If you're interested in doing something really exciting then you get to get yourself a 3D printer and get stuck into 3D printing and the wealth of opportunities that it opens you to. 3D printers are becoming more and more available to users around the world due to the increased number of manufactures and decreasing cost of technology meaning that the for the first team you can buy yourself a 3D Printer for a few hundred dollars. Owning a 3D Printing unit has become an interesting experience that has gone from a basic design to actually being able to use your 3D printer for commercial activities meaning that even the average user can design a product and actually build it and then sell it on the market.
3D Printers come in all shapes and sizes and you will need to do your research before you buy one as there are some fantastic cheap models, but there are also some utterly useless really expensive models on the market that you struggle to understand why some would design model, let alone buy one.
What is 3D Printing?
3D Printing is an additive manufacturing process where you build your product in layers. Traditionally, manufacturing products is a subtractive process where you start with a large block of material and reduce its size and form the desired shape that you want by trimming the edges until you create the finished design. Additive manufacturing works in the complete opposite way, where you start with nothing and add your material in layers in the design of your product until your have the finished product.
A typical 3D Printer will come with an extruder which heated, almost liquid material comes out of which will pass over the platform over and over again adding layer upon layer until the product is created. All those passes over the product will match the image on an object that is usually created using a computer and some kind of digital modelling software.
To create the object the 3D Printer make a series of passes over the object adding layer after layer in accordance of the blueprint which you have designed using some kind of software. The layers are added at a thickness of on average 100 microns (micometers) though the best 3D Printers can be as detailed as 16 microns. The layers are fused together as they meet on the platform automatically with the join invisible to the naked eye.
At time of writing there are around 40 manufactures of industrial 3D Printers and around 10 3D Printer manufactures that produce smaller desktop models, however this number is growing as the weeks progress. The major manufactures are Stratasys which purchased MakerBot industries in June 2013, 3D systems, and ExOne. Currently the market for 3D Printers is worth around 10 billion USD however these estimates are set to grow drastically over the next few years with a predicted value of around $50 Billion by 2020.
How Does 3D Printing Work?
The basic principles of a 3D printer is the follows:
- Step One – Decide what you want to make
- Step Two – Design what you wan to make on an animated modelling software or computer aided design tools. These programs are both free and paid, however if you planning to use a professional paid computer program, then be prepared to get some practice in before you start.
- Free Software includes names such as Google Sketchup, 3DTin, Tinkercard or Blender. These programs are pretty basic, however if you’re planning to use your 3D Printer for anything complicated then you’re going to need some professional training and a few weeks of practice.
- Professional Paid software includes names such as DesignCAD 3D, Max, SmartDraw and TurboCAD all over which will set you abck a few hundred USD and will build you a professional 3D model where the only limitation will be your mind, however be prepared to do some serious practice, and when I say serious, I mean at least 6 months of doing nothing but practice.
- Ready-Made Website - If all this practice sounds like to much work then there are websites on the internet which will allow you to buy ready-made designs for all your favourite products built for you. Websites include, shapeways, thingiverse and CNCKing. The downside of downloading someone else designs is that often the design can be questionable at best and frankly will not work at worst.
- Step Three – Choosing the right printer
- This step can be difficult as there are many 3D Printers on the market right now, however the right 3D Printer will really depend on what kind of object you’re wanting to create. Today there are approximately 200 3D Printers on the market starting with the simply desktop 3D Printers which can be bought for a few hundred dollars up to the 100,000 for a factory 3D Printer capable of printing huge designs.
- Step Four – Material
- One of the best things about 3D Printers is the fact that you can print using many different types of materials from plastic to steel and rubber to even chocolate, however generally there are two key materials that you're going to want to use with your 3D printing unless you plan on going professional. The two key materials with there advantages and disadvantages are discussed below;
ABS or PLA
ABS or PLA are the different types of filament that are most commonly used with desktop 3D Printers. The filament is the material that run through the nozzle to create your object and which you use, will usually depend on what you are trying to make, what colour you want it to be and how much ventilation you have in your room. Below we have tried to out line the differences.
- This stands for “Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene”
- Its based on Petroleum
- Its Durable, touch and heat resistant
- It smells really bad when used, and is potentially toxic
- Best used for car parts, appliances, musical instruments and toys
- Do NOT use it for anything food related
- Needs to be kept in a sealed, dry container
- The finished product is a smooth matte finish
- This stands for Polylactic Acid or Polyclactide
- Its made from Corn Starch, sugar Cane and Potato Starch
- Its biodegradable, non toxic and is easy to work with
- Can be brittle once its cooled down
- Best not to use for anything that will be put under any strain
- Needs to be kept in a sealed environment as moisture will destroy it
Step Five – Press the Print Button
After all the above steps you can simply press the print button on your 3D Printer and the 3D Printer will start printing. Printing times can be as low as a couple of hours for a small plastic design, however for a major project, printing times can be measured in days.
