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Are 3D Printers safe for kids?

In this article, we will look at various facets of the safety of 3D printing for children including the materials used, items produced as well as the 3D printing process itself.

Children are naturally drawn to 3D printing. Brightly colored, reasonably inexpensive objects which may be made to their specification are fascinating to kids. We looked at some interesting 3D printed ideas for kids and help you decide what is safe.

So, is using a 3D printer safe for kids?

The brief answer is 3D printed items may be safe for children, but there are plenty of issues to take into account. Parents and educators will have to take into account many variables before deciding, and everyone's idea of reasonable safety or risk may vary.

This is merely an informational guide,  to help you work out what you will need to be worried about. Please be sure you think the issues related to your specific circumstances.

Before We Start...Stay Away From Kickstarter 3D Printers

So you wish to save money with a Kickstarter printer? This used to be a great idea. Back in 2015-16, an affordable Kickstarter 3D printer was an exciting thing. Now, not a week passes without a new 3D printer appearing on Kickstarter.

But the majority of these inexpensive 3D printers found on Kickstarter are as kits, which need to be assembled. Secondly , Kickstarter 3D printers are prototype versions. They have not been through the trials and tribulations of thousands of hours of user tests. You'll surely encounter problems that you must solve by yourself.

And the third downside: Most Kickstarter 3D printers take a long time to deliver – which kid  (or adult) has the patience to wait months before they get started, right?

kick

Physical Dangers

The most important rule: Never leave young children alone with a 3D printer! By all means, 3D printers are not any toys and must be handled with caution. As a guideline, treat them with respect you would deal with all of your workshop tools.

Safety First!  They do not call it “the hot-end” for nothing. Do not ever touch it when it is hot.

The majority of the physical risks come from the heated components and the motors. Their extruders heat up to around 260 deg. Celsius. If this scares you then right off the bat I would recommend you consider buying a 3D pen instead. There are some wonderful 3D pens for children currently on the market, most of which retail between $50-$100.

If touched, a hot-end can cause severe skin burns! Additionally, the heated beds, on which 3D printers extrude their models, may heat up to around 100 deg. Celsius -- also way too hot for kids. Last, the fast-moving metal components out of a stepper motor can be harmful to tiny fingers.

Another consideration is fumes. For materials like ABS and Nylon, this is definitely an issue. This study (from a filament seller ) concludes that the substances are safe during 3D printing. But many consider it a sensible precaution to just 3D print with such substances in a well-ventilated space.

So notify your child about the probable dangers; do not abandon them unwatched, and use precautions (gloves, glasses, etc.) when handling a 3D printer.

thingmaker 3D printing with children

There are numerous cool Programs, tools, and curriculums designed to get children involved with the area of 3D printing. You find an interesting list of 3D printing tools for kids there.

Choosing the right materials and objects

There are plenty of different materials which may be utilised in 3D printers. There are even 3D printer extruders that can print with play dough, Plasticine and modeling clay.

These substances have their age recommendations - the PlayDoh brand that we have at the moment says from age group 2+.

And people are also printing with edible materials like chocolate, fondant and cookie dough. These substances themselves are safe but present new food hygiene requirements.

But more typically home 3D printing will be done with vinyl - either ABS or PLA. ABS is the plastic that LEGO bricks are made from. PLA is a bioplastic; it is non-toxic. Both are considered safe for kids when published.

When heated, plastic filament emits particles. That is not the stuff you need to let your children breathe. However, the difference between ABS and PLA is filament is stark, ABS filament comprises oil, and the fumes can also be poisonous, whereas most PLA is completely safe and non-toxic, even if your child happens to ingest it.

Not every filament is edible, which is important especially for smaller children -- you do not want to intoxicate them by choosing the incorrect stuff to 3D print, stick to PLA at the start.

Here's more info on the best way best to select non-toxic filament.

You also should take into account the printed objects themselves that could be dangerous. It is possible to publish really dangerous objects with a 3D printer if this is the intention. Objects that are not meant to be harmful can still pose a risk such as choking, pinching or cutting so the design of items needs to be carefully considered.

"Some printed components may present a CHOKING HAZARD or might be SHARP" Cubify

Objects printed using common 3D printing methods are not acceptable for a child who might place objects in their mouth. Cubify targets children with its 3D print-on-demand providers and includes a warning for kids under 3.

"THE MODELS ARE NOT SUITED TO BE USED AS TOYS" Shapeways

On the other hand, the internet 3D print-on-demand store Shapeways says that 3D printed items aren't toys in its terms and conditions. They also provide material safety data sheets for all the materials. They're not targeting kids at this time.

Industrial 3D printed toys could be certified as safe for children. The Makie doll is a customized 3D printed doll that's made to order and has been obtained through the certification procedure.

To attain this certificate the Makie doll has been through extensive testing.

3D Printers as well as the Printing Process

At this point, plenty of 3D printers are homemade, often from kits of parts. The 3D printing process typically involves high temperatures as ordinary materials like plastic need to be melted to extrude them. Our home constructed 3D printer is certainly not safe for children to use and they get to see it in action under close supervision.

3D Printing with materials like modeling clay, play dough, and Plasticine doesn't need high temperatures - the material is extruded through a syringe type device. The Robo 3D printer can even be controlled from your mobile phone! Although it is not exactly a printer for kids, I wouldn't be surprised if we see this type of system that's targeted at young kids in the future. My kids would love it, that is for sure.

Let the Kids Choose Their 3D Printing Project
       

Yes! 3D Printers help children unleash their creativity.

That's something you need to get used to as a parent: The kids lead the way, and you are only here to help. Therefore, even if the 3D print job is not the one you prefer -- clench your teeth and begin printing. That does not mean most children are not open to suggestions. If you would like to get deeper into that subject, please read Michael Eisenberg's 3D printing for kids: What to build next?

In Conclusion

Fundamentally, 3D printed items can be safe for children over 3, depending upon the materials used and the construction of this item. The process of 3D printing has plenty of possible dangers, but one product in particular, that the Cube from 3DSystems, is acceptable for children over age 8 and has got safety certification.

Later on, it is certainly possible that we will see 3D printers for younger children using materials which may be extruded without needing elevated temperatures.

If you are ready to dive into the deep end, we encourage you to take a look at our review of 4 best 3D printers for kids. Thanks for reading!

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The Best 3D Printers for Kids

Why buy a 3D Printer for a child?

3D Printing is no longer a complicated hobby! Anyone can get started.

It’s a very relevant technology, as just about all present industries, from automobiles to smartphones, from jewelry to handicap aids, 3D printing has been used daily.

This is the reason it's an excellent idea to introduce your children to the technology today.

Let’s take a look at why you should encourage your children to take up this hobby…

3D Printing Encourages Creativity

The significant advantage of 3D printing is that the immediacy of having a finished product in your hands within hours. What this does is to accelerate the traditional design cycle of:

  • Invent  
  • Plan
  • Create
  • Optimize
  • Improve

To a Child dipping their feet into the world of Engineering, this is an enormous benefit as it gives them hands-on expertise of how all products are designed and fabricated. This is what we Engineers live for!

Seeing the design that has been in their mind a couple of hours back being turned into a real physical thing which they can hold in their hands and use in the way they envisioned is exciting! It is the best way to show your children how fun engineering could be.

And Why would not you want your children to be Engineers?! The current starting salary for Engineering graduates in 2018 is $65000 (which is the very high compared to other fields) climbing to a career average of about $100,000, and they'll contribute to society with a fulfilling career!

3D Printing is the Future of Manufacturing

Schools are slow to adapt to new technology. It is not their fault, they are normally dependent upon insufficient funding and need to adhere to program guidelines set by the government. This is the reason your children are still taught similar courses to those you and I were, decades ago.

At Junior through to high school, if you are lucky your kids learn metalwork and woodwork, they have a go at vacuum forming some plastic, they may get to try out some injection molding or how to operate a CNC lathe, but they are very unlikely to get their hands on a 3D printer.

If they do go to an excellent school which has access to a 3D printer, it's unlikely to be a recent version. 3D printing has evolved a lot in the last ten decades! They might well be left frustrated when the finished part takes hours to build and resembles one of my Great British Bake-off efforts as opposed to the exact replication they were anticipating.

In this guide, I've chosen and reviewed the 3D printers that I think are an ideal option for your kids and categorized my reviews depending on the age group they are acceptable for.

To help you decide which 3D Printer you ought to buy, I have looked at all of the models available in 2018 which are designed primarily for kids or are acceptable for children and teens according to my own experiences.

Best 3D Printers for Kids - 2018


In the table below I rated the four printers which I will be advocating in this article:

Name

Score

Summary

Age Group

Where to Buy

da vinci minimaker

XYZ's DaVinci Minimaker 

4.5 out of 5

The most kid-friendly 3D printer of 2018

Younger kids

flashforge finder

Flashforge Finder

4 out of 5

Great for kids and beginners, has WiFi and an LED screen

Younger kids

 Monoprice Mini V2

4 out of 5

Better suited for older kids, budget option

Older kids

sindoh 3d printer opened

ZYX Printing Da Vinci Jr.

3 out of 5

Too expensive, not suitable for small kids

Older kids


For each printer you will see an overall score out of 5, with a few pros and cons for good measure.

And now without further ado, let’s take a look at Pen and Plastic’s round-up of best 3D printers for kids currently on the market.

1: XYZPrinting Da Vinci MiniMaker


As you can see from the photographs, it's a very kindergarden look that I think is terrific for younger children.

This makes them see it more as a toy than a dull educational tool while children approaching their teens won't tihnk its too uncool! 

There's a similar version called only the Da Vinci Mini that is a more subdued orange color but costs about $30 more because it comes with WiFi. 

I would recommend it if you think your children may be put off by the childish colors but I would not pay the extra just for WiFi.

da vinci minimaker

Pen and Plastic Rating

"Best budget option for small kids"

Setup

I Do not think I've ever managed to prepare a 3D printer faster than I could with the Da Vinci miniMaker!

You plug in certain USB and power cables just like you have to with any computer hardware, snap at the printhead, feed the filament tube to the printhead and... that's it!

The filament auto-feeds, and there's no calibration required.

The directions that came in the box were kind of lo-fi black and white printouts that seemed like the final minute'oops we forgot to include instructions let's throw something in the box' choice, but they do the job as the installation is so easy you do not need anything fancier.

I suggest looking at these movies on XYZ's site before trying to set this up with the printouts alone.

Software

The miniMaker does not use the industry standard G-code, and thus your only alternative is to use the provided XYZware program.

This beginner package is a significant limitation for inquisitive young minds that learn fast, but is exactly what makes it such a "guaranteed to work out of the box" success.

The bundled XYZware is relatively simple to use, but it just lacks a little bit of feedback, so you're left wondering whether you want to click again or proceed to another step.

Useful Information is displayed such as how much filament your version will use and how long it will take to construct.

All of us know how impatient little ones could be, so it is great to have the ability to give them an estimate of how long they might need to wait.

minimaker dimensions

Printing

There Are some versions included with the XYZ applications which function well as test pieces, but I suggest heading over to Thingiverse to download some more intriguing pieces.

I printed two figurines and had great results. The parts ended up extremely well detailed. The quality impressed me for such a cheap machine.

During printing, the miniMaker is especially silent for an open-sided machine, you wouldn't want to place it in your bedroom overnight though!

What I didn't like

There's one big negative using the miniMaker, and that is the fact you can use XYZ branded filament. This is bad since the branded filament is more expensive than other makes and there might be times when you need to print a color that's not in the XYZ range.

I can See why the producer has done this. As an entry printer, it completely avoids the chance of someone attempting to use the wrong sort of filament and messing up the machine. It just feels a little bit too 'Big Brother' for my liking.

The machine keeps checks on the filament type used by integrating a processor in the filament reel which records how much filament has been used, so in case you refill with another brand, the machine will report there isn't any filament and will not work.

There Are not any ways around this without some rather intricate replacement of the primary circuit board so that you should bear this in mind when purchasing the miniMaker.

Please do not let it put you off as much as you'll shortly see it takes a while to empty one of those filament reels, a worth while sacrifica considering the MiniMaker only costs $300.

Technical Specifications

RESOLUTION
100-400 microns
VOLUME
5.9 x 5.9 x 5.9 inches
​PRINT SPEED
100mm/second
FILAMENT TYPE
PLA
​AGE GROUP
Age Group: 14+ (8+ with adult supervision) 
CONNECT
USB
HEATED BED
No

Pros

  • Best for small kids
  • Prints ​eco-friendly PLA
  • Big print size
  • Easy to use software
  • Cheapest in review

Cons

  • Only one extruder
  • No heated bed, does not print ABS

Verdict

The XYZ miniMaker is great 3D Printer for younger children and non-tech educated parents. It pretty much prints out of the box with very little fuss.

The disadvantage to this simplicity is your children could grow out of it fairly quickly especially if they're in their teens when more complex models and fine-tuning of installation aren't possible.

2: Flashforge Finder



Of all of the 3D printers in this review, this is the one which seems almost like it was designed for everyday home users. 

Its chunky red plastic frame gives it a satisfyingly sturdy feel, the motors and drivetrain are largely hidden away and while it appears quite futuristic. 

It also just does not look out of place sat in my desk beside the everyday tech of now, if it were not for the sound I would not mind having this sat in my living room.

The front of the machine is a gorgeous clear color touchscreen, complete the Flashforge Finder looks decidedly unintimidating, perfect for less tech-savvy folks. 

Finder-Features

Pen and Plastic Rating

"Best hassle-free  option for non-tech-savvy folks.."

Setup

A User Manual is included on the USB stick that comes with the printer. But on first use, the touch screen conveniently walks you through the initial setup of leveling the printing bed by telling one to twist the adjustment nuts completely down and then one by one as it steps each corner it lets you raise each nut till a beep informs you the appropriate height was reached.

This is a very smart but simple system that turns what could be a frustrating process to a complete doddle.

