3D printing has been the latest craze and it’s definitely one of the coolest things that has come out of the last decade—there are so many things that you can make now that the technology has become available to the general public. Not only do manufacturers have great new opportunities with 3D printing but so does each individual who wants to give it a shot. Before you get started, there are some things that you need to have before you can design and print your creations.
3D printing requires a machine that can 3D print, the material that is needed to print it with, a design, and the software to help edit the designs. Each of these is essential to properly print and create things in 3D form. The average cost of a 3D printer is around $700.
The world of 3D printing is larger than you think and can be full of great opportunities and experiences if you really explore it. Immerse yourself in this great world and you will be surprised to find that it can be used as an amazing tool to fuel creativity, manufacture products for retail, and help you gain more knowledge.
Table of Contents
Beginning and History
3D printing has been around for a lot longer than you might think. It has its roots dating back to 1986 when it was first created in Japan. This may not seem like 3D printing has been around for a long time, but that was 35 years ago. Most people have only started using 3D printers in earnest during the last 5 years or so when they became more publically available.
The 3D printing that we know today started as a way to make prototypes for designs that people wanted to test out. This original process was known as rapid prototyping. The official name for 3D printing is called stereolithography, or SLA.
A man by the name of Charles Hull has the U.S Patent for SLA and created the first SLA machine, or 3D printer. Many companies tried to take advantage of this technology and use it to make money. Of the many that started out, only 3 still exist: 3D Systems, EOS, and Stratasys. Charles Hull’s original company, DTM inc., was later acquired by 3D Systems.
Nowadays, 3D printers come in all shapes and sizes. There are ones that you can have at home or more complex printers that you can use in your technical careers. Regardless of their origins, the technology has progressed and will continue to be refined as the years pass.
The filament is the material that you use to print with. It’s usually some type of plastic, resin, metal, or a combination. There are many different types of filament that you can use to 3D print with and each of them has distinct pros and cons that creators must consider.
The first type of filament is PLA, or polylactic acid. When it comes to filaments, this is the most popular type of filament to use and there is a good reason too. PLA is super easy to print with. The temperature that the machine needs to print with PLA filament is much lower than all of the other types of filament. It also does not warp as easily. Something that is usually not considered when 3D printing is the smell. Sometimes filaments will give off a terrible odor when being printed, however, PLA is not one of these filaments. It tends to be odorless, and some people even say that it gives off a slightly sweet smell.
PLA filament is super useful when you’re trying to shake things up and experiment. It comes in a wide variety of colors and styles. If you want a bright pink filament, you will find it. You can find glow-in-the-dark PLA and even some materials that are infused with metal or wood. The problem with PLA is that it can be brittle, so you’ll want to avoid using it if you are going to make something that will get twisted or dropped, like phone cases or tools.
The next type of filament is ABS, or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. This material can be a bit better than PLA in the right circumstances. It is a bit harder to print with but the end product can look very appealing when compared to PLA. Some common products made of ABS are lego bricks and bicycle helmets. Before getting ABS, you will need a high-temperature print nozzle to be able to start printing.
Things that are made with ABS tend to be high in durability and resist high temperatures. This makes ABS filament an ideal choice for making things that will be receiving lots of wear and tear, things like phone cases, toys, and electrical enclosures. A problem can show up when it comes time to print the material and the filament begins to cool down. As it cools down, it may begin to warp and give off fumes. ABS filament should only be used in places with great ventilation because of this problem.
The last filament will we talk about in-depth is polyethylene terephthalate glycol, or PETG. This material is commonly used in water bottles. This filament is a good middle ground between PLA and ABS because it is more durable and flexible than PLA and is easier to print than ABS.
When using PETG filament, you should be aware that it will absorb moisture from the air. This will make it harder to print with. If you keep it in a cool, dry place, you should be able to print with it and have no problems. If you are worried about getting scratches on it, this may not be the material for you, as it scratches somewhat easily and can lead to a less appealing product.
Other materials that you may consider using with your 3D printer are TPE and TPU. These are a more flexible and rubber-like material. They are made of nylon, which may be seen as a less conventional material, but more functional in its uses. It is also made of polycarbonate, an extremely strong material that is resistant to heat and physical impact. There is even metal filament that you can use, this requires a bit more planning and different attachments for your printer but can be done if you plan accordingly.
