3D Printer – What’s That All About?
You have heard about the amazing abilities of the 3D printers, and you have fallen in love with them, and you have decided to purchase a 3D printer. You want to get started on printing various models of your own, including cosplay materials, musical instruments, a custom phone case, figurines and much more, as the possibilities are endless.
But, hold your horses, there are some things you must know and understand before you immerse yourself into the 3D printing world. There are lots of 3D printers with various specifications, which in turn cater for different demands. Additionally, there are certain technicalities about these precious items that really, you should look into.
The article examines, in fine details, what you need to know before buying a 3D printer.
So what is a 3D printer?
This is a device that is used to create three-dimensional objects like tools, toys, model airplane parts and more from a 3D file that is digital. Around ten years ago, 3D printing technology was relatively unpopular and unused beyond the professional world. These devices were very sophisticated and expensive. Additionally, they were considered specifically designed for industrial use, especially by designers and engineers to develop multiple pre-production prototypes.
Today, these printers have become more accessible to the public, with competitive prices, a multitude of features and low- maintenance. In fact, the market is experiencing a significant influx of these printers, with new brands and models being introduced almost every month. But, the question now becomes, how do you choose the best 3D printer which fits your needs?
The 3D Printing Technology
The most important thing you should look for in 3D printers is perhaps the printing technology. Not all of them use the same 3D printing technology. Many of them use the (FDM) or Fused Deposition Modeling technology, which is also known as Fused Filament Fabrication, (FFF). This particular technology refers to the process of designing a 3D object by laying down successive layers of a given material, mostly plastic until the desired object is made. These sheets look like horizontal cross-sections of the object that were designed by the three-dimensional software for modeling and formed as a result of a continuous length of the plastic material using a heated nozzle, that immediately hardens after extrusion.
Other devices Duse a technology known as Stereolithography,(SLA), whereby a laser solidifies layer on layer of a photosensitive resin to make the part. The process also employs the additive procedure, but instead of excluding plastics, it uses an ultra-violet beam of light to harden a model from pools of photosensitive liquids. This process provides a higher quality printout.
Other printers also use Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), which is quite similar to stereolithography, except that it involves powders and lasers instead of the UV light beams and the liquid.
The powder is made melted by the laser, a process that creates a layer of the printed material.
The Filament, Spools, and the Printing Material
The other essential thing to consider is the compatibility of the printing material itself. Some 3D printers utilize a coil of the filament in either PLA(Polylactic acid) or ABS(Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) available in all colors. Earlier printers used both PLA and ABS, and many still do, such as the CEL Robox or the Cube.
The above t plastic materials are referred to as thermoplastics, implying that they get heated to become semi-liquid, and immediately after cooling, they turn into their solid state, regardless of how many times the process is repeated. ABS are quite flexible, has a higher temperature resistance and reliable, and perhaps that is why it widely preferred by professionals.
PLA arguably can produce sharper printed corners, thinner layer thickness, and is also available in numerous color range, and this is why is preferred by hobbyists and schools.
The main difference between the PLA and ABS is that the PLA is corn-shaped, and is therefore considered significantly more biodegradable. However, you don’t have to worry much about your parts decaying’ anytime soon, bearing in mind PLA still lasts for extended periods.
Additionally, there are other few options also available, including:
Nylon: There are numerous kinds of Nylon material used in three-dimensional printing, but the most popular are the Nylon 618. It consists of a white color that is natural and can be colored depending on your preference. It has an amazing biocompatibility and is mostly utilized in the medical sector.
Wood: This particular filament is basically a mixture of binding polymer and recycled wood. If you love creating objects that smell and look like wood, then definitely this material for printing is ideal for you. Also, understand that the printing procedure with wood is almost the same as the one used with PLA and ABS.
Resin: This particular material creates reasonably explicit and smooth materials, thanks to its excellent texture. But, the prospect of putting a Resin printed item to UV light results in its discoloration. Users of this kind of material often coat the model with varnish after printing.
HIPS: High Impact Polystyrene filament is a decent example of 3D support materials. It boasts of an impressive characteristic which makes it suited to be a support material. But, its filaments have adhesive issues, but can be decreased by the use of the a heated bed during the process of printing.
Stainless Steel: This material, in particular, is a mixture of bronze and stainless steel of hybrid. You should note that it is the hardest of all the 3D printing materials. Most desktop 3D printers are unable to print this stuff.
PLA and ABS come in spools and with two filament diameters sizes that are quite common, three millimeters and one and three-quarter millimeters. It is crucial to understand that not all printers of 3D are compatible with the diameters’ compatibility. Also, certain 3D printers come with first PLA or ABS cartridge, and this implies that you should only buy replacement filament manufactured by the same manufacturer as your 3D printer. An example is the Cube 3D printers that utilize cartridges.
Unlike filaments which are almost standardized in only two sizes, the spools come in a broad range of sizes. And if you didn’t know, the spool dimension and size are an important feature to take into account, since it varies from printer to printer. The first thing to note is that certain printers do have a closed spool holder for the filament, but others have an open one.
Usually, those with closed spool holder take coils manufactured by the same company or in some cases, made specifically for that particular printer. For you to choose the ideal coil of filament for your device, you must know the inner diameter size, the outer size diameter, the weight as well as the diameter of the mounting hole.
3D Printing Attributes
It is highly recommended that you only choose the 3D printer that can serve your needs based on the several key attributes regarding performance. Below are some of the 3D performance features to consider when comparing and contrasting 3D printers.Layer Resolution: As in the case of photography, the printed object’s final resolution is a major factor, and you either choose to create a little or high-resolution object.
