You are a professional or a maker and you have recently made the decision to purchase your first 3D printer. You have understood how technology can help you make custom parts, prototypes at lower cost or design components faster, so it’s time to move on to the second step: select the right 3D printer! but what should you know before making such a decision? There are a multitude of brands and prices on the market that can represent so many obstacles in your purchasing process.
To help you make the best decision, you need to ask yourself at least 5 questions that will help you define the brand, budget and technologies that are right for you. Before you start asking yourself these questions, it is also important to know how you will use your 3D printers, the projects you want to carry out and the knowledge you have today in terms of 3D technologies.
Buy a 3D printer: what is my budget?
Once you have defined how you will use your 3D printer, you need to know how much you are willing to spend on this new machine. There are different price ranges: for 200€, you can now find FDM 3D printers in kit form that you will have to build yourself and that are often Chinese made. If your budget is larger, from €1,000, you can turn to plug & play 3D printers, ready to use with printing that starts with a single button.
If your budget exceeds a thousand euros, other technologies are available to you. Between €1,000 and €5,000, you will find 3D SLA and FDM printers with very good printing quality. From €5,000 to €30,000, you can opt for industrial melt deposit machines or more specialized SLA printers for sectors such as dentistry or jewellery. You will also find selective laser sintering machines (SLS), very popular in some industries that use polyamide powders.
Finally, the last price range starts from 80 000€ and more. Such a budget will allow you to access technologies such as HP’s Multi Jet Fusion, or direct metal sintering (DMLS) to create metal parts.
Buy a 3D printer: which material will I use?
Now that you know how much you want to spend, you also have to choose your printing materials. A technology like FDM is mainly used with plastics, with filament bobbins available from 20€ depending on the type of technicality desired – there are more technical filaments up to 350€ per kg. If you are looking for SLA technology, you will use photopolymer resins from 70€ per liter. However, it is important to note that there are not yet many colours available today, although some manufacturers are trying to develop others.
If you are considering more industrial applications with your machine, you will opt for SLS or DMLS technologies. In the first case, you will mainly use polyamide powders and in the second case, different metals and metal alloys also with a price that will vary according to your needs.
Buy a 3D printer: what will be my printing volume?
It is important to know what you want to print and in what quantity; printing in small series does not imply the same needs as printing in larger quantities. This is where it must be considered that the cheapest machine may not be the best solution. In some cases, it will take a little more money to get more printing volume.
However, there are FDM machines with a generous printing volume at an affordable price or even large format machines such as Bigrep’s. In the case of SLA or SLS technologies, 3D printers generally do not have such a large printing volume. Concerning 3D metal printers, the sizes vary according to your needs and the investment made but it is already possible to have beautiful industrial parts.
Buying a 3D printer: what is my level of knowledge?
It is important to know where you stand in relation to 3D printing: are you a beginner? Do you have any technical skills in this area? The level of knowledge in additive manufacturing could influence the choice of your printer.
There are 3D technologies that suit everyone, so beginners can use FDM technology, they will find Plug and Play machines, which combine hardware and software. The printer is already assembled and it is possible to start printing directly. On the other hand, there are 3D printers in kit form, which will allow you to print what you want but you will have to assemble the machine yourself. If you are familiar with 3D printing and have skills in mechanics, 3D modeling, etc. you may opt for more professional technologies such as SLA, SLS, Multi Jet or DMLS that require training and additional attention to fully understand the entire process.
An important point to consider is the use of the right 3D software. With less complex projects, you can use very simple 3D software, but as the complexity of your project increases and you need new technologies, it is not uncommon for CAD needs to become more complex as well.
SLA technology requires a longer post-processing time
Also, don’t forget to assess the workload you are willing to accept after the printing process itself; post-processing is more or less heavy when dealing with 3D technologies. Some require more work than others; for example, FDM often involves removing the support material if it exists and sometimes a treatment to reduce the layer effect. SLA technology requires more elaborate post-processing work, while for SLS, you will need machines to dust and process the parts. For 3D metal printing technologies, post-processing is obviously much longer.
Where can I buy a 3D printer?
Now that you have clarified your project and you know which type of 3D printer you want to use, a final question arises: where to buy it? Either you opt for the second hand (via sites such as for-sale, for example) or you go to a specialist store.