3D Printers are slowly emerging to the consumer market. The technology is still in infancy stage and the manufactures are competing to conquer the 3D printer market. Ideally a 3D printer can print anything with a given material that range from a coffee cup to an entire house.
What is 3D printing: Our normal paper printers are 2D printers that prints in 2 dimensional in X and Y direction. 3D printers are capable to print in three dimension in X, Y, and Z direction. These printers can print or model the required objects if you have a right 3D diagram of the model. If you have a 3D image, you can print from toys, spare parts of a Car, Jet Engines and even the parts of human body.
3D printers are initially build to use in industry to make their product prototypes in a very short time. Eventually, more printer models are built to make body parts for military, NASA. Now cheap 3D printers are available in consumer market to print hobby models and toys.
You can print the small prototype of your home that you are planning to build in future. You can touch, feel and modify by seeing a real model of your future home. If you are a civil engineer, you can extend the capability of this technology to prototype fly overs, bridges, building or even a city.
This is not a review of 3D printers currently in the market, instead we are trying to list a few important and critical things you should consider before you select your 3D printer. We hope this list of 3D printer features and 3d Printer specifications help to pick the right printer to fit for your need.
3D Printer Resolution (Range from 0.02mm to 0.4mm)
We measure the resolution in 2D printer in pixels that represent the clarity of the picture it prints. In 3D printers, high resolution means good finishing and the ability to reproduce high details of your final model. 3D printer resolution defines the thickness of printing layers measures in microns. That means if you own a lower number resolution printer that can reproduce the great details of the model.
(image courtesy: airwolf3d.com)
A high resolution printer will be more expensive and slower to print the object. Most of the printers are offering to adjust the resolution based on your requirement. If you don’t care about the cost, go for the top resolution printers. Generally, high end models are the professional models they offer lower micron (high resolution) printing resolution.
3D Printer Technology
There are different types of technology using to print the material to generate model. This technology determines how the printing process with the filament can be done in 3D Printers.
Fused Deposition Modeling: Most of the commercial 3D printers are working based on this technology. FDM printing is an additive process, where layers are adding on top layer by layer by heating the extruding the plastic.
Stereo Lithography: In this method, the ultraviolet light beam is using to harden the material from a pool of photosensitive liquid instead of printing as layers on top. This method is using for high quality precise printing jobs in an industrial environment.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS): This method is using the laser beam for high precision printing instead of ultra violet. In SLS the printing material is the powder and a laser beam is using to melt this powder and create the models.
3D Printer Filament Types
3D Printers can support number of materials to print based on your model requirement. Most of the printers are supporting only one or two material in one printer. That means if you want to make models with different materials, you may need to shop around more than one 3D printer to meet your requirement.
PLA: PLA material is corn Starch based. This filament is Biodegradable and more versatile that suited for most common printer jobs. This can cool and reach into stable state in very short time, good for quick and fast jobs. The model gives a glossy look with this material. The downside is that since this material has low melting point (Extrude at 190°-220°C), not good in high heat applications and also not good to print the joint and fixing parts.
(image courtesy: ira3d.com)
ABS: Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene is a petroleum-based material and this material is heat resistant, durable and ideal to print the models that need to withstand more wear and tear. This material good to make interlocking parts (LEGOs made with ABS) and also low melting point (Extrude at 230°-260°C) but better than PLA. This take more time to settle and emits fumes while printing.
PC: Polycarbonate filament is used in places where you need to handle high impact.
Carbon Fiber Based: Carbon Fiber printed models are up to 20 times stiffer and 5 times stronger than similar ABS parts 3D printed using ABS plastic.
3D Printer Hybrid PLA filament rarely coming with Wood Based and Metal based material. The metal based filament used for jet engine parts and other industrial applications.
3D Printer filament selection is purely based on your job requirement. Please keep in mind that none of the printers are supporting more than one or two filament at a time. So please make sure you are choosing the right filament printer based on your job.
3D Printer Bed Types
Printer beds are coming with Heated and Non-heated models. The printer bed is the one where your model going to build up. To fix the model on the based and avoid warping while print, either need to apply some glues or preheat the bed to fix the model on the base in the beginning of the printing process. ABS need a heated bed and for PLA filament, it is optional. We recommend heated bed 3D printers that will be suitable for PLA, ABS and all other materials as well.
3D Build Volume (Range from 1 cubic inch to 12 cubic inch)
Build volume is an another important parameter that you need to be select carefully for your your 3D printer. Build volume is a measure that determine how much big model that can regenerate by the printer. It is usually measure in cubic mm or inches that specifies the 3 axis movement limit of the printer head. Please see the list of 3D Printers selected from Amazon.
The higher numbers represent the ability to reproduce a reasonable size of models. Printing large volume objects required a considerable amount of time in setup to calibrate your printer.
Multicolor Support: (Support from 1-3 colors)
Multicolor printers can print more than one color in a single print job. These multicolor supporting printers equipped with multiple filaments with different colors. You can load these colors individually based on your requirement in each printer heads before you start the job.
(image courtesy: airwolf3d.com)
These printers are expensive since it need to handle multiple extruder heads for each color at the same time and the machine need to be more sophisticated.
3D Printer Speed
Print speed is an important feature you need to consider while you select your printer. 3D Printer speed is a trade between the speed and resolution of the printer. If you need to print and object with high details, the speed is going to be low. The printing material and printing technology are the other factors hat determining the print speed. Always go for a high speed and high resolution printer based on your spending ability for more flexibility and high performance.
3d Printer Software and Apps
3D Printers need designing software to design and build 3D files. These files are supposed to feed into the printer to create the models. These applications let you visualize the 3D concept and convert the base images to a 3D image.
(image courtesy: sketchup.com)
These software are categorized into three types, CAD Tools (using geometrical shapes to build models), Freeform Modeling Tools (create freeform shapes ) and Sculpting tools (can push, pull, pinch and grab to form your models)
We selected list of 3D Modeling tools based on our readers experience and the best reviews and customer reports. The final selection of your printer should be based on your need and market research.
3D Printer other Features Need to Consider
There are some other factors that need to consider while you buy 3D printer but not important like other key features. I would say these are the fancy features but better to have them if you can afford.
3D Printer Camera: In a 3D printer, camera is using for two purposes. The camera gives you an ability to check your print progress by watching them from a remote location either using your phone or computer. The second purpose is to scan the object that need to be print. This camera/s based printers are more expensive and it can scan your basic model and convert into an image file to print itself and make copies.
User / LCD Interface: LCD interface is used for the user to interact with the printer and to send the instructions and get the status of the print job. But usually most of the printers are coming with built in app that is capable to communicate with your PC directly and see the status on your PC monitor.
Cloud Connectivity: Cloud is used to send the 3D files to your printer by online. With cloud connection, you don’t need any separate memory or local hard disk to save 3D image files. The files can be push directly from cloud to the printer.
Get 3D Model to Print
When you buy your first 3D printer, the printer is coming with a bunch of free 3D Models. If you want more image files, you can find out a bunch of sites those offering free 3D models to try on your 3D printer.
3D printers are expensive and you have to do your market research before you order first 3D printer. You should have some idea on what kind of 3D printer you are looking for and the purpose of your printer before you spend from your pocket.