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Greyson Garcia
Greyson Garcia

Buying A 3d Printer 2017 UPDATED

Barely more than a decade ago, 3D printers were hulking, expensive machines reserved for factory floors and deep-pocketed corporations, all but unknown outside the small circles of professionals who built and used them. But thanks largely to the RepRap open-source 3D printing movement, these amazing devices have become affordable, viable tools for designers, engineers, hobbyists, schools, and consumers alike.

buying a 3d printer 2017

Today's 3D printers come in styles optimized for different applications and kinds of printing. Models geared to professionals, like the Ultimaker S5, tend to have a closed frame, with a transparent door and often sides as well. Our favorite midrange 3D printer, the Original Prusa i3 MK3S+, and many budget models have open frames. You also tend to get a larger build area for your money with an open-frame model. While higher-end models such as the Ultimaker S5 can cost $6,000 or more, entry-level models such as the Monoprice Mini Delta V2 can be found for $200 or less. We've even seen an able model geared to kids.

If you're in the market for a 3D printer, it's important to know how they differ so you can choose the right model. Read on for mini-reviews of the top models we've tested for a host of uses and users. After that, we go into more detail on understanding 3D printer specs and tech. Preparing to take the plunge? Read on.

In our testing, the printer's operation proved smooth, with no misprints, and our test prints were consistently of above-average quality. The i3 MK3S+ supports a variety of filament types. (A 1-kilo spool is included.)

Dremel is better known for its rotary power tools than its 3D printers, but the company put the same care and craftsmanship into the DigiLab 3D45 that it has with its more traditional products. The 3D45 consistently produced good-quality prints in our testing.

A closed frame provides safety to users while prints are in progress. You can print from a computer over a USB, Ethernet, or Wi-Fi connection, as well as from a USB thumb drive. Every Dremel printer can connect via the web to the Dremel Print Cloud, from which you can prepare and launch print jobs, and even monitor prints in progress from an onboard 720p camera.

The Ultimaker S5 costs a pretty penny, but you get a lot for its premium price. A 3D printer geared to professionals, the S5 has a large build area for a closed-frame printer and packs dual extruders, letting you print with two filament colors or types. To that end, it comes with one spool of Tough PLA (polylactic acid) and one of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), the latter a water-soluble filament commonly used as a temporary support material during printing for complex objects.

The S5 is a good choice for product designers, engineers, architects, and others in need of a machine that can consistently churn out high-quality prototypes or models (and who have the money to spend on a printer to bring that ability in-house). Its dual extruders let you print in two colors or with multiple filament types. Its cubic print area is large for a closed-frame printer, and it churned out good-to-excellent-quality prints in our testing.

The Replicator+ is a good fit for product designers, architects, and engineers, as well as small businesses, schools, and community centers (not to mention individuals with money to spare who are looking for a high-quality 3D printer). MakerBot's latest releases, the Method and Method X, have larger build areas and can produce prints to meet exacting engineering standards, but they are much pricier. The Replicator+ is a more affordable general-purpose model that should appeal to a wider audience.

It's unusual for a new player in the 3D printer field to hit a home run in their first at-bat, but Anker has done exactly that. The AnkerMake M5, an open-frame filament-based (FFF) model, is a cinch to assemble, and its print bed is easy to level (many 3D printers have died on that hill). It's easily the fastest FFF printer we've tested, and in our testing it consistently churned out high-quality prints with nary a misprint. A built-in camera can produce a time-lapse video of the print process or share data with an AI function to analyze a print in progress. It supports PLA, PETG, TPU, and ABS filaments. Anker provides a proprietary slicer for creating printable files, but claims compatibility with Simplify3D and PrusaSlicer 2.

The Original Prusa Mini is a compact, open-frame 3D printer that consistently produced high-quality prints in our testing. The Mini has a somewhat smaller build area than the Original Prusa i3 MK3S+, requires some assembly, and needs to be calibrated. But it's much cheaper than its larger sibling.

Among the things we look for in an entry-level 3D printer are a low price, ease of setup and use, largely problem-free operation, and solid print quality. The Monoprice Mini Delta V2 3D Printer ticks off all these boxes. It lists at just under $200 and is a cinch to set up and operate. Print-bed leveling problems are the bane of some budget (and even pricey) 3D printers, but the Mini Delta's leveling is truly automatic and requires no calibration. For software, it comes with a modified version of the popular open-source Cura program we've seen with numerous other 3D printers.

