Buying a 3D printer can be an exciting adventure...or a giant waste of time and money if you try to do it cheaply. I bought the RepRap Prusa I3 V2 3D Printer Kit for my son and I a few months ago and to be honest with you I'm still trying to get it to make anything more than spaghetti. While I'm confident (my wife less so) that it will one day be fully operational, many of my frustrations could have been eliminated if money were no object.
My top ten reasons to go big on your 3D Printer purchase:
1. Leveling the printer bed
I spent a lot of time, and I mean A LOT, trying to level my 3D printer. In less expensive 3D printers,
the leveling method is manual and often imprecise at best. Better printers like the LulzBot TAZ 6 3D Printer are self leveling or have better methods of leveling the bed than just 2 or 3 thumb screws. If it's not level then printing the object you want will fail miserably.
2. Bad User Interface
To get your 3D printer up and running, there are many variables which have to be to put into the printer's user interface. For example, temperature, feed rate, printing speed, and several more variables are critical to the success of your printing. The user interface can either be helpful or lengthen this process considerably. More sophisticated printers have better user interfaces and will make this tedious process go faster.
3. Platform Tackiness
The printer bed has to have a certain level of tackiness in order for the filament to stick to it. Too tacky and you may damage your finished product and/or the printer bed when removing it. Not tacky enough and your piece may move while being printed, resulting again in a disaster. There are a number of products available from simple hair spray to special adhesive backed films like Gizmo Dorks Polyester Film PET Tape to get the optimal tackiness but it will likely be trial and error. Also, you may need different solutions for different filament types. If you're wanting to print with an ABS filament you'll need the heated printer platform of the pricier models like the LulzBot Mini Desktop 3D Printer.
4. Filament Compatibility
Once you get in the swing with your printer you may want to branch out to filaments other than PLA and ABS. Pricier models typically support far more filament types like TPU, wood, bronze, and copper. The Airwolf 3D printer supports over 40 different filament types.
Some less expensive 3D printer models such as the one I bought (see above) or the HICTOP Creality offer build it yourself options. You'll save a lot of money (in theory) but you will likely experience some frustrations - like when you break the crystal display like I did. Note to self: Don't assemble electronics with the power on. Duh! Obviously the more pricey printers will come already assembled.
6. Print/Build Volume
Consider what size 3D object you would like to print. The larger the object, the pricier you're printer is likely to be. For example, the Fusion3 F400-S High-Performance can make objects that are as large as 14"x14"x12.6". Meanwhile, the more cost conscious Monoprice Select Mini 3D Printer
can only make items which are 4.7" x 4.7" x 4.7".
7. Dual extrusion
This feature is nice to have if you want your object to have more than one color or filament type. However, this feature is more often available on pricier printers. The Ultimaker 2 Extended+ 3D Printer not only includes this feature but includes the extra print heads. Other models like the MakerBot Replicator + include the feature but you have to pay extra for the print heads.
8. Frame Material
Frame material is important because a lightweight 3D printer is subject to movement during printing, once again potentially destroying your finished product. The FlashForge 3D Printer is made of a plastic alloy but does get great reviews. Pricier models like the MakerBot Replicator + are often made of aluminum or even steel.
9. Print Quality
The old expression is you get what you pay for. In the case of 3D printers you're looking to avoid problems with strings, vibrating, warping, and a whole host of our issues. What's the point of spending money on your 3D printer, only to print items that only vaguely resemble what you were trying to produce?
10. Support and Warranty
Last but certainly not least, you want to make sure you're getting quality support options (email, phone, and technical) for when things just don't work the way they should. Also make sure the warranty is sufficient. There are many parts which you'll want to make sure are covered.
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