There is no doubt that 3D printing has made an impact on technology. Studies and applications in additive manufacturing demonstrate that 3D printing is making an impact in several industries including education, healthcare, architecture, film, fashion, consumer products, forensics, and more.
As we move towards a new decade, 3D printing will play a crucial role and directly impact the social and financial world in which we live. As you may be wondering, do I need to buy a 3D printer? Why would I want one? Or what can I do with it? Well, here you have the ultimate 2021 3D printer buying guide. Here, you will find the best recommendations for choosing the right 3D printer for your needs. For more detailed information about what is 3D printing, click here.
How to Find Out if I Need a 3D Printer?
This question is generally asked by hobbyists, entrepreneurs, DIY enthusiasts, teachers, and small business owners. Many large companies know of benefits that 3D printing can bring to their organizations. If you are thinking about getting a 3D printer, ask yourself first: why is the reason I need a 3D printer? See here why do companies use 3D printing?
If you never had the necessity of 3D printing before, this might not be the time to buy it. If you just want to print a few items you may benefit from outsourcing a company that can do this for you, there are several online companies that are dedicated to these services. Then if you have plans of creating stunning objects, ramp up production of some of your creations, create product models for your business, or simply experiment with new technologies for your home, then the answer is yes, you do need a 3D printer.
3D printing is an easy, interesting, and affordable way of manufacturing the ideas that you always wanted. 3D printing can also be a source of revenue, particularly if the field related to your needs is related to engineering, cooking, design, or manufacturing. For instance, in the case of considering to acquire a 3D printer for your home, this can help you to fix many things around, or create objects to educate your kids, fabricate broken parts or gadgets to sell and even decorate your place.
There are a lot of options for 3D printers in the market with quite different specifications for different demands. In addition to this, the technical aspects, the materials that can be used, the type of CAD software, safety aspects, price range, quality, and many things more make a top list to look at when deciding to buy a 3D printer.
If you are still hesitating about needing a 3D printer, there is a great option to try and to really convince yourself before committing; look for a manufacturer that can offer a demo of their 3D printing products. This is a great way of learning about this technology first-hand and having the opportunity to inquiry about models, pricing, safety and ask questions to tech professionals in the field. Another alternative is to look for a FabLab, this is a fabrication laboratory that lets you try 3D printers before buying one.
How to Find Out About your 3D Printing Needs?
3D printing is a great resource for rapid prototyping, saves a lot of time in designing and manufacturing process. New parts, models, and products can be printed in a much quicker way rather than obtaining this item with conventional means. Additionally, with 3D printing, you can customize your creations and create custom-fitted objects for specific purposes. See here how 3D printing is used on different applications and industries.
For the purpose of start looking for a 3D printer, many factors play an important role. We recommend having a clear view of the purpose of the 3D printer. Common examples of 3D printer purposes include manufacturing, research and development, and academic purposes.
Choosing the Right 3D Printer
Buying a 3D printer gives provides many benefits to businesses. Additive manufacturing delivers high-quality models and solves many different challenges in areas such as industrial manufacturing. Businesses interested in these benefits must begin by purchasing a 3D printer. There are many important factors to consider when purchasing a 3D printer and it may feel overwhelming at the beginning. Learn how to choose the right 3D printer from the many options of 3D printers from different manufacturers. Learn about the different models of 3D printers as well as their capabilities and how they can support any project.
The price range of 3D printers varies, but one important price factor is the quality of the printing results. Buying a 3D printer is not only related to the investment, but it is also the value and experience obtained from this technology and how this great resource can help to solve an issue. In fact, 3D printers are resolving several industries and manufacturing problems. Investing in a machine like this ensures the creation of perfect custom-made pieces that sometimes are difficult to get in the market, and represents less time or even an immediate need fulfilled. Then, working with different materials is fascinating, as you get to know diverse applications and take your ideas into real life.
Looking for a trust-worthy 3D printer is also crucial because while there are particularly good options to consider, are they safe? Further on this reading, you will find more about what makes a 3D printer safe and what to look for creating a safe work environment.
Quality is also essential, choosing a 3D printer that has acquired award recognitions and ISO certifications guarantees your machine performance and you will have peace of mind that your investment is well worth it. Last but not least, what about choosing a good 3D printing software? this is the computer program that prepares your designs for printing so, makes sure you are well covered on a program that can work well with your masterpieces. Let us dive into these fascinating topics and find out how to choose the right 3D printer for your needs.
