What you need to know before buying a 3D printer

How much?

There is an ever-growing number of 3D printers out there, no doubt spurred by the popularity that has grown in recent years. The basic concept of being able to print whatever you have in mind has envisaged this fantastic technology. In the beginning, 3D printers were relatively expensive, but lately, there has been an influx of affordable models capable of producing excellent results. So, it’s no wonder that the number of people purchasing, or looking into buying a 3D printer has dramatically increased. It does still present a challenge for the newcomer, and there’s not a lot of easily accessible information out there at the moment (something we’re hoping to help with!)

How much do 3D printers roughly cost?

3D printing is not restricted to creating a solid object, and your design can incorporate moving parts such as hinges, or separate items that can be snapped together, even the cheaper printers facilitate this. With this in mind, it is also the case that your printer model doesn’t have to be limited to the size of a printer’s build area. Sometimes a design might amount to several prints to create pieces large and small, which you can later glue together.

3D printers on the market do vary a lot, and you might want to pay as a little as £150 for a printer that you’ll likely have to build yourself, or a model as expensive as £2,500, which would be the semi-pro range. There are a good number of models in and around those price ranges, and you would be wise to look up your choice in-depth to ensure that it is right for you, as with anything there are positives and negatives.

If you spend around £350 or under, you’re looking at a printer that will be reasonably easy to use than those that cost more, some of the cheaper printers also have good educational programs in the package to help you get the best out of the product.

However, there will be limitations involved, specific to each model. Our advice would be to look at reviews, specs, find out what that printer you are considering can and can’t do. One thing to certainly look out for is the filament, and some printers limit themselves to only being able to use a specific kind, like Proprietary PLA filament. Some filaments cost more, and if you are selling your wares, this could eat into your profits if you have no choice but to use them. If this is something that matters to you, then you might want to spend a little more.

If you spend around £350 or under, you’re looking at a printer that will be reasonably easy to use than those that cost more, some of the cheaper printers also have good educational programs in the package to help you get the best out of the product. However, there will be limitations involved, specific to each model.

Our advice would be to look at reviews, specs, find out what that printer you are considering can and can’t do. One thing to certainly look out for is the filament, and some printers limit themselves to only being able to use a specific kind, like Proprietary PLA filament. Some filaments cost more, and if you are selling your wares, this could eat into your profits if you have no choice but to use them. If this is something that matters to you, then you might want to spend a little more.

The Benefits of spending just that little more

Printers around the £400 mark might be more likely to utilise different kinds of filament, ensuring long-term savings and benefits. Of course, with models costing above the £400 mark, you are looking at a higher level of performance, output and versatility. They come with touchscreens, heated print beds that are larger and facilitate more significant types of printing materials. They may also possess the ability to 3D scan an object placed upon it, enabling you to replicate said item. You might even be able to change the tool heads for a laser cutter or engraving tool.

You might also want to consider how you send your print job to the printer itself. There are machines out there that connect via USB, meaning that they have to be tethered to a PC/Mac/Linux. Then some can use the SD card or wired LAN, or even Wi-Fi. There are even a few that’ll no doubt have a mixture of these options.

Cartesian and Delta FDM Printers

Let’s talk a little about the two major types of 3D printers that are out there, Cartesian and Delta. They are FDM printer movement systems.

Cartesian printers are some of the most common, and they utilise a 3-axis system of motion: X = left and right, Y = front and back, Z = up and down. For the most part, Cartesian printers have print beds that move only along the Y-axis. There is some however that move along with both X and Y, in this setup, it is the print bed that moves. This makes it easier to work with. However, the trade-off is that print speeds are usually slower and typically provide smaller print areas.

Delta printers use a similar 3-axis system of motion, but where they differ is that they offer a circular, but static build plate for the printer to work up from. Three arms hold its extruder, and they enable it to move in all directions. This allows more incredible print speeds, as well as increased build height. The trade-off is reduced print quality, not to mention a smaller build area for the X and Y-axis.

3D printer kits

Now let’s talk a little about the 3D printer kits that are out there. There are a few benefits to this route, it’s cheaper, and it promotes the learning process due to the user having to familiarise themselves with parts that are usually hidden unnoticed under the hood with a ready-built model. This is a benefit for when something inevitably goes wrong, and a touch of troubleshooting is in order.

However, this process may be daunting to a newcomer, and most users might not be drawn to their first project being the printer itself! Typically, this option is likely for those who already have some level of understanding regarding 3D printers and feel they are ready to tackle the challenge that such a construction engenders.

I’d like it to the difference between someone who builds something like a model car as a hobby, to someone who merely purchases the ready-made, boxed in all its finery version in the shops. There are plenty of the ready-made variants out there for those not inclined to go as deep into the process like that.

Be safe when 3D printing.

High temperatures are pretty much a given, so safety and placement of the printer should always be of paramount concern and consideration. Enclosed beds are better equipped to deal with temperature regulation, and are much quieter, and they also protect against prying hands that are liable to get burnt unsupervised.

Print beds and build plates can also vary a lot, and some printers use reusable print beds that can be lifted out, they can be rigid or flexible, the latter being helpful regarding the removal of a print project. For a print bed that stays in place, you’ll need a spatula or similar to pry your print free.

Happy Printing!