DIY 3D: Your Guide to Printing in the Third Dimension

With the 3D printing revolution in full swing and printers slowly trickling into people’s houses, you might be wondering what type of 3D printer would be right for you. This guide aims to explain what choices you have when choosing your printers, as well as to clear up some common misconceptions about 3D Printing so that you too can print like a pro.

What is a 3D Printer?
First thing’s first: what exactly is a 3D printer? A 3D printer is a device that uses a material to create real life shapes out of computer designed models. These materials range from plastics to resins to metals. Most 3D printers on the market today use filaments of plastic to make their prints.

How do they work?
Generally, there are two types of 3D printers you can purchase: extrusion printers and DLP resin printers. Extrusion printers, like the MakerBot Replicator, use a nozzle to heat and extrude plastic filament. The nozzle is attached to a head that can move anywhere along the X,Y, and Z (3 dimensions) axis (you can find a video of my own hand built model here). this type of 3D printer is most common at the consumer level, and is generally the most affordable kind you can buy. The downside to extrusion printers is that their accuracy varies from printer to printer, and is overall inferior to even the least accurate DLP resin printer.

Makerbot Replicator 2 3D printer using the plastic extrusion method

DLP resin printers use a different method entirely from their extrusion brethren. DLP printer use a vat of resin and a build plate that slowly rises through it. While the plate is rising, and DLP or equivalent UV projector will be hardening the resin layer by layer. This means that the layer thickness is limited only by the precision of the plate motor. DLP resin printer have been coming into the mainstream more frequently in the past year thanks to companies such as Formlabs that have been pushing the technology at a lower price point.

Formlabs Form 1 3D printer using the DLP resin method

Now what?
Now that you are familiar with the many choices you have when it comes to choosing a 3D printer, you might want to know how to buy one. Kickstarter is a very good place to look as there is usually one or two startups delivering a 3D printer at a time. Makerbot also makes high-end 3D extrusion printers. Many of the companies that currently make 3D printers were once Kickstarters, so it’s also good to look at successfully crowdfunded printers.

So there you have it, the 3D Printing Revolution in a nutshell. With all of this mighty knowledge bestowed upon you, it’s time to go out into the world and take your projects into the third dimension!

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