The emergence of 3D printers has marked a turning point for the manufacturing industry. Almost every sector is lining up to take advantage of their revolutionary technology, from artists to engineers, to industrial manufacturers and hobbyists.
But not all 3D printers are cut from the same cloth. 3D printing is just a general term for a plethora of newly-emerged technologies. We’re now seeing new kinds of 3D printers pop up almost every day. Some are better qualified to generate architectural models, while others can more effectively form complex parts for cars or prosthetic.
For these reasons, it’s important to know your exact requirements before you make your 3D printer purchase. As is the case with any new technology, 3D printers do not come cheap, and so it’s vital to conduct prior research to avoid future dismay.
In this article, we’ll look at the different kinds of 3D printers, who they’re best suited for, important aspects to consider, and the pros and cons of each variety.
We hope this guide will assist you in finding the most fitting 3D printer for your needs.
So let’s begin…
Things You Should Know Before Purchasing a 3D Printer
- Not All Materials Are Compatible With Every Printer
While this may seem obvious, it’s a fact that can be easily overlooked in the heat of the buying moment.
The material of your printing products must be compatible with the printer’s design specifications.
For example, the materials used for SLA printing (dental parts, jewelry casting) may be considerably different from FDM printing (toys, food containers).
Therefore, choosing a printing technology that’s suitable for your chosen material is the very first step in finding the right 3D printer.
- How Big Your Prints Will Be
Build volume is probably the second most important thing to consider when making your 3D printer purchase decision.
It’s worth noting that large printers will not be able to produce high-quality results for small, intricate projects. So if you’re manufacturing jewelry, dental components, or complex metal parts, opting for a smaller printer is your best bet.
- Your Personal or Business’ Budget
The market is seeing an ever-increasing selection of suitable 3D printing materials come available. Familiarizing yourself with these options, their cost and availability is key in making sure you get the best quality and value for your money.
You’ll need to consider the volume at which you’ll be printing – you may wish to opt for a widely available material if you’re printing in large quantities, for example.
ABS (the plastic from which lego bricks are made) is one of the most common 3D printing materials. It’s versatile, low cost and has excellent mechanical, chemical and thermal properties due to its thermoplastic nature. However its susceptibility to warping, unwanted emissions and cracking makes it unsuitable for more complex applications.
As you can see, choosing the right printer involves careful consideration of your budget and the materials you’ll want to use.
- How Much You’re Willing to Learn About Software
3D printers are still a relatively advanced form of home technology, meaning their softwares will be far from the user-friendly kind you experience in a desktop printer.
Unless you’re a technological whizz or computer engineer, we recommend opting for the ‘easy to use’, base model kinds of printers. This will help you familiarize yourself with the world of 3D printing. Believe us when we say, there’s a lot to learn.
- The Degree of Quality You’d Like Your Prints to Display
If you’ll be printing jewelry or manufacturing medical or dental parts, then high-resolution printing must be on top of your list of priorities.
Choosing a 3D printer with high resolution will help you achieve excellent aesthetics and an impressive amount of detail through fine build layers. It will also help your finished products maintain a smoother finish.
Because of these benefits, SLA and DLP printers are the perfect option for those looking to achieve complex accuracy.
- Whether or Not You Need a Single or Full Color 3D Printer
If you intend on printing toys, jewelry, gift items or architectural models, then a multi-color 3D printer is absolutely essential. While full color printers are more expensive, they’ll save you time (and money, eventually) by eliminating the need for post-process coloring.
So, now that you know what to take into account before making your purchase, let’s look at the main types of 3D printing methods. This should give you a better idea of the kind of printer you’ll need to suit your requirements.
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is the most common kind of 3D printing. This technology is versatile and high-performing, and is able to produce a wide variety of plastic parts. Lego bricks, architectural prototypes and other small plastic components can be produced to a high degree of quality using FDM.
It’s worth noting that FDM is unique in that it uses industrial-grade thermoplastics. This means that the prints it produces have fantastic thermal, mechanical and chemical properties.
Naturally, the time it takes to print an object with an FDM printer varies on the size of the project. Large intricate prints will take some time to print, and compared to SLA printing, FDM has a much slower printing speed.
In FDM printing, parts are created by the printing of multiple thin layers. This makes the prints lack long-term durability in comparison to something made by injection molding, for example.
You can use many types of thermoplastics with FDM printers, so materials are always readily available and tend to be inexpensive. Its ability to print non-toxic thermoplastics such as PLA also makes this a great printing method for the medical field.
Overall FDM is a sound and widely-used 3D printing method, with the food, automobile and toy industries all taking advantage of its versatility.
Stereolithography (SLA) is one of the earliest forms of 3D printing. And while it’s nowhere near as popular as it once was, it’s still the preferred printing method for certain industries.
SLA works by using an excess amount of liquid plastic to form a printed object. This form of printing is favored by the mechanical engineering industry, where prototypes and test parts are required for design experiments.
SLA printers are by no means fast, and may take up to several days to finish larger prints. However, in comparison to FDM, SLA printing will produce results much more quickly, especially for larger models.
Digital light processing is a 3D printing method similar to SLA in that it functions with photopolymers (light-sensitive materials that change their properties when exposed to UV light).
DLP printers however, require an extra source of light to do their job. Sources such as arc lamps will do the trick for DLP printing, and this is the preferred method by printing amateurs.
The beauty of DLP is that it creates beautifully bright results, thanks to the liquid plastic resin it uses for printing. It’s also reliably fast, thanks to its ability to cure the whole surface of a layer at once.
DLP can print at speeds that are up to 8 times faster than SLA, making it more reliable and consistent in that respect.
One thing DLP struggles with however is its resolution for larger projects. DLP printers are great for small, detailed pieces (such as jewelry), but are rarely able to achieve anything lower than 50 microns for bigger parts.
So, if you’re looking for high-quality scalability, a DLP printer probably isn’t the one for you.
As the name suggests, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) uses a laser to create sturdy 3D prints.
SLS is very similar to SLA printing, the noteworthy difference being that the latter uses powdered materials rather than liquid resin.
A diverse variety of materials can be used for SLS printing, such as glass, ceramics, nylon, and even metals like silver and aluminum. Its versatility makes it a great option for those who need to print customized items.
The downside of this powerful printer type is its hefty price tag. Such advanced, high-power laser technology means that SLS is mainly used for commercial printing rather than at-home or hobbyist.
So if you’re new to the world of 3D printing, or don’t intend to make an industrial venture of it, SLS is probably best to avoid.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article about all-things 3D printing. You should use this blog as a point of reference when making that all-important buying decision. 3D printers are still very much a sophisticated form of technology and should be thoroughly researched prior to purchase.
If you’d like to know more about each kind of 3D printing type then get in touch – I’d love to hear from you.