Five Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying a 3D Printer

3D Printer Picture

Have you considered investing in a 3D printer recently? This powerful manufacturing technology enables designers to print materials selectively and additively to construct products. It has recently attracted the interest of consumers and businesses interested in creative design and artistic expression. Deciding whether or not to embrace this trend now by purchasing a 3D printer remains a significant decision for most people.

To obtain the best results from acquiring a 3D printer (or not), you’ll want to ask and answer these five critical questions. Your responses will direct you towards a satisfying outcome.

1. Which Model Should I Buy?

Although the consumer 3D printer marketplace remains in its infancy, marketers offer an impressive number of models. Most products intended for the home office sector fall into one of two categories: FDM (“fused deposition modeling” fabrication) printers or SLA (“stereolithographic apparatus”) printers.

The former models use a computer controlled printing nozzle to deposit material on a work platform in layers and gradually build up a three-dimensional form. The latter rely on a substantially different manufacturing approach known as “vat photopolymerization”. A computer-directed laser progressively draws and gradually solidifies an object within an enclosed well filled with liquefied light-sensitive plastic resin.

Each of these 3D printer designs offers advantages and disadvantages. FDM devices allow rapid prototype creation. Only the size of the available work platform constrains the models generated in this way. SLA printers intended for home offices tend to produce smaller items. They offer sleeker texturing and the ability to reproduce computer images in intricate detail, making them a very popular choice for jewelry and fashion accessory designers.

2. What Printing Materials Do I Require?

The 3D printers available today rely on heated thermoplastic filaments as a printing substrate. Polylactic acid (PLA) and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) constitute the two most popular materials for this purpose. Manufacturers market these supplies in spools for around $30 per 2.2- pound unit.

You can obtain filaments in a variety of attractive colors. Typically, a printer with a single printing head will only print in a single color at one time, although some models do provide for multiple printing heads capable of producing multi-colored objects.

Most commercially available filaments occur in either a 1.85mm or a 3.0mm diameter. You’ll need to select these materials based on your printer’s individual specifications. PLA produces finely detailed objects, although the finished material may become brittle. ABS offers the advantages of greater flexibility and a slightly higher melting point.

Its chief drawback relates to its acrid odor during melting. Some printers work with either of these materials, while other models specify only a specific type of filament. Experts recommend using your printer only in a well-ventilated location.

3. How Much Will 3D Printing Cost?

Before finalizing a 3D printer purchasing decision, it remains a wise idea to give consideration to the total expenses involved in printing. Typically, acquiring the printer itself constitutes the largest initial expenditure for most households.

By far the least costly route for purchasing a new 3D printer involves ordering a kit and building the device yourself. While this step will help you become intimately familiar with the process of 3D printing, it does involve a more significant time commitment than buying a fully constructed printer.

Today, a number of companies produce versatile 3D printers for the consumer marketplace. Prices for this technology fell during the past five years. The decline spells good news for consumers interested in adding one of these tools to a home office. Today you can locate an FDM-style printer in the $300 to $5,000 price range.

An SLA-style device usually costs a bit more, with prices ranging from around $3,000 to as much as $10,000. On top of the initial printer purchase, customers must factor in the cost of obtaining printing materials and applicable software.

4. How Will I Utilize a 3D Printer?

A fourth important inquiry involved in the decision to buy a 3D printer relates to the intended use of this device. Will you employ your printer as a work tool on a daily or weekly basis? Or does it represent primarily a hobby for occasional experimentation? If you expect to print only once a month, then utilizing a 3D printing service likely represents a more cost-effective option than purchasing your own printer, for instance.

Additionally, give serious thought to the type of items you plan to create with your printer. If you expect to generate unique products for sale or make functioning prototypes to test your invention, you’ll require durable, high-quality production tools capable of withstanding hard use.

By contrast, a buyer selecting a 3D printer for classroom instruction may wish to place a higher priority on ease-of-use and portability. An artist might search for a printer offering multi-color printing capabilities. By fitting your selection into your long-term plans, you’ll stand a better chance of making a satisfactory purchase.

5. Where Can I Purchase My 3D Printer?

Many sources of high-quality 3D printers exist today. Not all devices possess extensive support, so it makes sense to research this issue before making a purchase. Investigating online forums for 3D printer hobbyists can assist you in locating popular printers.

Amazon and other online retailers offer a variety of 3D printers for sale. Individual manufacturers also sell specific product lines to the general public. Seeking fast delivery and ongoing product support features may assist first-time printer buyers.

Final Word

Industry analysts predict a staggering 750% increase in the sales of desktop 3D printers by 2019. By carefully evaluating the answers to these five key questions, you’ll optimize your chance of making a genuinely useful, satisfying purchase!

Heather Redding is a tech enthusiast and freelance writer based in Aurora, Illinois. She is a coffee-addict who enjoys swimming and reading. Street photography is her newly discovered artistic outlet and she likes to capture life's little moments with her camera. You can reach Heather via Twitter