Should I Buy a 3D Printer?

“Should I buy a 3D printer?” is a question that we have heard a lot at markets, in the shop and in general conversation. And, it makes a lot of sense because 3D printers are now a lot more reasonable in terms of cost, so it’s understandable that people are taking the idea of buying one more seriously.

Now, I just want to preface this blog post, by saying right off the bat, that Yes! We are a 3D printing business. But, does that mean we are going to try and put you off buying a printer of your own? Absolutely not.

We know a few other big-name 3D printing businesses that have made putting people off buying printers a really huge part of their online personas, and truthfully, we’re not really here for that. We’re here to encourage and nurture anyone who wants to take up 3D printing, whether that’s as a casual hobby or even start your own business…there is plenty of room for all of us!

Therefore, the short answer to the question “Should I buy a 3D printer?” is actually an easy and resounding yes! If you have the money to pay for one, and want to, there is no reason whatsoever why you shouldn’t purchase one.

However, there are a few things that you might want to take into consideration before you do…

3D Printing is not “Plug and Play”

Don’t get us wrong, it is a lot easier than it used to be, but also don’t expect to be able to download some files, and just send them to work their magic on your 3D printer. 3D printing is time-consuming, and you will need to put in some work:

  • Calibrating the machine
  • Slicing the file
  • Maintaining the printer (regular maintenance is crucial to ensure your machine won’t die on you)
  • Cleaning
  • Removing supports (this is a big one)

Prints are not perfect, and they are susceptible to failing. For example, you might have come across the term “spaghetti”. Coming in to discover that your 16 hour print is just one huge pile of spaghetti is absolutely soul-destroying. But the worst part is, often it is difficult to predict when it is going to happen, or why it did.

There are many reasons why a print could fail, and many are out of our control, for example we have had failures on both our filament and resin printers due to brief power outages. And when I say brief, I mean tiny split second, but just enough to make the lights flicker brief.

Obsolescence

3D Printing technology is constantly evolving, meaning that there are always newer models being released with improved features and software changes, that can be difficult to keep up with.

That’s not to say that older 3D printers are completely redundant, but it may become harder to maintain or find the right parts for replacements. It may also become difficult to get the support as machines age.

The best way to approach the worry about “obsolescence” is to make sure you do your research before investing any money. You want to purchase a machine that has a good reputation amongst users, so check out reviews not only on the 3D printer itself but also on the company that manufactures it. We recommend buying from companies with a good customer service reputation and who offer ongoing customer support.

A good option to protect yourself from obsolescence would be Ender-style FDM (filament) printers, because of the sheer number of available aftermarket parts, allowing you to literally “Frankenstein” your machine as much as you want. However, doing this isn’t for the weak-hearted, as you will need a high level of knowledge – and patience – to install and calibrate. It might be better to save your time, money and sanity, to just buy a newer model. That’s not to say you can’t learn how to put everything together, and it is definitely worth the effort, but it’s important to understand what you’re getting yourself into.

Noise and Fumes

If you are looking at 3D Printers, it is important to be aware that Resin printers are known to emit odours and VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), that can affect your workplace or home, and require extraction and/or filtering to deal with. For some people, this can be a deal breaker, however, the odours and VOCs can be dealt with, with proper planning.

In our office, we have multiple Air Filtering systems that are permanently running to purify the air, by removing airborne contaminants. The choice of resin can also be a factor in the level of fumes and VOCs, so unless you have no other option, we recommend that you opt for resins that are listed as low odour/VOCs.

Most 3D printers are noisy to some level, because of the stepper motors and fan systems. Silent stepper motors and fans have been fitted as standard in many newer printers, although the newest Klipper-based superfast printers need a lot more cooling, and are thus noisier. If you plan to run large projects that run overnight, this might be a problem if you place your printer in a room where anyone sleeps.

Cost-Effective?

3D Printers vary in price, with budget printers averaging between £250 and £500, and pricing going up to £1400. On top of that, you will need to invest in materials; typically filaments or resins to create anything. So, you should expect the initial outlay to be pretty high and your Return-on-Investment could work out to be very low inc comparison.

Unfortunately, unless you intend to use it regularly, for prototyping, manufacturing items for others, or working consistently on a personal hobby (for example cosplay, tabletop gaming, railway modelling etc) you probably won’t get your money’s worth out of the printer any time soon.

Our Advice

  1. Do your research before parting with any cash.
  2. Think about what you want it for, and if it is really worth the investment.
  3. Consider how much time and energy you want to put into setting up, running and maintaining a 3D printer.
  4. Also consider if you have the patience to learn how 3D printers work, including processes such as slicing 3D models and calibrating the machines.

If you do decide to take the plunge and purchase one, remember to have fun playing around with your 3D printer. Yes, they can be frustrating at times, but they are also incredibly rewarding.

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