The Ultimate 3D Printer Buyer’s Guide for 2018
As 3D printing becomes more advanced and affordable, its appeal to hobbyists and professionals worldwide is growing. The promise of being able to build just about anything under the sky with the right kind of materials sure is alluring, and getting ahead on this curve is what draws most potential buyers to the idea of owning a 3D printer.
With so many options in terms of printing hardware, software, and processes, the world of 3D printing is complex, to say the least. The answer to which 3D printer is worth your money and time often lie in your personal requirements – what you intend to use it for and who you are.
Now that we have effective 3D printing options in varying price ranges, ‘the more it costs, the better it ought to be’ approach does not stick. If you are planning to kick start the New Year 2018 with some exciting experiments with 3D printing, here’s a broad buyer’s guide to help zero-in on the one best 3D printer suited to your needs:
Different Ways to 3D Print
The first thing that you’ll need with just about any 3D printer is a model of the object you want to create using the 3D printing technology. These can be self-created models or something downloaded from the internet.
The printer software then breaks down this model into many thin layers, to be printed separately one at a time. This is the basic operational principle for all 3D printers. The difference lies in the manner in which a 3D printer prints and conjoins these layered slices to create the end product.
A majority of consumer-grade models use a thin plastic string, which is melted inside the extruder and the molten material then dropped onto the building surface. In case of more advanced 3D printers, a resin does this job, whereas some of the most high-end models use a liquefied or molten powder for binding different layers in the desired form.
Important Specs and Features to Consider
Not all 3D printers are created equal. Here are some key specs and features that impact the quality of the end product created using a 3D printer and hence must be taken into account while buying one:
This refers to the maximum size of an object that can be built using a 3D printer. An obvious line of thought is that a smaller build area can be limiting in terms of the range of objects that can be printed. Since most print jobs can be broken down into parts that can be put together later, a smaller build area isn’t exactly a drawback, especially if it’s saving you a lot of money. As a general rule, a build area of 5x5x5 inches (or 13x13x13 cm) is adequate for most printing jobs.
This part of a 3D printer is responsible for melting printing materials and laying down layers of the object in creation in an extruded form. Most FDM printing models available today operate on a single extruder, which means they are capable of printing only a single material and color at a time.
Most 3D printers using plastic filaments are available in two standard widths – 1.75 mm and 3mm, with the former being more popular among manufacturers. Since the thickness of the printed layers depends on the extruder, the width of the filament does not directly impact the outcome of the end product.
In case of filament printers, the print speed is determined by the speed at which the extruder lays down print material. However, SLA and SLS printers do not use this principle for determining print speed. Of course, the complexity of design also determines the print speed to a large extent. Ideally, you should look for a top print speed of 20mm per second.
As in the case of paper printers, 3D printers too have varying resolutions that determine the extent of detail they are capable of producing. This is referred to as horizontal or XY resolution, and a smaller resolution generally means finer detail in printing.
Layer thickness refers to the minimum thickness of a single layer that can be laid down in a single pass. The finer the layer, the greater the detail. Most 3D printers offer a layer thickness of 0.2 or 0.3 mm, while there are models capable of creating layers as fine as 0.1 mm. Bear in mind that producing finer layers also slows down print speed. Certain models allow you to adjust layer thickness as per requirement, which can be a great feature if you can afford it.
Types of 3D Printers
Based on the printing process and price range, 3D printers can be classified into the following categories:
Entry-Level Filament 3D Printers
These are simple 3D printing models that function on the filament deposition manufacturing (FDM) process, where a plastic filament is melted and deposited in layers to build the desired model. The budget variants of filament printers operate with help of a single nozzle. The low-cost and ease-of-use of these printers makes them ideal for entry level usage. The drawback is that these can work with only a single material and color at any given time.
Price Range: $350+
High-End Filament 3D Printers
These are more sophisticated machines developed on the FDM process, fitted with multiple extruders and capable of producing thinner layers. It is possible to work with multiples materials and colors with these printers, and have a greater detail in the end object. The drawback is the higher price range and cost of maintenance.
Price Range: $1,000 to $3,000
Our recommendation: JGAURORA A7 Desktop Intelligent 3D Printer
Other-material FDM Printers
The unique selling point of these printers is their ability to work with materials other than plastic. These can be used to 3D print objects using air-dried materials such as Plasticine, clay, or Sugru, a popular form of air-cured plastic, making them a good option for creating flexible models. These can be used to 3D print dishes and pots. However, support for an extensive range of raw materials often makes printing with them more experimental.
Price Range: $2000 and up
The JGAURORA A7 Desktop Intelligent 3D Printer as well falls under this category.
SLA 3D Printers
SLA or Stereolithographic 3D printers use a digital laser or projector and a photosensitive resin to print objects. A beam of light is concentrated on the resin, causing its solidification in layers until the end-object takes form. These can be used for printing extremely high-resolution products and offer a higher print speed as compared to FDM printers. On the flip side, the high cost and limited color range of resin can restrict their functionality.
Price Range: $3000 and up
Powder 3D Printers
These operate on a new technique known as powder printing, where a fine powder is spread over a printing surface and then melted using a laser or liquefied with help of a solvent to create layers. The biggest advantage of this new concept in 3D printings is its support of a wider range of materials, which translates into a wider range of products. The drawback is the high cost of equipment and materials, which limit their usability.
Price Range: $10,000 and up
The Bottom Line
To be able to make an informed choice, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the nuances of 3D printing, its different models and modeling software at public 3D printing facilities that let you used these devices for a fee.