3D Printers – Types and Models
As you start browsing for the right 3D printer, the first step is to analyze what type of 3D printer may be the best fit for your needs. There are different 3D printing types: Stereolithography (SLA), Digital Light Processing (DLP), Fused deposition Modeling (FDM), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), Selective Laser Melting (SLM), Electronic Beam Melting (EBM), Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM), Binder Jetting (BJ), Material Jetting (MJ).
In this article, we will focus on Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), as this is one of the most common and less expensive methods used for 3D printing.
FDM works as an additive process on this type of printer the model is created by heated extruding plastic that is placed layer by layer. This process uses a thermoplastic material that gets melted at a high temperature and then exits a nozzle and creates the 3D printed object. These types of printers are commonly used, more affordable, and easier to find. FDM is used for prototyping and rapid manufacturing also allowing an easy way for testing in a relatively inexpensive way.
Many businesses use this 3D printing technology because it is of high quality and creates detailed objects. This technology also is helping in the creation of small parts and specialized tools that sometimes the market does not produce anymore. FDM 3D printing has a lot of applications, from consumer goods to anything in the industry including automotive, healthcare, toys, sports equipment, engineering products, etc.
Choose a 3D Printer That is Simple and Easy to Use
Different models of 3D printers are intended for different levels of production and the size of the manufacturer’s needs. A desktop 3D printer is meant for small-scale projects while a large-format 3D printer can perform well for industrial-scale projects. Regardless of the size of the project, a user-friendly 3D printer will allow any sized team and business to begin production right away.
An easy-to-use 3D printer makes manufacturing more efficient because the time invested in testing and producing models and customized items will be less than any other traditional manufacturing method. Look carefully for manufacturers that offer video-assisted capabilities, and great programs to support and guide the usage by making this a fast-learning training and production environment.
Choose a 3D Printer Provider that has an Open Filament Program (OFP)
Another great aspect to consider from a manufacturer is to find out if this has an Open Filament Program (OFP). It is important to know if you can use third party filaments because this usually affects the cost of the material and the availability of various materials. Having an OFP makes extremely easy the option of choosing from a wide variety of filaments with the highest quality and top performance for your printing needs.
Also, the material you want to print in determines what type of printers and pricing are available to you.
Another great benefit of the OFP is that the filaments can easily be installed into the printing settings of the 3D printer due to its compatibility. This is much easier instead of buying a filament from another brand which will be inconvenient as the set up for the filament will have to be performed by yourself. This can be definitely time-consuming and there is no certainty about the quality of the results as it will greatly depend on the know-how of each user.
An OFP is a collaboration between the manufacturer and several selective filaments certified manufacturers to identify and pick top-performing filaments that are highly compatible with the provider’s 3D printers. This is a great feature to look from a manufacturer because it ensures that materials are certified by the manufacturer.
Choose a 3D Printer that is Cost- Efficient
Thinking about the cost of a 3D printer when buying equipment for the first time may seem overwhelming, you might be even considering buying the less expensive 3D printer that you can find. Well, while the cost is an especially important factor in a purchasing decision, it also impacts the quality and results of your production. 3D printers come in a wide range of pricing variations, this could be a couple of hundred dollars or even a million-dollar machine. For instance, 3D printers around $200 might or might not deliver what you need. So, it is very important that deciding the budget for your printer can be related to your plans and results to attain for your manufacturing and production needs.
There are 3D printers that are reliable, affordable, and high-quality. It is recommended to think carefully about your budget and on the return value before buying your printer. Remember, in the short or long run this will help you to manage production and overcome your creative needs.
Having said this, consider not only the price but the type of materials that the 3D printer will need. Choose the proper material for your applications to get the best cost-efficiency. Remember that the materials on which you will be printing determine the type of 3D printer that you need by impacting pricing and production. For instance, if you choose to print a metal part when a plastic part is good enough, you are spending a lot of money on a metal 3D printer. This cost is not necessary and it will increase your overhead cost and therefore, counteracts the purpose of a cost-effective 3D printer. It also prohibits you from expanding your capacity.
Also, evaluate the customer support that you can get from the manufacturer. Determine how good it is, as well as the quality and guarantee that comes with your 3D printer equipment, to calculate whether you will be spending more money overall.
The cost is relative to the results of what you will get with your equipment. The equipment that you are getting must help to achieve your business plans and what are you initially looking for. A 3D printer saves money in production, creates models faster than conventional methods, reduces waste of material, and achieves certain things that would not be possible to create without it. For example, a new item or a custom-made part or accessory for a particular job.
