When buying a 3d printer you've got a lot of choice today. The selection of 3D printers is exploding as more applications become possible, from toys to industrial manufacturing. And with a broader selection comes confusion. Aside from individual companies, the technologies vary, from CJP, MJP, SLS, SLA, FDM and some others.
In order to figure out what printer best suits your needs – one must ask the following six questions at a minimum.
- What is the application you’re looking to print? Will this be for prototype or production purposes.
The largest use of 3D printing continues to be for protoyping. If you're looking to create prototypes, you can generally use a slightly more budget friendly printer than if you need to 3D print for full on production (particularly for manufacturing and engineering uses). However, as functionality improves and prices decrease, 3D printing for production, merchandise, retail ready, and functional ready products are all growing segments of the 3D printing marketplace.
- What type of material is needed? Will this be monochrome or full Color?
Material is obviously important. The materials for dental and medical applications are going to be different than for rapid prototyping and both of those will be different from aerospace or food (in particular!). Most 3D printers, especially FDM (fused deposition modeling) those with a single head (such as FDM, fused deposition printing, which prints using a single filament of plastic or metal wire), the color of the print is the color of the material used. Printers with multiple heads can print different colors to different areas of the printed object. That's changing. A company called Mcor has a range of full color 3D printers that uses paper. ColorJet Printing, owned by 3D Systems, uses powder and resin and also provides a full-color option. Some companies print plastic in full color. It's not yet exaclty like printing color on paper, but there are options today if that's what you need.
- What are the dimensions? Can this be printed in parts as well?
3D printers can be fairly large. If you have the space and the budget for a larger model, that 's great. If you have designs that can be printed in pieces and then assembled (or simply less floor/counter space), then a smaller 3D printer could be a great option for you.
- What type of finish are you looking for?
Are you looking for surface finish quality? In what stage of development, design, prototype or production stage of manufacturing? Are they looking for a specific micron level parameter. Will the application be used in daily use? All of these questions will help to narrow the field of printers. Also note that the material you use will impact how much finishing you need – and the kind of finishing you'll do (sanding, lacquer, or even a “bath” to fill in holes in the 3D-printed object).
- What is your budget?
There's a 3D printer for any budget. Heck, there's even a 3D printer (the da Vinci miniMaker) that you can buy for kids to design and print toys for under $250. With the previous four questions and answers in mind, look for the right machine in your budget range. Take a look at the Senvol database. It's a free database of additive manufacturer machines and materials. This database is geared toward industrial machines, so if you're looking for a smaller machine for prototyping then look elsewhere.
- Get a benchmark! Always ask the manufacturer to print you a benchmark before purchasing.
Enough said. Make them show you they can handle what you need.
Ask these six questions and you're well on your way to getting the 3D printer you need. Ready to arm yourself with more knowledge? Click on the image below and download our FREE eBook on 3D printing.