Loading The filament was somewhat trickier just because quite a great deal of force must pull the filament through the extruder and the manual explicitly states to not use too much pressure! Getting this right on the first go is improbable but as soon as you understand how it should feel it is no problem.

flashforge finder printing

Software

The Finder includes its FlashPrint applications for preparing (slicing) versions. I think it's very good, the fully automated cutting edge and support generator operate nicely, and manual options like temperature and printing rate are available for when your children want to proceed to the next level of part design.

Standard features like substance usage quotes are included. Using the manual settings, FlashPrint is a lot more advanced than the XZYware which accompanies the DaVinci miniMaker. This should give most teens enough freedom to make before they pick that 3D printing is their dream career and begin begging you to purchase a BCN3D Sigma...

FlashPrint Also has a couple of gimmicks like'2D into 3D' that permits you to create an approximate 3D model from a 2D picture, by way of instance, you can turn a photograph of your face to a model, while this is not likely to work flawlessly it's a fun enough exercise.

Printing

This is a hassle-free 3D Printer. Using the default settings, my initial build completed in a little under an hour. This is the only 3D printer I have had to check on to see if it is working as it is so quiet! Heat up time is fast, being able to take out the plate to employ blue tape is a fantasy.

One of the simplest yet most useful features of this printer is the removable build plate! It is crazy to think that this is not a feature available on most of the consumer-oriented 3D printers.

Being able to remove your components from the build plate whenever it's sat safely on your desk is so much easier than reaching in the machine.

 It just feels like a better way for children to see their assembles removed from the printer using a gentle slide it generates a 'wow' moment as opposed to 15 minutes of frustration as you cope with scraping bits of tape in a restricted space.

The failure rate of builds with this printer is also fantastic, very near zero for me after a few weeks of use that's extremely impressive.

What I didn't like

Although the FlashForge Finder is pleased to take additional Manufacturers of PLA filament the on-board filament holder is a bit smaller than standard.

If you Do choose another brand you'll have to keep the spool holder from the machine for example on a shelf to the side or over it, in actuality, there are a few cool spool holder designs on the Thingiverse so that you can create your own!

Technical Specifications

RESOLUTION
100 microns
VOLUME
6″ x 6″ x 6″
​DISPLAY
4 inch LED screen
TYPE
PLA only
​AGE​S
13 or 8 under adult supervision
CONNECT
USB/SD Card
HEATED BED
No


Pros

  • Easy to use
  • WiFi Connectivity
  • Closed printer
  • Clever LCD screen
  • Excellent customer support and product reputation

Cons

  • Can only print PLA
  • Single Extruder

Verdict

The FlashForge Finder is the sort of 3D printer which in a couple of years time you will be picking up from Target and Staples without another thought just like you do now use a 2D printer.

It pretty much plugs and plays and combined with excellent support from the manufacturer it is the perfect choice if you would like to give your family a hassle-free entrance to the world of 3D printing.

Additionally, it has enough flexibility it is going to be a fantastic few years ahead of your adolescent's skills grow beyond its abilities.

I Also wish to add that lots of owners have reported that the customer support at FlashForge to be outstanding with very prompt and helpful answers to client inquiries usually obtained within only a couple hours.

This is particularly important as you begin to experiment with new filaments and more innovative slicing things can fail, so it is reassuring to know real help is an email away.

We also reviewed the Flashforge Finder in our best 3d printers under $500 review, spoiler alert: it also stacks up favorably against the competition in that price bracket.

3: Monoprice Select Mini V2



In a word..sturdy! The Monoprice Select Mini is mainly sheet steel structure, it is basic, but in a satisfyingly industrial manner with no effort made to conceal bolt heads.

However, The significant moving parts are nicely covered to prevent damage or injury. It seems like it belongs in a laboratory with a white coated tech operating it. I like this, and I am pretty certain science loving teenagers will also! 

The full-color screen is extremely impressive and by far the clearest I've seen on any sub $1000 printer, it is not touch screen but it does have a nice tactile clicky wheel near it all mounted onto a fancy brushed steel plate.

Pen and Plastic Rating

"Best budget option foradolescents and tech-savvy parents."

Be aware this printer does not include any filament; some shops state that it includes a sample filament, but this is not enough to create any model with so you will want to factor in an additional $25ish for a 1kg reel of PLA filament. ​

The fantastic thing about this printer is you are free to use any brand of filament so that you can shop around for the best value; I suggest taking a look at our filament guide to make the right choice.

Setup

No Instructions were included in the box so I needed to obtain a pdf on the Monoprice site (for reference you can find them here).

The Manual states it comes pre-calibrated but user reports suggest you need to do some tweaking to the constructed table to get it level, this is not a tough process it's only a little tedious and is something which will have to be carried out by a cautious older adult or teen. Feeding the filament is small fiddly (similar to this sentence!) Itis not difficult it is simply not easy to tell as soon as you've completed it successfully. Some users have reported cutting the end of the filament with an angle might help.

Software

Monoprice Recommends using Cura, Repetier, Replicator-G or Simplify3D applications, which is astonishing compatibility. All are highly regarded, and a person used to computers will have no problem navigating their way around a number of these with some practice.

I'd Urge Cura since it can prepare components for you or provide you total manual control and everything in between. Having the ability to use third-party applications is one of the huge advantages of this Select Mini since it opens up a whole world of innovative configurations and CAD model preparation that's no different to what's done in industry.

Printing

This 3D printer is fairly loud; I would say you'll have to have the ability to keep it in a room which you could walk out of and shut the door on. It will have an SD card slot, and I would advise that you move files to it this way. Then you can keep your computer or notebook separate from it builds away; the large color LCD makes this a doddle.

The test part printed quickly, and without any issues, the quality is excellent, and with a few tweaks to the build, it could easily be improved. The construct speed is a bit on the slow side, but this is because the Z-resolution is rather high so is the price you pay high quality.

You have a ton of freedom with the minimaker! Fiddle with the settings to reach a compromise between speed and quality.

This 3D printer is fairly loud; I would say you'll have to have the ability to keep it in a room which you could walk out of and shut the door on. It will have an SD card slot, and I would advise that you move files to it this way. Then you can keep your computer or notebook separate from it builds away; the large color LCD makes this a doddle.

The test part printed quickly, and without any issues, the quality is excellent, and with a few tweaks to the build, it could easily be improved. The construct speed is a bit on the slow side, but this is because the Z-resolution is rather high so is the price you pay high quality.

What I didn't like

Although Monoprice state it is possible to construct using ABS filament, I need to state my test pieces weren't that effective and I think it's because the heated bed doesn't get hot enough.

The specs state a maximum bed temperature of 140°F, but ABS wants something closer to 220°F. If you think you will need to print ABS components, then I'd suggest looking at another machine.

However, this fact shouldn't undermine the quality of the printer when using PLA material, I'd suggest thinking of this as a PLA just printer, and therefore, it's still a bargain.

Technical Specifications

PRINTING SPEED55 mm/s
VOLUME
4.7" x 4.7" x 4.7"
​DISPLAY
3.7inch LED
TYPE
PLA and ABS
​RECOMMENDED AGE
+13 years
CONNECT
USB/SD Card/WIFI
HEATED BED
Yes (not hot enough for ABS)


Pros

  • Easy to use
  • WiFi Connectivity
  • Closed printer
  • Clever LCD screen
  • Excellent customer support and product reputation

Cons

  • Can only print PLA
  • Single Extruder

Verdict

If You're looking to purchase a first 3D Printer to get a teenager, do not look any farther than the Monoprice Select Mini. It's excellent value for money at about $200. This printer has its quirks but nothing that would make you regret purchasing it. If your children have shown any interest in technology and you have only the smallest amount of practical capability to repair the odd thing which may go wrong then this printer is a winner.

Engineering Is about solving problems, and this 3D printer is a tool which gives you the power and freedom to do that, and I am confident it will turn just about any curious young mind in an Engineer. Bargain of the year!

4: Sindoh 3DWOX DP 200


Unlike Most 3D printers, you will see the DP200 appears more like a home appliance than a piece of laboratory equipment.

The Large translucent front opening makes it seem something like a toaster!

All The mechanics and filament spool are included inside the printer, so from the outside, it is clear that this is a 3D printer developed for using instead of tinkering with.

The Plastic panels that hide the inner systems feel quite solid and give you a great sense that this is a well-tested item.

sindoh 3d printer opened

Pen and Plastic Rating

"Too complicated for small kids, and not as good as the competition in the higher price range"

The filament is contained inside the printer body, it is somewhat bigger than a few of its rivals. But its uniform block shape makes it a lot easier to keep on a desk beside you than more open designs which need space for one to get filaments and removable covers.

The Bigger footprint thankfully means the DP200 also has a very generous build volume. In 8.3″ x 7.9″ x 7.3″, it is one of the greatest for a house spec 3D printer. Therefore, if you have some large models in mind, the DP201 will deal well.

Setup

The DP200 comes fully assembled, so the initial steps are plugging it in, including the filament and calibrating the mattress.

Like The FlashForge Finder, the color display guides you through the calibration procedure. This makes it a super simple job.

One Of the important advantages of the 3DWOX DP200 is the filament comes in a cartridge which you slip into your 3d printer, much like a traditional paper printer.

This Filament cartridge system massively simplifies one of the major manual processes which other 3D printers have problems with. This means you're not as likely to suffer from problems due to the improperly loaded filament in addition to making the process only have a matter of seconds.

Thanks To each of these innovations built into the DP200, moving from unboxing to your initial 3D print should not take more than about 20 minutes!

Software

The DP200 includes Sindoh's own 3DWOX Desktop slicing software. It has two modes, simple and innovative, which give you as much control over your document preparation as you desire.

The simple mode is well-designed and will provide you with dependable, quality prints in many circumstances.

As you get more information, you can proceed to advanced mode and begin playing with the settings to know more about 3D print preparation and also further enhance the quality of your prints.

You can also use the free and highly regarded Cura software with the DP200 with its built-in profile which will provide you with optimum settings for your printer.

Printing

Once you have sent your 3D print document to your printer, there is not any more to do other than press launch.

You can even watch the progress of your 3D print remotely, due to a built-in webcam within the printer!

Although It sounds like a small gimmick, it is quite a handy feature which lets you do your life while just periodically assessing your prints advancement.

The DP200 is a silent 3D printer, at approximately 50 dB, the completely enclosed workings sound like a normal office printer.

Once Your prints are done, eliminating them is extremely easy due to a removable and flexible print bed. You must bend the mattress, and the prints will peel off.

When using the standard high-quality settings, the printing quality is wonderful. Little details are rendered perfectly with only a hint of coating lines.

At Maximum quality, a coating thickness of 0.05mm is achievable which leads to stunning part quality that you're unlikely to be able to fault.

Printing

The DP200 is only going to work with Sindoh's filaments. This means that you are limited to the colors and materials they choose to make available. This is done to make sure you use filaments that will work reliably on your printer.

Fortunately, The Sindoh filaments are of top quality and will lead to the most dependable prints. Unlike some other proprietary filaments, they're also very competitively priced, and you do not need to get a whole cartridge every time.

You can purchase a refill spool which you insert inside your current cartridge.

The DP200 can print with ABS; you want to consider venting, as the fumes given off are somewhat toxic. As a result of this, you need to keep it in a living room which has good ventilation or invest in an air purifier. See my post on ventilating your 3D printer.

Technical Specifications

RESOLUTION
100 microns
VOLUME
~7.9" x 7.9" x 7.3"
​SCREEN SIZE
5 inch color screen
TYPE
PLA/ABS
​AGE GROUP
Older kids
CONNECT
SD Card/USB/WIFI
HEATED BED
Yes


Pros

  • Great for kids
  • The most affordable printer in this review
  • Safe, uses a closed printing build

Cons

  • Can only print with PLA
  • Print quality not comparable with the Robo 3D R1 for example
  • times-circle-o
    No heated bed or auto-leveling feature 

Verdict

If You do not mind splashing the cash, then you can not go wrong purchasing the Sindoh 3DWOX DP200. Although it is a very capable, close professional grade machine, the competition in the sub $1000 bracket simply out competes it.

This printer is also not suitable for small children. However, if your teenaged son or daughter has some 3D printing expertise,  then this is an excellent gift for them.

The DP200 is also a superb choice for parents who wish to treat themselves! Find out how to use it yourself and then teach your children what you know. 

Conclusion

3D Printing is a really rewarding hobby that tens of thousands of adults are taking up, but don't just let your children have all of the fun! 

Buying a 3D printer is a great excuse to spend some money on yourself while being the hero dad / mom that got his or her kid a fancy new toy!

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Best value for money 3D Printer in 2018

Seems like a few years ago, 3D printing is a very surreal idea that you only see in a futuristic sci-fi movie. Now, it is a technology that is getting more and more popular in various industries than ever before. We have looked into seven 3D printers to give you an idea of what they can do for you and which one you should choose. First, let us get to know what 3D printing is all about before you decide which printer to get.

Basically, 3D printing is creating three-dimensional solid objects from different materials from a digital file. You can print anything from toys, household items, car parts, even prosthetic limbs, and hearing aids. The possibilities are endless, and with these 3D printers we have reviewed, you can have one in your own home or at work at a very affordable price. Let's go!

In the table below you will find the four 3D printers we reviewed. The seven printers you see below are the only ones we would consider buying in the under $300 dollar (and slightly above) price range.

Name

Print Material

Resolution

Amazon Review

Where to Buy

XYZprinting da Vinci Jr. 1.0 Pro

PLA/Tough PLA/PETG

20-400 microns

3.9 out of 5

QIDI Technology X-one2

PLA, ABS, PVA, TPU

100-500 microns

4.6 out of 5

RepRap Guru DIY Prusa i3 V2

ABS, PLA, Wood, PVA, TPE 

100-500 microns

3.8 out of 5

Flashforge Finder

PLA

100-500 microns

4.3 out of 5

Monoprice Maker Select Plus  

ABS, PLA, PVA, HIPS

100-400
microns

3.6 out of 5

GIANTARM Mecreator 2 

ABS, PLA

50-200 microns

4 out of 5

AnyCubic i3 Mega

ABS, PLA, HIPS

25-100 microns

2.6out of 5


Here are our reviews of the seven 3D printers under $300, in no particular order:

1: XYZprinting da Vinci Jr. 1.0 Pro


Labeled as a printer for 'professional use,' the da Vinci Jr. 1.0 Pro is one of the most affordable on the market today, and could probably be the most user-friendly there is. It prints different objects at a high volume with a professional grade.