Also, think about what other resources come with the equipment that you are buying because it can also help you save money and time, and we will talk about all these later, but just to name a few ideas: Does the brand of your 3D printer has a good reputation for their equipment and materials? Is the shipping extra or does it come with it? Does the manufacturer offer a great slicing software at no cost? What type of materials does the 3D printer accept, are they accessible, and easy to find? Does the brand offer customer support at any time and at no cost? These are additional factors that will for sure save you time and money as well on the final price.
Think about all these things and what you can achieve with the equipment that you are about to select. Do the research and make sure that your selection is within your budget, but also look carefully and consider if the 3D printer that you are choosing is worth your investment. This equipment will help you to succeed with you and your business. Perhaps, this will be your business friend for several years to come.
Choose the Right Materials for 3D Printing
Make sure to choose materials that not only can work with your 3D printer, but also can help to meet your 3D printing needs and work well with your applications. Selecting the right material is not just about finding a “good price” for it because the selection of your material will impact and sacrifice the quality of your models. When choosing the materials for your projects make sure that this has the right characteristics and meet all the requirements for the applications you will work. The needs of a material application are determined by obtaining the results of what is trying to achieve. For example, if you need durability, detailed work, or for the product to be as close to the final piece as possible, materials and technology are a perfect match to provide a highly cosmetic piece.
Usually, materials are subject to tests that can determine the quality of them, how resistant or durable, and how they play a role in the environment. Find the materials that have the correct properties to correspond to the primary function of your application. Did you know that materials are also ISO certified as well as 3D printers? Yes, biodegradable materials that offer sterilization capabilities are distinguished by the FDA. Some materials possess certifications to avoid hazardous chemicals that can be dangerous when becoming in contact with the skin, or that does not expel smoke or toxicity when being heated. When choosing a material for your project it is important to determine if any of these will apply for your needs.
Look for a 3D printer manufacturer that posses ISO certifications (ISO9001, ISO14001) because these ensure the quality of your materials and equipment.
Additionally, 3D printing is always evolving, so check for manufacturers that have a wide range of materials and colors. A manufacturer that offers versatility and flexibility will give you flexibility as opposed to just buying a 3D printer that can only work with one or two types of materials as these will have a huge implication in the future of your production. There are modern printers that accept a variety of materials, filaments, polymers and nylons such as PLA / ABS / HIPS / PC / TPU / TPE / NYLON / PETG / ASA / PP / PVA / Glass Fiber Infused / Carbon Fiber Infused / Metal Fill / Wood Fill.
Choose a 3D Printer with Safety Features
Undoubtedly, safety should be one of your top requirements when looking for a 3D printer. Some excellent 3D printers come with an auto shut-off feature; these 3D printers can detect immediately when being open and pauses to keep users safe. Also, ensure that the printer that you are choosing can stores tasks progress before energy failure so your tasks can be resumed after power resumes. Finally, 3D Printers with flexible steel plates allow us to safely remove the 3D printed model because prototypes usually get hot. Because from time to time it might happen a malfunction of your equipment, choosing a brand that offers high-end customer support by email, phone or chat ensures availability and will save you much trouble.
Also, another great thing to consider is that some manufacturers of 3D printers have filaments that are reliable and certified. In general, these will come with a safety data sheet (MSDS) that provides the chemical compositions and will indicate if they are FDA approved or not.
Choose a High-Quality 3D Printer
An affordable price for a 3D printer not necessarily always means low quality. A starting point on this may be visiting the manufacturer’s website or read the buyer reviews to find out the quality of the equipment. In there, you will find that some of this gear have even received industrial awards and recognitions.
Likewise, printing resolution and speed will reflect the level of detail obtained on the models. The resolution of a 3D printer is measured in a unit called “microns” indicating that the small number possible equals to the highest level. Depending on your needs to recreate models or how fast you wish to have objects finished, the printing speed indicates also how fast the printer can work all the elements in place while the 3D printing process takes place. The higher the 3D printer speed is, the faster this will print. So, think about how quickly you need to have your creations done to make sure that your production always runs seamlessly and on time.
