A Home 3D printer is not as of yet something that many people think of owning. Many people aren’t really even aware of their existence. At one time the same was true for PC computers and desktop printers. Today of course PCs are one of the most common things in the world, and desktop printers which manufactures once thought would never be on any desk, let alone every desk, are just as common. But, believe it or not, 3D printers have been around for just as long as these common items.
Originally invented in the 1980s, 3D printers were developed and used primarily in industry for the rapid prototyping of design ideas. Today companies like GE use 3D printers in prototyping rotor blades for jet turbine engines. Ford creates prototypes of car engines. Nike creates prototypes of shoe ideas, a process which normally takes months and thousands of dollars, now in only days with the help of 3D printers. At the same time, hobbyists have been playing around with smaller versions to create model parts and other such items. I’ve heard that Jay Leno has one in his garage to make custom parts for his collectible automobiles, parts that could not be gotten any other way as these cars have long been out of production.
This is exciting and hopeful, but how does this apply to our homes? Actually, many forward thinking analysts believe that home 3D printers will soon be just as common as your PC. I remember my Mother going to the fabric store, buying material, thread and a dress pattern, then coming home and sewing her own dresses on her Singer sewing machine. One day soon you’ll be able to go to the local Staples, pick-up nylon filament in your desired colors, grab a 3D software dress pattern, bring them home, resize and tweak the dress design as needed, and print out your dress on your handy home 3D printer. Say your child was invited to a birthday party tomorrow and you don’t have time to buy a toy at the store? No problem, just download the design for the desired toy and print away. Need a new coffee table? Just print away! Crazy I know, but that is truly the future potential.
Now that you have the picture, and you’re excited about the idea of purchasing a 3D printer for your home, where do you begin? I would recommend that you took a view at our 3D Printing Reviews Section for an honest view of 3D Printers on the market. Next, here is a short list of important things to consider before purchasing a printer: Printing Speed; Build Envelope or Print Area(size volume of items you are able to print); Materials usable in the printer as well as their Cost and Available Colors; Available Software for the printer and their Ease of Use; Operating System used by the printer (it has to be connected, even if by WiFi, to a computer); Detail Printing Accuracy or Layer Resolution(depending upon what you hope to print); Manufacturer Support and Reputation, Pre-Assembled or Assemble-it-Yourself models; and probably most important to a home user, Printer Price.
To help you out, we’ve compiled a short list of some Budget and Premium home 3D printers that are generally recognized by 3D printer reviewers, websites, and industry magazines as being good printers for the money from reliable manufacturers. These printers are all in the $1000 to $4000 range, but they are all good buys for the home user. Remember, that used to be the price of a decent home PC not too long ago.
There are several printers now available, or soon to be available, from $200 and up, and definitely many more priced well above the printers listed here. But for the home user these are quality, reliable, affordable, machines by manufactures with good track records.
3D printing has been growing in popularity with tech and hobby enthusiasts over the last few years. The preferred method for building a printer is with the purchase of a kit. That said, there are two approaches to kit building: building from scratch, or building from a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) kit. DIY kits additionally come in two forms: fully unassembled and partially assembled.
Building from scratch is by far the more tedious and time consuming method. If you are the DIY type who prefers to build things from scratch, then you might consider going to DIY RepRap route. While you might not actually save any money, there is something to be said for building your own 3D printer from scratch. You become very intimate with the printer and will know every nut, bolt and quirk it has by the time you are successfully printing. The big problem with building from scratch is the sheer amount of time that it takes to source everything. With hundreds of nuts, bolts, wires, belts, pulleys and more to locate, order and inventory before you can actually begin building, this method is by far the longest route one can take. Once all of the hardware has been sourced, you will still need to select and purchase or build a controller board, and depending on your skill level, this can range from easy to almost impossible. If you are someone who thrives in this scenario, one source you absolutely should check out is RepRap dot com. They can direct you to sources for parts, assembly methods, and to forums where you can seek answers to any questions you may have along the way.
For your information, the RepRap project is an open source community which has been developing 3D printing technology free for use by anyone to download, use and modify as they see fit. The RepRap project aims to produce a free and open source software (FOSS) 3D printer, whose full specifications are released under the GNU General Public License. Many of today’s 3D printer manufactures have used these same designs and technologies to develop their own products.
The other approach to kit building is to purchase a ready-to-build kit. This will spare you the numerous hours of prep as mentioned above when building from scratch. However you will still need a certain amount of technical and mechanical skill to be able to accomplish your build, assembling things using screwdrivers, wrenches and other hand tools being the most basic aspects. There is some assurance when building from a preassembled kit as you will know that everything you need to build your printer is in the box. Additionally, many of the more difficult and technologically advanced parts such as the electronic circuitry (controller boards, etc.) are already assembled properly and accurately by the factory. You get the satisfaction of knowing that you built your own machine (including the swag that comes with the accomplishment) without the stress, or the likelihood of pulling out your hair.
Fortunately today, prices for 3D printers have dropped dramatically from only a few years ago. With the advance and popularity of the technology, coupled with the fact that many of the original tech patents have now expired, top quality kits can be easily purchased from $500 to $1600 – the price of a descent PC or Mac. Kit manufacturers in this range include Portabee, Flash Forge, RapMan, Afina, 3D Systems and Ultimaker.