The da Vinci Jr. 1.0 Pro's affordability and high efficiency make it an ideal entry-level 3D printer for anyone: engineers, architects, and designers, as well as students. It is fairly simple to set up and use, needs no calibration and is currently one of the most reasonably priced 3D printers you can find.

Pen and Plastic Rating

Features

  • Automatic calibration system
  • Comes with XYZware for Pro software
  • Uses non-proprietary 1.75mm PLA filament
  • 5.9'' x 5.9'' x 5.9 built volume
  • a 0.3 mm nozzle is available as an option
  • XYZ 3D Gallery
  • Fully enclosed design

Verdict

The da Vinci Jr. 1.0 Pro is definitely a more inexpensive option for your 3D printing needs, but that doesn't mean that this machine has a quality and performance level that matches its price tag. As a matter of fact, this is one of the best designed and easy-to-use 3D printers around, with no calibration needed which means you can have it running as soon as you take it out of the box, about 10 minutes tops.

Manual calibration is a tricky process that if done incorrectly, the printer won't create an object that accurately reflects the 3D model. The da Vinci Jr. 1.0 Pro has an automatic calibration system that eliminates this hurdle in making your first 3D print.

Featured in this printer is the XYZware for Pro software that is new software designed for users of all skill levels to create more complex, and complicated creative projects. The software allows you to adjust the settings of the speed, nozzle, and temperature.

One drawback of this printer is its size. In the world of the 3D printer, big body doesn't necessarily mean big results as well. It will take up a big chunk of your desk space.

For its very good price, the da Vinci Jr. 1.0 Pro is an overall, high performing 3D printer that is recommended for both the professional and the beginner alike.

2: QIDI Technology X-one2


The QIDI Technology X-one2 is an easy-to-use 3D printer that came from among a number of companies trying to make 3D printing more accessible to more user skill levels. There is very little to no set up required when you get this printer as it comes fully assembled. Unboxing and set-up take 90 minutes, relatively longer than the da Vinci Jr. 1.0 Pro, though.

However, the X-one2 is packed with features that will make you forget the time it took you to have it up and running as it has very favorable feedback from the online community.

Pen and Plastic Rating

FEAtures

  • Has an upgraded extruder protective cover that provides good ventilation
  • Simple to use 3.5-inch touchscreen
  • Comes with a free QIDI print slicing software
  • Has a heated aluminum build platform
  • Covered with a 6-month warranty

Verdict

We all know that 3D printing can be expensive and complex. The X-one2 is very simple, easy to use and with its price of less than $400, this is quite a steal. The first thing you'll notice when you unpack this printer is the bright blue steel body that weighs 42 pounds. Having a heavy steel frame means that the printer is less likely to move during the printing session, allowing it to produce better quality prints.

One tough issue with this printer is the ease of loading the filament, which is quite difficult. Let's not get all technical here as this is no big deal as the durable frame and steady printing process can definitely outweigh this minor flaw.

The QIDI Technology X-one2 is a reliable 3D printer that is suitable for newcomers to 3D printing, but it can also provide good quality prints for those experienced users as well. What you will be getting is a stable, smooth, well-made, and cheap 3D printer—a good value for price ratio.

3: RepRap Guru DIY Prusa i3 V2


Made with high-quality materials and designed with ease of use in mind, the RepRap Guru DIY Prusa i3 V2 3D Printer is so simple and easy to assemble that even 3D printing neophytes will have no trouble whatsoever putting this printer kit together. As stated in RepRapGuru's website, they have developed a "printer kit that does not require altering, drilling, soldering or cutting," and based on positive feedbacks on major online stores, it seems that they are being true to their word.

This is quite a remarkable 3D printer for those on a limited budget but still want to get their hands on a quality printer. Let's take a closer look at this affordable 3D printer.

Pen and Plastic Rating

FEATURES

  • Equipped with the MK8 direct feed extruder
  • Borosilicate heated print bed
  • LCD Screen and SD card reader
  • Durable V2 frame
  • Has a custom filament spool holder

Verdict

The XYZprinting da Vinci Jr. is among the less expensive 3D printers on the market. XYZprinting has quickly become the largest names in the sub-$1,000 market for 3D printers, and they produce relatively good 3D printers.

Still, we feel a little let down by the print quality, and would rather you go with the Flashforge Finder, if you are a beginner, or with the Robo 3D R1 if you want the best in this price range.

4: Flashforge Finder


Decent quality and high performance in a cheap 3D printer? Sounds farfetched, but with the Flashforge Finder 3D printer, you get all these features and more. This printer claims that it is the friendliest 3D printer in terms of usage, maintenance, and price on the market.

Although it sits on the more sophisticated side, this printer requires a bit of a fuss in setting it up. Let's see if it really is easy to use a desktop 3D printer.

Pen and Plastic Rating

FEATURES

  • Has an intuitive touchscreen panel that is very responsive
  • Low noise level
  • 2nd generation Wi-Fi connection
  • Slide-in build plate
  • Impressive filament management

Verdict

The Flashforge Finder 3D printer's set up is indeed straightforward and relatively easy but consumes more time than the other printers mentioned above. If you follow the user guide that comes with the USB stick that is included in the kit, there will be no hassles getting this printer running.

Flashforge has a software called FlashPrint that you can download from their website. It allows you to look at your design from all angles and at any distance. You can rotate the object, move, scale or add supports. When ready, you just click the 'print' button, you will then be asked for some additional options, and you're all set!

The touchscreen panel is very easy to view and work with, making the Flashforge Finder 3D printer suitable for the home, the classroom, or the office. The great print results and the array of features included are well worth the cheap price you pay.

5: Monoprice Maker Select Plus


The Monoprice Maker Select Plus is a new and improved version of its earlier model, the Maker Select, so you can be sure that this printer is budget-friendly, but loaded with features perfect for those just starting out in 3D printing.

It comes with a single extruder nozzle, a heated print bed, and a 3.25" LCD display. It is fully assembled when you take it out of the box, letting you start with your 3D printing experience ASAP.

Pen and Plastic Rating

FEATURES

  • Has a large build area for printing more complex objects
  • Comes with a 3.25-inch touchscreen system
  • Compatibility with several software such as Cura, Repetier, or Simplify 3D
  • Has a print resolution of 100 microns

Verdict

Since this printer comes to you already assembled, you can easily start with your printing projects without the trouble of setting up the machine. All you need is to screw it to the base and attach the filament holder. The printer also comes with a PLA filament sample, a micro SD card with some 3D model sample files, and you're ready to print!

You can use open source software or commercially available software, the choice is yours. With its heated print bed, you can do a lot of 3D printing using different materials as you can use ABS-based, PLA-based, XT copolyester, PET, TPU, TPC, FPE, PVA, HIPS, and many others. That's versatility that comes from a cheap 3D printer.

6: GIANTARM Mecreator 2


The GIANTARM Mecreator 2 is Geeetech's latest release that is an optimized and improved version of an older model. Its affordable price and exciting features make it highly recommended for your 3D printing needs without spending thousands.

It has a compact design that uses less space, ideal for home or office use. This is a well-made printer that is easy to use for beginners but can create amazing prints that the more experienced user can enjoy.

Pen and Plastic Rating

FEATURES

  • Stable and space-efficient body
  • Supports various filaments
  • Built-in LED light metal frame
  • Superb customer support

Verdict

This printer has a half-opened and box-type designed frame made from high-quality steel chassis, providing a professional look and durability.

You can use several 3D printer control software to help you with your printing projects— Repetier Host, Slic3r, Simplify, or Printrun. Whatever software you use, you can still enjoy easy and simple printing with the Mecreator 2.

It has a wide range of applications, from household items to medical treatment, versatility and reliability in one reasonably priced printer.

7: AnyCubic i3 Mega


Online reviews of the AnyCubic i3 Mega are generally not very good, and with its low price tag, you would wonder if this 3D printer really works as well as it claims it does. Let's check this printer out and see for ourselves if the reviews are right.

Pen and Plastic Rating

FEATURES

  • Filament Detection feature causes printer to pause when filament runs out
  • Good construction quality
  • Fused Deposition Modeling technology
  • Comes with a 3.5 inch TFT touchscreen
  • Large build volume
  • Automatic print pause and resume in power outages

Verdict

The Anycubic i3 Mega has many modern and smart features that other 3D printers in its price range fail to give you. With its weight of 22 pounds, it is quite hefty, but this does not deliver the results you would expect. Particular when printing ABS as it's heated bed is underpowered.

Most 3D printers at this price range will give you good print quality but are not space efficient, or vice versa. The Anycubic i3 Mega gives you neither of these features, so it's safe to say that you should avoid this model if at all possible.

Why Get a 3D Printer?

After we've reviewed some 3D printers that are available on the market today and learned more about 3D printing in general, we should ask ourselves, why get a 3D printer in the first place?

The answer is novelty and practicality. Aside from it being so much fun, it can actually save you a lot of money. Read on so you can decide if you should really be getting one.

1. Saves you money

Sure, you can buy tons of paper clips from Amazon, but why buy when you can instantly print some? With a 3D printer at home (or at the office for that matter), you can create almost anything from smartphone cases to drinking cups, plus you get to customize them to suit your aesthetic preferences.

2. You can turn it into a business

You can turn your hobby into a potential source of income, or if you're a frustrated craftsman, this is the way to do it and create what your imagination dictates. The possibilities are endless.

3. Easily replace broken stuff

Another money saving reason for having a 3D printer. Instead of throwing away broken things around the house, you can just print a replacement.

4. Educate your kids

A 3D printer can be used as an excellent learning and exploration tool. You and your kids can even be inventors, too, if you play around and experiment with turning their artwork into tangible toys or crazy inventions. Fun, creative, and educational.

5. You get what you want

One of the more exciting reasons to own a 3D printer is personalization. You can print your very own versions of stuff that have already been manufactured, adding your own name, style, or whatever it is you want to be made a little differently.

6. Prototype making

This is a great way to finally see your creations come to life and then submit them to a manufacturer. You can easily test, fine-tune, and make improvements on your design, with minimal cost.

If you set your mind to it, you can think of thousands of uses and benefits of having a 3D printer, soon enough you'll be coming up with your innovations that could enhance your daily life or push that business idea into reality.

What you need to know before buying that 3D printer

Now that you've decided to get that 3D printer, you should consider some things before taking the plunge especially if you're new to this technology. The list above will be a great help to you, but since there are a lot of other brands and models out there, not to mention the technicalities about 3D printing, it is good to learn a few things before finally getting a printer.

If you are looking for a printer  in a slightly higher price range, we also did a detailed review on 3D printers in the sub $500 price range... be sure to check it out!

Your reasons for getting a 3D printers

You have to ask yourself why you are getting a 3D printer and what its main role will be in your home or office. Do I need one? Is it for me? You have to be very clear about this as to avoid buying one then sooner or later getting tired of it and eventually wasting your time, money and effort. You can always consider using 3D printing services and networks to get your stuff printed professionally.

  • Types of Printers

                There a few types of 3D printers and you should know which one to get to cater to your 3D printing needs specifically.

                There is the FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) printer, the Stereolithography type, and the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). It is highly recommended to research about these types to know which would be the best for you.

  • The Price

                This is a significant consideration, and if you're a first-time buyer, it's recommended to start with the basics as shown above. Then if you feel that you're really into 3D printing, you may then progress to the more advanced and pricier models, that is, if you realize that a starter kit is not enough for your printing needs anymore.

  • Materials to be used

                The two most popular materials used by 3D printers are Poly Lactic Acid (PLA) and Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS). Some printers use both these filaments, and some use more. You need to know which specific material to use for your projects and which would fit your budget.

  • Safety

                If you buy a 3D printer for your home or the office, it's always good to think about safety. Most printers contain parts and materials that require being handled with care. Some materials can be toxic as well, and some printers have open type frames that you should consider especially if you have your kids use them.

Conclusion

You may be thinking whether owning a 3D printer really worth my time, money, and effort? The technology is still in its infancy, but it is slowly advancing and becoming more and more accessible and affordable to everyone. The quality is getting higher, and the price is going lower, so it would be ideal if everyone can get their hands on some 3D printing, but it is certainly not for everyone.

There is a learning curve in using 3D printers, and you will have to invest your time in studying how to use the software and the printer itself. Some may find this troublesome, but if you have enough patience and zeal, then a 3D printer is definitely worth your while.

Understanding all the intricacies is a little price to pay for all the excitement, enjoyment, and satisfaction a 3D printer can give you. The possibilities are remarkably endless. 

Be sure to head over to our 3D printer landing page for the latest 3D printer news and reviews

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The History of 3D printing – From the first 3D printer to modern inventions

What’s 30 years old but feels brand new? Believe it or not, it’s 3D printing. Yep, this technology has been around since the Beegees. Come with us as we take a brief tour through the history of 3D printing.

1981 to 1999: Additive Manufacturing in its Infancy

In 1981, Hideo Kodama of Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute published his account of a functional rapid prototyping system using photopolymers (more on those in a minute). A solid, printed model was built up in layers, each of which corresponded to a cross-sectional slice in the model, Hmm, ring any bells?

Fast forward three years later, to 1984, where  Chuck Hull broke fresh ground by inventing stereolithography, which became one of the most popular types of 3D printing.

Chuck Hull invents 3D printing

Stereolithography (SLA) lets designers create 3D models using digital data (yes I was also surprised to learn that computers could generate 3D models in the early eighties), which can then be used to create a physical, tangible object.

The key to SLA is a kind of acrylic-based material known as a photopolymer. As described in detail in the different types of 3D printers, SLA is an additive process where you convert liquid materials into a solid piece of plastic, by selectively curing it using a light source. This process then molds the material into the shape of your 3D-model’s design. You can learn more about photopolymers from this guide.

This new technology was big news to inventors and entrepreneurs, who could now prototype and test their designs without having to commit to a massive upfront investment in manufacturing.

