Decision Made – Time To Buy A 3D Printer!

Makerbot Replicator Mini

After starting starting the CNC machine build & having redesigned the gantry several times, the project has stalled & will be stalled for the foreseeable future. So I need something else in my life to scratch that itch – it has to be a 3D printer!

3D printers have been on my radar for some time – but the arrival of a milestone birthday in my life made me take a closer look. I understood how they work & what is involved…but had no idea what was available or what I wanted to buy.

Using the power of Google Fu & a fair amount of time – I had a look around at the main options. A quick search on either Amazon or ebay will show just how much choice there actually is out there…its fair to say that its more than a little daunting!

It seems for the 3D printing hobbyist, there are 3 main options to look at:

Major Brand, Commercially Produced

Makerbot Replicator 2These are the ones that you’ll see featured in gadget magazines & on programs like BBC’s Click or the Gadget Show. There are a handful of fairly well knows companies producing 3D printers – some work well and look great, others not so. They tend to come with a bit of a hefty price tag, approx £1500++. The printers that come in at the lower prices will typically come with smaller build volumes. A lot of them are also closed source – this means that you can’t really tinker with them or easily upgrade parts…or fix them when the go wrong (which they do). The major brands include most notably, Makerbot & Ultimaker – while there are many manufacturers that fall into this group, many of them can be hard to come by in the UK.

I can already hear some of you saying, but there are cheaper ones available – yes I know…they’re generally all cheap for a reason.

Its also worth noting that many of the printers from the more major manufacturers will only accept their own branded filament in a cartridge – this is very limiting in terms of choice of colours/materials. But also, they cost a LOT more than normal good quality filament.

Add all this up – and they’re not for me!

Clones

Wanhao Duplicator3D printer clones come in a couple of variations. They are all available off the shelf, some are clones of printers made by other manufacturers – others are ‘improved’ version of open source printers. Many of them come from china, Wanhao being one of the better known brands.

Some innovation has come from the clone camp, and some of them perform just as well (some will better better) than their more expensive counterparts…but I also feel they come with a recognized amount of risk. I buy hobby parts from China on a quite a regular basis, and mostly it works well. However, when things go wring, it can be a problem – I don’t fancy the idea of ending up with a paperweight that costs several hundred pounds!

While many of these 3D printer clones have a good reputation – they are again, not for me.

 

DIY build or Parts Kit – RepRap

Ooznest Prusa i3Being a tinkerer & having had some CNC experience before – I really wanted a kit to build myself. Yes, I could build one from scratch, but this being my first 3D printer, I wanted some of the work done for me already.

There are a good number of kits out there – all are based on open source RepRap designs. The most common models are the Prusa Mendle, Prusa i3, Kossel and Rostock. A quick search for kits on Amazon or ebay, shows a very different set of choices to those of the major manufacturers.

The Prusa Mendle & Prusa i3 are printers that have evolved from the same starting point & work in the traditional RepRap style (Print head moves X on the gantry, gantry moves Z, bed moves Y). The Kossel and Rostock are both deltas which move in a very different way (have a look at the links above).

On the surface a lot of the kits will look incredibly similar. But if you look closer, you will find some differences. The cheapest kits will typically allow you to build the 3D printer exactly as the original design shows. However, there have been many improvements and modifications which users have come up with to fix various well known issues. The more expensive kits come with parts that have been upgraded, redesigned to help you produce better quality prints and have a machine that requires less maintenance.

For me, without doubt, a kit is the way to go – hands on, can be upgraded, improved, fixed, uses normal filament & is more fun to use/play with. & more importantly it will come with all the required parts – I won’t have to source anything myself.

All that’s left now is too choose the kit…

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