3D Printer >$3000?
November 18, 2013 11:35 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I are looking into investing in a 3D printer in the $2-3,000 price range. Can anyone who actually owns one / has used one extensively give any suggestions on brands/models to look at? We're hoping for a basic desktop model with a size capacity of about 8"x8"x8" for making small props, prototypes, etc. Also, what can one expect to pay for the "goop" or whatever they use for a printing medium?
posted by ShutterBun to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I have not used any given model enough to make a recommendation, but I have some questions which might help someone narrow things down for you:

What kind of surface detail / smoothness / control of texture are you aiming for?

How willing are you to perpetually tinker and nurse the device to get good prints, vs something that you just turn on and it works?

Do you need anything special in materials, or is a couple colors of hard plastic OK?
posted by hattifattener at 11:45 PM on November 18, 2013

I think Make just published a new 3D printing guide with an overview of different printer options.
posted by Good Brain at 12:47 AM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you answer hattifattener's questions, I may also be able to help narrow things down. I have experience with a number of printers in your size and price range.

In the meantime, two more things to consider:
1) Where are you going to get your drawings? The printing is getting easy, but the bottleneck is still the 3D drawing. Will you be relying on creative common material from thingiverse? Does one of you have CAD experience? A 3D scanner alone is not really enough (there are flaws in scans), and there is some new gesture-to-3D software out, but it's also still new.

2) Do you have any FabLabs near you? These sites are usually open to community members and run by enthusiasts who will be more than happy to talk about different technology they know, how they learned it, and what would be right for you. Some of them are on the extreme end of the DIY axis, but can usually talk in a knowledgeable way about the level of machine you are interested in.
posted by whatzit at 6:37 AM on November 19, 2013

Regarding the goop: most consumer/nerd -level 3d printers use filament, which they then melt and extrude. Consequently, for pricing information search for phrases like "3d printer filament" or the like. For example, Amazon has some, just to get you into the ballpark on pricing. I'm not saying Amazon is, or is not, the best source -- just saying it'll give you a sense of things.

Actual filament choices will depend upon the machine you acquire and the specific plastics you wish to use (ABS and PLA are by far the most common right now, but there are specialist companies that provide nylon, PET, flexible rubbery things, and so on that can require some fiddling to get working). Also notice the different filament sizes -- my printer uses 1.75mm, so a 3mm filament is entirely worthless to me.
posted by aramaic at 7:33 AM on November 19, 2013

No experience with 3d printing, but Microsoft just released a new program called 3d Builder. Looks pretty cool, could be worth checking out if you have Windows 8. (Apparently you need a windows 8 compatible 3d printer too, not sure how common that is.)

posted by meta87 at 11:58 AM on November 19, 2013

I am a kickstarter backer of a project to make a passive amplifier for an iPhone called The Annoyinator. The funding support is to buy them (a good friend and his 12-year-old son) a 3D printer to make them. They got it from a company called Type A and just took delivery on it. They did a blog post on it with pics.
posted by mcstayinskool at 12:10 PM on November 19, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the feedback. Here is some more info:

1. Resolution is fairly important. We don't mind a little bit of sanding, but I'd like to keep it to a minimum.

2.Dont need any special materials, really. I think ultimately it will be used to create prototypes which will then be cast in resin.

3. I'll do all the 3D modeling, as I have extensive experience in that area. I assume the printer software can pretty easily import standard 3D files such as .obj or .3ds files?

4. Would rather not do much tinkering, looking for more of a "plug and play" solution.
posted by ShutterBun at 3:08 PM on November 19, 2013

I use a makerbot replicator 2x for my middle school students. Resolution is pretty good and sanding is minimal, you could also use an acetone treatment to get smooth results but your resolution will suffer. I went with the 2x because I prefer abs plastic and the 2 is pla only out of the box. It is pretty much plug and play. One roll of their filament is about $40 and up, they do have a blog post somewhere about how many complete chess sets one roll prints.
posted by dstopps at 4:39 PM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I assume the printer software can pretty easily import standard 3D files such as .obj or .3ds files?

The standard format is STL, and software is a pretty variable thing (I've found) so you may end up needing to convert formats back & forth a bit depending on what you end up buying and what your toolchain is like right now.

Note that 3d printers typically require pretty good models (eg: no inverted normals), so you may also want to grab a copy of Netfabb Basic to do quickie model fixing if your existing software isn't strict about things like manifold surfaces or "water-tightness".
posted by aramaic at 5:55 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

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