In 1992, George Bush was elected as president–and 3D Systems (Charles Hull’s company) created the world’s first stereolithographic printing (SLA) machine, which made it feasible to fabricate complex components, layer by layer, in a fraction of the time it would usually take.

That same year, startup DTM made the world’s first selective laser sintering (SLS) system–that shoots a laser in a powder rather than a liquid.

These technologies were in their infancy and were not ideal; there was some warping from the material as it hardened, and the machines were prohibitively expensive for home historians, but their future was undeniable.

Decades later, 3D printing history has proven the old adage, that the past is simply a window into the future, and that this technology is still evolving.

1999 to 2011: 3D Printing’s Adolescent History

The lead-up to Y2K was thrilling–not only because, in 1999, the first Beverly Hills 90210 entered itfs final season on the air, but also because the initial 3D-printed manhood was planted in humans. Researchers at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine published artificial molds of a human bladder and then coated these molds with the cells of human patients.

3d printed kidney scaffold

Picture Credit: Discovery Magazine

3d printed kidney scaffoldThe newly generated tissue was then implanted into the patients, with little to no chance 3d printed kidney scaffoldthat their immune systems would reject them since they were created from their own cells.

Medically speaking, this was a terrific decade in the history of 3D printing. In just 10 short years, scientists from various institutions and startups fabricated a functional miniature kidney, bioprinted the first blood vessels using only human cells, and assembled a prosthetic leg with complicated parts which were printed within precisely the exact same structure.

This was also the decade in which 3D printing fulfilled the open-source movement. In 2005, Dr. Adrian Bowyer’s RepRap Project established an open-source initiative to make a 3D printer which could essentially build itself, or print almost all of its own pieces!

In its 2008 launch, “Darwin”, is a self-replicating printer that is equipped to do precisely that. Suddenly, people everywhere had the ability to create whatever substance they could dream up by themselves.

From the mid-2000s, the democratization of fabricating had captured the public’s imagination, as had the notion of mass customization (which, unlike jumbo shrimp, isn’t really an oxymoron).

The first SLS machine became commercially viable in 2006, which opened the door to on-demand manufacturing of industrial components. 3D-printing startup Objet (now merged with Stratasys) constructed a 3D printer that could print in numerous substances, which enabled just one part to be fabricated in various versions, with different material properties.

The intensely creative innovations of the decade have been topped off with the launch of collaborative co-creation services like Shapeways, a 3D-printing market where designers can get feedback from customers and other designers and then easily manufacture their products.

To top it all off, MakerBot hit the scene, supplying open-source DIY kits for manufacturers to construct their own 3D printers. At this time, the barriers to entry for inventors and designers were falling daily.

2012 to Present Day: 3D Printing in Its Prime

Today, looking back over just the last few decades, it’s difficult not to feel like we are living in the future. Coming soon: 3D-printed spacesuits!

Robo C2 with mobile app

Well, almost. While the purchase price of 3D printers has dropped rapidly, 3D printers have continued to improve. You can now buy a 3D printer for under $500, one that will outperform a model that would have cost you over $3000 a decade ago.

With the continued improvement of 3D printing, innovators are pushing the envelope in ways that Charles Hull could only dream about. Designers are no longer confined to printing with vinyl. Case in point: now you can print the engagement ring of your dreams using silver or gold. Engineers at the University of Southampton have flown the world’s first 3D-printed unmanned aircraft, and KOR Ecologic prototyped Urbee, a vehicle with a 3D-printed body that is designed to receive 200 mpg on the freeway.

That takes us up to the present day; although by the time this history lesson is published, there’ll surely have been many other additive production breakthroughs happening somewhere in the world. It is nearly impossible to maintain. Ultimately, our children are going to build art projects using their classroom’s 3D printer, and our dentist will have the ability to call in a prescription for a custom-printed pair of dentures.

Meanwhile, I will be watching the news and waiting for my spacesuit.

Article source: https://www.autodesk.com/redshift/history-of-3d-printing/

 

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The different types of 3D printing technology

There are various 3D printing methods which were developed to build 3D structures and objects. A number of them are prevalent nowadays, and a few have fallen by the wayside.

This guide focuses on the available 3d printing technologies, or in layman's terms, types of 3D printers. Below find a list of the most common technologies used in 3D printing today:

The seven different types of 3D printers

  1. Fused deposition modeling (FDM)
  2. Stereolithography(SLA)
  3. Digital Light Processing(DLP)
  4. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
  5. Selective laser melting (SLM)
  6. Laminated object manufacturing (LOM)
  7. Digital Beam Melting (EBM)

Fused deposition modeling (FDM)

FDM example

FDM technology is currently the most popular 3D printing technology and used in both affordable 3D printers and even 3D pens, which we happen to specialize in.

This technology was originally developed and implemented by Scott Crump from Stratasys, founded, in the 1980s. Other 3D printing companies have embraced similar technology but under different names. A well-known manufacturer MakerBot coined a virtually identical technology, calling it Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF).

With the assistance of FDM, you can print not just operational prototypes, but also ready-for-use products such as lego, plastic gears and much more.

What's great about this technology that all components printed with FDM can go in high performance and engineering-grade thermoplastic, which is quite beneficial for mechanic engineers and manufactures.

FDM is the only 3D printing technology which uses production-grade thermoplastics, so items printed have excellent mechanical, thermal and chemical attributes.

3D printers which use FDM Technology construct objects layer by layer from the very bottom up by heating and extruding thermoplastic filament. The whole process is somewhat similar to stereolithography. Specialized programs or Slicers "cut" CAD models into layers and computes the manner printer's extruder would assemble each layer.

In addition to thermoplastic, a printer may extrude support materials too. Then the printer heats thermoplastic until its melting point and extrudes it throughout nozzle on a printing bed, which you may know as a build platform or a desk, on a predetermined pattern determined by the 3D model and Slicer software.

The Slicer software running on the computer connected to the 3D printer translates the measurements of an object into X, Y, and Z coordinates and controls the nozzle and the foundation follow calculated route during printing.

When the thin layer of plastic binds to the layer beneath it, it melts and hardens. When the layer is completed, the base is lowered (as shown in step 5) to accommodate the printing of the next layer, this is shown in steps 1 to 5 in the diagram below.

FilamentDriver diagram for FDM

The full FDM process in 5 steps

Printing time depends upon size and complexity of your model.

Small objects can be completed relatively quickly, while larger, more intricate parts need more time.

When compared to SLA, FDM has a slower printing speed.

Overall printing time depends upon size and complexity of your model.

Small objects can be completed relatively quickly, while larger, more intricate parts need more time.

When the printing is finished supporting materials can readily be removed either by putting an object into a detergent and water solution or snapping the support material off by hand.

Nylon is typically used as a support material and can be dissolved in acetone. Read more about this process in our article about the various types of 3D printer filaments.

Then objects may also be painted, plated or even hammered afterward.

FDM technology is widely spread today, and used in industries such as automobile manufacturers,  food producers, and toy manufacturers.

FDM is used for new product development, prototyping and even in end-product manufacturing. This technology is considered simple-to-use and environment-friendly. Through the use of this 3d printing method, it became possible to construct objects with complex geometries and cavities.

We can use many different types of thermoplastics with FDM printers. The most common of these are ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) and PLA(Polylactic Acid) plastic You can read more about these 3D printer filaments here.

Additionally, there are several kinds of support materials such as water-soluble wax or PPSF (polyphenylsulfone).

Pieces printed with this technology have excellent mechanical strength and heat resistance, allowing you to use printed models as functional prototypes.

FDM is widely for the production end-user goods. We are specifically referring to small, detailed components and technical manufacturing tools. Some thermoplastics (such as PLA, which is non-toxic) may even be utilized in food and drug packaging, making FDM a favorite 3D printing method within the medical sector.

Stereolithography (SLA)

boat printed with SLA method

SLA is a 3d printing method which could be used to execute your projects that involve the 3D printing of items. Although this process is the earliest one in the history of 3D printing, it is still in use today.

The idea and application of this method are amazing. Whether you're a mechanical engineer, who wants to confirm whether the part can fit your design or creative individual who wishes to print a plastic prototype for a fresh upcoming project, Stereolithography can truly bring your 3D models to life.

SLA printing machines do not function like normal desktop printers that extrude some quantity of ink to the surface. SLA 3D printers operate with an excess of liquid plastic that after a while hardens and forms to a solid object.

Parts printed by stereolithography 3D printers usually have smooth surfaces, but its quality depends on the quality of SLA printer used.

After the plastic hardens a stage of the printer drops down in the tank a fraction of a millimeter and laser forms another layer until printing is finished. After all, layers are printed, the item has to be rinsed using a solvent and then put in an ultraviolet oven to complete processing.

SLA printing explained

SLA printing process explained

The time required to print an object depends upon the size of the SLA 3d printer utilized. Small items can be printed within 6-8 hours using a basic 3D printer, while large prints can be several meters in 3 dimensions and printing time could be up to several days long.

Digital Light Processing(DLP)

DLP is another 3D Printing process quite much like stereolithography. The DLP technology was made in 1987 by Larry Hornbeck of Texas Instruments and became well known for its use in the production of projectors.

It utilizes digital micromirrors laid out on a semiconductor chip. The technology is found in mobile phones, film projectors, and, of course, in 3D printing.

Check out the video below to see this technology in action.


For 3D printing, both DLP and SLA functions with photopolymers. However, the difference between SLA and DLP technology is that DLA requires an additional source of lighting.

3D printing amateurs frequently use more traditional sources of lights like arc lamps for DLP printing.

The other important piece of the DLP puzzle is an LCD (liquid crystal display) panel, which gets applied to the entire surface of the 3D printed layer during a single run of the DLP procedure. The substance used for printing is a liquid plastic resin that's set in a transparent resin container.

The resin hardens quickly when exposed to a lot of photons, or more simply put, bright light.

The printing speed for DLP is the kicker. A layer of hardened material can be produced with this kind of printer in few seconds. After the layer is completed, it is transferred, and printing of the next layer is started. 

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

SLS is a technique that uses a laser as power supply to form strong 3D printed objects. This technique was developed by Carl Deckard, a pupil of Texas University, and his professor Joe Beaman in the late 1980s.

 Later on they participate in base of Desk Top Manufacturing (DTM) Corp., that was sold to its large competitor 3D Systems in 2001. As was mentioned previously, 3D systems Inc. developed Stereolithography (SLA), which per chance happened to be extremely simlar to Selective Laser Sintering (SLS).

The most notable difference between SLS and SLA is that it uses powdered material in the vat rather than liquid resin in a cube, like SLS does.

Selective laser melting system schematic

Schematic showing how SLS works

Unlike some other additive production processes, such as FDM and SLA, SLS does not have to use some other support structures as the object being printed is surrounded by unsintered powder.

Like the rest of the methods listed above the method begins with the creation of a computer-aided design (CAD) file, which then has to be converted into .stl format with special applications. The material used for printing  can range from nylon, glass and ceramics to some metals such as aluminum, silver or steel.

Due to large selection of materials which may be used with this sort of 3d printer that the technology is quite popular for 3D printing customized goods.

SLS is more dispersed among manufactures instead of 3D amateurs at home as this technology requires using high-powered lasers, resulting in these printers being rather expensive.

That being said, there are quite a few startups working on cheap SLS printing machines. For example, recently Andreas Bastian has shared details about his  SLS printer (in development) which uses wax and carbon for printing. Another fantastic example is the Focus SLS printer which can be easily used at home requirements and originally was presented at Thingiverse.

The rest - SLM, LOM and EBM

The last three types of 3D printing technologies are Selective laser melting (SLM), Laminated object manufacturing (LOM)  and Digital Beam Melting (EBM). Through the last two decades, these technologies have either fallen out of fashion or proved to be economically unviable. As such, you will not find the 3D printers of today using SLM, LOM or EBM technologies.

Who knows whether these will make a reappearance, but for now if you wish to learn more about these types of printing, refer to our article which deals with the history of 3D printing.

We hoped you enjoyed this article, and we would like to thank Elva Wu, whose article on 3D printing from scratch, proved to be a great resource while writing this guide.

If you feel confident enough about the types of 3D printers on the market, and are ready to jump in and purchase one for yourself, then head over to our 3D printer buying guides. You will find our budget 3D printer review here.

If you have a few more bucks to spend then take a look at our review for the best 3D printers under $1000, a cut-throat pricepoint in the 3D printing industry, thereby earning its own dedicated review.

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The Best 3D printers Under $1000 (Including DIY Kits)

3D printing has exploded, and with the surge of new businesses trying their hands in the industry, the costs for 3D printers keep falling. This is excellent news for people who wish to print out 3D objects at home, or for those of you looking for an inexpensive method of prototyping.

In this review, we will take a look at a few of the best affordable 3D printers available in the marketplace. The purpose of this guide is to assist newbies, or anyone working within a budget to find the best 3D printer under $1000.

Now, remember that 3D printing used to be an industrial activity, and home 3D printing is still a technology that is in its infancy. You might be tempted to start off by going for one of the cheaper 3D printers, such as the ones we reviewed in our best 3d printers under $500 review, but we at Pen and Plastic believe that the sweet spot for price vs performance currently lies in the sub-$1000 range.

You can find quite a few entirely enclosed 3D printers under $1,000 that will make it possible for you to begin 3D printing and produce quality prints.

 Let’s get to it! Below you will see a table with the top 5 3D printers under $1000.

Best 3D Printers under $1000 for 2018


In the table below you will find the four 3D printers we reviewed. The 4 printers you see below are the only ones we would consider buying in this price range.

Name

Score

Summary

Price

Where to Buy

Robo 3D C2

Robo 3D C2

4.5 out of 5

Excellent print quality, great connectivity

$$$$

up 2 plus

Up! Plus 2

4 out of 5

Good all-rounder, very easy to set up, prints all materials

$$$$

flashforge creator pro

Flashforge Creator Pro

3.5 out of 5

Dual extruders, dated design, average performer

$$$$

Dremel 3D20

Dremel Idea Builder 3D20

3 out of 5

Easy to setup, a bit overpriced, can only print PLA

$$$$

These are some of the better, but more expensive 3D printers available, if you want to take a look at all of the price categories we've reviewed, then head over to our 3D printing resources page and select the category which best suits your budget.

