3D printers can build amazing things – from printing your own custom phone case to small components for household appliances, the choices are endless. However, before you dive into the world of 3D printing, there are a few things you need to know.
In this article, we will tell you what to look for in a 3D printer and will walk you through the essential factors to consider when buying a 3D printer.
Types of Printers
1. Fused Deposition Modeling Printer – FDM
An FDM 3D printer prints items by heating the filament, which then goes through a tube and is after being extruded into a 3D shape. FDM printers are infamous for the amount of work that needs to be invested in smoothing out the final prints and the horizontal layer lines.
FDM printers usually have a Cartesian style frame construction or a Delta one.
- Cartesian Style Printer
The bed in these kinds of printers is moved along the y-axis. The x and z axes move with motors of their own. Most of the FDM printers are Cartesian-style printers as they offer better end results and greater control.
- Delta Style Printer
In this printer style, the extruder is put in action with the help of three motors present on rods spaced evenly. This style isn’t very common.
2. Stereolithography Printers – SLA
These printers utilize a process called photo-solidification in which layers are formed as a result of chemical interaction. The photos focus on a particular point, which causes the SLA resin to solidify.
SLA printing is precise, and you will get smooth, high-quality 3D prints with fine and intricate details.
3. Selective Laser Sintering Printers – SLS
The SLS printers create layers when the laser focuses on a point within a vat of powder. As the laser works and goes from one point to another, the powder solidifies. These printers are perfect for printing detailed objects and intricate industrial parts.
4. Digital Light Processing Printers– DLP
DLP and SLA are very similar styles of 3D printing. Both of them use vat polymerization to create the layers of the 3D object. When light falls on a particular point on the resin, the polymers react and harden into place.
Materials for Printing
Filament 3D printers use spools of filaments of all kinds of material, usually plastic, such as PETG, ABS, PLA, etc. Here are the most commonly used filaments.
Polylactic Acid is a plastic derived from plants. With excessive moisture and longer sun exposure, this plastic degrades easily. It is perfect for indoor use, but you shouldn’t use PLA outdoors.
Polyethylene terephthalate glycol is safe for use with food. However, this doesn’t mean that the 3D object you printed is as well. The 3D objects have layers in them that can facilitate the development of bacteria by trapping food, and moisture.
Therefore, if you create objects using PETG, you should finish them with a layer of food-grade epoxy before you let the items touch the food.
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene is a sturdy plastic. ABS needs plenty of heat to set properly. Moreover, it works perfectly with a 3D printer in an enclosure so that the ambient temperature is warm.
Use this filament in a well-ventilated room. In contrast to PLA, ABS filament is perfect for outdoor objects.
Printers, such as DLP and SLA-style 3D printers, use liquid resin to form 3D objects. Different manufactures go with different resins, but here are the common types of resins.
A. Standard Resins
Standard resins often come in white, gray, and clear colors. They work fantastically when making tiny desktop items or prototypes. However, they are not strong and solid enough for final products.
B. Tough Resins
They are usually used in engineering applications and professional settings. Tough resins are sturdier than regular resins, which makes them perfect for higher impact uses.
C. Medical Grade Resins
From custom dental work to hearing aids, Medical grade resins are used for a variety of medical applications.
3D Printer Software
3D printers use the software within the printers themselves and the computer you are using to create the 3D printer files. The software present on your computer is known as the ‘slicer’. When you create a file to 3D print, the process is slicing.
The software on the 3D printer is known as the firmware. Most of the 3D printers use Marlin firmware. However, there are various applications according to the chips installed in the printers.
The exact firmware will vary from printer to printer – do a thorough search online and learn all you can about the firmware in the 3D printer that you are considering before making a final decision.
Things You Want to Print
Before buying a 3D printer, you need to know what you are going to use it for. There is a huge difference between the 3D printers for industrial-scale parts and the 3D printers for simple household items.
Moreover, keep in mind how often you will print, where you will use the 3D printed items, and how much time you can invest when printing.
Household objects are the things that you will commonly use in your house or office. These things aren’t expected to face or endure a lot of light exposure or moisture exposure. For such items, you can use an FDM printer with PLA (Polylactic Acid), ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), or PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol) as filament.
If you are going to use the 3D printed object with food, use a food-safe filament such as PETG that will be coated with food-safe epoxy. You can use an FDM printer to create some beautiful artwork, but you should invest in a resin printer for artwork.
This is because resin printers are designed with intricacy and detail in mind.
