Save loads of time searching for a 3D printer with these tips alone.
Know what you want to print: Before you buy a 3D printer, it helps to know what you want to print. There’s a huge gap between 3D printing gadgets for your desk and industrial-scale production parts. Consider how often you plan to print, where you will use the printed objects, and how much time you’re willing to invest when printing.
Identify your ideal 3D printer style: Many hobbyists use what’s known as a Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printer. These printers extrude hot materials and plastics, known as filament, to create 3D-printed objects. Other styles use vats of liquid resin when printing—this includes Digital Light Processing (DLP), Stereolithography (SLA), and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) which actually uses powder instead of resin.
Look for safety features: 3D printers with safety features are generally well-designed. For example, an FDM printer might cool the nozzle and heated bed once a print job is complete. Some printers move the nozzle away from the object when you pause the job or the print finishes—preventing heat damage and excess filament from forming.
Look for high-quality features: It’s easy to overlook a few high-quality features that can totally change your 3D printing experience. Keep an eye out for things like touchscreen user interfaces, dual filament support, and heated glass beds. Even something as simple as build volume, or how much room you have to print, can make a printer worth the investment.
Don’t forget resolution: 3D printer resolution is measured in microns—with FDM machines on the lower end of 25 microns and resin based printers on the higher end around 100. The resolution of your final print is easily adjusted on an FDM printer. The layer height and belt tension are the most important factors when it comes to smooth printing.
Resin printers are limited by the precision of their laser. Look for a printer that’s easy to adjust with a higher number of microns listed in the specs.
Find a brand with good support: Before locking down your 3D printer purchase, take a look at the manufacturer’s customer support system. Does the company have a professional support system in place or just a Facebook group? This can make or break your printing experience if something goes wrong.
Outdoor objects – These items need to withstand the forces of nature. If you’re going for an outdoor print, like lawn decorations or plant pots, you want to use something like ABS which won’t break down in the sun as easily as PLA or PETG.
Artwork – While it is possible to make some beautiful artwork with an FDM printer, your best best is to consider investing in a resin printer—these are designed with detail and intricacy in mind.
Tools – When it comes to printing tools, it really depends on where the application is. With enough infill, ABS prints on an FDM printer can be really substantial. But if you need something in a professional setting, an FDM printer might not cut it.
Professional products – Manufacturers often take advantage of 3D printing to create original components. You can find 3D-printed objects in a wide variety of industries—from automotive and aerospace to dentistry. It’s more common to find resin printers in a professional setting.
What features should I look for?
Safety Features – You can never be too safe when it comes to working with hot electrical equipment. Keep an eye out for safety features that will help your 3D printing experience—this includes things like automatic nozzle cooling when a print is complete. If the printer has a heated bed, look for a feature that automatically shuts it off when a print job ends. Avoid damaging prints with excess filament by retracting the nozzle automatically when a print is either paused or complete.
Print Resume Functions – There’s nothing worse than ruining a beautiful print halfway through its completion. Print resume features make sure that your creations aren’t interrupted when unexpected pauses occur. Instead of starting over, your print job will resume where it left off.
Quality User Interface – A quality interface can take your 3D printing experience from extraordinary to mind-blowing. Don’t waste time trying to navigate a menu with a rotary knob when you could be using a touchscreen interface. These aren’t limited to the expensive printers. Even the most affordable FDM printers come with a touchscreen UI.
Heated Bed – Once you’ve tried a heated bed, you really can’t go back. The first few layers of your prints are critical to the foundation of your final object. A heated bed ensures this foundation is well-formed, solid, and sticking in place. Finding the ideal temperature differs between filament but you can find the sweet spot by experimenting.
Axis Adjustability – Fine-tuning your printer often involves tightening or loosening the tension on one of the 3 main axes. Look for a 3D printer with easy access to belt tension adjustment. This will save you time otherwise spent removing components and making adjustments.
PLA – Polylactic Acid is a plant-derived plastic. It degrades after prolonged exposure to the sun and easily deteriorates with excessive moisture. It’s great for most indoor applications but avoid using PLA for outdoor needs.
PETG – Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol is a food-safe plastic, but that doesn’t mean your 3D printed object is food safe. FDM printers create layers that easily trap moisture, food, and bacteria. PETG objects should be well finished in a food-grade epoxy before making contact with food.
ABS – Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene is a notoriously sturdy plastic. It requires a lot of heat to properly set and works best with an enclosed 3D printer to keep the ambient temperature warm. You should only use this filament when the room can be properly ventilated. Unlike PLA, ABS is a great option for outdoor printing needs.
Resin printers, like SLA and DLP style, use liquid resins to create objects. The options vary between manufacturers but are typically broken into a few categories:
Standard resin often comes in clear, white and gray colors. It’s excellent for creating prototypes or small desktop gadgets but not sturdy enough for final products.