In addition to this, there are 3D printers that have ISO certifications. Manufacturers that possess these certifications such as IOS9001 and ISO14001 ensure that the quality of their products is the gold standard. ISO9001 certification is defined as the international standard that specifies requirements for a quality management system (QMS). Organizations use the standard to demonstrate the ability to consistently provide products and services that meet customer and regulatory requirements. ISO certifications are recognized mostly worldwide. Companies that possess this certification are recognized for creating, implementing, and maintaining a Quality Management System.
Further, an ISO14001 certification states that an organization is required to identify and have access to all applicable legal requirements related to its environmental aspects. ISO 14001 is an internationally agreed standard that sets out the requirements for an environmental management system. It helps organizations improve their environmental performance through more efficient use of resources and reduction of waste, gaining a competitive advantage, and the trust of stakeholders.
There are also 3D printer manufacturers that also offer certified third party products to complete all your 3D printing needs. If you find a manufacturer that provides this service, it is worthwhile to browse through the list of complementary products that they offer. If they have a selection of these resources, make sure that the third-party products are of good quality. It will save you time, money, and effort choosing this option because the printers can also work well with the equipment that you are acquiring through this provider.
The Work on 3D Printing Models
When you buy a 3D printer, you may be or not be an expert in designing 3D printing models. If you are thinking of creating your own model, usually manufacturers or companies that you can browse through the internet provide software to create these models. You can always learn 3D printing modeling, or you can download free pre-made models. Keep in mind that to create files that are compatible with the 3D printer, you will need to create an STL file which has all the information that is needed to print the model.
Choose the Right Slicing Software for 3D Printing
Once the STL file is created, it must be processed by a slicing software that aids the 3D printing process by converting the object into layers and provides the instructions that later will be received by the 3D printer. Aim for a slicing software that is intuitive, user-friendly, and has customized advanced features. One important point is to make sure that the software that you prefer also supports a multi-lingual interface in case you need it.
Choose a Provider with 3D Printing Support
This is probably one of the most important features that you want to have with your 3D printer. Before committing to purchase a 3D printer, find out what if the 3D printer manufacturer can offer any support in case you need something. Follow up with the manufacturer by asking what type of support they can offer, email, phone, chat? Research their business hours, and what they can offer to you. Some providers also have a video channel with 3D printing expert tips and videos on how to resolve common challenges while using a 3D printer. Either is technical support or even academic support as well. Great brands should offer this and more to support all your 3D printing needs.
Join an Online 3D Printing Community
In case you are looking to share your 3D printed models and design creations, find 3D printing online communities. This is a great way to interact with other designers and enthusiasts. You can either join one of the existing communities or, you can start one yourself. In an online 3D printing community, you can follow your favorite brand, get answers to common questions, gain insights, receive the latest news in 3D printing, and even share your unique creations.
How to Find Out your Budget for your 3D Printer?
The budget of your 3D printer equipment will depend on what type of models or products are you trying to create. As mentioned before in this article, 3D printers come in a wide variety of prices but if you have a clear view of what you wish to achieve that is a great way to determine your budget. For instance, a low-cost 3D printer that performs basic jobs may be more suitable for education and classroom usage, or to educate your kids at home. While a more professional model will be more suitable for rapid prototyping and manufacturing of models, or custom-made pieces.
Larger 3D printers generally create bigger scale printer models, therefore the pricing on these will be higher compared to other models. A larger 3D printer is meant for large format parts, prints, or a more rapid manufacturing process that can deliver a finished piece or component. Our recommendation is to have a clear view of the type of items you need to print and that will be an easy way to determine your budget because you will find equipment that can pair up with your production times and volume of production.
How to Evaluate Your Investment Over Return?
When considering buying a 3D printer one thing that you should keep in mind is that the price may not be all, at the beginning you may be buying a piece of expensive equipment, as a reference, there are 3D printers that can cost as low as $100 but what will you get in return out of it? Will your production needs be met?
If you end up buying a 3D printer that does not align to your needs, you may be facing later some disappointments and end up paying more because the quality of your printings will not be as good as you were expecting, or the materials are cheaper but do not represent the model as you wish. So, investing in a 3D printer is not only the price but the returned value that you will get out of it. Ask yourself these simple questions: Does this investment make sense for me, for my needs or my business? How fast can I build my models to consider the return of investment? How long will it take to recuperate the investment considering the great things that can be done with the 3D printer? Think about how much money can a 3D printer save for your business; and right there is where the value comes from.
Objectively, you can calculate your costs per part or item created and elaborate a guide or file where you can also record all the hidden costs from a manufacturer. To help with this, use a spreadsheet with the costs and the time on production methods. Following, some ideas will help you to evaluate your investment over return.
