Expert advice: How to Choose a 3D Printer?
There are now hundreds of 3D printer manufacturers vying for market share in the 3D printing industry. Many wish to occupy the lucrative rewards that 3D printing is poised to bring. Therefore, it is difficult for someone to choose which 3D printer from the huge variety available. Which technology: FDM or SLA? Single or dual extruder? Plastics or metals? Therefore, we spoke to a number of prominent people in the industry to help guide you towards choosing the right 3D printer for you.
In doing this, we spoke to Jemuel Stephenson of FABLabs, Eric Savant, CEO of iMakr, and the team at Tinkerine. Jemuel’s work includes finding the right kinds of equipment and methods to design and prototype products, as well as teaching courses on 3D printing. iMakr are a large seller and manufacturer of 3D printers in both the USA and the UK. Tinkerine are a well-known Canadian 3D printing company who produce the FDM 3D printer called the DittoPro as well as their Tinkerine U educational courses.
What should a beginner’s 3D printing goals be?
Firstly, we asked what beginners to the 3D printing industry should strive for and aim to achieve. Jemuel of FABLabs stated “Focus on designing creative things…I’d recommend starting with a simple and reliable printer like a Makerbot or an Ultimaker.”
Eric Savant of iMakr added, “one of the more important questions to answer when someone is first starting out is whether they’re 3D printing for personal fulfillment or for professional purposes. There are two approaches a personal user can take when starting out: buy the best printer they can afford immediately, or buy a low-cost machine to learn on before making a more informed decision on a more sophisticated machine later. We don’t see huge differences in capability for machines under $1000, so unless a customer can afford more to start with, we would recommend the low price option.”
It is worth noting that Ultimaker and Makerbot 3D printers are typically more than $1,000 and therefore fall outside of the area Eric states there is not much quality difference with. He went on to say “if the customer needs a printer for professional purposes, then they need to identify what is most important to the outcome they desire. If they’re in the jewelry industry, they’ll be most concerned with resolution; if they’re in engineering, they’ll likely care most about the ability to print in advanced materials; or if they’re in architecture, they’ll require good build volume size and a clean finish.” Therefore it is important to consider in which area you are operating in, what quality you require for it, and go from there.
Tinkerine gave a different answer, stating “a beginner should look for a 3D printer that allows them to not worry about the hardware. We believe that is the most important factor. We would say a beginner should focus more on educating themselves with the skill sets, getting familiar with the technology, and the application of the technology. The design and creation stage is more important than the hardware itself. The 3D printer is simply a tool to help you bring your designs into life.” Tinkerine really believe education is important for beginners to 3D printing, which is why they set up their Tinkerine U service to help educate people around the world in additive manufacturing.
Which FDM 3D printer do you think are the best for a beginner? Why?
As fused deposition modeling (FDM) is the most affordable technology, it is ideal for beginners. We therefore asked our experts which FDM 3D printer they felt was best for new 3D printing hobbyists.
Jemuel at FABLabs stated “as a hobbyist looking to get wet feet, you can opt for a low budget printer from around $200. This will allow you to make neat stuff and will help you understand the general workflow of printing, as well as material capabilities. If you are looking to add a 3D printer to an existing design workflow to allow for mockups with more dimensional accuracy, a MakerGear M2, MakerBot Replicator 2X or similar printer should work well. These printers deliver better surface finish and overall quality.” Jemuel definitely feels that Makerbot 3D printers are among the best consumer printers.
Eric Savant responded with “we recently introduced a 3D printer into the marketplace that is intended exactly for this purpose: the STARTT. With a retail price of $99/£99, the STARTT is a low-risk option for people who want to experience 3D printing for the first time. The printer comes as a kit, with full instructions and videos for its assembly. Our expectation is that buyers of the STARTT will be able to move on from this machine when they’re ready to some of the more serious printers we have on offer.”
The team at Tinkerine agreed, stating “we believe that for ideal beginners, 3D printers should consist of these characteristics; simple to use, reliable, accurate, and high performance. Since we are the designers and makers of the DittoPro 3D printer, we know that this printer fits the characteristics listed above, and we will definitely recommend it.”
How do you help customers find their ideal 3D printer?
Our last question to our panel of experts was how they went from recommending a 3D printer, to helping their customers pick their own.
Tinkerine stated “we will first determine what their needs and applications are, then we will recommend to the best of our knowledge on which 3D printing technology is most suitable to their needs. If it does fit with FDM printers, we will recommend our DittoPro 3D printers to them and show them where in the workflow is it best suited. If another technology is better suited, we will suggest a potential choice to them as we want our customers to adopt this technology in a meaningful way.”
Eric talked about iMakr’s process in detail, stating “when a customer is looking to buy a printer, we go through a process of needs identification to ensure they choose the most appropriate technology and printer for their needs. We assess whether the printer is intended for personal, educational or professional use, and what types of objects are meant to be printed. We then narrow the choice set down to the right printer to fit the customer’s budget.”
Overall, our three experts had fairly similar views in how to choose a 3D printer as a newcomer to the technology. You need to assess your needs and goals, and look for a reliable and non-technical machine so you can focus on enjoying your projects. We hope this article helped you make, or reaffirmed your choices regarding a 3D printer.
You can visit the FABLabs For America website here.
You can visit iMakr’s website here.
You can visit Tinkerine’s website here.
Did our guide help you to choose a 3D printer? Let us know in a comment below or on our Facebook and Twitter pages! Sign up for our free weekly Newsletter, all the latest news in 3D printing straight to your inbox!