3D Printing – Getting into the hobby

3D printing is a great way for hobbyists to build and test their prototypes. This content presents and explains some considerations one should explore before buying their first 3D printer.

In the live session we covered information and some considerations for what it takes to start 3D printing as a hobby. Hopefully, we can arm you with the knowledge you need to make smart choices when entering this field.

3D printing is an additive manufacturing process, where a material is built up upon itself to form an object.

Due to the nature of the 3D printing process the object will often appear in a layered texture. This texture also presents the main limitation with most entry level 3D printing processes.

3D printed models are weak between the layers (lamination weakness).

In its general form 3D printers will have a print bed or platform, a print head, material storage, mechanisms to precisely control the x,y,z axis of the print head and a range of electronics to drive it all. They come in many different sizes and there is a clear link between print bed size and the cost of the printer.

The price of 3D printers and printing material has dramatically reduced due to recent technology advances and competition between start-ups. A process which used to only be available to industry is now ready for use at the consumer level. Hobbyists and enthusiasts are printing from home now and for relatively little expense.

Considerations before selecting your first printer.

What do you want to print?

What is your budget?

What type of 3D printer should you get?

BUT BEFORE THAT SOME SAFETY

Please watch the following clips.

Please take care when you are doing EVERYTHING in life, complacency is the worlds largest preventable killer. But use your own discretion when conduction 3D printing activities and never leave an operating printer unattended.

What do you want to print?

Printing is great for: Rapidly visualising a concept of a 3D object/model and producing cost effective prototypes

Not ideal for: Mass manufacture, Structural applications, Applications in complex mechanical systems (like gears)

While it can be useful to prototype in the areas listed, it should not be used to replace other, safer and trusted, production processes.

Cost to start 3D printing

Printers

Rapid advancement and interest in technologies has driven prices for printing way down. It is now affordable for most people who are interested in the hobby.

Bottom end prices start at $350 – $1000 and in our opinion we found this to be the sweet spot between cost and quality/consistency. There are printers out there that are cheaper but it is likely that the quality and more importantly consistency will be poor, and you will spend more time keeping the machine functioning than enjoying printing things.

Consumables 

The main consumable for 3D printing is the materials. They start at $25 per kg and range depending on type of material and quality. Again Ti-Tek wont advise getting these for lower than the standard price for the any material type because this having poor quality material can ruin your prints, break your printer or even be unsafe. For entry level printing the consumer will more than likely be printing in plastics and certain plastics are toxic when heated. Cheaper consumables may not even warn of these considerations.

Some printers also need filters, regular maintenance, cleaning consumables, extra process consumables ect. These should all be taken into consideration when selecting your first printer. If the printer you are looking at doesn’t disclose what parts of its operation require consumables then don’t buy it!

Time Cost

Printing is a slow process but it will also take up much of you time when you are just beginning the hobby. It can be frustrating as hell when you encounter issues with printing and finding the solutions can be even more frustrating. You will likely need to spend the time learning other theory involved in your projects outside of the printing field. Mainly 3D modelling with computer aided design (CAD).

Software Costs

There is free CAD software out there for use, but more than likely you need to ensure you computer is powerful enough to run the software. You can usually upgrade your desktop to handle the specifications of most CAD software, but to start from scratch it will cost you around $1000 for desktop and double that if you prefer a laptop. Alternatively there are online websites that have a range of models that you can print for free. ( https://www.thingiverse.com )

Other Costs

Tooling, protective equipment, workspaces, ventilation are examples of other costs. So definitely do your research before committing to a printer to avoid blowing your budget.  

Types of 3D printers

FDM – Fused Deposition Modelling

Up Plus – FDM 3D printer

FDM printers are the most affordable for beginners. They can range from $350-$1200 for a decent beginner friendly printer. Outside of these ranges, you really are not getting your moneys worth. Often when paying more for these printers they will come with extra features like dual printing heads or extra large printing beds, which are good features, but probably not suited to beginners.

SLA/DLP – Stereo Lithography/Digital Light Projection

Form 2 – SLA 3D Printer

These are generally your resin printers. They use a precise laser or projected image to cure resin, but build it up similar to your FDM printer. SLA/DLP printers start at around $5000 and often require and extra resin curing device for best results. However recently there has been a lot of hype around the Elegoo MARS SLA printer which can be picked up for a similar cost of an entry level FDM.

The resin is usually proprietary to the brand and is super expensive (more than $US100/L) and not readily available in Australia. The quality and resolution of the prints with these printers are exceptional which is why it is commonly used in Jewelry prototyping industry. Resin models have a great feel to them and are very strong but currently these printers seem a little expensive to choose as your first printer. However, the price of the better quality machines is expected to come down in the coming years.

SLS – Selective Laser Sintering

Sinterit LISA

This type of printer is still out of the question as a beginner model. It gets an honorable mention though as we believe this type may become affordable in the coming years. It operates, as the name suggests, by selectively fusing material together, but it does this in a bed of raw material. This removes the need for support material, unlike FDM and SLA/DLP, which drastically improves build time, quality and removes a large portion of manual cleaning of the model after a build. This type of printing process is what is mainly used at a company offering a commercial 3D printing service.

Printers Ti-Tek Recommends

FDM

SLA

If you can get your hands on an Elegoo Mars, we’d love to hear how you go with it. The others seem much to expensive to go for as your first 3D printer.

Major Specifications to Consider

The things people are mainly concerned with in printing are usually “print resolution” and “build volume”. The print resolution is all about the quality of print, which is also effected by the consistency, but is mainly how fine the layers can print. It will be expressed in microns and you don’t want to go for any printer who’s resolution is greater than 200 microns. Its also good to make sure the printer you choose has a range of select-able layer heights. This is because some prints appear smoother with larger layers.

Make sure the FMD printer you choose has a heated bed. The main cause of failed prints is the model not remaining stuck to the print bed. Prints lift off the bed because at the plastic cools it warps and bends (some materials more than others) which lifts it off the bed. A heated bed keeps the base soft so that it will remain adhered until the print has finished.

Software

Each printer will require software to operate, if only to convert your model into a readable format. Most printers will come with their own proprietry software however there are open sourced software out there.

Software usually imports 3D models, adds support features and slices it up into layers. These are output into g-code instructions for handling by the 3D printer. Each software will have a user manual which you should read through thoroughly to understand how it works.

Below are some other resources we think are worth a read/watch.

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