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Choosing a 3D printing to buy is a problem most 3D printing newbies are faced with. On today’s show, Tom and Tracy Hazzard address this dilemma. They believe that the selection process mainly depends on the quality you want, the size, and even the designs you need. Join Tom and Tracy as they share some key tips on selecting the best 3D printer.
Listen to the podcast here:
How Should I Choose A 3D Printer?
Our question is general.
It is general but it’s a good question. Unfortunately, there are a lot of different ways to answer it. It depends on a few things. We can answer the question but qualify it a little bit.
The question is, “How should I choose a printer to buy?”
There are a couple of key things that I would ask myself right off the bat doing that now. Number one, how much fine detail are you going to be printing something with and how large are the items you expect to print?
You need to step back even further than that. Are you doing this for personal use, professional use or enterprise use? Are you going to order many printers and grow a printer farm? Those kinds of choices have different levels of printer that you want to buy too. If it’s your first printer, let’s talk about that.
Those things I was saying make a little more sense. If you’re going to print something, the most obvious thing that you can rule out a bunch of printers with is the size of your objects. If your objects are small, that puts a lot of printers on the table. If your objects are large and if you’re a sculptor like Bridgette Mongeon, you may need a larger build envelope or build volume.
If you’re in her case, if your sculptures are tall but they’re not wide, it’s totally a different kind of printer as well. The what matters but at the same time, it also matters the quality of that what that you need to print. In some cases, when you go through that sculpting, CAD process, that detail is always going to be added by the clay layer anyway. Fine details may be not as important as the size. You’re trading off size for detail but in some cases, because you’re small like in a piece of jewelry, the detail is so much more important.
It may be that if your jewelry is small you may not be able to get the level of detail you want out of many printers. Size is an easy thing. You can evaluate and you either do have a size restriction or you don’t. You need to look up every printer manufacturer lists and what their build volume is. Find the ones that will fit the size of what you’re going to print. That’s one.
There are a lot of places out there where you can find some generalized information. I like ProductChart.com/3D_printers. If you go to ProductChart.com, they have laptops. You can choose 3D printers. You can choose phones. There are a whole bunch of sub-categories that you can do and they build this little chart, but the information is a little limited. The great thing about this chart is if you already know your criteria, such as if you want 50 microns as your resolution for your 3D printing because you need good detail. If you need that and you know that already because either you’re already 3D printing for a while and you’re looking for a new one, or somebody else has helped you and guide you that you know that’s what you requires. You can type that in and you select that and you can see there are five printers on the market that happened to have that.
You can then investigate and narrow your investigation. That’s a useful tool. That’s why I like that one. It’s a great resource. It’s simple. I hope that they update it all the time. I’m not sure about that, but there are a lot of printers on it. It’s pretty visual so you can see it visually who has what. There’s also the other tool of just going out there and looking at the 3D Hubs chart. There was a chart of the most popular ones bought at retail. You can go by popular purchase. That’s a bad way to go because the 3D Hubs, for instance, is encumbered by a lot of people who came out of the makerspace and the hacking community. They’ve already established themselves as being 3D printers for a while. They want to make a little money off their printers. When you get that, those people might be a little more willing to tolerate technical difficulties or be a little more capable of handling that or bad customer service. It’s not necessarily indicative of the best printer if you’re a newbie or something.
If you’re more of a home user than a business user for sure.
I don’t think it’s just a popular opinion or popular choice in those types of environments are a good way to go from. I’d go by word of mouth. I’d ask some people that are making what.
I would get referrals from different people. That’s going to tell you the most because marketing information only tells you so much.
Also, if you’re a business, maybe you want local service. Find the distributors in your area. Talk to them. Are they good? Are they going to be there when you need them? That’s important because we found that tech support is only so good and can only handle so much and you need somebody.
We did ask before we bought a printer from each company what the level of service was going to be and how long the return policy was. If we quickly found out that this printer wasn’t a good fit for us and we’ve actually returned some printers, so that’s very important. The other thing that you want to ask yourself is, are you going to only print with one material or do you need more than one material? Whether that is a second material in terms of color or if it’s a second material in terms of dissolvable support material, that’s another key criterion. There are a lot of single extrusion machines out there. There’s the world of dual extrusion. Without getting into the complexities of that because that’s a whole other thing but the capability, do you need that or do you not?
Before you buy a printer, test its quality. Check your what and have them print it for you. Go somewhere and print it. I recommend that because you don’t want them dialing in settings, getting it and making it ideal for you. You want to see how hard it is to print from the file you already have. Print it at a service bureau. Go to someone’s distributor and say, “Print it in front of me. I want to see it.” That’s good because you want to confirm the quality. We’re big proponents of FFF 3D printing, but maybe FFF is not ideal for you. Maybe you want an SLA at the end of the day. That’s a good thing for you to make a judgment call on and check that quality level for you or check the quality of one printer versus another based on your what.
There are also other considerations if you’re going to consider different kinds of printers. It’s not just the quality but it’s also the post finishing. That’s the biggest distinction. That’s why we like FFF because it comes off a printer in its final material, in the color that you intended to be. Whereas others, you have to do a complex painting process after the fact or something else like that.
It depends on your what. One of the last things I want to touch on here is if you are starting out and we highly recommend this, go and build your skills, learn to 3D print, buy a closed system. I know not a lot of people are supportive of it. They’re like negative about the MakerBots and the XYZs, the Cubes. If you’re just starting out and especially if you haven’t gotten your design capability under your belt, you need a chance to experiment without making a lot of mistakes. When they take out slicing software and choices you can make there that can complicate things.
In their cases, they limit your materials to the materials that they require that have chip on them and you have to use their PLA or their abs or whatever it is. That eliminates a lot of problems that you can have that have nothing to do with learning how to 3D print. It gives you the best chance of success and the shortest learning curve in 3D printing. That being said, it’s an investment in time and money that you may not recoup. At the end of it, you may say, “This printer is going to go as a hand me down to somebody else and I’m going to buy a more complex printer because I’m ready now.” You have to look at that from an “overall, it’s a learning” process and it’s an investment in that.
That’s probably also true of small businesses using 3D printers. It’s a hard question to answer in a nutshell. We need to go through a process of identifying your key criteria, the things that are critical to what you’re trying to do with 3D printing, then match that up with all the printers that are out there and how hard you want to work, how big a technician you want to be or not.
Good luck with that. Find yourself a 3D printer. Do it and dive in. This is an Ask Us Anything segment. We want to remind everybody that if you have a specific question, maybe even if you have a question about a specific printer or you want us to review on, you can send us a voicemail, you can fill out a form, you can do all those things where you can ask us anything. That’s what we’re here for.
Make a request, we’d be happy to address a more specific question.
Thank you very much. We’ll talk to you next time.
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