An object that has a high resolution is relatively smooth, has thin layers and in some instances, objects with very high resolution, it is quite difficult to differentiate every individual layer.
On the other hand, a low-resolution object consists of thicker layers and is also quite easy to see each layer. Some three-dimensional printers enable you to enter a value of the layer, resolution, while others offer two or more options of resolution including low, medium and high modes.
Print Area/Build Volume: The bigger the print area, the bigger the objects that can be created with the printer. For most hobby/desktop 3D printers, the print area never exceeds 380mm3.
Mostly, the manufacturers provide the print area dimensions( width by height by depth) in millimeters or inches.
Printing Speed: An ideal desktop FDM 3D printer prints at 45mm/s to 150mm/s. This means that the machine can extrude forty five to fifty millimeter per second of heated filament every second. This particular attribute is directly proportional to the printing resolution. The greater the resolution power, the slower the speed, and the reverse are also right. The nature and type of material used and the level of complexity of the print might also affect the rate of printing. Despite the same volume, a model having lots of corners and edges will be printed slowly compared to a spherical shaped model.
Extruders: Among the FDM printers, the extruder assembly involves a temperature sensor, a motor that forces the filament into the nozzle, a heated printing nozzle, which is the part charged with melting and extruding the sheet materials, and usually, a cooling system for the motor. One thing that is important to consider is the number of the extruders present in a 3D printer. A printer with more that one extruder may allow you to print objects in different colors and or varied materials. Most printers of 3D have one nozzle per extruder, apart from the CEL Robox 3D printer, that has two nozzles with one extruder. You should know that this dual-nozzle feature can potentially enhance speeds by up to three hundred percent.
Apart from the printing 3D objects, these printers also come with numerous exciting features which can make your printing experience quite enjoyable and comfortable. Some of these functions are discussed below.
Display and LCD: Obviously, it is a pleasure having a visual display on devices and with 3D printers, it is equally important. It can be a touchscreen, a graphical or character LCD, or even some colored LEDs which relay necessary printing data such as the printing progress.
Connectivity: You should know that many 3D printers depend on a USB connection ( mainly type B) and the computer to print objects using a slicing software. Some printers have the potential to print wirelessly by using a WiFi connection. Interestingly, you should know that a few printers include SD card slot or USB so that they may not have to rely on an external device during the printing process.
Kit VS Assembled: Currently, it is quite easy to build objects and invent devices. Individual 3D printing methods give you the opportunity to assemble your printer without straining too much. Not all printers come already assembled, and few of them are available in a DIY Kits such as the Constructor Makeblock 3D printer. In most occasions, this particular approach leads to price savings, bearing in mind that the manufacturer doesn’t need to assemble, calibrate or pre-test the device.
Additional Features To Consider
Because these printers are available in varied designs, designs, functionalities and with extra accessories, it is crucial that before you buy one, it would be great to consider these additional features. These other elements are examined below.
All-in-one Printer: This is a printer that combines printing, scanning, copying and faxing in a single machine. An example is the Zeus All in One 3D printer.
Camera: The presence of an on-board camera may be useful, especially in monitoring your printings. Usually, the camera is accessible via a PC or a mobile phone.
Automatic Material Recognition: Certain printers recognize the installed printing material automatically. Depending on the filament type, the printer display will show ABS or PLA or any other material. An example is the Robox CEL Dual-head 3D Printer.
Aesthetics: Even though this not a technical feature, the appearance of your printer might play a significant role and therefore may influence your choice. Due to this particular reason, newer 3D printers boasts of very attractive frames, and no longer seem like something that was put together in a local garage but instead an appealing and a professional addition to your workshop.
The 3D Printing Software
In most instances, these printers provide 3D printing software of their own which can open and print the STL files. Precisely, the STL file is the traditional file format which you may use in printing your 3D model into a physical product. It has the information, which is basically a series of triangles with their respective coordinates required to produce a physical object, layer by layer. Just like the traditional two-dimensional printers, with a 3D slicing software you can scale, rotate and resize your model. Additionally, you can choose other settings such as the file type and layer thickness.
However, to successfully design and create objects of your own, you might need a modeling software of 3D. There exist many such modeling software, both free and commercial, and can aid you to bring alive your creation. They include Sketchup, 123D Design, Autodesk Inventors Fusion and much more.
Lastly, choosing a 3D printer is the same as choosing any other necessary household machine. It will depend on a budget of yours. Regarding the prices of these devices, the prices range from 100$ to 4000$. Needless to say, the higher the cost, the higher the quality of the final products and more exciting features you’ll have. Under normal circumstances, the printer’s price directly reflects on its functionalities and output quality. Hopefully, with the increase in the popularity of 3D printers and the proper completion among the manufacturers, the prices of these suitable devices will only decrease as the quality improves.
The Bottom Line
In such a diverse market with lots of products to choose from, the prospect of choosing the best 3D printer which well suits your preferences can sometimes be a daunting and an intimidating job. However, if you ask yourself this question,’ What will I use it for? Then you are probably on the right track and aiming for the correct one. Luckily, the article has discussed in excruciating details and provided the most important attributes that 3D printers have at their disposal. Before you make any decision, kindly step back and visualize keenly all the important specifications you are looking for, and compare them with the available 3D printing devices. Then, you will be purchasing the right appliance.
Read more CNN News stories on stereolithography here: