Years ago, I started following some early consumer 3-D printer projects on sites like Kickstarter. At the time, existing 3-D printers were very, very expensive, and/or built from kits. The future was promising consumer pricing on printers that would actually be usable by consumers rather than engineers.
Back then, I made the choice due to price. Small printers like this had dropped below $200 and the Mini Delta was actually cheaper than the last several EPSON inkjet printers I had bought.
I had trouble figuring out how to use the printer, and was pointed to Simplify3D software. That had a profile ready to go for the Mini Delta, and was super easy to figure out how to us. I’ve been printing stuff ever since… The only thing I was lacking it the ability to build larger items.
Today, there are hundreds — if not thousands — of 3-D printers for sale. You can pick up cheap ones for under $100, or get a well reviewed “good” printer in the $200-$300 range.
But which one should you choose? Every “good” printer, if you read the reviews, has tons of folks praising it as their favorite, and tons of folks saying it’s garbage and is nothing but problems. The 3-D printer market seems to have very inconsistent quality control.
But beyond that … here is what we need:
Buying a 3-D printer: What we need.
Part 1 – An elimination system.
When I ask about a printer, folks always say “it depends on what you want to do with it.” The first round is to simply eliminate printers that do not meet your requirements:
- If you have specific needs, such as how large an item you want to build, or how fast you require it to be built, you can immediately stop looking at all printers that do not meet those requirements. You can do the same with OS support (Mac, Windows, Linux).
- Not all printers print all materials. If you want to print flexible materials, some printers are great at that, and others cannot do it at all. If your goal is to print “rubberized” phone cases, you can instantly eliminate alot of choices.
Part 2 – Quality
The next part is something that should be 100% achievable without any opinions getting in the way. The job of a 3-D printer is to take a digital design and turn it in to the three-dimensional object. It should be trivial to simply run through a series of prints that exercise different aspects of printing (overhands, the need for supports, etc.) and then scan the resulting object and compare it against the digital blueprints. You should be able to end up with a simple list of accuracy in different categories, much like any auto buyer’s guide breaks down vehicles in to a simple set of basic categories.
Part 3 – Opinion
The last part should be the opinion part. How many units were dead on arrival? How many have had to be repaired? How fast is support? etc.
Even if you find the best printer, if it breaks and you can’t fix it, maybe it’s not a good choice. BUT, maybe you are fine getting past a project even if your printer breaks in six months and never runs again. That is why I think this choice should be last.
So … why is there no such website? Number two should be especially easy, as would be speed. At least we should have those.
Until next time…