This Monoprice printer is great for newbies thanks to its bargain-basement price, easy setup, and smooth operation. Although its output in our tests was nearly misprint-free, print quality was unspectacular. That and the modest build area make it a less-than-optimal choice for intermediate or expert users, but it's a fine, low-risk first platform for those getting their feet wet in 3D printing.

The Creality Ender-3 S1 Pro provides good value in an open-frame 3D printer, offering a large print area for its price. Although the S1 Pro comes in kit form, it's largely preassembled, so it should be easy enough for even a non-techie to put together and it produced quality prints in our testing.

The Anycubic Vyper, an open-frame budget 3D printer, provides a large-volume print area and support for automatic bed leveling. It comes partially assembled, with the remaining steps (bolting the frame to the base, plugging several cables into their sockets, and attaching the filament spool holder to the frame) simple and straightforward. As for filament, the Vyper supports the standard ABS and PLA, plus TPU and PETG. The printer only comes with a small starter coil, so you'll want to buy at least one spool at purchase. (Pro tip: Anycubic and Amazon often offer bundled filament deals when buying a Vyper.)

Due to its competitive pricing, generous build area, and automatic print-bed leveling, the Vyper is a good choice for 3D-printing newbies or hobbyists on a budget. Some of our test prints looked a bit rough-hewn, so print perfectionists will want to avoid this one, but its minimal assembly requirements shouldn't deter anyone from buying it on that score.

Easy to set up and operate, the LulzBot Mini 2 is an open-frame 3D printer capable of printing with a variety of filament types. The Mini 2 supports direct USB connection with a computer, and adds SD-card connectivity. It uses "thick" filament (2.85mm, often rounded to 3mm in descriptions) available on the LulzBot site and elsewhere. Easy to set up and use, the Mini 2 employs the popular and effective open-source Cura printing software. Its overall print quality is solid if not exceptional.

The LulzBot Mini 2 is a good choice for individuals, schools, and community centers thanks to its easy setup and operation. Hobbyists and tinkerers will like its ability to print with a wide variety of filament types. Its build volume is on the small side for an open-frame printer, and its print quality is only average, so professionals such as product designers, architects, and engineers may want to look elsewhere to produce larger and/or more exacting models.

When shopping for a 3D printer, one question comes before all others: What do you intend to print on it? Actually, not only should you ponder what you want to print, but a more fundamental question: Why do you want to print in 3D?

A lot of the answer depends on who you are. Are you a consumer interested in making toys or household items? A trendsetter who enjoys showing the latest gadgetry to your friends? An educator seeking to install a 3D printer in a classroom, library, or community center? A hobbyist or do-it-yourselfer who likes to experiment with new projects and technologies? A designer, engineer, or architect who needs to create prototypes or models of new products, parts, or structures? An artist who sees fabricating 3D objects as a kind of sculpture? Or a manufacturer looking to print plastic items in relatively short runs?

The "best" 3D printer for you depends on how you plan to use it. Consumers and schools will want a device that's easy to set up and use, doesn't need much maintenance, and offers reasonably good print quality. Hobbyists and artists may want special features such as the ability to print objects with more than one color or multiple filament types. Designers and other professionals demand outstanding print quality. Shops involved in short-run manufacturing will like a large build area to print multiple objects at once. Individuals wanting to show off the wonders of 3D printing to friends or clients will want a handsome yet reliable machine.

Other materials used in FFF printing include, but are not limited to, high-impact polystyrene (HIPS); composite filaments made of wood, bronze, and copper; UV-luminescent filaments; nylon; Tritan copolyester; polyvinyl alcohol (PVA); polyethylene terephthalate (PETT); polycarbonate; conductive PLA and ABS; plasticized copolyamide thermoplastic elastomer (PCTPE); and PC-ABS. Each material has a different melting point, so use of some exotic filaments is limited to printers designed for them or ones with software that lets you control the extruder temperature. So your printer needs to support a given kind of filament to use it.

Make sure the filament is the right diameter for your printer, and that the spool is the right size. In many cases, you can buy or make (even 3D print) a spool holder that will fit various spool sizes. (For much more on 3D printing filaments, check out our filament explainer). 041b061a72


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