If you would like to learn more on 3d printing filament types and how they are used. I have written a whole another article on that that you can check out here: 33 Types of 3D Printing Filament and How to Use Them.
There are lots of 3D printing machines out there that any number of consumers can use. Prices for a high-quality 3D printer have been dropping since late 2014. The price of a 3D printer will vary depending on what type of 3D printer you want. An entry-level 3D printer can be as cheap as $200, while the high-end industrial 3D printers can be well over $100,000. It all depends on what you want out of your 3D printer because you get what you pay for.
Entry-level 3D printers are going to be a great choice for you if you are just getting into 3D printing. They are a great way to learn about the hobby before you make a real investment. Most entry-level machines will be restrictive in their sizes and will not be able to print over 3-4 inches in any dimension. These machines usually cost between $200 and $400.
Hobbyist machines are for people who already have some experience with 3D printing and are ready to scratch the itch of a bigger and better machine. These machines are faster and will allow you to print bigger items. There is also a much larger choice of material that you can use for filament with these machines. The software behind these machines is a bit better than the basic machines as well. One of these will cost you anywhere between $300 to $1,500.
Enthusiast machines are the next step up. They allow you to print larger items, up to 12 inches in length. These machines are usually a bit quieter than other machines and can use a lot more types of filament than the other less expensive machines. If you are thinking about using one of these printers for steady production purposes, you may want to rethink that. These are capable of printing high-quality items and can take some wear and tear, but they should not be used continually. One of these machines will cost you from $1,500 to $3,000.
Professional machines, because of their improved design and larger size, are much stronger and more resilient. They can deal with more stress than other machines. With professional 3D printers, you can start mass-producing items and will not have to worry about your machine breaking on you. These machines can make a variety of items that can be as large as 12 inches in all dimensions and can be made of all sorts of materials. The quality of these machines is still very high, and you will see a vast difference, even compared to the enthusiast machines. These machines cost $3,500 to $6,000.
The last type of 3D printer is an industrial machine. When it comes to these guys, the world is your oyster. These machines are highly durable and are built with metal to ensure a quality machine. They are not DIY machines and will have extra maintenance fees included along with them. The filament that you need for these huge machines will probably cost you a lot more than for the other machines. These 3D printers cost around $20,000 to $100,000.
|Type of Printer||Cost|
|Entry-Level 3D Printers||$200 – $400|
|Hobbyist 3D Printers||$300 – $1500|
|Enthusiast 3D Printers||$1500 – $3500|
|Professional / Performance 3D Printers||$3500 – $6000|
|Industrial 3D Printers||$20,000 – $100,000|
I also have a 3d printing filament cost breakdown table by type of material in the middle of another article. You can check it out here: Beginner Guide to 3D Printing | All Questions Answered
The most crucial part of 3D printing is the design that you are going to be printing. You can come up with your own, or if you do not have any ideas, you can get inspiration from one of the numerous 3D printing communities that exist on the internet. Places like Thingiverse or Tinkercad are great for inspiration and designs. These robust communities are full of people willing to help. If you are interested in creating your own designs and have a mind full of ambitious ideas, you could also consider making your own 3D models through any number of great programs.
One of the most basic 3D modeling programs is a browser-based app called Tinkercad. It was designed with the intent of helping people learn about how to make 3D models. It has many tutorials that guide users to have a top-notch design. Even if you do not have a 3D printer, it has a print and ship service that allows you to create something, have it printed, and get sent right to your door. Tinkercad is a great way of learning about 3D modeling.
Blender is the next program in our lineup. It is completely free to use and is intended more for people who already have a bit of experience with rendering 3D models. It has a steep learning curve, but do not be discouraged. There are many tutorials out there for Blender. If you have the desire, you can learn it in no time. A cool part about Blender is that it was created as a software for artists and can help you render your designs in a photorealistic way.
Another really great program is DesignSpark Mechanical. It comes with an entire library of 3D models to help you get a jump start on your creative processes. It also allows you to mix a pre-created model from the library with your own drawings and creations. It gives you a start but lets you be in charge once you get the hang of it. The software runs quickly and effectively to help get your design done smoothly and quickly. It is also incredibly beginner-friendly and is great for people who have just started to learn about 3D printing.
In the end, there are a variety of printers, filaments, and design software you can use to get started designing and creating your own products. 3D printing reaches into a whole new world of creation and getting started is exciting.