The four listed below are, in my opinion, four of the best 3D printers available under $1000, but before we jump into the review, lets take a look at our scoring catergories.

How we reviewed


Here’s a list of the categories which we used to evaluate the pens in this review:

Quality & Print Speed:

  • Layer height and resolution: One of the main factors of accuracy, lower is better
  • XYZ Accuracy: Very important for small details
  • Printing Speed: lighter, smaller pens are easier to paint with

Features & Versatility:

  • General capabilities: we compare the nozzle heating and cooling system setup, the printing bed and build volume, in addition to the filament and software compatibility.
  • Does it have a heated bed: Important for printing with ABS and some other plastic
  • Auto-leveling: Ensures that the correct height between the nozzle extruder and bed 

Ease of use:

  • Is it easy to setup and operate: How difficult is it to assemble? Does it have a user friendly touchscreen or better even...a mobile app?
  • Does it support open source software: The best things in life are free, and when it comes to 3D printing, the best software on the market all happens to be open source

Value for Money:

  • Price: Total cost was one of the key metrics in this review
  • Customer Support: Does the manufacturer have a good reputation for support?
  • Reviews: Product reviews on Amazon.com say a lot about quality

For each printer you will see an overall score out of 10. Click on "view all scoring categories" in the drop-down box to see how each pen fared for the categories listed above.

And now without further ado, let’s take a look at Pen&Plastic’s round-up of best 3D printers currently on the market.

1: Robo 3D C2


Robo 3D is well-known for their flagship 3D printer, the R2 ($1,500), but the C2 is a cheaper midrange version which will appeal to those who appreciate print quality over speed, like artists or modelers.

The Robo 3D C2 delivers a good deal of features for its relatively inexpensive price (check the lowest price here), including Wi-Fi, accurate standalone printing and fantastic print quality using PLA filament.

The Robo C2 has an appealing, functional design that it shares with other Robo 3D printers. The softly curved white plastic case with blue highlights seems clean and contemporary, hiding the motors and drive belts which does the work behind the scenes. The case will not stop prying fingers from discovering the heated printhead, however, so this is not a printer which ought to be used unsupervised by children.

Robo c2 with dimensions

Pen and Plastic Rating

"Very user friendly
Heated printing bed"

The C2 has a print volume of 5 x 5 x 6 inches, for a total of 150 cubic inches. That’s significantly more compact than some of the more expensive models, but it is about average for smaller, mid-range printers of this kind; it is also large enough to print your typical 3D models such as cars, small building models, and figurines.

A nonstick plastic which may be removed and replaced covers the printing bed and three spare sheets of plastic are bundled with the C2. 

The Robo 3D comes with a 1 year warranty, that can be extended up to 3 years at extra cost.

The Robo C2 has amazing connectivity with WiFi, a iOS supported mobile app and an excellent IPS 3.5 inch touch screen, making it great for beginners.

Technical Specifications

RESOLUTION
50-300 microns
VOLUME
5″ x 6″ x 6″
FILAMENT
1.75mm
TYPE
PLA/Nylon/PET and all others except ABS
​DISPLAY
3.5 inch IPS Touchscreen
CONNECT
USB/Wifi/Mobile App
HEATED BED
No


Robo C2 with mobile app

What we liked

We were impressed with the print quality of the C2. It generated excellent-quality prints, with layers which blended well. Even especially tough prints such as the geometric sculpture which we use were well-printed, with clean, sharp points on the sculpture once we removed the supports.

It is possible to detach the C2’s print bed which makes removing a 3D print from printer that much easier. The bed is held in place with four magnets which lock onto metal knobs on the bottom so that it will not shift during printing. 

Setup was straightforward, with some manual effort required

The C2 is a rather easy printer to set up. All you will need to do is to unpack the printer, remove the many retaining clips that held the printhead in place during transport, turn on the device and load the printing filament. You feed filament to the feeder tube along with the printhead, then wait until the melted filament comes from the printhead.

The Robo C2 can print with a wide variety of plastics, but not ABS due to it not having a heated printing bed.

Beneath the printer’s bed is a 3.5-inch touchscreen that you use to control the C2. The screen is large and bright enough, and the touch controls worked well. However, the display moved and bent rather alarmingly when we pressed a button with anything more than average force, which is likely why Robo 3D contains a tiny touch-screen stylus to use. A finger works just as well, though.

On the rear of the printer, you will find Ethernet, USB and power sockets. The C2 also contains an 802.11g Wi-Fi link, giving you plenty of options to connect it to your computer.

There is also a mobile app which allows you to control every printer setting right from your iPhone (it currently only works with iOS).

What we didn't like

The bed is not heated: It depends upon the PLA sticking to the plastic for adhesion. We did not have any difficulties with prints peeling lifting or away from this printer, though: Our test prints stayed attached to the bed without problems.

The Robo 3D C2 isn’t a fast printer either. Our Thinker test version took between 10 hours  (at reduced quality) and 23 hours at high quality print settings. That is much slower than comparable printers such as the UP! Plus 2 , which required from 5 hours to a bit more than 9 hours to finish the same-size print at comparable high-quality settings.

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • WiFi Connectivity and Mobile App
  • Closed printer which prints all types of plastic, except ABS
  • Clever IPS touchscreen
  • Excellent customer support and 1 year warranty

Cons

  • Slow print speed
  • Non-heated bed

The Verdict

Nitpicking aside, there is a lot we liked about the Robo 3D C2. It generates excellent-quality prints using PLA filament, and the interface and software (including the Mobile App) are flexible and straightforward to use. The ability to print directly from 3D models is a nice touch, although you typically will have this printer standing at home connected to your PC.

Slowness aside, the C2 generates better-quality prints compared to all of the other 3D printers in this test. That makes it an appealing alternative if you’re searching for a high-quality printer targeted at beginners and do not mind waiting a while for your prints.

The Robo C2 is a high-quality printer that produces excellent prints at an affordable price.

 If you need speed and a heated printing bed, and are willing to sacrifice some quality then go for the Up! Plus 2 which sells for roughly the same price.

2: UP! Plus 2


The UP! Plus 2 3D Desktop Printer is an alternative for everyone who’s looking for a 3D printer that’s easy to set up, calibrate, and use. See their 30 min setup time promise.

With its auto nozzle height detection and auto platform leveling, setting it up to print high-quality objects is significantly easier than other 3D printers on the market.

Additionally, the UP! Plus 2 includes a 1-year guarantee, which is way above the industry standard (which beats out the 90-day warranty typically offered in 3D printers like the Flashforge Creator Pro).

Another cool feature of the UP! Plus 2 is that it has a heat shield covering the extruder to help avoid burns and injuries.

up! plus2 in red

Pen and Plastic Rating

"Prints with any type of plastic
Heated printing bed
"

The UP! Plus 2 uses MEM (Melted Extrusion Modeling) printing technology and therefore can print with a wide variety of plastics, not just PLA or ABS.

The printer has a 150 micron resolution, which is slightly sub-standard in this category. But unless you plan to do very small prints, this should not bother you.

The only other thing we could fault the Up! Plus 2 on is that it has only one extruder head, so bear that in mind if you need overhangs with supporting filament.

Technical Specifications

RESOLUTION
150-500 microns
PRINT VOLUME
~5.5″ x 5.5″ x 5.3″
FILAMENT
1.75mm
TYPE
ABS/PLA/Nylon and all other types
​DISPLAY
None
CONNECT
USB/Mobile App
HEATED BED
Yes
UP! plus 2 unboxed

What’s included with the UP Plus 2 3D Printer – everything you need to get started, just add a PC

Pros

  • Best in class performance 
  • Prints almost any material, not just limited to ABS and PLA
  • Has a Mobile App for iOS
  • Auto-leveling nozzle and heated print bed
  • Great customer support and warranty

Cons

  • Only one extruder
  • Small print volume

Verdict

Overall, the UP! Plus 2 is the perfect 3D printer for novices and professionals alike. It’s ease-of-use will take a few of the headaches that come with 3D printing away and provide you with a reliable machine.

Truth be told, the reason why it is the top 3D printer is due to its ability to print with almost any type of plastic. This along with the heated bed, extended warranty and mobile app makes this "a-bang-for-your-buck" 3D printer.

If you do choose to buy it, please leave a comment if it, in fact, did take you a mere 30 mins to set up and start printing!

3: Flashforge Creator Pro


The FlashForge Creator Pro stands out from the pack as the only model in this review with dual extruders. This means that you can print with two different colors or plastic filaments simultaneously.

Additionally, we discovered that we had less bed adhesion problems with this version than many others. However, the print quality was not anything to write home about, and the suggested software is awful.

A bit of a dinosaur which has not kept up with the rest of the market, the FlashForge Creator Pro is nothing more than an average printer for an average price.

flashforge creator pro

Pen and Plastic Rating

"Truly Customizable DIY kit
Auto-leveling heated bed
"

Technical Specifications

RESOLUTION100 microns
VOLUME8.9″ x 5.8″ x 5.9″
FILAMENT SIZE1.75mm
FILAMENT TYPEPLA/ABS
DISPLAYMono LCD
CONNECTIVITYUSB
HEATED BED?Yes


To put the Flashforge Creator Pro through its paces we performed some sample prints.

The test print — the 3D Benchy tugboat — this is a standard 3D printing torture test, commonly used to test 3D printers. The Creator Pro did a superb job at printing the tugboat in PLA — producing a practically perfect model with just a tiny bit of asymmetry noticeable. The ABS version was substantially worse, with the top section being a bit off and fair windows.

3D Benchy Tugboat

3D Benchy Tugboat printed with dual extrusion, which is the major selling point of the Creator Pro

The PLA Benchy was terrific, the ABS version not so much. The performance improved in another trio of prints. However the same pattern emerged:

The Creator Pro was able to print accurately with PLA, and quite poorly with ABS. We, therefore, recommend you stick to PLA projects with this printer.

The Creator Pro was about average to install from the box, requiring some effort to build the instrument head, adjust the fan, and set up the filament guides and bolt holders. Attaching the instrument head was especially annoying, as locating the fastener holes was difficult.

There was some assembly needed to get this printer up and running.

This printer does have an SD card slot for standalone printing as well as the ability to immediately connect to a computer through USB.

Next up are the features and versatility. The build volume is fairly large, but the print surface certainly needed hairspray or a glue stick to maintain ABS prints set up.

This printer can use a generic 1.75 mm filament, with the dual extruders being able to reach a maximum temperature of 280°C, giving it a decently broad assortment of acceptable filaments to print with.

This version also has one layer fan to cool the print. While the guide recommends using ReplicatorG for a slicer, this printer can be used with both FlashPrint and Simplify3D. Simplify3D is available for purchase from a 3rd party but FlashPrint is a free program available right from FlashForge.

The Creator Pro comes with a 3-month standard guarantee, with the choice to upgrade to an extended one.

What we liked

The Dual-extruding mind of the Creator Pro allows you to print in two colors simultaneously.

The FlashForge had a reasonable build volume, measuring at 8.9 X 5.8 X 5.9 in. We were not the biggest fans of this build surface itself — aluminum, coated with something similar to painter’s tape.

We found it easy to swap filaments with the “Utility” section of this menu. The printer will preheat the nozzle and begin the motor automatically to load or unload.

What we didn't like

It has a simple screen to show temperature and printing progress, inferior to the IPS touchscreens of the other printers in this review.

Flashforge recommends ReplicatorG as the suggested slicer software for the Creator Pro…much to our dismay. Us and a large part of the 3D printing community, in general, find this to be a dreadful piece of software, far inferior to Slic3r or Cura.

We found FlashPrint to be much better than ReplicatorG and are not sure why it’s not the recommended slicer program.

We found it to be rather frustrating to level this printer with the prompts, as you don’t have any control over the nozzle motion, which makes backtracking impossible.

Pros

  • Fairly large print volume
  • Easy to swap filaments
  • Good quality prints for PLA
  • Dual Extruders makes printing in two colors possible

Cons

  • Poor ABS print quality
  • Aged LCD screen, not touch sensitive
  • times-circle-o
    ReplicatorG is perhaps the worse Slic3r software in existence

Verdict

The FlashForge Creator Pro is an unimpressive but capable machine. It is not the nicest out there, but it works well, is relatively simple to use — provided you switch to something aside from ReplicatorG — and has lots of potential.

It is not the most turnkey solution available — buyers shouldn’t be scared of a little tinkering and troubleshooting, on account of the setup procedure and manual filament changes and bed leveling.

However, it is a decent printer that get's the job done, but with the impressive Robo 3D C2 and Up! Plus 2 competing in the same price-range, we recommend you pick one of these printers instead.

4: Dremel Idea Builder 3D20


Next up we have the Dremel Idea Builder 3D20. Dremel is an 85-year old American brand, primarily known for its manufacturer of power tools.  They have partnered with Digilab to tackle the 3D printing industry.

Let’s take a closer look at their latest model, the Dremel 3D20. On opening the box, you will find it is very nicely packaged for safe delivery and pretty much ready to go straight out of the box. You will also see it has a pre-loaded SD card, a spatula-like instrument for loosening your prints off the printing bed, a few adhesive build surfaces and a bed leveling instrument.

Dremel 3D20

Pen and Plastic Rating

"Decent print volume ​​​​Child Friendly - Closed PLA printer LCD Screen"

Everything you will need to begin printing right from the box including one white reel of PLA filament.

Dremel has also built a miniature ‘Thingiverse’ database of models and lots of teaching aids and jobs to get you started. On Dremels site there are numerous resources which you should look at if you choose to buy this printer.

Dremel is apparently targeting the educational or college teaching aid audience and is constructing online infrastructure to support this.

Dremel also has the more extensive and more expensive 3D40, although unless you are in particular need of the slightly larger printing area, we see no reason to spend an extra 500 dollars for this slight improvement.

What we liked

The Dremel is quite simple to set up and allows the user to start printing straight away.

When booting up the printer that your first introduced with a beautiful touchscreen UI that is easy is to browse and overall well designed. Plug it in, follow the UI instructions and start printing.

