reliable. A good starting price for basic printers is the $200 mark. Unfortunately, as your requirements get more specific, the price will go up. This is especially the case with large resin printers with the highest-end home models reaching up to around the $5000 mark.
In some cases, you may be able to save some money by buying a kit rather than a pre-built printer. This does give you a better insight into the workings of the machine, which will be helpful when you need to perform maintenance. It also means you need to build your printer before you can use it, which may not be for everyone.
At the start, we mentioned that there were two main types of home printing. There are plenty of other types of 3D printing technology available, offering cool features such as metal or full-colour printing. The problem is that these machines, and often the materials they use, are incredibly expensive, often more than $100k. The technology for these techniques has not come down in price enough for home use yet. Instead, they are primarily used in industrial applications. You can access these printing techniques through a range of 3D printing services; however, they will be more expensive than more common 3D printing techniques.
Have you bought a 3D printer? What sold you on the model that you chose? Let us know down below.