So You Want To Try 3D Printing?

If you love gadgets and science, you have almost certainly been pining for a 3D printer you can experiment with at home. Ten years ago, these devices were huge, costly pieces of manufacturing equipment that were out of reach of the average person. 3D printers are still expensive, but there are some options for hobbyists who want to be early adopters of this technology.

How Does It Work

These printers create real-world objects by laying down layers of material according to a computerized “blueprint.” The process is also known as “additive manufacturing.” 3D printers employ several different technologies , including some that use metal, lasers, or plaster to build objects. But the most common technology for desktop systems is Fused Deposition Modeling, sometimes called Fused Filament Fabrication. This system feeds a thermoplastic material into an extruder with a “hotend” that melts the plastic. The computer shapes this fluid plastic according to the computer coded instructions, building the material in layers until the object stands complete.

Drawing In The Air

The simplest and lowest cost way to explore this plastic extrusion model is a hands-on solution that bypasses the computer altogether. 3D pens like the 3Doodler emit a stream of molten plastic from a nib, similar to the way a hot glue gun emits glue. The plastic cools quickly, so you can use the pen to build up layers or designs and create 3D items by freehand. If you are an artist who enjoys drawing freehand, the ability to doodle solid objects into being is almost irresistible. At under $100, this is the most affordable way to experience 3D printing.

A Budget Desktop Model

A desktop 3D printer will cost a bit more. One of the most popular budget options is the M3D Micro 3D Printer. It’s compact, easy to use, and with a price of around $500 it’s one of the more affordable options on the market. It’s slow, and some reviewers say that the finished products tend to have blemishes or filament “whiskers,” but for a home user who just wants to experiment with technology, this is as easy and affordable as it gets. just plug this printer into your USB port and pretty soon you’ll be watching as your designs manifest themselves inside the box.

Balanced Quality and Price

If you have higher standards and a budget to match, you might want to step up to the Craftbot. Its $1250 price tag is a big step up from the M3D, but reviewers have been comparing this Hungarian machine favorably against much more expensive printers. The Craftbot has been praised for its large print area, ease of use, customer support, and high quality. An impressive 96% of those who are using the Craftbot say they would buy it again.

These entry-level options aren’t likely to meet the needs of businesses who want to produce consistent products, but they are perfect for those who want to experiment with 3D printing technology without breaking the bank.

Image via Flickr by soulfish