I enjoyed the crystal clear 3.5 inch IPS touchscreen; it proves excellent user experience for this stand-alone printer.

Everything is simple to use with this printer, and your specified prompts on the way to level the bed, load the filament and begin printing. It appears to be geared toward the novice and has adequate print results with little to no effort. That being said it has some flaws also.

What we didn't like

The Dremel 3D20 only prints with PLA, and although you are probably going to use PLA for 80% of your 3D printing projects, this limitation will prevent you from more advanced 3D printing projects that require stronger or more flexible materials such as ABS, Nylon or Flex (TPE). Read more about these plastic filaments here.

As soon as you load the small spool of filament they give you, you will notice it is quite loud when printing and the plastic casing itself helps amplify that.

Dremel only provides  250g (1/4 of Kg) spool with the printer, and if you purchase PLA plastic from them, then they feel it’s appropriate to charge you similar cost as full-sized (1 kg) spools which you can buy from Amazon.

They also make it awkward to use full-sized spools since it won’t fit in the designated spool holding area. A neat little trick to make you use the small, expensive spools they sell.

This printer also has no heated bed and the build area is average, coming in at 9″ x 5.9″ x 5.5″.

Pros

  • Excellent touch screen
  • Easy to set up and get started
  • Safe, uses a closed printing build

Cons

  • Can only print with PLA
  • Print quality not comparable with the Robo 3D C2 for example
  • times-circle-o
    No heated bed or auto-leveling feature 
  • times-circle-o
    Difficult to use full sized spools with this printer

Verdict

Overall it is a decent printer, but I do feel it is a bit overpriced for just being able to print PLA without a heated bed and has a fairly small build area. That being said I know that Dremel as a big company has particular margins to strike however you get more bang for your buck with the smaller grassroots companies out there making printers.

Dremels advantage is they can draw big box retailers to take the product making it easy to support and supply the end user.


If your not that tech savvy and only need to print with small headaches or a little learning curve then perhaps the Dremel is for you. Not everyone is expected to become an “expert” in 3D printing, and it’s great to see more companies targeting the mainstream people to become involved with 3D printing.

Although if you are a beginner, you might be better off going for a slightly cheaper 3D printer, instead of spending 800 dollars on the Dremel 3D20.

Finally, if your already adept or intend on getting into more advanced printing then the frequent user then we recommend you look elsewhere. The printer just doesn’t offer enough bang for your buck.

My favorite thing about the EDU range of Dremel 3D printers (3D40-EDU and 3D45-EDU) is that they’re developing many educational tools including teaching aids and internet resources.  

This is what we believe is giving Dremel a large edge especially in the Academic market. Educators from different backgrounds and technical degrees will have the ability to download versions and teaching aids to help out with classroom learning experiences which are focused on the classroom topic rather than 3D printing itself.

Conclusion

Well there you have it, our four favorite 3D printers in the sub $1000 price-range. We highly recommend the Robo 3D C2 if you have patience and want quality, or the UP! Plus 2 if you are looking to get up and running with the least effort possible.

Remember to choose the correct plastic, if you are uncertain about the properties of different plastics and what they can be used for then go to our 3D printer materials review.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions, leave us a comment below and remember to share this post with your friends by clicking one of the handy social media sharing buttons, or simply head back to our 3D printing resource page for more printer reviews.

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How to 3D print your own figurines

No, you don’t need super advanced 3D modeling skills to make your figurines. I am going to teach you the three easy steps you need to create your first 3D printed Yoda, Batman, or even of a model of yourself!

As a 3D artist, I am in love with 3D scanning, and I have used it a ton in the past for figurines and models I’ve needed for various projects. Recently I've started applying it by creating three-dimensional scans for 3D printing, and in this article, I am going to show you how to make your own 3D printed action figures.

What do you need to print your own figurines

Whether you have 3d modeling skills or not, to make your action figure there are three basic things that you need to have access to:

  • 3D Scanning Software
  • An Xbox Kinect
  • A 3D Printer

The first tool you need to add to your arsenal is a copy of either Reconstruct Me or Skanect. This will be the software you use to construct and edit your 3D scanned model.

skinect
reconstuct me

The second piece of equipment you need is an Xbox Kinect (check current lowest price) make sure it is one with a normal USB port, purchasable on Amazon, and not a proprietary Xbox port; this is crucial for getting it to work with your PC.

Xbox Kinect
xbox USB connector


Finally, you will have to buy a 3D printer of your own. If you want to go on the cheap here, check out our post for printers under $500. 

robo 3d printer

The 3D printer shown above is the Robo 3D R1+, it is what we use and one of the best currently on the market. It's currently selling on Amazon for under $400.

Owning a 3D printer is cheaper than ever, and it will enable you to print anything from the larger action figures to very small miniatures, which can be used for various role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons.

We will also show you what to do for both after you've gotten all your gear together.

Scanning with the Kinect

you'll want to open your scanning application if you're a beginner without 3d modeling skills.

And you’re going to want to use the Xbox’s Kinect. The Kinect allows you to go from scanning to cleaning up the model to printing the model very easily.

No other skills are required. However, if you are versed in 3d modeling, I highly recommend using Reconstruct Me.

Reconstruct me gives you a little bit more detail to work with. However, more cleanup work is required before you start scanning.

Here are a couple of things to consider:

The Kinect has two cameras on it one is an infrared camera that scans depth and 3d space the other one is a normal camera that captures color but to use these properly you need a certain amount of space.

About a 10 to 15foot radius generally around your subject and do not wear anything that's reflective because the bouncing light from the reflective clothing might be wearing will confuse the camera and confuse the depth. This will screw up your 3d model.

Natural sunlight has a lot of infrared frequencies in it, and since the infrared camera on the Kinect uses these frequencies to gauge the depth of the object, that will also start throwing off your scanning program.

You want to make sure that you've set your scanning area (your scanning box) to be as close to that person as possible to maximize the resolution of the scan.

I find it helpful to turn the monitor around so I can see it while I'm scanning, consider purchasing a USB extension so you can have the freedom to walk around the room.

Scanning with the Xbox Kinect

Pictures in this article sourced from Sam and Niko's DIY 3D printed action figurines video

When you’ve set a good scan area, as shown in the picture above, you want to start scanning. 

You have to explore every nook and cranny of your object, to capture all the details. This part take some practice, you also have to make sure you scan the form a top-down angle to properly scan some of the upward facing details. 

This technique works really when when trying to create a 3D printed figurine of yourself!

3D Software Modelling

So, here is our first scan of the model, there is still a few small errors in our model, but that's okay since Skanect can clean that up.

Skanect modelling

I'm going to fill some holes and colorize it, in case we want to print this in color.

Now, this is going to go back through and take all the color data from the camera and make that into a texture.

Skanect coloring

That looks pretty cool, the last thing we want to do before printing this is to crop out the ground plane. As you can see, there is a lot of terrain in the model, and you'd want to crop that out. In Skanect it is very easy, just orbit around the model and select what you don’t want and crop it using the “Move and Crop” feature.

So now that we've modeled, we're going to show you the reconstruct me version.

This technique is slightly more highly detailed and much better when you're trying to make a figurine which is small with tiny details.

Now, to showcase what Reconstruct Me can do, we are going to show you how to add a 3D modeled sword to your model.

When you're scanning it's hard to hold perfectly still for 30 seconds and when holding high detail objects such as a sword, there's natural wobble and shake to these objects.

3D figurine with modeled sword

It's very difficult for the scanner to model that properly. In this case, our sword is very reflective - bad idea for scanners and that one is super solid actually, and just with the tiny bit of cleanup, there were good to go.

As you'll see with your first import into your 3D program of choice that we have similar issues.

I will go into the vertices of the model shown in the picture below, and you can quickly select them all and delete the ground plane. It's good to select all your elements and then deselect the piece you want to keep and hit delete.

filling holes in your model before 3D printing

As you can see from the screenshot above, there is no color and no texture.

But this time, we don't need that.

Because of the detail level that we're going to be printing at, we're going to paint these on our own.

The last step you want to do is use a modifier that will fill the holes up. You want to use a modifier in 3D Studio Max called “cap holes.”

If you're not using 3D Studio Max, then I'm sure there is an equivalent feature in whatever program you are using. The last step is to scale it to the size you want to print it.

If you're making a miniature for Dungeons and Dragons, about an 1.5 inches in height is good. If you're making a miniature just for yourself, it can be any size, but just be aware bigger gets the more expensive it gets, not to mention the printing time can get exceptionally long

Thereafter, just hook up our 3D printer (here's a list of good cheap options if you do not own one yet) to your computer, follow the instructions on the printer, and make your model come to life!

I hope you have learned something from this small introduction into the world of 3D scanning and 3D printing if you guys want to try this out I highly recommend trying out either Skanect or Reconstruct Me depending on your skill level. 

To check out our other resources on 3D printing, head back to our 3D printing page or read one of the related posts below. As always, feel free to share your comments and ideas for figurines you would like to see printed! 

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The Best 3D Printers under $500 Reviewed – Cheap and Affordable

3D printing has exploded, and with the surge of new businesses trying their hands at the industry, the costs for 3D printers keep falling. That is excellent news for people who wish to print three-dimensional objects in your home, or who want an inexpensive method of prototyping.

In this review, I will have a look at a few of the best affordable 3D printers available in the marketplace. I have created this guide to assist first-timers and anyone working within a budget to find the best cheap 3D printer.

Hopefully, one that will enable them to explore the new technology without breaking the bank.

Now, remember that 3D printing is still in its infancy and the less you spend on a 3D printer, the more unreliable and inaccurate of a printer you'll get. That does not mean that if you are on a budget, you're unable to jump right into the world of 3D printing.

You can find quite a few entirely enclosed 3D printers under $500 that will make it possible for you to begin 3D printing and produce quality prints, like the wine rack I printed below.

3d printed wine rack

Below, we will explore the best cheap 3D printers on the market, in addition to their various advantages and disadvantages, to help make sure that you're ready to have an educated opinion.

Best 3D Printers under $500 for 2018


In the table below you will find the four 3D printers we reviewed. The 4 printers you see below are the only ones we would consider buying in this price range.

Name

Score

Summary

Price

Where to Buy

robo 3d printer

Robo 3D R1 +

4.5 out of 5

The best 3D printer under $500, large printing area

$$$$

flashforge finder

Flashforge Finder

4 out of 5

Great for kids and beginners, has WiFi and an LED screen

$$$$

HICOP creality

HICTOP Prusa I3

4 out of 5

The best DIY kit for under $500. Good size and speed

$$$$

ZYXprinting da Vinci Jr.

ZYX Printing Da Vinci Jr.

3 out of 5

Ok for kids, Not recommended for professional users

$$$$

What to expect from a 3D printer costing $500 or less?

So let's talk about the price. A couple of years back, an reasonably spec'd mid-range 3D printer would set you back well over $2 000.

However, with the massive increase in 3D printer choices, the costs have come down, and there are now some high-quality 3D printers under $500.

Or, in other words, if you're looking to find the ideal balance between 3D printer price and performance, then the choices in this price range should be at the top of your list.

No, these aren't the best 3D printers available, but their cost is appealing for what they offer. If you are looking for something with a bit more muscle, then we recommend you read our round up of the best 3D printers under $1000. (coming soon)

The four listed below are, in my opinion, four of the best 3D printers available under $500, but before we jump into the review, lets take a look at our scoring catergories.

How we reviewed


Here’s a list of the categories which we used to evaluate the pens in this review:

Quality & Print Speed:

  • Layer height and resolution: One of the main factors of accuracy, lower is better
  • XYZ Accuracy: Very important for small details
  • Printing Speed: lighter, smaller pens are easier to paint with

Features & Versatility:

  • Printing bed size: Bigger is better
  • No. of extruders: Does it support dual extrusion?
  • Does it have a heated bed: Important for printing with ABS and some other plastic
  • Auto-leveling: Ensures that the correct height between the nozzle extruder and bed 
Ease of use:

  • Is it easy to setup and operate: Some printers claim to have a setup time of 30 min, others you need an engineering degree to get going
  • Does it support open source software: The best things in life are free, and when it comes to 3D printing, the best software on the market all happens to be open source

Value for Money

  • Price: Total cost was one of the key metrics in this review
  • Customer Support: Does the manufacturer have a good reputation for support?
  • Reviews: Product reviews on Amazon.com say a lot about quality

For each printer you will see an overall score out of 10. Click on "view all scoring categories" in the drop-down box to see how each pen fared for the categories listed above.

And now without further ado, let’s take a look at Pen&Plastic’s round-up of best 3D printers currently on the market.

1: ROBO 3D R1 PLUS


Another terrific option you have if you're searching for an exceptional, affordable 3D printer under $500 is the ROBO 3D R1+. This printer used to sell for a lot more, but Robo has recently reduced the price for 800 to $499. It almost feels unfair that this printer is now competing with in the sub $500 class.

There is a lot to like about the ROBO 3D R1 Plus.

For starters, it's a reasonably large print area compared to the other printers in the sub $500 price range. And, it includes a heated print bed and an auto-leveling feature.

ROBO R1 PLus

Pen and Plastic Rating

"Large print area
Heated printing bed"

Furthermore, ROBO 3D is based on America and, as such, provides faster and better support to its clients.

It has a large print volume for the cost (bigger, in reality, that a most $1,000-$2,000 printers), a heated print bed so that you can print in ABS, and an auto-leveling feature.

The Robo 3D R1 also supports HIPS and Nylon filament, which sets it apart from the other printers in this review.

The printer has a 100 micron resolution, which is standard in this category. One downside is it has only one extruder head, so bear that in mind if you need overhangs with supporting filament.

Technical Specifications

RESOLUTION
100 microns
VOLUME
~8″ x 9″ x 10″
FILAMENT
1.75mm
TYPE
PLA/ABS/
HIPS/NYLON
WEIGHT
~31lbs.
CONNECT
USB
HEATED BED
Yes

Pros

  • Best in class performance 
  • Prints almost any material,not just limited to ABS and PLA
  • Huge printing bed
  • Huge printing bed
  • Great customer support

Cons

  • Only one extruder
  • Not suitable for children

Verdict

The ROBO 3D R1 Plus does not have any extraordinary features, and it does not stand out as being exceptional in any one area, except printing size. What it does do well is its good in nearly every area that matters for a 3D printer, and it's highly versatile.

