3D printing is a quickly expanding field, with the popularity and uses for 3D printers growing every day. In this guide, I will attempt to give an introduction to the wide range of technologies in 3D printers, a comparison of the most common 3D printers on the market, an overview of materials that can be used to print, online services and communities that offer 3D models or 3D printing services, and an intro to designing and printing your first model.
3D printing can be used to prototype, create replacement parts, and is even versatile enough to print prostheses and medical implants. It will have a growing impact on our world, as more and more people gain access to these amazing machines.
Step 1: Technologies
While all 3D printers create objects using additive methods (the opposite of a CNC machine), different approaches exist to actually physically depositing the material. The most common methods are:
-Fused Deposition Modeling- A very common method in which the part is printed by extruding molten stings of material that melt together to create the part. This is usually the cheapest method, but quality can suffer, and materials are limited. Examples include: Maker Bot, RepRap, Objet, Cube, Solidoodle, Dimension and many others.
-Selective Laser Sintering -More common in industrial style prototyping settings, a laser melts together powdered plastic, ceramic, or other material, then spreads more powder on top, repeating the process to build the part layer by layer. The main advantage of this is the wide variety of materials that can be printed. Examples include: SinterStation
-Powder Bed and Binder- Similar to Laser Sintering, an inkjet head distributes binder to the correct location on a bed of powder. The most notable advantage is the ability to print in many colors. Examples include: ZCorp
-Stereolithography- Here, an ultraviolet laser hardens resin in a vat layer by layer until the part is built. It can quickly create high definition parts that can be machined. However, the resin is fairly expensive compared to other 3D printing materials. Examples Include: Instructables User RobHopeles's Stereolithography Printer