Imagine a future in which people create products, prototypes and art from the comfort of their laptop. A future in which distribution of tangible goods means data delivered over the web. A future in which inventory is eliminated and mass customization ushers in a third industrial revolution.
3D printing is the future and the industry is growing at a rapid pace.
Rarely has a technology become so suddenly and widely available, with the potential to change the way good are designed, manufactured and distributed. 3D printing brings with it the potential to empower the average person with unprecedented creative and manufacturing capability.
While much of the potential of this technology remains to be realized, the potential social and economic impact of this technology is both far reaching and profound.
Here we are going to break down: the different types of 3D printers, the top 3D printing brands in the market, go through a buying guide on what you need to look for when purchasing a 3D printer, a 3D printer comparison table to help you make a decision and finally the best 3D printer.
Build Volume (mm)
Not every 3D printer is going to meet your needs and its important to understand the different material, technique and uses of 3D printers to find the one that fits your needs. There are 7 main types of 3D printing processes.
Photopolymer resin is used in this technique. A container filled with resin is used to create each layer, which is then hardened using a source of UV light. This process makes use of SLA (sterolithography). After each layer of liquid resin is laid down, the UV light travels across it and joins it to the preceding layers. The platform that holds the object drops by a fraction of a millimeter to allow more room. Then a blade sweeps another layer of the material across and that is joined. This process continues until the 3D object has been made. Once it is finished, any supporting structures used to hold the 3D object in place for the printing process must be manually removed.
Material jetting makes use of small nozzles to spray materials, similar to what you would see on an inkjet paper printer. The material comes through the nozzle and is sprayed onto the building platform. After each layer, UV light is used to harden the material to the layer before it.
Binder jetting makes use of a liquid binder and a powder base material. A blade is used to evenly spread the powder particles across the layers of the object. The powder is sprayed and then the liquid binder follows, solidifying the powder layer to the previous layers. When the object is finished, any remaining powder residue will need to be wiped away.
The material extrusion process is completed using FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling). It makes use of 3 main component; a nozzle that ejects plastic or another molten material, the already deposited material and a platform that is moved precisely during the manufacturing process. The materials come out of a heated nozzle, which prevents it from hardening. It is applied directly to the material that has already been deposited and then hardens instantly. The platform moves around to position the pre-laid materials in conjunction with the nozzle.
This technique makes use of SLS, or Selective Laser Sintering, technology. The powder of glass, metal, plastic or ceramic is fused using a high powered laser. The laser scans the layer to see if it needs to be part of the final object and then fuses the layer on the powder bed. The powder bed is lowered by one level after each section and new material is applied. This process continues until the product is completed. The advantage of this method is that the powder that remains makes up the support structure and you do not need any additional support.
The sheet lamination technique uses force to attach the layers that will make up the 3D object. In most cases, polymer, metal or paper makes up the sheet that are bonded together. The materials used to determine the next steps of the process. For example, paper sheets are glued with adhesive and cut with precision blades to get the final product, while metal sheets are attached using ultrasonic welding before being CNC milled into the right shape.
Directed energy desposition makes use of a multi-axis robotic arm and a 3D printing apparatus. A nozzle deposits powder on the surface. Followed by a plasma arc, electron beam or other energy source that melts the powder. This forms the don that creates the resulting solid object.
Although technology is advancing everyday to create consumer desktop versions of all the above applications, the two main process that encompass the vast majority of consumer desktop 3D printers are; Material Extrusion and Vat Photopolymerisation.
Excerpts from 3D Printing Dummies Projects: Everything you need to know were used to create this section.
As the 3D printing industry has grown hundreds of 3D printers have come to market in the last decade along with dozens of 3D printing brands. Way too many to list them all, but I will briefly talk about a few of the companies who have grown large enough to become publicly traded.
Stratasys was founded in 1989 and is headquartered in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
Stratasys provides 3D printing solutions for the creation of parts used in the processes of designing and manufacturing products and for the direct manufacture of end parts. The company offers entry-level desktop 3D printers to systems for rapid prototyping, and production systems for direct digital manufacturing under the Dimension, Object, Fortus, Polyhet, SolidScape, and Makerbot brands.
3D Systems was founded in 1986 and is headquartered in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
3D Systems provides 3D printing products and services worldwide. The company's 3D printers transform data input generated by 3D design software CAD software, or other 3D design tools into printed parts using a range of print materials, including plastic, metal, nylon, rubber, wax and composite materials.
Autodesk inc was founded in 1982 and is headquartered in San Rafael, California.
Autodesk operates as a design software and services company worldwide. AutoCAD is the companies primary 3D design software. Autodesk operates spark, a 3D printing platform for connecting additive manufacturing. Spark is open source so that any company can build on, shaping the future of 3D printing.
Hewlett-Packard was founded in 1939 and is incorporated in Delaware.
