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You have to admit that 3D printers are pretty magical technologies. These devices allow you to literally create three-dimensional physical objects using “ink” (in this case, usually plastic) for a multitude of uses in the workplace and at home. From printing a new part for a machine to a new serving tray for a housewarming gift, having a 3D printer is a lot like having a little factory on your desk.
As with most gadgets, there are different models of 3D printers available and the dive can be overwhelming if you don’t know the first thing about what separates the different types.
An FDM printer (one that uses fusion deposition modeling) is a good beginner gadget to try out if you’re new to the world of 3D printing. It uses heat on a filament and shapes it along the X, Y and Z axes to print your object. Another option is the Cartesian FDM printer, which actually moves the print bed on one axis while moving the other two axes using their own motors. This can result in very accurate prints.
But before you go out and buy the first FDM 3D printer you see on sale, remember that some of these types can give approximate results.
If you want to print objects with many intricate details, you may need a stereolithography printer, usually called an SLA printer. This type actually uses a chemical reaction to create layers of the object. Another variety is the digital light curing printer, or DLP printer, which uses light to target a specific geographic part of the resin to cure it in place within the object frame. SLA and DLP printers can create incredibly smooth objects.
Not sure which 3D printer is right for you? Our sister site Don’t Waste Your Money has a team of experts who spend hundreds of hours analyzing, testing and researching products to help consumers like you make informed buying decisions. Here are their top picks for the best 3D printers.
This 3D printer is designed for professional use and got top marks. It’s made with a sturdy solid metal frame and runs incredibly quiet, which isn’t always the case with these devices. This popular Anycubic model 3D printer not only can print objects, but also has the ability to do laser engraving.
If you’re new to 3D printing, this top-notch model is a great choice. It runs quietly and can also connect to Wi-Fi. The printer has one button quick leveling so it is easy to use and comes with two different types of extruder assembly, which is the essential part of the printer that melts and pushes out the plastic filaments (i.e. your ink).
This printer from Ender comes semi-assembled, so you get to learn how 3D printers are built as you finish assembling them. But don’t worry if you’re a total beginner as the kit is apparently a cinch to use. When finished, this 3D printer has a print resume button, which is handy if you encounter an unexpected power outage during a long job.
This 3D printer is for beginners. It arrives fully assembled and lets you start printing right out of the box, whether from one of the built-in projects or from a blueprint you download online from a site like Thingivers. The model’s fully enclosed design also makes it appealing to those with children, as the heat used by 3D printers to create objects is often intense.
If you’ve ever had to deal with a 3D printer that stopped mid-work due to a power outage, you know how important it is to have good outage protection. This Artillery 3D printer does just that and lets you pick up where you left off.
This 3D printer has a stable built-in power supply, which helps the nozzle and hotbed to heat up quickly. It also helps protect the printer from power surges. Savol says you can have it all assembled and ready to print in under 20 minutes.
With an intuitive color touch screen, this 3D printer from FlashForge is easy to use. It is constructed with sturdy plastic alloy, allowing for stable printing. Additionally, safety is paramount with an unheated build plate. This printer can connect to Wi-Fi, USB sticks, and flash drives, all options that make it easy to find projects and get them straight to your printer in no time.
From printing human corneas for cake decorations, space tools for vegan steaks, there’s virtually no limit to what you can create if you have the right design and the right materials. For example, if you have a 3D printer that uses filament, you can use polylactic acid (PLA) which is a type of plant-based plastic. This is ideal for anything you print that will be used indoors as it will start to deteriorate from exposure to sunlight.
If you are interested in printing plates, cutlery or platters, consider polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG), which is rated as food safe. Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) is ideal for printing any items that will be used outdoors, such as tools. When it comes to resin-based printers, opt for standard resin for small items such as decorative items. Professional grade resin is ideal for higher impact applications. If you are making medical devices, it is best to use medical grade resin.
No matter what 3D printer you use, you should be happy with the results from any of the above list. Have fun and welcome to a whole new hobby!