10 Things to Consider Before Buying a 3D Printer

10 Things to Consider Before Buying a 3D Printer

May 08, 2024

From toys to business essentials to rocket components, 3D printers offer versatility in creating objects at home. Yet, the market for 3D printers is competitive, with prices varying based on factors like model, brand, and features. To aid you in selecting the right 3D printer with assurance, this guide will outline 10 essential considerations.

1. Different kinds of 3D printers 

There are different kinds of 3D printers used for making physical objects. The one you often hear about is called Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), which is quite popular among hobbyists. FDM works by heating and squeezing out plastic, building up the object layer by layer.

FDM: Image Source: hongkiat.com

Most of the 3D printers you see around use FDM because they're easy to find and more common. But there are two other types: Stereolithography and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). They're a bit pricier than FDM.

Stereolithography works by hardening a liquid using UV light to create each layer. It makes higher-quality prints.

Stereolithography: Image Source: assets. hongkiat.com

Selective Laser Sintering, on the other hand, uses lasers to melt powdered material, creating the layers. This method can even print metal objects, something FDM and Stereolithography can't do.

Selective Laser Sintering: Image Source: assets.hongkiat.com

2. Choosing Between Building or Buying a 3D Printer

Whether you want to assemble your 3D printer or purchase a ready-made one depends on your preferences. The 3D printing community is full of creative individuals who enjoy building things themselves, so many opt to construct their printers. If you choose this route, you can find building instructions and kits online to help you get started. Building your printer may save you money, but it requires time and effort. Alternatively, if you're short on time or prefer convenience, you can buy a pre-assembled printer. Your decision should be based on whether you enjoy experimenting with technology and are willing to tinker with the printer, or if you simply want to begin printing without any assembly required.

3.3D Printers: Understanding Costs and Options

Different Price Ranges: Image Source: asset.hongkiat.com

The cost plays a big role in making 3D printers more common. How much you pay depends mostly on how good the prints are. Usually, the better ones cost over $1000, and professional ones can be over $2000, like the MakerBot series. But if you're new to 3D printing, you can start with basic models for as little as $100

As 3D printing becomes more popular and more companies compete, prices will likely drop while quality goes up. Keep in mind, though, that when you buy a printer, it doesn't come with the stuff you need to print things. You'll have to get materials separately because different things need different materials.

When it comes to 3D printing, there are two main materials you'll need: poly lactic acid (PLA) and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). These are types of plastic that get soft when heated and harden when cooled. You can buy them in spools that weigh about 1kg (or 2.2 lbs) and cost around $30.

4. Choosing 3D Printing Materials: PLA vs ABS

Let's talk about PLA first. It's a plastic made from corn starch, which makes it great for beginners. It's good for making simple things like household items. PLA is good for the environment because it breaks down naturally. It also cools down quickly, so your creations won't warp. You can get it in different colors, and it gives your prints a shiny finish. However, it can deform if it gets too hot, and it's not great for making things with moving parts.

Now, onto ABS. This plastic is made from petroleum and is known for being strong and flexible, like Lego bricks. It's easier to make things with moving parts with ABS, and it can handle high temperatures without deforming. However, it takes longer to cool down, so your prints might warp. Plus, it releases fumes when you print with it.

When choosing between PLA and ABS, think about what you're making and what kind of printer you have. Not all printers can use both materials. Most printers use 1.75mm filament, so that's what you should probably start with.

5. Staying Safe with 3D Printing

Safety is a crucial aspect to consider when engaging in 3D printing activities. One primary concern revolves around the manipulation of heat, as the materials involved, such as plastics, extruders, and print beds, can reach high temperatures, posing a risk of severe burns if mishandled. It's especially important to exercise caution when operating printers lacking enclosed print areas.

Furthermore, proper ventilation is essential during printing sessions without mitigating the emission of fumes, especially when utilizing ABS plastics. While the exact health impact of these fumes remains uncertain due to limited research, it's advisable to take the necessary precautions, especially for frequent users.

Regarding the materials used, both ABS and PLA plastics are generally deemed safe for food-related applications, but additives incorporated into them might pose risks. Additionally, items produced with FDM-type 3D printers often feature porous surfaces prone to bacterial accumulation, raising concerns about their safety, particularly for kitchenware. While coating such objects may enhance safety, it's advisable to restrict the use of 3D-printed kitchenware whenever possible to minimize potential health risks.

6. Choosing a Good 3D Printer: What to Look For

If you want to make really good 3D printed stuff, you need to pay attention to two main things: how clear the prints are and how fast the printer works

Clear prints mean how detailed your printouts can be. This is measured in microns – smaller numbers mean more detail in what you make.

Printer speed is about how quickly the printer moves its nozzle. The faster it goes, the faster you'll get your printouts.

But there's more to speed than just that. The printer's ability to speed up and slow down smoothly also matters. It stops the printer from shaking too much.

In the end, the best way to know if a printer is any good is to look at what it makes. You can check out pictures online of what other people have printed with it before you decide to buy it.

7. Exploring 3D Models: Making or Finding Your Perfect Match

Getting a 3D model can be done in two ways: either you make it yourself or you find one ready-made online

If you choose to make your model, there's a bunch of software out there, some of it's free and some you have to pay for, that can help you bring your idea to life. You could also learn how to make 3D models if you want to.

Learning to make 3D models on a computer isn't easy, it takes time and effort to really get the hang of it. But if you're short on time, there are websites where people share models they've made, so you can find what you need without having to start from scratch.

A quick search on Google should help you find the model you're after.

8. Getting Ready to 3D Print: Understanding Slicing Software 

When you want to 3D print a model, you first you need a special file called an STL file. Then, you use slicing software to prepare it for printing. Slicing software tells your printer how to make the object. It gives details like how many layers to use, where to start printing, and which parts should be solid or empty.

There are different slicing software options available, and sometimes the printer comes with its own. For instance, MakerBot’s MakerWare is a popular choice. With slicing software, you can fine-tune your printing process to get the best results for your model.

9. Finding Friends in the 3D Printing World

When a new technology becomes popular, you can usually find people online who are really into it. This is also true for 3D printers. If you're thinking about buying one, it's a good idea to look for an online group of people who already own the brand you're interested in. They can give you a lot of helpful information and answer any questions you might have. 

Having looked at what you need to consider before buying a 3D printer, it’s also important to have a look at the best 3D design software that you can use to create your 3D models and even prepare them for 3D printing. One such tool is SelfCAD. SelfCAD is easy to use and it has been created for both beginners and professionals. You can design 3D models from scratch or you can import files created in other programs and modify them based on your requirements in the software. 

After 3D modeling, SelfCAD comes with an in-built online slicer that you can use to slice your files and generate the Gcode to send to your 3D printer. 


Before diving into buying a 3D printer, remember these key points: consider your budget, research the types of printers available, understand the materials they use, and check for online communities.This will help you be able to make an informed decision with your choice.


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