Hewlett-Packard is a leading global provider of products, technologies, software, solutions and services to individual consumers, small-and-medium sized businesses and larges enterprises, including customers in the government, health and education sectors. HP has recently jumped into the 3D printing space and manufacturers 3D printers.
In addition to Hewlet-Packard, fortunate 500 companies like GE, Apple and Google have all thrown their hats into the 3D printing ring and have announced plans to pursue the industry in the future.
Top print quality, large build volume, builtin screen, plug-and-play with low maintenance makes the M200 the best 3D printer of the year. If you're looking to purchase a 3D printer that just simply works every time, is reliable easy to use with high print quality this is your starting point. The Zortrax software does not allow for user temperature control and is built for printing in ABS only.
Taz6 is designed by engineers for engineers....or hobbyist, or makers, or newbies, or artists....or anyone. LulzBot has created an open-source 3D printer with a large build platform, heated glass, supports a large number of the slicing and control software options and numerous materials. You will spend a little bit more than the Zortrax M200 but you get a larger build volume with almost limitless material and design options.
Rostock offers a unique design that veers from the traditional box-like 3D printers. This design feature allows the Rostock to operating at far higher printing speeds and positioning accuracy than other machines. Which results in smoother curves on finished prints. The best personal 3D printer for your money and you will be blown away by the quality of prints.
The Form 1+ is the first SLA resin 3D printer to make the Top 10 list. This 3D printer draws each slice of the model into liquid resin with a laser to harden it. As the build platform moves up, a solid model appears out of the liquid. The prints that come off the Form 1+ are going to be more detailed and capable of smaller layer heights than their FDM counterparts making this the best 3D printer for jewelry on our list.
Heated glass build platform, illuminated build area, onboard controls two PLA cooling fans, with a functional and attractive frame highlight the Ultimaker 2. If you're on a really tight budget this may not be a perfect fit but it's really hard to beat the combination of high-quality, hassle-free printing with easy-to-use software that comes with the Ultimaker 2.
Traditional approaches to 3D printing can make trade-offs between surface finish and mechanical properties. Despite industry advances, no process delivers the combination of the two needed for end-use parts. CLIP - Continuous Liquid Interface Production - is a protochemical process that makes it possible to produce parts with excellent mechanical properties, resolution, and surface finish. The new M1 with CLIP technology from Carbon 3D is revolutionary to the 3D printing industry and comes in as our best industrial 3D printer on the list. Unfortunately, at a subscription cost of $40,000/year it puts it out or reach for many consumers.
The Idea Builder is Dremel's entrance into the 3D printing industry and it makes a strong statement. Builtin color touch-screen interface that makes leveling the bed, loading filament and selecting files simple. The Dremel 3D software displays a 3D rendering of the build volume with options to move, rotate and scale parts. There is no heated platform so this is a PLA only printer.
The PrintrBot simple enters our list as the best overall value 3D printer. Open hardware, open software, the basic features you expect out of a 3D printing kit now with auto-leveling beds and available upgrades like a heated bed. This 3D printer is a throwback to a simpler time but that doesn't mean it can't handle a workload and consistently spin out quality prints. The only thing keeping PrintrBot Simple down the list is the smaller print area.
Prusa i3 is a different take on the DIY 3D printing kits and it's produced by the pioneer of the DIY 3D printing kits, RepRap. The Prusa i3 is fully open-sourced and comes with a heated bed. There are a lot of different upgrades available, but the print quality is good out of the box. This kit build is on the more difficult side and you have to install the software. Recommended for makers and tinkerers with a little bit of experience.
Last but certainly not least in our Best 3D Printers list is a truly affordable desktop 3D printer. The M3D Micro is a minimalist design that utilizes the build area really well. The software is very intuitive and user friendly for a truly plug and play experience. Don't purchase this expecting to print new furniture as this is by far the smallest 3D printer on our list but the Micro can produce consistent quality results right on your desk. It won't take up much room either!
Find the best 3D printers under $1,000 with ratings and reviews
Buying a 3D printer is an investment. Even the cheap ones are hundreds of dollars and it's important you take the time and due diligence to understand the different aspects of 3D printing. Here I'm going to break down some of the main features of 3D printing, giving you a range of parameters to make an informed decision.
Print speed is also affected by the type of material filament used, the quality of your 3D printer and the quality setting on your 3D print. Which leads us into print quality.
As you can see there is a lot to think about when looking to purchase a 3D printer. Once you have narrowed down which type of printer fits your needs you can further narrow down your decision by brand, size, quality, speed and filament material.
Fortunately, 3D printers have come a long way in terms of quality and affordability over the years. You couldn't have picked a better time in history to jump into 3D printing. I hope you enjoy using this resources page and it leads you to a great 3D printer. Enjoy and revolutionize the world one print at a time.
Product Images Sourced From Amazon.com