By Steven Bennett, Technology Specialist
Part 1 last week focused on how a consumer level 3D printer works. Yes, there are other methods I alluded to last time, but never really covered. Well, here’s the opportunity. And before you stop reading here because you surely remember “In the next part we’ll go over the differences between Open Source printers and manufactured out-of-the-box machines,” I promise this ties in! It’s actually a very important part of the purchasing process!
I’m glad you asked. In the lineup we have three:
(Please keep in mind that all of these videos were simply time-lapse footage. None of the printers that are currently available can print anywhere near this fast. But soon.)
Let’s talk kits. My first 3D printer was a kit. A 2013 Printrbot Simple kit, to be precise. Looks just like this:
It cost a grand total of $325, and it took me nine and a half hours to build. I was very meticulous. You pretty much have to be in order for it to work properly. Everything needs to be tightened just the right amount, and they’ll give you a few extra screws and bolts, as well as the Bill of Materials which lists off every part that should be used to assemble the finished printer. You can always use that to find out exactly what the name is of that tiny, itty-bitty screw you only have one of when you’re supposed to have two.
Not that I know what that’s like.
To be clear, not all kits are created equal. Not all kits are even created by companies. There’s an entire sub-genre of 3D Printers created by hobbyists and all considered Open Source. That means they’re always being modified and improved and can be by anyone as long as credit is given to the original creator. The most prominent of the Open Source 3D printers are the RepRap printers. And there are so many variations that your head might start spinning.
On the other end of that spectrum, you can buy the same kind of printer that we purchased in Distributed Education off of Amazon for $499. And once it gets to you, basically all you have to do it take it out of the box, take out a few pieces of plastic (meant to hold everything in place during transport), and plug it in. When you hook your computer up to it, the controlling program is downloaded and you’re ready to start printing. And that’s one of literally dozens of different available pre-assembled printers. Even the company I purchased mine through, Printrbot, has pre-assembled versions that are ready to go once you get them.
You may be thinking “Why would anyone even buy a kit, then?”
Well, for some it helps them understand exactly how it works, and by proxy, what part might be acting up if it starts printing oddly. Plus, in many cases the hobbyist community has already begun modifying and improving kit designs within weeks of the kit’s availability, so there’s a wealth of information out there for people who want to get started in both 3D Printing and “modding.” Remember that Printrbot Simple I built? Here’s what someone else did with it:
But in all honesty, it all comes down to what you want.
Well, the answer to three questions will help you immensely:
Keep in mind that I bought my kit in 2013. The model of printer I bought can’t be bought anymore. This technology is being refined and improved so quickly that a lot of the companies that make printers are making a new version every year. Even the big names like MakerBot are constantly updating their selection. If you want to make it a major investment, look for the following:
There are numerous other factors to consider when you really get down to the “which printer do I want to buy” question. And beyond the things we talked about here, it’s really in your court. Read reviews and do your research on the various models. Don’t be afraid to email the companies and ask them questions (I used to tweet @Printrbot and have chats with them!), and definitely read some makers’ forums. Also, feel free to email me if you have any questions about anything I’ve written about so far. My email is email@example.com.
We’ll continue this next time with a thrilling conclusion on where 3D Printing has been innovative, and where it looks to be headed over the coming years!