Adventures in 3D Printing: Choosing a Printer

I have been wanting a 3D printer for a few years. They are really cool, and there are a lot of fun things I can think to do with one. The 3D printers I was most familiar with was the Makerbot family. Metrix in Seattle had some, and one of the sites I go to did “Print the Mystery Object” on Makerbots every Friday. The latest line of Makerbots, the Replicator series, starts at $1,750 for the base model Replicator, and goes to $2,800 for the high end Replicator 2X. This is out of my price range for a hobby. The other 3D printing model I was familiar with was the Reprap, Metrix had one, and it was a 3D printer that featured a large number of parts that could be printed on a 3D printer. There are a few Reprap models under the $1,000 price point, but the assembly and maintenance of them is a little outside my skill level.

While browsing around on the internet, I stumbled across some cool prints people had done using other models of 3D printers I had not heard of. Searching the internet after this, I discovered a whole host of 3D printers I was not aware of: Solidoodle, Printrbot, MakiBox, Ultimaker, and MendleMax. At first it seemed overwhelming, could the niche market of 3D printing support so many unique models? As I read more and more about these different models, companies, and printers, the variety began to make sense. At each price range there seemed to be a printer that comes fully assembled and ready to go, versus a printer kit that you build yourself. As the price of the printers go up, the features available improve, with things like double and triple extruders available at higher price points.

During this research, tax season started, and I had a little extra cash available for a fun purchase. Originally I had been the money reserved for a Wii U, but it doesn’t seem like quite the time to get one yet, I’m sure there will be another price drop this year at some point.

So I decided to look seriously into ordering a 3D printer. My price range was $500 to $1,000, so that knocked out the MakerBot Replicator, the Ultimaker, and the MendleMax. Next thing important to me was a lower maintenance printer, something that comes pre-built. There is no such thing as a no-maintenance printer, but some printers seem to be more work than others. The Solidoodle and Printrbot both matched this pretty well, they looked a little easier to work with than the MakiBox and the RepRap.

My search for a 3D printer was narrowed down to two brands at this point: The Solidoodle and the Printrbot. Both printers have a range of options in my price range, but before figuring out which options I wanted, I wanted to narrow it down to one brand or the other. Checking out prints people made from both machines, and reading peoples impressions of both, people seemed happy with both the Solidoodle and the Printrbot, so there was no immediate clear leader there. After asking around online, someone mentioned that the Solidoodle has frame an enclosure can be built around, while the Printrbot is open. Temperature management of a 3D print is important, an important part of 3D printing is making sure that the plastic coming out of the extruder actually sticks to the surface it prints on. If this fails, the print will mess up, as the printed object will rock around on the build platform as the build goes. With an enclosure around the printer, maintaining the desired temperature of the build platform is much easier.

The Solidoodle was the printer brand I was going to get at this point, but there was still a few decisions to be made at this point. There are four models of Solidoodle available for sale: Solidoodle 2 Base, Solidoodle 2 Pro, Solidoodle 2 Expert, and Solidoodle 3. The price for these starts at $500 for the Solidoodle 2 Base, and goes to $800 for the Solidoodle 3. The Solidoodle 2 line all have a 6” build platform. The Base and Pro model both have a metal frame, but don’t have a finished outer cover. This isn’t a huge deal, because building an enclosure around the frame is something that can be done post-purchase. The Pro model has a few upgrades over the Base model, but the most important is a heated build platform. A heated build platform seems like a fantastic upgrade, it would lead to less failed prints. The Expert model comes with a cover around the enclosure, and an acrylic door, for even better temperature control. The fourth Solidoodle model available is the Solidoodle 3. No Base, Pro, or Expert sub-models, just a single Solidoodle 3 model. The main upgrade of the Solidoodle 3 is a larger build platform, 8” instead of 6”. Otherwise, the feature set seems comparable to the Solidoodle 2 Pro model, it does not have the cover and acrylic door that the Expert model of the Solidoodle 2 has. At this point the importance of the differences between the Pro, Expert, and 3 models are beyond my knowledge level, so I decided to just pull the trigger, and I ordered a Solidoodle 3.

So where is it? Ordering a pre-built 3D printer means the device actually has to be assembled before it is sent. The Solidoodle site mentions about an eight week lead time, so I should have the printer by the end of April. Until then, I’m reading up more on the process of 3D printing, and building myself a catalogue of stuff I want to print, so I can keep the machine as busy as possible.

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About

Joseph Stankowicz is a software engineer who has worked in the video games industry for over eight years. The last two years have had a heavy focus on Unity development, where he helped ship over eleven titles to iOS and Android platforms. He also is really excited about 3D printing, and keeps his Solidoodle 3 printing out stuff as often as possible. You can view his LinkedIn profile here http://www.linkedin.com/pub/joseph-stankowicz/60/294/420

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Posted in 3D Printing

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