It’s a fair criticism. We want to hear from you, no matter what you think. Our talking about 3D printing and how difficult it can be to learn it and do what you want is not to scare people off, but really to have realistic expectations. I think the ultimate goal is to make sure that you don’t go in there with the mindset that it will be so easy, and then you give up because it was harder than you expected it to be. Then the thing you printed is a paperweight, or you put it on eBay to get rid of it. It takes a lot of tenacity to 3D print. You really have to be willing to try a bunch of things, and sometimes you have to be willing to forgive the technology status it’s in right now where it’s a bit fussy. That’s okay.
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Are We Scaring People Away From 3D Printing?
We want people to go in and be as successful as possible as early as possible with 3D printing. If some of what we say makes people pause and say, “I have to get my 3D design house in order or my CAD skills in order. I’m going to take a month and watch a bunch of YouTube videos or take a course.” Good. Then they are more likely to be successful when they buy that printer. It’s more likely to be satisfying; it’s more likely to produce something faster, as well as tremendously rewarding.
The other thing I was talking about recently with someone is you have really to strike a balance. There are a lot of choices you can make depending on what you want to do. When you get into 3D printing, there is a balance between having fun and creating things. I’m not saying it has to be incredibly well-designed; I’m talking just about making functional things. There is a balance between creating or even downloading parts you want to print just for fun with being a technician, operating a machine.
Part of this discussion is to help people who are considering what 3D printer to buy, whether it’s their first printer or their third, is to ask what your goals are. If you don’t want to be spending a lot of hours learning the technical realities of calibrating and maintaining your 3D printer, then it’s good to know that so you buy a printer that doesn’t require as much maintenance or a lot of technical hands-on knowledge. Something like a MakerBot is more of a closed printer that you don’t need to know as much of the technical side of operating a 3D printer. Yeah, you do have to learn how to put filament in it, and you have to learn how to run a program to level your bed once in a while. But really, the machine walks you through all of that. It’s pretty simple to use.
To me, it’s not the machine that is the problem. There are some machines out there that are problems. But I don’t think your average person is going to seek those machines. They are way more complicated. They may be harder. I think there are a lot of printers out there that are very hands-on. You need to calibrate them. You need to set the nozzle height off of that bed just the right amount whether you are using a piece of paper or a feeler gauge or something. To get advanced in 3D printers, you have to become a technician to a degree.
What I’m saying is the power of 3D printing, the power we want to get across as to why it’s so exciting, isn’t the technology itself. It’s what you do with it. We are encouraging people to think more about the what, the why. If it is because you really want to understand the technical, good, go for it. But if it’s that you want to be successful in making things and you have all these ideas in your head and you want to get them out, that’s a whole different game. We want you to be successful doing that, which means buying a simpler printer or buying a starter printer and then upgrading when you’re ready. These are all things you want to think about. Just take a pause and think about it. Don’t stop on your path to 3D print.
The other night, I talked to this great woman. She was saying that she had bought a printer, and for eight weeks, she couldn’t make anything on it. Everyone kept saying, “You spent all this money on it, and it’s not working. Return it. Call the company.” She tried to get help, and it just wasn’t happening. She took it to an event where you bring your printer with you. That was so great. It took three guys a couple hours to fix it for her because it was actually not working. She was tenacious; she didn’t give up. She wanted 3D printing to work. Over the course of that eight weeks, she was successful in figuring out the design process and learned a lot about how her printer worked. But she didn’t give up on it. A lot of people will.
My argument is that I’m not scaring people. I’m just making sure that those people who don’t want to spend a lot of wasted time on it to sit back and think for yourself about where you want to spend your time. Do you want to spend the time on the printer itself, or design, or putting out prints every day? What is it you want to do with it? That helps you choose. Make decisions in the process. Think about that first.
To a lot of people, that won’t be a waste of time to learn about those printers. I think if you’re willing to get into the technical details and understand why your printer is doing what it does and how it works, it will make you a better creator of things to 3D print. But I understand those people who don’t want to put in that kind of time.
This really comes back to why we named the podcast what we did. It really starts with what you want to print. There are some people who don’t know what they want to print; they just think it’s cool and want to get into it. But if you can identify at least for the time being what you want to print, it really answers a lot of questions as to what type of printer you should get and how much CAD skills you need if you don’t have them or what kind of CAD programs you want to learn. Is it more of the engineering type, or is it more of the graphic/artistic type? There are a lot of choices.
You really have to have that thought process, and that’s all we’re cautioning people to do. We’re not saying don’t 3D print. Not at all. We’re saying that you should 3D print because we think it’s fantastic. But you should 3D print so you enjoy it. In order to do that, you have to put thought into it. And we want you to achieve your goals. That’s why we keep asking what your goals are.
I also do want to put a little caveat in there for parents. This happened the other day. My sister-in-law bought a cute bead bracelet kit for my niece and our daughter, Lannea. It was great. It seemed like a great project. The minute they opened it, I knew this was not a project that was self-sustaining. There was no way an eight-year-old and an almost-seven-year-old would be able to sit there and do this themselves. It was going to be complicated. It involved a needle and tiny beads and four steps to get a bead on the bracelet. I looked at it and thought that that wasn’t very clear on this box. This box made it look fun and easy. I think 3D printing can be that way, too.
If you’re the kind of parent who really wants to give your child this tool of a 3D printer, you need to say, “Am I prepared either to have the skillset and/or the time to help with the technical side of it? Or do I need something much more self-sustaining, easier to use?” I call it self-sustaining because it is a contained system of proprietary software and filament because they tend to be fewer variables that could go wrong.
You’re saying that that type of person might want a printer that is more plug-and-play, which doesn’t really exist. In terms of being easier to use, fewer choices, fewer things to go wrong, fewer tech things to deal with, more automated things. That way, you know that your child can have the best opportunity to experiment and start to learn. The chances are that the things that could go wrong with it they will figure out how to do themselves because kids are ultimately flexible and when they want something, they will figure out how to make it happen.
Anyway, that’s my only caveat. You also have to think about it from that perspective if you are buying for something else. The other thing to consider, and this was part of the same conversation, is that when people are considering what printer to buy, it may be initially that as you’re figuring out what kind of CAD program you’re going to learn and use and what type of printer you might buy, then the answer might be you don’t buy a printer. Sometimes the best 3D printer to start with is your best friend’s printer or somebody that might become your best friend once you find them who has a printer. Or use a service bureau to experience it and learn about it. As some of these things become more clear to you, then figure out what printer is right for you.
It can be complicated and involved, and we want people to understand that. It does not have to be for sure. It depends on how far you want to take it and what you want to do with it.
I hope that is helpful and clear to those of you. We hope we’re not scaring anybody off of 3D printing in any way because that is not our goal. We want more people 3D printing. The more people who 3D print, the better everything will get in this industry.
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