How much time does 3D printing save you?
Investing in a 3D printer will definitely help you to have products into the market in a much quicker way than traditional methods. Finding and fixing tiny details or issues at the time of the production can also be handled directly and having less impact on your production results by gaining advantages to your competitors.
What type of results can you get with a 3D printer?
3D printing produces faster and better results than traditional methods, molding, or casting. When fixing design details that are identified during these processes you are avoiding costly design revisions and expensive changes in molds, models, or products that are performed by traditional methods.
How does a 3D printer affect a business’s relationship with its clients?
With 3D printing, you may have more direct and convenient communication and interaction that allow you to get instant feedback from your production team and your customers, or suppliers avoiding confusion while producing a piece, this also reflects into saving time and money.
How can 3D printing protect my designs and prototypes?
Avoiding a third-party production manufacturer by creating your own files and managing these in house, will also protect your creations from intellectual property. This way you can make sure that your ideas will not be stolen or leaked and be sold probably be sold even if you do not know about it.
What are the hidden costs of a 3D printer?
Investment, materials, equipment, and labor costs are relatively easy to calculate because those are called “direct costs” meaning that you have a clear number for each one of these. But what about the indirect costs, also known as hidden costs of 3D printing.
When looking into buying a 3D printer the “hidden costs” can be a tricky issue when considering your budget. These hidden costs can impact your expenditure on your business. So, if when starting your journey in obtaining your equipment you can make sure that your 3D printing provider offers a way to avoid these by their services, will be a smart decision to obtaining equipment from them. Let us look at some of these called “hidden costs” and how you may be able to avoid them.
Supplemental consumables – Although this is something that you can not avoid, make sure to review what type of consumables or materials you will need to maintain your 3D printer equipment. A good idea is to request a demo of the 3D printer and ask the provider’s technology expert about this matter. Some manufacturers may offer spare parts as part of their customer programs. An expert can explain to you better how much is it to maintain a 3D printer within a certain frame of time. For instance, you can ask how much will it cost to maintain my equipment a year? You will be surprised as nowadays, there is great 3D printing equipment that is precisely designed with the idea of working with very affordable consumables and certified but economic parts.
A slicing software – Some 3D printer providers do not always offer a 3D printing slicing software which makes it more difficult sometimes the task of finding a slicing software that can work with your equipment. If you look carefully, a great manufacturer offers slicing software for its customers. And this is a great thing to consider, using the same slicing software from the same brand because it makes the process so much easier and designing operations run smoothly. A modern slicing software can have great capabilities, such as multi-lingual output, a user-friendly interface, and assisted guidance to make sure that the user has a formidable experience while building their 3D objects. Some manufacturers may even offer their slicing software for free, so if this is an option, consider this instead of perhaps obtaining a less expensive 3D printer but then having to pay for the software aside as this could be a cost that you were not looking to pay or did not consider.
Training and educational resources – Before committing to buying a 3D printer, make sure to consider the fact that a guide for training is provided. Some manufacturers just sell 3D printers, and then you may be stuck with looking all over the internet trying to find some guides to learn how to use the equipment or, you may have to pay an additional fee to obtain training on your equipment or have educational resources. Manufacturers that are committed to serving their customers offer free training and educational resources at no cost to make sure that the equipment you are buying is well used at its full capacity. Some manufacturers may even have a large knowledge database of academic resources for free. So it is recommended to do research to determine if obtaining these methods will not elevate any unexpected costs for production.
Electricity costs – Many 3D printer owners are concerned about the consumption of the electricity of their 3D printing equipment but looking for a 3D printer that is energy-saving can help to reduce the hidden costs. Although 3D printers, in reality, do not represent a huge cost of energy.
A machine operator – While you may not need a person that watches the printer, sometimes this may apply for your business. Nowadays, 3D printers are quite autonomous and can make their work without assistance on an operator. Some printers may even have control-remote features and are adapted to manage printing production through a cell phone with accuracy. A review of the 3D printer provider offers a remote user interface for their equipment where the product can be controlled efficiently by wireless methods. This built-in technology will help to reduce costs in your production.
We hope that you enjoy this guide and that it is helpful at the time to choose the right 3D printer for your needs. Every time, there are more and more uses for 3D printing that shows light of phenomenal events announcing a revolution in the manufacturing industry and the world economy. With this guide, you will save time and money and have a clear view of what is needed when choosing the right 3D printer.
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