3d printers

Getting Started Guide, Best Printers, Tips

Look at the printer next to your computer. What can you use it for? You can count on it to work, but the truth is that the features offered by your old inkjet printer are quite limited. You can print documents, photos or maybe even make a copy or two if you have invested in a printer with advanced features.

Now imagine that you have replaced it with a 3D printer. What could you use this stuff for?

You may not even know where to start. This type of technology is fairly new, but it can give us huge benefits in our quality of life – or it can print cool little things that we put on our desks. If you’re wondering what else you could do with a 3D printer and how to choose one, we’ve got the answers below.

How 3D printers work

The interesting thing about 3D printers is that they seem like extremely complicated technological gadgets, but that’s not the case when you boil them down to the bare essentials. The typical 3D printer works much like an inkjet printer. It prints what you send to it from a computer.

Related: Need a printer upgrade? These are the best options for busy families

The difference is that it builds a 3D model of the 3D CAD drawings you send to it – and it builds it one layer at a time. In other words, you create a 3D image or object from a digital file of a CAD drawing. These drawings break down the object into individual layers, which are then printed by the 3D printer.

This obviously cannot be done with your typical ink cartridges for your home printer. Rather than ink, these printers use filament, resin, or powder, which is fused with adhesive or UV light. Each layer is built on top of the previous layer from bottom to top.

As you might have guessed, printing a 3D object takes a while, since each layer is built on top of the previous one. It can take hours or even days for a 3D printer to build the model you send it. It all depends on the complexity of the object.

The cool thing is that you can get really complex with these prints. You can use 3D printers to print just about anything.

Want to create a miniature version of yourself? You can. You can also use 3D printing to produce complex shapes for manufacturing parts or even prosthetic limbs for amputees – and you’ll use less material than with traditional manufacturing methods. If you can imagine it, you can probably print it.

Types of 3D printers

There are several types of 3D printers available in the market. In general, here are your main options:

  1. Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
  2. Stereolithography (SLA)
  3. Digital Light Processing (DLP)
  4. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
  5. Selective laser melting (SLM)
  6. Manufacture of rolled objects (LOM)
  7. Digital Beam Fusion (EBM)

The main differences between these types of printers are the types of heat sources, materials, and light they use. Some use filament, while others use liquid resin or powder to “build” your object.

The different types also vary in print speed and price. You’ll spend a lot more on an SLM or DLP printer than an FDM printer, and you’ll need to be more tech-savvy to use them.

The most affordable home 3D printers use fusion deposition modeling, or FDM, so that’s what we’ll focus on. FDM technology is the most popular 3D printing technology in all fields because it is affordable and versatile. This type of technology can also be used for 3D printers and 3D pens.

These 3D printers use thermoplastic filament, which is heated and extruded through a nozzle, depositing the plastic in layers. These layers are merged and built up throughout the print. These are the most user-friendly options out there.

The downside is that the printing process can be slower with this type of printer. Still, you will be able to get an FDM printer for much less money than other types. It’s not uncommon for a high-end 3D printer to cost tens of thousands of dollars, so if you’re looking for a 3D printer for home use, you’ll want one that uses FDM technology. They are often less complicated to use, too.

Take, for example, the Creality Ender 3 3D printer. This 3D printer costs around $200 and it comes semi-assembled, so it won’t take forever to assemble. It is also extremely precise and heats up quickly.

The Flash Forge is another good option for an affordable 3D printer. This printer costs a little more than the Creality Ender, but it has a 3.5-inch color touchscreen with intuitive icons, making it easy to use. If you are looking for a user-friendly template, this is it. It is also much quieter than some competitors.

ANYCUBIC Photon S 3D printer is another great entry. This model is almost completely pre-assembled, which is not the case with some others on the market. It’s also stable – no wobble means precise printing. Plus, it uses enhanced UV lighting to improve print resolution and accuracy. You’ll spend a little more than you would for the other two models – this printer costs around $360 or so – but you’ll get a lot in return.

Related: Print, scan and copy – all from one machine

How to choose a 3D printer

There are tons of affordable 3D printers on the market, which makes it hard to find. Consider the following when trying to decide which 3D printer to invest in:

Determine what you want to print.

Before you even start looking at 3D printers, decide what you want to print. If you’re using a printer for home projects, you don’t need an industrial model. It would also help if you reduced how often you plan to print and how much you use printed objects.

Fine-tune the 3D printer style you want.

As we mentioned, FDM printers are the most popular for a reason. These printers use plastic filaments and are easy to use, easy to learn, and affordable. You may decide that you can use this type of printer for your needs. If you need something that uses powder or liquid resin, you’ll have to consider a different type of 3D printer – and you’ll have to open your wallet much wider. These other printers quickly become expensive.

Determine the features you need.

You can get a 3D printer for a few hundred dollars, but you need to make sure it has the features you need. Do you need additional security features or touchscreen interfaces? What about a heated glass bed? You can also make sure that the models you are considering have enough space to print what you want to print.

Consider your level of experience.

There can be a huge learning curve with some of the higher end 3D printers. You may even have to assemble them yourself. If you’re not well versed in 3D printing, you might want to avoid some of the more advanced options. It’s not easy to learn this stuff on the fly, and you don’t want to end up with something that’s way beyond your skill level.

Make sure the resolution is up to par.

Resolution matters when it comes to 3D printers. If you’re trying to get what you pay for, look at the resolution offered by the printer. You can even opt for a printer that allows you to adjust the resolution to what you need.

Where to look for footprints

You won’t just need your 3D printer to print an object. You will also need the 3D CAD designs that the printer uses to create and print objects. Luckily, these prints are easy to find and you don’t have to be a CAD expert to use them.

There are a few places where you can buy and share these designs. One is Instructables, a crowdsourced website that offers instructions for creating just about anything, including 3D objects. There are CAD instructions and designs galore on this site, including everything from 3D printed towers to bobbleheads and lanterns. There are even 3D printed model shovels on Instructables.

Another option is Pinshape, a website that offers free and paid 3D CAD designs. The cool thing about Pinshape is that it offers a ton of weird and unique files that you can use to print things. Take, for example, this Totoro model. You can download the file and print it for free, thanks to a shared user upload on the site.

There are also tons of other templates available on the site. From smartphone holders to a “Star Wars” Death Star lamp. There are also dozens of 3D puzzle models.

Cults 3D is another great website to find 3D model designs. This website has all the models broken down by category. You can find designs for art, fashion, jewelry, gadgets, architecture, and a ton more. This site has almost everything you are looking for. You can even find bobblehead dogs on the site.

How 3D printers can make your life easier

While most people buy 3D printers for personal use, there is another aspect of 3D printing worth mentioning. They can make life easier for many people. Doctors, dentists and aerospace engineers all use them for their specific needs.

Dentists can 3D print models of dentures or other dental appliances, for example. They can also use them to plan and design a smile before the patient has major surgery.

Doctors use them too. Surgeons can now 3D print prosthetic knees or other useful medical devices, including prostheses for amputees. They can even create 3D replicas that match a patient’s anatomy if needed.

Engineers can also use them to create delicate components or curved workpieces that must be extremely precise to fit. There are other technical uses too, thanks to the lightweight nature of what you can print with a 3D printer.

We are just beginning to understand what 3D printing can be used for. As technology advances, so do its uses. It will be great to see what they come up with next.

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