by Anthony Clark
Quick FYI, if you stumbled on this post because you searched for how to use a 3D printer, you are in for a treat!
The recent hype surrounding 3D printers has made them increasingly popular with everyone trying to learn everything they can about them. Who doesn't want to learn a thing or two about the next generation of top-performing printers right?
Contrary to what you might think, 3D technology and 3D printers have been around for at least half a decade now. The original models were expensive machines with pretty bulky designs. Then, only y factories and prominent corporations had them in their facilities.
Now, the whole world can use these genius works of technology at schools, offices, homes, etc. All this is thanks to the open-source movement of an organization called RepRap.
That said, there are important things to know before simply buying a 3D printer. Most of them come in different models and each with its unique styles of printing.
This post would be in three sections. The first part of the article will discuss everything you need to know about 3D printers. The second section will be a review of the best 3D printers on the market today. While the third and final section will be an easy-to-follow guide on how to use a 3D Printer.
Ready to learn? Let's get started!
Everything you need to know about 3D Printer
Here, we will discuss why more and more people are starting to fall in love with 3D printers.
In layman's terms, 3D printers are machines that perform 3D printing. 3D Printing is simply the process of constructing three-dimensional objects from a digital model. As technical as it all sounds, 3D printing is fun to do thanks to 3D printers. However, you just can't hop into a store to get just anyone. Each different model comes with a varying level of skill required to operate it.
This guide will provide our top picks that you should look to buy if you are in the market for one. But, to help you make personal decisions too, here are some factors you need to consider before purchasing a 3D printer.
This is a very important question you need to ask yourself. What exactly are you planning on printing in 3D? Is it your custom household item? Are you trying to print a personal toy for your kids? Are you opening a commercial toy store? Are you in the market for a 3D printer because you want it to act as a teaching tool for students in your class? Is it a purchase for the library? Are you just in it to experiment with the latest trending technology? Do you want a 3D printer to help you create prototypes or models for your engineering or architecture projects?
These and other related questions are factors that you can't but consider. The ideal 3D printer you purchase must be able to meet your needs.
For instance, a 3D printer for a school or toy business must be easy to use and cheap to maintain while maintaining good print quality. A 3D Printer for an engineer or architect can't but have special features that guarantee remarkable quality prints.
How much a 3D printer cost is not just about its market value while purchasing. It also includes the various costs of running it. In which case you have to calculate the cost of every material you need to run the printer.
For instance, you will need a filament every time you want to print. Without it, you might as well not own a 3D printer. The cost of electricity consumed by the printer would also need to be factored in. Premium slicing software required for the printer to process CAD files is not as cheap as your regular computer software (There is also free software you can use for your 3D printer).
Size matters when it comes to 3D printing. Each Printer comes with a build area. The build area is the space available to print objects. In other words, it means that you cannot print objects larger than your printer's build area.
The most popular size most 3D printers have is usually between 6 to 9 square inches. Even with that, printers with the same build area typically have varying height, depth, and width.
Budget 3D printers use plastic filament in a technique called the FFF technique. In this technique, the machine applies heat to the plastic filament. When the temperature is right, melting will occur and the melted filament will be extruded through the printer nozzle. This then quickly solidifies into a solid object. High-end 3D printers also use this technique.
Plastic filaments are readily available and cheap. The most popular types include PLA (polylactic acid) and ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene). For beginners, PLA is very much recommended.
One thing to note while purchasing filaments is that they are specific to certain types of printers. For instance, you cannot use exotic filaments in just any 3D printer.
Another thing to consider when buying filaments is the properties of the filament. They include diameter, melting point, odor, etc. You must be sure the filament you buy has the right diameter so you can load it into the machine.
This is very much important if you plan on using your machine to print models and prototypes for architecture or engineering projects.
One important thing to note is that a printer having high resolution does not necessarily guarantee it would produce high-quality prints. Sure, it might be able to capture all the fine layers on the model but it might not be as sharp and vivid as you would want.
Two-thirds of the 3D printers on the market today print at a resolution of about 200 microns. Note that the smaller the microns of a 3D printer, the higher the resolutions. In other words, most of the 3D printers available on the market print at low resolutions. While some printers come with controls that you can tweak to control the resolution, some don't.
Mostly, for guaranteed high resolutions, you have to pay premium money to buy the printers that can do them.
NOTE: The higher the resolution a printer can print a given object in, the longer it takes to completely print the object. This isn't necessarily an issue when professional work is required.
The good news is that rapid advances and improvements are being made and it won't be surprising to see high-resolution 3D printers costing lesser than they currently do in coming years.
3D printers come with different models of extruders. Printers with multiple extruders are capable of printing in more than two colors. These types of printers are loaded with filaments of different colors. The software then decides which part of the object each color of filament goes to based on the base file design.
The base for the 3D object is as important as the object itself. It can be the difference between breaking your newly printed object or successfully removing it when it is dry.
Different platforms or beds have unique properties. For example, the most commonly used build bed is a heated glass tab completely covered with tape (usually Blue painter's tape). While printing, the object sticks to the tape. When the printing process is over, you can easily remove it from the taped glass surface.
NOTE: All build bases or platforms undergo a bit of heating to prevent the object your printer is printing from curling up at the bottom edges.
There are many precautions to take while setting up a platform or build bed since it pretty much determines how your object turns out. (We will discuss the most important precautions you need to take in section 3 of this post).
Of course, you have to input the CAD model file you want the printer to print into it. Most printers come with a USB port with which you can connect them to a PC. Some also come with SD card slots so you can input the files via a memory card. A few 3D printers offer a wireless connectivity option that lets you do wireless 3D printing. A good number of premium 3D printers also come with an Ethernet port to share data with the printer over a local network.
All modern 3D Printers come with unique software. This software makes each printer compatible with either Windows, Mac, or Linux computers. Although the software is integrated into the printers, you do need a little bit of technical knowledge to operate some of them.
After extensive research on the most popular 3D printers, we have been able to compile a list of the best 3D printer for everyone. Some of these have prices well over $1000 while many are relatively cheaper than that.
NOTE: This list of printers is not arranged in any particular order. We simply added a numbering system to help keep track of the total number of 3D printers reviewed on this guide.
A list of the best 3D printing machines would never be truly complete without the addition of the Dremel DigiLab 3D45 3D printer.
With a starting price just below $2,000, it does come as expensive as they get. However, it brings a lot of features and functionalities that make it well worth the money.
It has a large build area that makes it more suitable for professional printing. Regardless, it is also easy to use for beginners.
The Dremel DigiLab 3D45 machine only prints in one color due to its single extruder. But you can get high-resolution prints from the machine.
It comes with an LCD Screen, USB 2.0, and Ethernet support, as well as a year warranty (Parts and Labor included).
The Monoprice Voxel 3D Printer is a popular choice for everyone. It does not cost a fortune (costs a little over $300) and guarantees high-quality prints.
It is best for both beginners new to the world of printing objects in 3D. It is also suitable for professional use thanks to its customizable resolution.
NOTE: As aforementioned, recalibrating the resolution of a 3D printer does not always deliver high-quality results. It is always best to get a printer with the right resolution you need.
The printer is compatible with a wide range of filaments and has a moderately big build area. It has a very fast printing speed which is only often found in more expensive 3D printers. Comes with Wi-Fi connectivity support.
·Printer Type: FFF printer
·Resolution type: 300 microns (customizable to 25 microns)
·Filament material: Nylon, ABS, PLA, and HIPS
·Build Area: 7.1 by 6.3 by 6.3 inches
Although expensive at a starting market value of $1,850, the LulzBot Mini 2 3D printer is an easy-to-use, high-resolution printer. It comes with a USB 2.0 port but does not support Wi-Fi connectivity.
It has a compact build that makes it suitable for both small and medium-sized business projects. It is also favored by engineers and architects interested in professional prints. It is also perfect for use in workshops and classrooms.
It has a fast printing speed but only prints in one color. It also uses hardware that can be easily sourced in the US and has a history of quality performance.
With a market value of about $2,000, the MakerBot replicator is an impressive 3D printing device. It is capable of printing at high resolution although only in a single color. The printer comes with support for Ethernet and USB 2.0.
It has a pretty fast printing speed and a large build area. It only comes with a year warranty and is more suitable for business and architecture work.
At a whopping market value of $6,000+, the Ultimaker S5 is the definition of professional perfection!
It supports three different filament materials which offer a lot of flexibility when it comes to printing objects. It has two extruders which ensure it can deliver prints in two colors.
The Ultimaker S5 also has a large build area (the largest on this list) and is capable of printing at a high resolution (60 microns). It comes with an LCD screen which lets you access all the other functions of the printer.
The only drawback is that it supports only Ethernet connections. It does come with a year warranty.
If you are looking for the best 3D printer under $200, look no further! The Monoprice brand is best known for producing solid budget 3D printers.
