So, you are planning to start your 3D printing journey and have made a decision to buy a 3D printer. Now what’s next? You would love to test drive the printer or at least see it in action before you make that big decision. Instead you found yourself in a storm of questions
- How can I be sure I understand the technicalities of the 3D printer?
- Where can I see the 3D Printers in action?
- How can I assess the quality of the print and compare between them?
- Do I need to go through all the choices available or just go ahead with the most popular one?
- How can I be sure that I know the printer enough so I do not regret the purchase?
- Do I know where to go when something does not work as it was supposed to?
- And the list goes on….
While this website is exactly intended for those with these questions and more, in today’s technology, it is possible to see the working of the 3D printer before you decide. This guide is written as a quick reference to those who consider seeing first before believing.
This guide is largely applicable for the models which are available online. Being a technologically advanced application product, almost all of these 3D printers will be available on the internet today. This makes life much easier because you need not go to the local store or dealers to hear out their marketing talk before you can assess a product on your own. In fact, all the printers are available at the same place – the internet – which saves a lot of time and energy and also makes it easier to compare and decide.
Following are the tips to make evaluation of 3D printers much easier.
It is easier to evaluate 3D Printers online when you have your preferences clearly defined. Use the below questions to first understand your preferences before you plunge into the ocean of choices.
- Are you looking within a specific budget?
Set your possible budget to refine the choices. If you find later that the budget is not enough to make the right choice, you can increase it to a more sensible limit. This helps you keep yourself out of distractions that the more aesthetic, high value, luxurious models can bring. This is the exact reason this website has been configured with categories of under $1000, $1000-$2000 and $2000+.
- What material do you want to print with?
There are a wide variety of printing materials available such as PLA, ABS, Nylon, Metals, Precious metals such as Gold, Silver, etc., Food items – sky is the limit. The most commonly used material to print are thermoplastics such as PLA (Polylactic Acid) and ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) which will attain fluidic state at a set temperature so that a 3D print can be molded.
- How big your print should be?
Consider the biggest 3D print you will be possibly printing using this printer. You can use the dimensions as a guide to short list further printers. Do not only see the volume (in cubic inches / cubic millimeters), but look for Length, Width and Height individually. If you find that the print dimension is bigger than available print build areas, maybe it is time for you to consider splitting the object in to two parts to assemble after printing.
- Do I need to assemble the 3D printer?
Do you prefer a printer kit to assemble yourself? Do you like to use open source software to run the 3D printer? Then you can consider open source 3D printer kits. Else you can prefer to have a pre-assembled model with proprietary firmware installed.
- Any restrictions on filament usage?
I would consider this as one of the pitfalls to look at before making the decision. Some printers restrict users to use their own branded filaments and program the printers in such a way that the printer does not accept other brand filaments. Whereas there are other models which accept any brand filaments. Branded filaments are relatively expensive.
- What are the connectivity options?
The most commonly used options are USB, SD card and Wi-Fi. The 3D Printer with SD card is recommended to avoid loss of connectivity or data which can happen over USB / Wi-Fi. Further augmentations available in connectivity may be a mobile app enabled which can help you monitor the print status when you are away from the printer (but we feel that it is a luxury).
One great way to see the 3D printers in action is the manufacturer’s YouTube channel. Almost all 3D printer vendors nowadays use social media extensively and have a YouTube channel where they showcase their products. Some have even made extra efforts to show the product from unboxing to usage and even troubleshooting, sometimes. Below are a few such YouTube channel links for ready reference. The list will grow as we find more and more channels so keep an eye out here.
These are just few to name. If you want to look at the video channel of any other specific model, go to YouTube, type in the “company name” of the brand, and hit search and try to locate the channel of the manufacturer using the filters.
Ordering sample prints
Another good way to ascertain the printers is by looking physically at the prints produced by the 3D printers under consideration. There are 3D printing services such as 3dHubs who provide you with 3D prints at affordable costs without actually having a 3D printer of your own. Go to the website, select the 3D printer you would like to evaluate, choose a 3D model and just order it.
Here are few tips to ensure you get maximum value while comparing 3D print qualities.
- Select a 3D model which is moderately complex. Do not go for complete solid models as it will only add to the cost of printing and will not be showing the printer at its best. Select a 3D model which has some intricacies and cavities such as “Bird in a Cage”or “Hex vase”.
- Choose the same 3D model for all the test prints. This helps to make an easy comparison of quality.
- Try to avoid lighter colors such as yellow for this exercise. Darker colors will make the print layers legible and easier to make out for untrained eyes.
- It is better to choose the highest resolution for all prints. This way it will be easier to assess the maximum print quality a 3D printer can provide by and large.
Apart from these methods are conventional methods such as visiting the nearest store, looking at a 3D printer your friend might have, visiting a conference or exhibition where manufacturers will showcase their best quality printers. But those have not been covered here as this article was intended to help you evaluate the 3D printer online.
We know that evaluating a 3D printer is not as easy as evaluating a book online. But these guidelines are derived from experience after researching over quite some time and would really help you make a decision which you will not be regretting later. If you happen to know of any other trick of assessing 3D printers online, share it with us here so it can benefit those who are interested.