Outdoor objects are going to face harsh weather conditions, intense sunlight, etc. They need to be strong enough to withstand the forces of nature. If you are going to print outdoor objects, such as lawn decorations, plant pots, etc., you should use a filament such as ABS instead of PLA or PETG, which will not break down easily in sun.
3D printed objects are found in various industries – from aerospace to dentistry, they are everywhere. If you are going to print professional objects, then resin printers will be a good choice.
What Features to Look for in a 3D Printer
Never compromise on the features that a 3D printer is offering. Things as simple as build volume, or the room you have to print, etc. can completely change your 3D printing experience.
Find printers with features such as touchscreen interface, heated glass bed, dual filament support, etc. Wondering what to look for in a good 3D printer? Here are some of the factors.
1. Safety Features
Nothing is more important than your health and safety. In dealing with electrical equipment, you can never be too safe. You should get a 3D printer that comes with plenty of safety features to keep you away from any harm while printing.
For instance, if you are getting an FDM printer, get one that will automatically cool the nozzle and the bed once the job is done. Moreover, a few printers have a feature that moves the nozzle away from the object when you pause, or after the print job is done.
This will keep the excess filament from damaging the print.
2. Print/Resume Function
At times, you have to step away from the printing and take care of other things. You don’t want to ruin your print mid-process, do you? With the print/resume feature, you can ensure that the 3D prints don’t get ruined if you pause the work in the middle.
Instead of your print getting ruined and you having to start all over, you will be able to start right from where you left.
3. High-Quality User Interface
With the help of an interactive user interface, your printing experience can go from amazing to absolutely fabulous. Why would you waste your time trying to work with a complex menu using a rotary knob, when you can get a printer with a user-friendly touchscreen interface?
4. Heated Bed
When you are printing an object, the first couple of layers of the print are very important. A high-quality heated bed ensures that the foundation is solid and well-formed. Once you have worked with a printer having a heated bed, there is no turning back!
5. Multi-Filament Support
To get multicolored prints, you do not need dual filament support. However, it does help. Instead of getting multi-colored filament spools, you can get a 3D Printer that allows you to use more than one filament roll at a time.
You can program the printer to alternate between the colors easily.
The resolution of 3D printers is measured in microns. FDM machines usually have a resolution of 25 microns while resin-based 3D printers have a resolution of around 100 microns.
On FDM machines, you can easily adjust the resolution of your final print. Belt tension as well as the layer height play an important role when it comes to smooth 3D printing. On the other hand, resin printers are limited by their laser’s precision.
It is better to get a 3D printer with a higher and adjustable resolution.
7. Printer Noise
Like every electrical and mechanical instrument, a 3D printer produces some level of sound when it is working. Some printers are quieter, while others are quite noisy. You shouldn’t buy a printer that will disturb you with excessive noise.
The minimum the noise level, the better the 3D printer is.
9. Connectivity Options
Before you print anything, you have to send a file to the 3D printer. Some 3D printers come with a USB port and you can connect a USB cable with your PC to send the file. Others also have an SD card slot, while others come with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity.
It is better to choose a 3D printer that has multiple connectivity options.
Like everything else, price is indeed an important factor when you are buying a 3D printer. Usually, 3D printers cost several hundreds of dollars. Household object printers are generally cheaper while high-end 3D printers for business purposes have a higher price tag.
However, you have to remember that a high price tag doesn’t necessarily mean you will get high quality as well. Keep in mind the purpose of buying the printer along with your needs and requirements, and then select a printer that is well within your budget.
The last thing you have to keep an eye on is the warranty of the 3D printer you are buying. 3D printers don’t come cheap, and you don’t want your hard-earned money going to waste in case you face some issue after buying the printer, now, do you?
Check the warranty period of your 3D printer. A good 3D printer will at least come with 1-year limited parts warranty or more.
12. Customer Service
Before you lock down your 3D printer purchase, check out the customer service system of the manufacturer. Does the manufacturer have a professional, dedicated support system in place or simply a Facebook group?
In case something goes wrong, you need to be able to get in touch with the customer representatives so that you can sort the problem out easily and quickly.
Thanks to technological advancement, 3D printers have become very affordable. Know what you are going to print, and then choose your printer accordingly. Hopefully, this buying guide has equipped you with ample knowledge of what to look for in a 3D printer.
Search for high-quality features such as an easy-to-use interface, safety features, multi-filament support, adjustable resolution, etc.
Happy 3D printing, folks!