Last updated: August 20, 2021

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Hello! Technology has advanced by leaps and bounds this century, so there are more and more tools that bring us closer to a futuristic world. A clear example of this are 3D printers, which even though they seem to have come from the future, they are already a common item on the market.

Three-dimensional modelling is an art that has grown incredibly thanks to the rise of video games and films where this technology has been incorporated, and now with 3D printers a way has been found to bring these digital figures to the real world.

Because we like to do good reviews, here we've gathered all the important information to help you choose the ideal 3D printer for you. The best way to make a good purchase is to know what you are interested in. So we give you technical details and user reviews.




Summary

  • A 3D printer is an electronic device designed to process and print three-dimensional designs from digital files. Its applications are endless, and it has become a basic tool for a number of professions, including architecture, design and even medicine.
  • There are two types of 3D printing, both with their advantages and disadvantages: FMD and SLA. And they vary in the technological method they use to print, which modifies and defines the entire profile of the printer. FMD printers are generally cheaper than SLA printers, but the output is also of lower quality.
  • Purchasing a 3D printer is an important step, as this tool is delicate and should be chosen with care. Some of the things to consider when choosing a model are the size, as this will determine the size of the print, the resolution, which will determine the quality, and the software.

The Best 3D Printer: Our Picks

Buying Guide

3D printers are not easy tools to use or to choose, as these devices incorporate technologies that have a large number of specifications. To help you make the best decision, we will discuss these aspects with you.

3D printers are complex devices that incorporate cutting-edge technology. (Photo: Сергей Толмачев / 123rf.com)

What is a 3D printer and what are its advantages?

A 3D printer is a printer capable of making 3D prints. A three-dimensional print, is any of the processes in which a material is manipulated by a computer-driven tool to form a three-dimensional model.

Initially the only method of three-dimensional printing available was by compacting a thin material into layers, which formed a model as more layers were put together.

These models can have multiple shapes and sizes limited only by the size of the 3D printer. Models are made real from digital files created using 3D modelling software, and models can be downloaded or created from scratch using specialised software.

Today there are many more methods of 3D printing, such as those made from powders of different metals, but these are often so expensive that their use is restricted to businesses where they can afford to invest in higher costs.

Advantages
  • They are capable of printing varied and complex shapes
  • Printed parts can be strong and resistant
  • They speed up the process between design and creation of an object or product
  • They can print any design on demand
  • Only the necessary material is used
Disadvantages
  • 3D printing is really slow
  • It is difficult to print a large amount of things
  • Materials can be expensive
  • Small aesthetic errors can occur during finishing

FDM or SLA 3D printer - what to look out for?

If you've looked at 3D printer models before, you've probably noticed that there are FDM 3D printers and SLA 3D printers, these acronyms refer to the method the printers use to model the shape.

FDM printers: This stands for Fused Deposition Modeling, which translates to Fused Deposition Modeling. This is the most accessible technology option, as it is cheaper and the materials are more readily available. For this reason it is the technology of choice for students with limited resources.

SLA printers: This is an acronym for Sterelithography, which translates as Stereolithography. On an industrial level, this is the best-selling 3D printing technology on the market. They offer a higher print quality, as they offer higher resolution and the ink is more resistant. Of course they are more expensive.

FDM 3D Printer SLA 3D Printer
Materials Easy and affordable to source Some resins are complex to source
Level of detail Fine details are not accurate High
Cost Tend to be cheap Tend to be expensive
Uses Ideal for students Generate prototypes
Ease of use Easy Medium
Quality of print Medium High, resins set better

Buying criteria: factors that allow you to compare and rate different 3D printer models

3D printers are part of a market that is just emerging among ordinary people. Until recently, 3D printers were so expensive and difficult to obtain that their use was almost exclusively for prototyping and industrial parts.

So don't worry if while looking for 3D printers you don't fully understand their features, as their sudden appearance on the market means that understanding what they offer is not so easy, that's why we are going to help you by letting you know the most important features of these devices:

  • Size
  • Resolution and speed
  • Base or platform
  • Software
  • Additional features

Size

The size of 3D printers is the first criterion to consider if you are thinking of buying one. This is because it will define the size of the models you want to produce, as they cannot build objects that are larger than they are.

Before buying a 3D printer think about the size of models you are most interested in producing, then carefully check the dimensions of the printers that most appeal to you, specifically how wide, long and tall they are, so you will know if your printer is capable of reproducing everything you would be interested in printing.

3D printers allow the printing of multiple models simultaneously, saving time and energy. (Photo: ocskaymark / 123rf.com)

Resolution and speed

When we talk about the resolution of a 3D printer, we are referring to the level of detail it is capable of achieving. This is generally measured in microns (µm) and the smaller the number, the greater the level of detail it can produce.

For example, a printer capable of printing layers as thin as 16 µm (which is a small measurement) will have a higher level of detail than one whose thinnest layers are 100 µm (a much higher thickness).

Speed refers to how fast the printer moves to do its job, although this may not be a very important feature if you are buying your first 3D printer, unless you regularly need to print a large number of models in a very short time.

Base or platform

The base or platform is the part that the models rest on while they are being printed, it may not seem like an important part at first, but the base is what will support the model while it is being built.

A good base should also allow easy removal of the model once it is finished, as you don't want to force your precious figure to come off its base, as you may damage it or deform your base.

Depending on the model, you can use techniques to remove the base such as using glue stick (also known as adhesive pencil), or even masking tape to paint before you start printing. In some cases the best way to remove the model from the paint is to give the base and the object a hot water bath after printing.

Software

Some 3D printer models often come with software discs to get you started quickly creating prints and even small guides for modelling, or you can purchase a licence for software such as TinkerCAD or Solidworks, or download free software such as Blender or Freecad.

Modelling. This is a program that is absolutely necessary if you want to create a model from scratch. Some of these software have guides included to learn how to create three-dimensional figures, but in general you need to have knowledge in the area to advance properly.

Slicing. This is software that prepares a three-dimensional part by converting it into layers that are read and used by the printer. It is essential to the success of a project involving 3D printing.

Model alteration. This is ideal if you need to modify the model. With these programs you can change the dimensions or the amount of polygons a model has, to optimise it before it is printed.

Additional features

3D printers, like all work tools, usually have certain extras that make them more versatile and useful, they are not strictly necessary but they will make your life easier when using them.

Wi-Fi. Certain models can communicate wirelessly with computers and phones, allowing you to do things like receive print orders no matter how far away you are or print using files stored in the cloud.

Open-Source printers. An Open-Source printer is a printer that you can clone, that is, you can print most of its parts using the same printer. The printer has the instructions to print a twin device, so you practically buy 2 devices when you buy 1.

(Featured image photo: Maruna Skoropadska / 123rf.com)

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