How to Choose a 3D Printer

3D printers are a very exciting technology. They give you creative control. If you can design it, you’ll be able to bring it into reality. But if you are just getting started, the process can seem daunting.

There are so many printers for you to choose from. How do you know which one will be right for you? Here are some of the things that you should consider.

What You Want to Print

This is the best place to start and will influence the type of machine you are looking for. Sometimes, you will just want to mess around with this technology, using it to make models and costumes for your favorite movie characters. This is becoming easier, with plenty of free 3D printer models available online. In this case, you should be able to use a basic 3D printer.

However, sometimes you will want to get a machine for a specific purpose. A great example of this is dentists. These can be a great benefit to the practice. For example, you can use them to create life-size models of patients’ mouths. But, you will need a more specialized type of machine. This guide shows you what you should be looking for in a dental 3D printer.

Type of 3D Printer

Once you know what you want to print, you can start narrowing down the type of printer you want. This will depend on the materials that you want to work with and how much money you want to spend. Some of the most common options include:

  • Stereolithography (SLA).
  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS).
  • PolyJet
  • Digital Light Processing (DLP)
  • Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)
  • Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)

Each of these has a useful function. You can learn more about how they work here. However, we’ll be focusing on Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). This works by creating layers of plastic, one on top of the other. These are called slices.

There are a few reasons why this is the best option for beginners. First, they are the most common. This means that there is plenty of documentation about how they work. If you get into trouble, you can check out online tutorials or forums.

Furthermore, these machines can create a huge variety of items. There are hundreds of models online for you to download. Plus, because these machines are so common finding the right type of filament will be easy.

Size of the Build Plate

One of the most important elements to consider when choosing a printer is the size of the build plate. This will determine the size of the objects that you can print. It’s also important to consider the build height.

If the objects you want to make don’t fit within these dimensions it doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker. You can break it down into component parts. Then, you can glue them together later.

Resolution

This element will determine the quality of your build. It tells you how precise the printer will be, and is measured in microns. The more microns you have, the smoother your models will be. The cheaper printers will have 25 microns, while the upper end is around 100 microns. This is the maximum resolution of the printer.

You should be able to adjust the microns in the settings between each print. Sometimes, people will do a low micron print, so they can get an idea of how the finished product. While lower quality, it will be done faster. If that looks good, they will do a higher micron print for the finished product.

Brand

Ideally, you should get a well-known brand in the 3D printing world. This does a few things. First, it lets you know that you are getting a high-quality machine. It also makes sure that you will be getting the support you need. Most companies will offer dedicated services, like FAQs or online chats. When it comes to technical questions, these brands will often be popular in forums.

Reliability

You don’t want to spend a few hundred dollars on your printer, just for it to break down. The best way to avoid this situation is by looking at the type of parts that are used to manufacture it. Ideally, it will have a strong metal frame. Avoid anything that has too many plastic parts.

Features

One of the most important elements to consider is what features the printer comes with. There are lots of simple things that can make your 3D printer a lot easier to use. For example, you might want to get something that comes with a touchscreen. This will make it a lot easier to manipulate the settings. Sometimes, you will find a printer that can be connected to your tablet. As a result, you will be able to control it remotely. You’ll also be able to track the progress of your prints.

One of the most sought-after features is a self-leveling bed. This ensures that the nozzle stays the right distance away from the plate. If this isn’t right the prints will be lopsided. You will be able to level the bed manually, though this can often be a slow and tedious process.

Third, you might want to try to find something that comes with print resume. This ensures that if something happens halfway through the print, like a power outage, it will be able to pick up where it left off. After all, many prints can be hours long so you don’t want to go back to the beginning each time something goes wrong.

When thinking about the features your printer comes with, try to think about how important they are. This ensures that you don’t end up overpaying for features that you won’t use.

Printing Speed

While it’s not one of the most important factors, printing speed is still something to consider. Especially if you are planning on printing multiple models each month. There are a few elements that will affect this. For example, the hotter the plate is, the faster you will be able to print. You should be able to find the printing speed in the product specifications. It will be measured in mm/hr.

Noise

Though this element is often overlooked, you should think about how loud the printer will be. This is especially important if you are planning on using it in the office. You don’t want to be disturbing everyone else in the building. If you are having some problems, you can try adding insulating the space to stop the sound from filtering out.

Safety

It’s important to make sure that you are taking a few safety precautions. There are lots of simple things that you can look for. A good example is a machine that automatically cools the heat plate and the nozzle when you have finished printing. This reduces the fire risk.

If you are in an apartment and don’t have a well-ventilated space, you might want to consider getting a machine that uses an enclosure. This surrounds the 3D printer, keeping the potentially harmful fumes contained. This article goes into more depth on some safety tips that you should implement.

Compatible Software

When you have a 3D printer, you’ll need to make sure that you have the right software to operate it. This will allow you to send the designs from your computer to the printer. Most printers will come with their proprietary software. All you need to do is download and install it. But it’s worth double-checking that it will be compatible with your operating system.

Cost

You shouldn’t have to pay a small fortune for your printer, particularly if you are just getting started. For a basic machine, you should be budgeting for between $200 to $750. Don’t forget to factor in the costs of shipping these devices. It’s important to remember that purchasing the machine is only one part of the long-term costs. You’ll also need to purchase filament. Depending on the type your machine takes, this can quickly eat into your wallet.

If you are planning on making this a business purchase, you should consider the costs to purchase and run the machine, relative to the amount that you will be saving. For example, a 3D printer might be helping you save time, or bring in new customers.  This could be setting you up for long-term business success.

Warranty

You don’t want to be stuck with a defective machine. Because of this, it’s a good idea to check the warranty period. Most commonly you can get a limited warranty. This will cover some of the bigger pieces of equipment, in case they break down. This will last for a year. You might be able to extend this warranty period, for an additional fee.

Conclusion

Buying a 3D printer can be a complex process. There are a lot of boxes that you need to tick. But it’s worth the effort, as you’ll be able to find an excellent device. Then, all you need to do is plug it in and start making prints.

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