3D printing hobbyist gift?
June 14, 2021 9:35 AM   Subscribe

My dad's birthday is coming up. He recently got himself a 3D printer, and I was wondering if there are any accessories or maybe subscriptions that would give him access to cooler projects than he can find for free? I don't know what his specific printer is yet, I'm just looking for general ideas about what a new hobbyist might like.
posted by Kriesa to Technology (11 answers total)
I think this really depends on what his goals are. I'm in the hobby to create very specific parts I can't buy for various other hobbies, so I'm going to answer from that perspective.

The bad news, for you, is that most of the software he'd need to design his own models is free (for personal use, anyhow). There are hobbyist/maker licenses for Fusion360 and Solidworks that allow essentially unlimited personal use, with the caveat that you can't sell your designs without a different, more expensive, license. There are also great free slicers (the program that transforms a STL file, which is an abstract representation of a 3d form, into gcode, which is a set of commands for the printer that are very specific to the configuration of his printer). A lot of people swear by the simplify3d slicer, which is $100, I think, so you could see if he's interested in that.

If he is designing his own models in Fusion/SolidWorks/FreeCAD/whatever, you could look into books or other training materials for the CAD package he's using.

Almost every off-the-shelf printer is lacking in several ways, and there's a whole ecosystem of DIY upgrades and kit upgrades for various printers. Depending on how detail-oriented and DIY-oriented he is, he may be interested in specific upgrade hardware, but you'd have to talk with him about what he's interested in, and it may be a challenge to surprise him, since a lot of this is very fiddly/hands-on work.

Does he have a good set of tools? Good hex keys (probably metric), pliers, angle snips for cutting away support material, sanding strips? Does he want to paint models? If so, does he have an airbrush and a fume evacuator?

There are places you can buy ready-to-print models from, but that's not my jam, so I'll leave an answer in that direction to other people.
posted by Alterscape at 10:49 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]

Seconding tools. Some printers come with tools, but they usually aren't awesome. I'd consider a: Metric T-handle/hex set, a nice flexible scraper, a digital caliper, or a nice flush cutter.

Some rolls of filament in neat colors might be a fun gift too.
posted by Wulfhere at 11:13 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]

You might look into different kinds of exotic filaments. Some more articles (caveat: I have zero personal experience with any of this)
posted by trig at 11:15 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]

In addition to what's already been mentioned: the extruder nozzle on a 3D printer is a consumable item (typically soft brass) and certain types of filament will cause accelerated wear and tear. Replacement nozzles are very cheap and it's good to keep a few on hand.
posted by teraflop at 11:21 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]

Also on my tools-I-need list are a deburring tool for cleaning up edges of prints and a heat gun for remelting and cleaning up little stringles.
posted by Wulfhere at 11:27 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]

Depending on your budget, a 3D scanner may complement his 3D printing needs. This one is merely $299. (They go up to THOUSANDS depending on resolution and speed)

posted by kschang at 11:31 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]

I seem to recall that some 3D printers have like a special "bathing" chamber (alcohol?) to deburr the edges as an accessory.
posted by kschang at 11:51 AM on June 14

Re: tools, Cheap digital calipers suck, and good digital calipers aren't cheap. You don't need Mitutoyo for 3d printing, but the cheap ones start to arbitrarily lose precision with no warning as the battery dies and that pretty much stinks because you don't realize the dimensions you're pulling are useless until you do your print and things don't fit. Ask me how I know!

I have a set of Foster vernier calipers that my father gave me years ago, and after that experience with a cheap Amazon caliper set, I took them out of the toolbox and now I use them daily. They're more precise than my printer, so that's good enough for me. Of course someone wanted to gift me Mitutoyo calipers, I'd use 'em, but it's overkill for this use.

Re: alcohol baths -- in my experience that's for SLA printers. If he has an SLA printer (these are the ones that solidify a liquid resin by exposing it to UV light through an LCD screen mask, not the kind that squeeze plastic through a nozzle) then that's a whole other thing, and my recommendations would be a bit different!

Also: safety gear! PLA and PETG aren't too bad, but if he wants to print ABS or more exotic things, then an enclosure/fume extractor/filter would be helpful!
posted by Alterscape at 11:54 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]

Acetone vapor chambers are used for ABS, but not PLA-- the two most common plastic filaments, or maybe two of the three most common, with PETG.

Such a vapor chamber is basically just an airtight clear box made of something which isn't vulnerable to acetone exposure, with a removable bottom (usually). If you can find the model of printer he has, its specs will tell you the largest thing he can print, and your box must be bigger.

Throw in a bottle of acetone and a spool of ABS, if you want.

Also, for gifts in general, filament spools are typically in the $20-25 range, but smaller spools are available. He might like some small spools of a variety of colors so he can try things out, maybe small things.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:38 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]

If he has an FDM printer which is compatible and which does not already have automatic bed leveling, the BLTouch sensor from ANTCLABS is a game-changer. About US$40.

Caveats: Check compatibility first. Installation is not trivial. Likely requires installing custom firmware. Beware of counterfeits.
posted by sourcequench at 1:21 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]

Things I've added to my printer:

1. A Raspberry Pi (a tiny, inexpensive computer), to run Octoprint (which gives you a lovely web interface to print objects, view status, tweak settings, and all sorts of other things. Probably the best upgrade there is, although the printer needs to support it.

2. A better bed (in my case, a glass one). More durable, easier to remove stuff, and very smooth and flat.

3. Upgrades for the bed adjustment wheels and the bowden tube (which feeds the filament into the extruder).

But without knowing the model, and what he has already, it's hard to advise on upgrades. How about "Hey dad, a friend of mine was looking at getting a 3d printer. Which model did you go for?"
posted by pipeski at 3:09 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]

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