Answer these 3D printer questions before buying
Before you select the correct 3D printer for your needs there are some questions you need to answer:
- What is your budget?
3D printers range from a couple hundred US dollars through to tens of thousands of dollars. There are a lot of great choices in the $400 to $1,000 range, but you will need to make compromises.
- What size prints do you need to make?
Depending on what you need to print depends on your target bed size and print capacity. Mostly we are talking about 6″x6″x6″ upwards, with 8″ (200mm squared) being a popular size, but there are some massive capacity printers of varying quality for the bigger is better folks!
- How experienced are you?
Is this going to be your first printer? Have you used 3d printers before? Have you built a printer? Do you have other electronics or mechanical expertise that will help your learning curve? Do you have access to hands on help? If this is your first printer or you don’t have the time or patience to learn a lot of deep level “stuff”, you might want to go for something more appliance-like. On the other hand, this is a fascinating hobby for those who lean that direction too.
- What materials do you need to print?
Mostly people are going to, at least initially, print using a vegetable based plastic called PLA. This is the generic go-to material. But it doesn’t end there, because you might need flexibility (such as the famous Ninjaflex brand), more toughness (ABS, PETG, Nylon), or even glow in the dark or metal filaments that are abrasive to your nozzle. Depending on the material depends on some features that you might need, such as a heated bed, heat resistant parts, and the temperature your hotend can safely reach.
- Do you have a specific filament size you need to work with? (eg. already have 3mm filament printers)
- What is the intended purpose of these prints?
You might not know what filament/material you need, but you might have a goal in mind for the prints. For example if you want to print props and armour, or RC parts, if it needs to be food safe, or particularly tough. Some printers are great at large, fast prints but are not so good with details.
- How hands-on do you wish to be in building, configuring, upgrading and maintaining the printer?
Do you want to build from a kit (or parts), or have it delivered pre-built? Should it be perfect on delivery or are you willing to put time, money and effort into upgrades?
- How important is real time customer service via telephone/chat/on-site, etc?
Many of the printers people buy and enjoy are small, non-branded operations, and therefore support can be spotty at best. If you don’t just need email support but you want real time or on-site then that excludes even more of the market.
- Do you require extended warranty?
Again, many printers have zero or very little warranty. My Wombot XL arrived broken and I had to source parts and repair it myself (I did get a $20something dollar refund to my PayPal so I could buy replacement threaded rods for the ones that were bent, to be fair). My Printbot experience was the opposite, they pro-actively sent me replacement parts months after purchase, well outside any warranty period, and without me even asking when I had trouble in the hope it would improve my prints and experience.
- Do you have specific software/compatibility/accessibility requirements?
Do you use Windows/Mac/Linux? Depending on your operating system will depend which software is available. If you have physical constraints then you might not be able to lean over a hot print bed to dial in your z axis sensor, and so on.
- What country are you in?
Not all printers, delivery options or payment methods are convenient or even available in all countries. For example of a printer is only sold via PayPal then you might be out of luck. Printers are large and heavy. Delivery from Australia to Canada was, as you can imagine, very expensive and took a week, but the Printrbot was also slow and expensive from the USA, plus both occasions I had to pay import duty on top of the delivery. A local supplier or reseller will be able to use more reasonably priced delivery options, and can help in support situations also.
- Who will use this printer
You? Kids? Grandparents? Designers? Engineers? Public Library? My recommendations for a printer that will be used in a maker space would be very different to a class full of ten year old kids. There is supervised and unsupervised use, dusty or clean environments, risk/health/injury aspects, reliability …
Summary for part 1
Before you leap into purchasing a 3d printer it is worth considering these questions, and if you are going to ask in a discussion group or ask your network for recommendations, answers to these questions will definitely help you get the right 3d printer recommendation for you and your specific circumstances.
Check out the next entry in this series where we will dive deep into each of the major considerations.
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