3-D Printing 101: What You Need to Know
You may have heard about a family friend doing a little 3-D printing at home and you’re looking to venture into this new technology yourself. But, you’re not sure where to start. As 3-D printers become less expensive and easier to work with, more people are using them to create custom items at home, according to All3DP.
Whether you’re interested in printing light switch plates or figurines, here are a few things to consider before you start on your 3-D-printing adventure.
What Is the Price Range?
3-D printers can be expensive, but you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg for a good home unit. An inexpensive model starts at about $200, says All3DP. These printers may be smaller and have lower print quality than higher-priced options. That said, some 3-D printers can run from $2,000 to $3,000, PC Magazine notes.
What Size Printer Do I Need?
3-D printers can range in size. PC Magazine recommends a size range of 11.6 by 13.1 by 15.4 inches on the smaller side to 23.1 by 19.9 by 13.3 inches on the larger side for personal, professional or educational use. The size of the items you want to print will dictate the printer size you need. According to PC Magazine, a typical 3-D printer has a build area — the maximum size the printer can print — between 6 inches and 9 inches square. The depth of the build area can range from a few inches up to more than 2 feet per side, PC Magazine says. If you’re interested in printing something large like a vase, for example, you’ll want the build area to accommodate the desired size of the vase.
What Is the Difference Between an Open- and Closed-Frame Model?
In addition to the size, consider whether you want an open-frame or closed-frame model. With an open one, it can be easier to see the job while it’s in progress, PC Magazine says. However, a closed-frame printer, which is an enclosed structure with a door, walls and a lid, can be a safer choice, as it can prevent anyone from accidentally touching hot parts of the machine. Closed-frame models also reduce noise and the burnt plastic smell that users report emits from some printers, PC Magazine says.
What Type of Materials Do I Need to Use It?
While a range of material is available, the printer you select will determine what you can use, says PC Magazine. The majority of 3-D printers use thermoplastic filaments, which melt when heated and then harden after they’ve been printed, according to All3DP. If you prefer to print something with a more natural look and feel, there are other filament options available, according to 3D Insider. For example, wood filament is infused with wood fiber to mimic the real thing, notes All3DP. Consider each material’s pros and cons, such as strength, heat tolerance and flexibility. There is also a wide selection of colors, but most 3-D printers only print one or two colors at a time. To print different colors, you’ll need to make sure your 3-D printer allows for multicolored printing, says PC Magazine.
What Designs Are Available to Print?
3-D printable designs are made using computer assisted design (CAD) software. The printer reads the designs and prints the object. If you don’t know how to use CAD software, fear not, says Popular Mechanics. You can find an app to help create your own designs or, for something ambitious, you could hire a designer. There are also several websites with designs available, too. Some of these websites may even let you tailor designs to your liking.
Now that you know a bit more about 3-D printing, you can let your inner designer free.