When laser jet printers were invented, a lot of use believed it was as far as the printer technology could get. We were pretty damn wrong though. Still not sure if we’re living in the future? Meet the 3-D printer. These high-tech machines are a level apart from your average office printers. 3-D printers can literally print in three-dimension. Sculptures, little figurines, models – the 3-D printer can produce everything. Machines like these have been used in industries and factories for a while now but now with the invention of the more compact version, these printers have become more consumer-friendly for architects, engineers, designers and even hobbyists.
Thinking of getting one for your home/workplace? Here’s a little guide for you to buy the one that caters to your needs.
SPECS OF A 3-D PRINTER
Since this guide is about the average civilian consumer, we’ll restrict ourselves to the more comparatively budget printers in the market (focus: comparatively). Most of these 3-D printers use the FFF technology (Fused Filament Fabrication), while some might use ultra-violet radiations by stereolithography.
It’s important to choose which material you want your printed object to be. In an FFF printing system, materials commonly used are acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, polylactic acid, nylon, wood, high-impact polystyrene, polyethylene terephthalate and more. Among these polylactic acid and acrylonite are most popular. In the stereolithography technology, resins are the principal materials used.
All of these filaments have different melting points. Some, like acrylonite butadiene styrene may even produce fumes at high temperatures. The quality of the print is also variable with the different filament material. Another thing to be careful of when selecting the filament of choice is the correct diameter for your printer.
The bigger your 3-D printer is, the larger your print will be so it’s important to find out what kind of printing you’ll be doing. A professional may need larger sized prints while a hobbyist may be able to work on the smaller ones.
Some 3-D printers support multi-colored prints; others do not.
As with any other printer, the quality matters a lot. 3-D printer resolutions come in microns. The lower this number is, the finer your print will be. Most printers have a printing resolution of 100 or 200 microns which are both pretty okay, but a resolution of 50 or 20 microns is excellent. In budget printers, it’s a little rare to find that.
Some 3-D printers are an enclosed box with doors or windows on all fours. Others are more open and allow the full process of printing to be viewed. If you have the printer at your home where there all kids around, a closed-frame 3-D printer would be a wiser, safer choice for you since the printer is pretty hot. However, if there’s no such risk present, then an open-frame could help you make your work more efficient.
The Connectivity & Storage
All of the 3-D printers connect via the USB cord to the PC. In addition, some might have their very own internal storage which works as an advantage if you’re printing in bulk. The good printers allow WiFi connectivity as well, and a lot of them have an SD card slot to further expand storage and memory.
SOME GREAT 3-D PRINTERS
Zortrax M200 (US$ 1790)
The Zortrax M200 is a fine masterpiece by the Polish company, Zortrax. It measures 200x200x180 mm and uses the acrylonite butadiene styrene and high-impact polystyrene and ULTRAT as its filament materials. The Zortrax M200 is easy to use and is highly precise with a minimum thickness of 90 microns. It’s fast too, with a speed of 100 mm/s. The drawback to this 3-D printer is that it doesn’t have WiFi connectivity and only connects via USB cable and to an SD card. Also, the materials are hard to get easily from the market.
Ultimaker 2+ (US $2500)
Lying on the slightly higher-end of these budget 3-D printers, the Ultimaker 2+ has a resolution as high as 20 microns which is genuinely amazing for a printer. It is a user-friendly device that easy to set up. It supports the acrylonite butadiene styrene and polylactic acid as its building materials and is suitable for larger sized prints (Body: 223x223x205 mm). Also, the processor is quiet and there is little or no noise during the printing process. The print quality is excellent and the details are extremely fine owing to its high resolution. Again, it only supports a USB cable and an SD card, and has no WiFi connectivity. The printer is an open-frame type and so it’s unsafe as it gets very hot.
Original Prusa i3 MK2 (US $700)
This 3-D printer is one of the top-rated budget printers of all times. The build measures around 25-x210x200 mm, and the printer has a resolution of 50 microns which makes the prints all the more precise and detailed. Among the materials supported by this device are acrylonite butadiene styrene and polylactic acid. Even better, it’s a lot more affordable than its brethren. Once again, the shortcoming of the Prusa i3 MK2 is that it can’t connect to the WiFi and printing commands have to be sent either through a USB cable or an SD card. It’s pretty noisy too which can be a disadvantage if you’re used to a calmer environment.
Form 2 (US $3,500)
The Formlabs Form 2 printer is unique in many ways – it’s whooping expensive and it uses the stereolithiography technology instead of the FFF system. The only material it supports is resin that works best with UV rays. This closed-frame 3-D printer has WiFi connectivity and a super smart touch screen. It’s a tad bit smaller (145x145x175 mm) but the quality and resolution (25 microns) is exceptional. The major drawback to this device is its price and its slow speed.
LulzBot Mini (US $1250)
The LulzBot Mini 3-D printer is a compact, light device with excellent performance. The build measures about 152x152x158 mm and it has a printing resolution of 50 microns. The materials LulzBot Mini supports are acrylonite butadiene styrene, polylactic acid, high-impact polystyrene and more. This 3-D printer is user-friendly and has an easy setup. Some disadvantages of the printer are its open-frame structure that makes the printer unsafe, no WiFi connectivity, and a noisy processor.