The ROBO 3D R1 Plus is our no.1 3D printer under $500 and, as such, should be strongly considered by anyone shopping in this price range.

2: Flashforge Finder


FlashForge hit it big if MakerBot switched into a closed-source version and ceased making their first Replicator. FlashForge's biggest success came in their MakerBot replica, the Creator.

Since FlashForge introduced their Creator as a means to fill the emptiness the Replicator left behind, they've produced a handful of other printers also. One of the latest printers is their budget-friendly Finder.

Finder-Features

Pen and Plastic Rating

"Very user friendly
Heated printing bed"

While the FlashForge Finder does not have the largest build platform, nor does it come with a heated print mattress, but it markets itself as a very easy-to-use and dependable option that will make 3D printing a breeze for first-timers. It has a cool touch screen and LCD for extra simplicity.

Flashforge's focus on ease-of-use means that this fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3D printer only accepts 1.75 mm PLA plastic filament. This simplifies things, as you don't need a heated print bed to work with more difficult (and toxic) materials like ABS — but of course the downside is you are now limited to only one type of printing material.

The Flashforge Finder is is very easy to use and has WiFi functionality built in, it is a 3D printer that is suitable for kids and beginners.

Although, for the purchase price of about $400, you're sacrificing a bit for the extreme ease of use , as there are different choices available which offer a larger build volume and a heated printing bed.

Finally, Flashforge is one of the strongest brands in the printing industry, and if you're looking for something that's simple to use and you would like to purchase something by a proven brand which you can depend on, then the Finder is a worthy choice.

Technical Specifications

RESOLUTION
100 microns
VOLUME
6″ x 6″ x 6″
FILAMENT
1.75mm
TYPE
PLA only
WEIGHT
~35lbs.
CONNECT
USB/SD Card
HEATED BED
No


Pros

  • Easy to use
  • WiFi Connectivity
  • Closed printer
  • Clever LCD screen
  • Excellent customer support and product reputation

Cons

  • Can only print PLA
  • Single Extruder

Our Verdict

While I would like to see that the Finder have a larger print area and a heated print mattress, but it's still easily one of the best starter 3D printers.

It is easy to use and also costs only $400, and the sacrifices of giving up a larger build volume and the capacity to print in ABS is minor

The Flashforge Finder carves out its place as being the second best 3D printer in this price range thanks to how easy it is to operate and how accurately it prints.

3: HICTOP Prusa i3


Something for the DIYers, here is your HICTOP Prusa i3. Where the Reprap Guru Prusa i3 includes a fairly large build volume (8″ x 8″ x 7″), the HICTOP Prusa i3 trumps it with an 11″ x 8″ x 7″ build platform.

To put that into perspective, that is quite a bit larger than the construct volumes supplied by the Zortrax M200 and the MakerGear M2, each of which cost well over $1,000, which is a major selling point for the HICTOP Prusa i3.

It would be absurd to say that the HICTOP printer is far better than both of these printers based on construct volume since there are quite a lot of different things that determine a 3D printer general quality...

HICOP creality

Pen and Plastic Rating

"Truly Customizable DIY kit
Auto-leveling heated bed
"

However, how this HICTOP printer provides you such a big build volume for under $400 is pretty astonishing.

Finally, some advice to the aspiring 3d artist reading this review. If you genuinely wish to know about 3D printing and understand the technology behind it, you should begin with a DIY kit.

And, of the DIY kits available for under $400, the HICTOP Prusa i3 is the best balance between price and performance.

Technical Specifications

RESOLUTION
100 microns
VOLUME
~11″ x 8″ x 7″
FILAMENT
1.75mm
TYPE
PLA/ABS
WEIGHT
~18lbs.
CONNECT
SD Card/USB
HEATED BED
Yes


Pros

  • The best DIY 3D Printing kit under $500
  • Best and most accurate nozzle in test
  • Completely customizable and upgradable
  • Comes with a heated bed and auto-leveling

Cons

  • Only two temperature settings
  • No LCD screen
  • times-circle-o
    Few reported cases of pens malfunctioning after a few hours use

Verdict

Easily one of the better DIY kits now on the marketplace, the HICTOP Prusa i3 is the best entry-level 3D printer. It costs under $400, it's a huge build volume, and it includes a heated bed so that you can print in PLA or ABS filament.

And, while it's brother (the HICTOP Desktop) has a tiny bit larger build volume and can print with a few extra types of filament, this unit remains a solid choice for aspiring 3D artists who want to tinker.

4: ZYXprinting da Vinci Jr.


On the lookout for an inexpensive 3D printer which you can give to your children to introduce them to the world of 3D printing? Well, if that's true, then the ZYXprinting da Vinci Jr. might be your best alternative.

Coming in at just under $350, the da Vinci Jr. is among the most inexpensive 3D printers on the market. And, using a 6″ cubed assemble space, it will let you build bigger objects similar in size or larger than more expensive printers, such as the Printrbot Simple Metal, or the UP! Mini.

ZYXprinting da Vinci Jr.

Pen and Plastic Rating

"Decent print volume Child Friendly - Closed PLA printer"

Additionally, it can hit resolutions as large as 100 microns, which is relatively standard among most consumer 3D printers nowadays.

Take note, however, that while the da Vinci Jr. includes a very reasonable price tag, you should expect the same quality as the price you pay. 3D printing is far from being a technology that is perfected, and the less you spend, the more likely you should encounter errors. This sadly was the case with some of our test prints.

So, provided that you are not expecting the world from the da Vinci Jr. and you're prepared to accept that there could be a few headaches along the way, then this is a feasible option. In the end, the da Vinci Jr. provides an affordable entry-level choice to teach your children how to use a 3D printer.

Technical Specifications

RESOLUTION
100 microns
VOLUME
~6″ x 6″ x 6″
FILAMENT
1.75mm
TYPE
PLA
WEIGHT
~33lbs.
CONNECT
SD Card/USB
HEATED BED
No


Pros

  • Great for kids
  • The most affordable printer in this review
  • Safe, uses a closed printing build

Cons

  • Can only print with PLA
  • Print quality not comparable with the Robo 3D R1 for example
  • times-circle-o
    No heated bed or auto-leveling feature 

Verdict

The XYZprinting da Vinci Jr. is among the less expensive 3D printers on the market. XYZprinting has quickly become the largest names in the sub-$1,000 market for 3D printers, and they produce relatively good 3D printers.

Still, we feel a little let down by the print quality, and would rather you go with the Flashforge Finder, if you are a beginner, or with the Robo 3D R1 if you want the best in this price range.

Conclusion

Well there you have it, our four favorite 3D printers in the sub $500 price range. We highly recommend the Robo 3D R1 if you are experienced, and the Flashforge Finder if you are new to 3D printing.

Remember to choose the correct plastic, if you are uncertain about the properties of different plastics and what they can be used for then go to our 3D printing filament review.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions, leave us a comment below and remember to share this post with your friends by clicking one of the handy social media sharing buttons, or simply head back to our 3D printing resource page for more printer reviews.

Continue reading

3D printing problems and solutions

This article was translated and modified, the original text Russian text can be found here.

We continue the series of articles started with part 1, which was devoted to polymers. 

This part will be devoted to the theory and practice of 3D printing, and I will try to answer questions and provide you not only with theoretical knowledge but also some practical solutions.

For starters, let's take a quick look at the well-known technology that is FDM printing. 

What could be simpler? You have a plastic rod that goes into the "magic hot melting pot," otherwise known as the extrusion head, and as the filament melts, it is gradually extruded like toothpaste. As this process continues, your printout grows

Simple right, but hold on a second.

FDM extrusion

As soon as the plastic filament rod starts heating in the channel, it begins to expand. 

At the end of the article called "3D Printing with Polymers", I discussed this issue and gave the following general advice: do not heat the plastic above the necessary temperature. 

If you follow this advice, you will achieve good adhesion between your 3D print's layers, because you would be paying heed to the shrinkage characteristics of heated plastics discussed in the previously.

For each of the plastics used in 3D printing, this temperature is, of course, unique and is indicated in the temperature range which was experimentally established by the manufacturer. This temperature range is typically written on the package. 

Why does the manufacturer give a range, and not a specific temperature?

Well, the uses of 3D printer filament vary from the typical to the very bizarre! For some prints, you need the highest detail when printing small objects, and someone prints require the final product to be large, and you need to up the printing speed.

Sometimes you need only a model or a non-functional prototype, and sometimes it is important for the print to have the maximum mechanical strength.

general rule of thumb: the lower the print temperature of a particular plastic, the higher the detail that can be obtained, but the less the mechanical strength of the printout


How to increase the print strength without increasing printing temperature? 

To get an answer to this question, you can venture into the mathematical jungle, and try to remember your high school physics lessons about Van Der Waal's forces ... but instead here is an illustrative real-life example:

Have you ever tried to separate two flat sheets of glass lying on top of each other? The larger their area and the more level they are, the greater the contact surface area and the more difficult it is to separate them. 

The same goes for 3D print layers. The larger the contact surface of the subsequent print layer with the previous one, the better the adhesion between them. 

So, what affects the size of this area, except the area of the printout layer itself? 

The largest impact on the area of contact between the layers is the size of the nozzle and the temperature of the print. The higher the temperature, the less viscous plastic comes out of the hot-rod, so it better "wets" the surface of the previous layer.

What is interesting is that theoretically, the rougher the surface of the previous printout layer, the better its adhesion to the subsequent layer, at the proper printing temperature! 

layer adhesion

The illustration shows three versions of layer sections: 

  1. is a typical result of a too low printing temperature
  2. an ideal variant, when the plastic flowability is sufficient to fill the unevenness of the previous layer
  3. an imaginary super ideal variant of the increased area of the gluing due to the uneven surface of the previous layer.

Something that's very visible in no.1 above, especially if you printed with transparent plastic, is that the printout begins to shine all over the thickness as if everything is permeated with thin silvery threads. In fact, these silvery threads are the air left between the layers.

Most of the air remains at the junctions of the perimeter of the layer, as the plastic extruded is not rectangular, but a rectangle with rounded edges. The rounded edges leave spaces which are filled with air. This reduces the strength of the printout. 

Another pro tip: The number of joints can be reduced by reducing the number of elements forming the joint! Thereby indirectly increasing the strength of your print.

Of course, the perfect plastic filament would have properties that are entirely homogeneous.  But we are talking about 3D printing here, and perfection is simply not achievable.

Therefore, to obtain the most robust printout, you need to maximize nozzle diameter and layer thickness, thus reducing the number of elements!

The thickness of the layers can not be increased too much, nor can the diameter of the nozzle. There are also advantages to having a smaller nozzle diameter, as it allows for more accurate detailing.

Thus the question is how much should you increase the nozzle diameter by

Slicer Settings

Slic3r is a tool which translates digital 3D models into instructions that are understood by a 3D printer.

It slices the model into horizontal layers and generates suitable paths to fill them.. So how do nozzle diameter and layer height affect slicer settings

Slicer does not detect what kind of nozzle your printer has. And it will not be able to tell if you've entered the wrong settings for nozzle diameter! 

And that's why, for the printer management program, as well as for the slicer which generates the code for the control program, the nozzle diameter and layer height are the two variables which are used for calculating the amount of plastic filament which must be pushed through the hot end. 

However, if you are confident in your abilities as a 3D printing artist, you can experiment with setting the nozzle diameter bigger or smaller what it actually is. But here, as elsewhere, there are limits. 

Be careful not to overdo this, as the software reduction of the nozzle diameter can give instability to the plastic flow and its breakdown from the nozzle. This is especially noticeable in the filling. So if you are constantly tearing the filling grid - just increase the nozzle diameter.

nozzle diameter effect on printing

The photo shows the results of prints made with a 1.2mm nozzle. In the parameters of the slicer, nozzles 2, 1.5, 1.3, 1, 0.8, 0.5 mm are shown in series. 

It is not necessary to use the same nozzle diameter for all 3D prints! If you want to know how to change these settings, take a look the screenshot from Slider below.

slicer screenshot


It is possible to set the software nozzle diameter to 2mm, and leave 1mm for perimeters and solid filling. Or vice versa. 

3d printing examples

The photo shows the results of these two options. 

The correct ratio of the diameter of the nozzle to the thickness of the layer. 

It should be clear that if the layer thickness is equal to the nozzle diameter, then the printout will be nothing more than a bundle of loosely glued bars of equal diameter nozzle! This  can be seen from the illustration in the upper right corner.

The diagram shows a table of the most suitable ratios for nozzle diameter and layer height.. In general, the smaller the layer height, the less adjust the nozzle diameter while still achieving good print quality. The golden ratio for nozzle diameter vs layer height is about 2-4 to 1. 

So, what is the disadvantage of setting the layer height much lower than the nozzle diameter? Up to some limit, the layer height can be reduced, but not ad-infinitum, as errors begin to accumulate over time and artifacts are formed on the surface (external perimeter) of the printout. This happens  because the flow of plastic is forced to spread over the not perfectly flat surface of the previous layer, thus increasing the error from layer to layer or repeating it with a slight offset. 

If we increase layer height, these errors are concealed and become less noticeable with each new layer.

print example 1
print example 1


*These printouts were made with a nozzle dameter of 1.2mm (with slicer nozzle diameter set at 2mm) and with a layer height of 0.4, 0.3, 0.2, 0.15, 0.1 mm. It is easy to see that on the printout with a layer of 0.1mm, artifacts of the surface appeared. See the closeup shot in the second picture above.

Based on the points raised above, we can conclude that the correct ratio of nozzle diameter to layer height should be observed in order to obtain the best quality printouts. 

What about printing speed?

Simply put,  printing speed primarily affects the volume of plastic, which must be heated and pressed through a nozzle of a certain diameter. 

The most significant limitations of printing speed are the following two parameters: 

  1. the thermal power of the hot-rod (it is required to melt the plastic) 
  2. the nozzle diameter ( molten plastic must pass through it)

Do you remember this calculation from high school algebra: Can you calculate how much you need to increase the diameter of a pipe so that the water flows through it twice as fast?