What Are The Types of 3D Printer Designs
Personal 3D Printers
Personal 3D Printers are usually classified as 3D Printers that can print objects up to 10 X 10 X 10 Inches and whilst there are some personal 3D Printers that can print larger objects, when you start having a print platform that is larger than this, the pure weight of the printer starts to be a problem. Personal 3D Printers are generally considered the best for low-output projects, one-off smaller prints or small-scale printing batches where you’re not planning to use your 3D Printers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Personal printers will most likely not stand up to the requirements that you want if you’re planning on using your 3D Printer for anything for than this. Personal Printer brand names include MakerBot, Cubify and AW3D.
Industrial 3D Printers
These are generally much large, more expensive 3D Printers that are best used for commercial or heavy industry projects. With an industrial 3D Printer you’re not going to be able to simply pick and move the printer due to its size and therefore they are best used in a dedicated wear-house where they can remain in one place. Industrial 3D Printers will be equipped for both demanding jobs and those projects where you need to run your 3D Printers for long periods of time continuously. For a major project where you’re creating a batch of products, it could be required that you will need to run your 3D Printers for 24 hours a day for weeks of end without stopping, therefore industrial 3D Printers are designed with this in account. An industrial 3D Printer most likely will not be any faster than a personal 3D Printer as the speed is more dependant on the rate of information that it can receive from your computer, however the accuracy is generally better. The major downside of an industrial 3D Printer over a personal 3D Printer is the cost and a good industrial printer, can set you back a million dollars. Industrial Printer brand names include, Stratasys, Objet and Projet.
Best 3D Printer
In this section we're looking at the best 3D Printers from across the market. We have reviewed, tested and discussed over 40 different 3D Printers from across the market and made our decisions on which is the best performing, best value for money 3D Printer that you should buy and more importantly which 3D Printers, should you be avoiding.
Best Cheap 3D Printer
In this section we're looking at the best value for money 3D Printer from across the market whilst taking into account the simple factor of price. So often we find that the best 3D Printers are often the most expensive, however for many users, shelling out a few thousand dollars is simply not an option and therefore they are really looking at cheaper models where they can learn 3D printing, before buying into a more expensive model. We have reviewed the top 20 Models from across the market and decided which is the best value for money, 3D Printer.
Best 3D Doodler Printer Pen
In this section we're looking at the best 3D Doodler Pen's that are great for people either looking for an introduction into 3D Printing or for children who are looking for an introduction into printing. One slight problem we have found especially with printing pens is that users really need to make sure that they do their research beforehand as there are many cheap imports that really do not stand up to test's or overheat when they are used. Here we have reviewed all the best models and worked out which you should buy and more importantly, which you should avoid.
Things to Think About Before Buying A 3D Printer
- Choose a Printer with an LCD screen as these offer simpler navigation and better control
- Enclosed printing is the way to go especially if you want to print in ABS
- Plastic and Wooden printers are great for children and beginners, but soon you’re going to get fed up with it moving around whilst you’re trying to print. Yes they are less moveable, but often the heavier the better.
- Filament sizes range of 1.5 to 4 mm, however try to buy something that uses 2 mm filaments as these are the most common and will help to keep your running costs down.
- Heated printer beds are the best performing 3D printers and will stop the plastic fracturing.
- Printer Kits are a great idea, but often more hassle than they are worth.
- Learn about Bed Calibration and printer calibration before you start printing, as you will need this.
- Try to buy a printer that comes with maintenance tools as these are expensive on their own
- Try to buy printers that have already been calibrated to use with software. We have had numerous problems with software not working with a printer.
- Minimum of 0.01 Inches for XY resolution to be happy with your prints
- Dual Extruder is a must if you want to use more that one color and print quickly
- Minimum of 8 x 8 x 8 Inches Bed size
- Watch out that your printing bed is level. This means that not only is the printer level on the table, but also that the table is level itself. We have had numerous problems with tables that are not level.
Key Brands To Think About
- FlashForge – This is a Chinese manufacture that specialise in building desktop 3D Printers and is one of our favourite printer manufactures given that they manufacture the fantastic Creator series.
- MakerGear – This is a US manufacture that is been manufacturing printers since 2008 and builds the industrial printer M2 series.
- XYZprinting – This is another US manufacture that was started up in 2014 and responsible for the XYZ Printer Version 1 that we think is the beat cheap printer on the market right now.
- MakerBot – Is one of the oldest and best know manufactures on the market given that they have produced over 100,000 printers for home and business use.