Despite its low market price, the Monoprice Delta Mini V2 supports a wide array of filament materials. This is flexibility some really expensive devices don't have.
The biggest drawback for us when it comes to this device is its relatively small build area. Realistically, it is only suitable for people new to the idea of 3D printing.
NOTABLE MENTION: The XYZ da Vinci Nano is one of the cheapest 3D printers on the market. It is very much similar to the Monoprice Delta Mini V2 in terms of functionality and features. The only issue with this printer is that it is very hard to find. However, it is always a bargain buy when you do get it!
·Printer Type: FFF printer
·Resolution type: 200 microns (Customizable)
·Filament material: PLA
·Build Area: 8.7 by 8.7 by 9.8 inches
The Creality Ender 3D Printer (Updated version) is one of the most silent 3D printers. It has a dedicated brand unique motherboard just for this. It has user-friendly software which you can access via a touchscreen.
It has an improved injection tensioner so you can adjust the build area while printing. it also has a toolbox to quickly store any parts of the machine when it's not in use.
TIP: The printer has a recurring issue of having a warped build bed.
Although expensive at a starting market value of $3,400+, the Formlabs Form 3 printer is the best resin 3D printer on the market. One big drawback asides from its big market value are that you cannot use just any type of resin with the printer. Doing this automatically voids its warranty should there be a need for repairs or return of the product.
The Form 3 printer is a huge upgrade to the Form 2 3D printer. It comes with redesigned and improved optics engine, a slightly bigger build area, and more reliability when printing out objects. Unlike most of the printers on this list, the Form 3 Printer uses Low Force Stereolithography in place of the popular FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication) technique.
Lastly, we have the Original Prusa i3 MK3S. This machine is suitable for all types of 3D printing work. It prints using the Fused Filament Fabrication technique and supports three different filament materials. It only prints in a single color but you are guaranteed high-resolution printing.
The Prusa i3 MK3S only supports USB 2.0 and SD cards as means of accessing CAD model files of the object to be printed. It comes with 2 years of warranty (Parts and labor included)
Buying the best available printer that suits your style of work is not just enough. Luckily, each printer comes with an easy-to-follow manual. However, if you find it difficult to follow the manual because it is not well explained, we have a step-by-step guide here for you. This guide works the same for all 3D printing machines.
We are assuming you already unboxed your machine. We also believe you should have had a relatively easy task of following your machine manual in setting it up.
To get started, check your print sticks and ensure that they are perfectly stuck on the stick bed. If it isn't, you can use glue, polyimide tape, or blue painter's tape to ensure the sticks are firmly attached to the bed.
By starting up, we mean plug in your machine to the power source and power it on. Once it heats a little, load the filament of your choice into the printer.
NOTE: If you read the earlier part of this write-up, we discussed the different types of filament you can use for 3D printing. They all come with varying levels of difficulty. It is always best to go stick to one filament till you consider yourself an expert.
This step is necessary because brands test their 3D printers before releasing them for use on the market. The only worrying issue is that not all brands include a dedicated option on the control panel or menu to load or unload a filament.
If there is an option to load a filament on your machine, simply use it and insert your new filament. However, if it doesn't, you will need to heat the printer to a high degree. This will cause the printer's extruder compartment to heat up. Next, push the release lever. Remove the plastic filament and load yours in.
TIP: To know if the filament loads incorrectly, you should see a flow from the nozzle.
This is the most time-consuming part of 3D printing. It can also be frustrating since it is very tricky but important nonetheless. Having a bed that is not leveled would only lead to misaligned prints.
To check if the bed is level, here are some things to check for:
- Ensure the adjustable screws holding the bed are as tight as you can get them to go.
- Adjust the X height of the bed. This is another important process as it helps balance the flow of filament while printing.
TIP: Once you level the bed, do not forget to enter the value of the X-height into your machine's software. You don't want the printer to miscalculate the gap between the build plate and the nozzle.
Start printing by following the machine's instruction manual on how to start the machine!
There is so much more to talk about when it comes to 3D printers and 3D printing. Hopefully, you have learned the very basics when it comes to using these machines. Good luck printing!
About Anthony Clark
Anthony Clark has always had that wierd passion for digital drawing and printing since he was little. He would just wander around in his parents' house in Phoenix, Arizona; drawing various things with his older digital tablet. Be it just a memory collection or a portay of just about anything: object, parents, school, events, etc. He received his BA in Graphic Design at San Jose State Universiry at the heart of Silicon Valley. Now Mr. Clark is really excited to present his expeirence coupling with some colorful dips to help shape it the future of printing.