It turns out that if we have a specific printer at home or at work, then we can increase it's printing speed only by increasing the temperature of the melt (increasing the power supplied to the hot-end) and increasing the nozzle diameter. 

And back to the algebra question... in order to double printing speed, you only have to increase nozzle diameter by about 1.4 times, but I am sure you remembered that from high school :=)

Cooling

So, we increased the printing speed by 2 or even 3 times. Great job! But here's the catch: according to the law of conservation of energy, if we start to heat the plastic 2-3 times faster, then it must cool just as fast.

Otherwise, completely unplanned malfunctions caused by plastic shedding are possible, especially if you print with plastics with a low glass transition temperature (simply - for a long time, solidifying). These plastics include PLA and its mixtures,  most impact and frost-resistant plastics, as well as thermoplastic elastomers.

defects in a 3d print

 3D printing tips and tricks

  • You should, if your printer allows it, experiment with all available materials on the market - this will help to understand the range of possibilities available to you. 
  • Use nozzles for the same size purposes; it is necessary to have several of them from 0.2 to 1.2mm 
  • Do not hesitate to use the software nozzle diameter adjustment, use different extrusion widths for different types of filling 
  • Select the height of the layer according to the nozzle diameter 
  • Choose the printing temperature according to the size of the printout and the diameter of the nozzle 
  • It is mandatory to use cooling when increasing the speed of printing and printing complex objects 
  • Select the blowing power according to the printing speed

Conclusion

We have now come to the end of our 2 part series on the subtleties of 3D printing. I hope that you learnt something from these articles, and be sure to check out all of our other 3D printing resources and reviews.

Good luck and may the 3D printing gods smile upon your prints!

Continue reading

3D printing with polymers

This article was translated and modified, the original text can be found in Russian at http://3dtoday.ru/blogs/filamentarno/the-intricacies-of-3d-printing-part-1-polymers/

Welcome to the subtleties of 3D printing.

This series of articles will address many of the issues facing those who print with FDM 3D printers and will offer a comprehensive resource to all of their questions.

In the 3D printing community as a whole, and even more so on the topic of plastics  in particular, there is a huge amount of information available.

But in spite of this wealth of information, time and time again beginners and even proffesionals have the same questions when setting up their printer, changing the plastic, nozzle or struggle with planning the size of a printed model.

Even seemingly well-developed plans and approaches fail, and to many beginners, it feels as if 3D printing is a kind of witchcraft, shamanism, and there is no hope other than shaking tambourines and delivering patronage to higher powers.

And, as paradoxical as it may seem, many of the 3D printing resources you will find are right, in a broad sense at least. Yes, everyone is right!

But why the recurring questions, always on the same topics? And how do you explain why there are numerous ways of solving the same problems?

3d printing meme

With this in mind, the author has taken it upon himself to take the time and responsibility to light the way for everyone.

Having traveled this road once, you will gain an understanding, not in the ways to solve different issues, but rather in the methods and principles of finding solutions for non-standard tasks.

That is, this series of articles can be considered as educational, filled only with proven knowledge, as opposed to a host of entrenched “pigeon superstitions.”

American psychologist Skinner conducted this experiment. He planted a pigeon in a cage and, through equal intervals of time, poured food into the cage. What did the pigeons do? Surprisingly, they decided that it depended on their behavior whether they get food or not. And they began to do exactly what they were doing just before the appearance of food. For example, if the pigeon hid his head under the wing, and then the food appeared, that pigeon then began constantly hiding his head under its wing – in the hope that there would be food.

After that little anecdote, the preface is concluded. Now we will move on to the basics, which, without mastering, it is impossible to understand and assimilate the information contained in this series thoroughly.

Polymers

What are polymers? I struggled for a long time with the temptation to quote an article from Wikipedia, but somehow I didn’t succumb, and throughout this series, I will try, wherever possible and justified, to write in my own words.

The distinctive property of a polymer is the size of the molecules from which they consist – macromolecules. In many respects, this determines the material’s mechanical properties. Each polymer molecule consists of a chain of monomer units linked together. The more these links in the molecule, the larger it’s molecular weight. Thus the higher the degree of polymerization.

Types of polymers

Polymers can be divided into two broad groups: thermoplastics (about which we will talk further later) and thermosetting plastics.

I will spare you a science lesson about Van der Waals forces, which unite the molecules of thermoplastics, unlike the chemical bonds found in thermosets.  In short, the main difference between the two plastics can be defined as the possibility or impossibility of softening and processing the polymer.
All familiar epoxy and polyester resins, for example, belong to the thermoset group. These dissolve or melt, but cannot be reworked.

Thermoplastics, on the other hand, are polymers that can repeatedly be processed and molded without significant structural changes and deterioration of their mechanical characteristics.

Here it is worth noting that most thermoplastics you would purchase for 3D printing has already been softened and molded, possibly more than once. The manufacturers also most likely added a dye to these plastics to color them.

The most important thing that must be learned is that the molecular mass (from now on MM) of the polymer has a significant, and in many ways, determining the value of the material’s fluidity, impact resistance and overall strength of the final product.

Also in this chapter, it is worth mentioning that there are two main groups of thermoplastics, distinguished by the type of construction of the macromolecule:

  1. Homopolymers (consist of identical repeating monomeric units)
    Homopolymers include a homopolymer of styrene-polystyrene (PS) or a homopolymer of propylene-polypropylene (PP ).
  2. Copolymers (chains of molecules of which consist of two or more different structural links).
    This group includes, for example, acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS).

Among the copolymers, a further distinction can be made, called block copolymers (macromolecules of which consist of regularly or statistically alternating homopolymer blocks differing in composition or structure.)
Block copolymers include thermoplastic elastomers whose macromolecules consist of thermoplastic blocks (polystyrene, polyethylene, polypropylene) and flexible elastomer blocks (polybutadiene, polyisoprene, random copolymers of butadiene with styrene (PBS) (SBS) (SBR) or ethylene with propylene ( EPDM)).
Simply put, these are various synthetic rubber thermoplastic elastomers (TEPs).

You need to be aware of these when choosing your 3D printer filament.

Types of thermoplastics

Thermoplastics, which are the only polymer used in 3d printers, can be divided into 2 main groups: amorphous and partially crystallized.

Amorphous thermoplastics include polystyrene (PS), impact-resistant polystyrene (HIPS) and thermoplastic elastomers (TEP). Amorphous thermoplastics in their unpainted state are transparent, like glass.

Acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) has a unique amorphous and partially crystallized structure.

Partially crystallizable polymers include polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE), polyamides (PA 6, PA 66 – nylon ), polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

The most important difference from a 3D printing perspective between these two groups is their shrinkage!

Crystallized materials have a high shrinkage and shrinkage anisotropy, suggesting that the products printed from these plastics will crack and crumble most severely. This is especially noticeable in the example of polyamide (nylon) – shrinkage 1.5-2.5%, polypropylene (PP) – shrinkage 1.8-2.5% or polyethylene (PE) – shrinkage 2.0-5.0%!

The shrinkage of ABS varies from 0.4 to 2.0% depending on the brand. Polystyrene shrinkage (PS) varies from 0.4 to 0.8%. The shrinkage of styrene-butadiene rubbers and HIPS largely depends on the content of styrene in their composition and the polymerization, shrinkage here is typically 0.3-2% depending on the grade.

Finally, we have the most popular 3D printing plastic, PLA (polylactide lactic acid). This strange substance, unlike all the above, is obtained from the polymerization of lactide, which in turn is obtained by polycondensation of lactic acid. Despite being made from the same compound as dairy products, this product has little to do with cottage cheese and cows. And much like yogurt, not all polylactides are equally useful!

There are several varieties of PLA with a wide variety of properties and very different physical and mechanical characteristics.

Hygroscopicity of polymers

     

Water boils when heated, and when boiling it turns into steam – making a phase transition. This transition is accompanied by a significant expansion. When this transition takes place in a bathhouse or in Kamchatka’s geysers – the first is useful, and the second is beautiful – but when this process begins in the 3D printer extruder, this is bad news. Your printer starts making strange clicking sounds, accompanied by extrusion passes and holes in the perimeters, uneven extrusion, foaming and other non-aesthetic processes delivering many headaches to users.

A lot has been said and written on how to store and dry the filament, but the trouble is – if during the bar production an important technological stage of granulate drying (of course with the aim of reducing the cost of production) was missed, which takes 4 to 6 hours for ABS with hot air at 80C, or this stage is shortened, then a filament is produced, which contains bubbles containing water vapor formed by the expanding moisture. To mitigate this you can attempt to dry it in the oven, but even this is extremely difficult …

There will be gaps in the extrusion since the air doesn’t expand like the moisture when exposed to the extruders hot tip.

So think for yourself, is it worth it to buy cheap plastic then having to dry it yourself in the oven, or are you more interested in just 3d printing? Or maybe you even want to hang a tambourine on the wall and forget about drying and proper storage of filaments? To solve for you, I only indicate opportunities.

Which type of thermoplastic is the most hydroscopic?

First place for the title of becoming Sponge Bob Squarepants is awarded to PLA (polylactide, PLA)! Depending on the brand, temperature, and humidity, it is able to absorb from 1% to 4% of its own weight as moisture.

The second place is confidently occupied by PA-66 (polyamide, it’s also nylon) with a result of 0.4% of its own weight as moisture.

The third place is occupied by ABS with an average result of 0.2%.

This brief overview of the polymers suitable for 3D printing using FDM can be considered complete.

If you are a boring chemist, then this might be very disappointing, but it was not my intention to write a thesis on the topic, but only to acquaint the readers with a general picture written in broad strokes. I hope that you’ve read up to this point, since from here onwards this article will become more cheerful with pictures! :)

So, let’s move on to the next chapter:

What is MFI?

And where does the molecular weight of the polymer (MM) come from and how is this all connected with shrinkage during printing?

Many of you might have, while wandering through the expanses of the Internet in search of an answer to why life is so plastic, stumbled upon this mysterious three letter acronym: MFI.

MFI (Melt Flow Index, measured in grams), is in simple terms, how many grams of polymer, heated to a certain temperature, can flow out under a certain pressure through a hole of a certain size in 10 minutes.

Unfortunately knowing the MFI of a plastic is not very helpful as different types of plastic and plastic manufacturers use different pressures, hole sizes and temperatures to perform this measurement.

Melt Flow Index

This is especially evident in the MFI of ABS plastic, where 3 different methods can be used to measure the same polymer (You can use a 5 kg weight at 200 ° C, a weight of 3.8 kg at 230 ° C or load 10 kg at 220 ° C.) which will give 3 different results. So much for exact science in the 3D printing industry.

However, you, dear 3D printers, need not delve into this too deeply. All this is the headache of rod producers! The only reason I mention this is so that you know when comparing MFI measurements you are comparing apples to apples.

Let me simplify, if the MFI is lower it means that the polymer is thicker. And the polymer is thicker, the harder it is to press through a small hole in the nozzle of the 3D printer extruder.

Before you say: “Hooray, now I understand everything!” – I warn you not to jump to conclusions! The thing is that indirectly, a low MFI index correlates with a greater molecular weight of the polymer. As I wrote above, it is the molecular mass of a polymer that largely determines its mechanical properties. In particular, strength and impact resistance. And here everything is exactly the opposite – the lower the MFI, the better.

Flow index

As it often happens in life, there are no ideal solutions – there are only compromises. The graph shows the choices of thermoplastic characteristics and indicates the zone of possible compromise between strength and printing speed, shown as the zone where the blue and pink curves intersect.

The blue area reflects the relationship between the possible print speed ( Vp ) and the polymer melt flow ( MFI ). The pink area reflects the relationship between the MFI and the molecular weight ( MW) .


Since polymers are not Newtonian fluids, fortunately for us their fluidity increases with increasing flow velocity, which partly compensates for the decrease in printing speed with increasing molecular weight, expanding the range of applicability of various polymers for 3D printing.
* The graph is given for clarity, exact values should not be looked for here!

It would seem that everything depends on this graph, but don’t forget about shrinkage!

When you start 3D printing you will soon encounter a problem all of us have faced, the manufacturer of the plastic has requested a ridiculously high printing temperature. Why is this, what is the reason for these rising printing temperatures?

The thing is that, as the attentive reader has probably noticed, the MFI is very relative, and this indicator also depends on the melting temperature used. The higher the melting temperature, the higher the fluidity, and the easier it is for the extruder motor to push the molten plastic through the nozzle opening.

Before you have another “Hooray, now I have understood everything!”  moment, wait one second – because sure you can buy a plastic with a high MM and low MFI and print it at 260 C.

But despite its seemingly high strength, expected due to it’s high MM, your printout will break up into layers! And this will happen because while interlayer adhesion (not to mention adhesion to the printer’s printing table) has its final values, the thermal expansion of amorphous polymers does not cease with increasing temperature until it starts to thermally destruct.

For ABS plastics it starts at around 260 C. Namely, thermal destruction in most cases leads to a phenomenon called “clogged nozzle”.

Here is a good rule of thumb: The greater the thermal expansion of the plastic, the more it will shrink after cooling.

ADG.png

This figure graphically shows the growth of adhesion with increasing temperature ( t ) and the graph of thermal expansion / subsequent shrinkage ( Ms – molding shrinkage). The zone with the best ratio of these two parameters can be considered as a flattening of the adhesion growth curve ( Adg ).
* The graph is shown for informational purposes only!

In summary, I do not advise that you print at temperatures greater than the minimum needed for good adhesion between layers.

With that being said, we conclude part one… But do you seriously think that I have told you everything?: D

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for part 2, which deals with common 3D printer problems and solutions.
It will deal with printing defects, and how to eliminate them. We will refer to some of what you just learned from this article, as well as the quality of the filament and how and why it affects printing. There will be a lot of math and boring formulas … just kidding : D

Thanks to those who read this text from start to finish! If you would like to read more about buying a 3D printer, then be sure to check out our budget 3D printer review, as well as our mid-range 3D printer review.

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