Today's technology has opened a number of doors providing means to explore, test, and chase our own curiosity. Among the many new technologies we see in our society, 3D printing is becoming more accessible and affordable to average people than it has ever before, causing significant growth in the 3D printing community. A 3D printer can be used to print out functional tools, organizers, prototypes, models, replacement parts, figurines, etc. Your imagination is the limit when it comes to what you can create with a 3D printer.
Now you must be wondering, "How can I get started with 3D printing"? I will take you through the process of building and or obtaining your own 3D printer and give you the basic means to embark on your own journey of creation.
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Step 1: Choosing the Right 3D Printer
Before purchasing a printer you must consider a couple things.
What are you willing to spend?
3D printers can range in price from as low as $150 USD all the way up to around $150,000 USD.
If you are just looking for a nice printer to get into 3D printing as a hobby or maybe even to do some basic prototyping you'll roughly be looking at spending between $150-$750 USD. Most of the printers that you will find in this price range do not come in one piece and require complete assembly, and often times they aren't put through a whole lot of quality control, but they can still be a great investment. Despite price range, you can still get relatively high quality prints with some fine tuning. In addition, assembling a 3D printer is the easiest way to learn and understand how they work. And because these printers are relatively cheap, there is going to be a bigger user base for these printers, and often times there are even pages made on social media for some of these printers where users post their experiences, as well as tips and tricks and other useful information. These printers are also usually really easy to find cheap replacement parts or aftermarket upgrades for, and some upgrades you can even print with your 3D printer.
If you are looking for something versatile and capable of producing detailed high quality prints, typically for some kind of small business, then you're going to be looking at spending roughly $800 to $3,000 USD. These printers are usually going to come pre-assembled and usually require very little effort to fine tune. In this price range it is also possible to find a machine that is capable of 3D printing, CNC, and light laser engraving. These machines can often handle heavy workloads and require relatively low maintenance.
If you're looking for something for industrial applications, you can expect to spend around $3,500 on up. These printers are usually made with very high quality standards and are often capable of producing large detailed prints quickly. If you are looking at purchasing for anything in this price range it is recommended that you do extensive research to find exactly what you're looking for.
What type of printer do you want?
There are several different types of printers and each has it's advantages and disadvantages. It is recommended that extensive research is put into the different kinds of printers. Some examples include but are not limited to SLS, FDM, FFF, SLA, etc. Youtube as well as forums are a good place to look to gain useful knowledge.
What kind of filament will you be primarily using?
Some 3D filaments do better on different styles of printers. A good example of this is flexible filaments struggle on printers with what is called a Bowden extruder, whereas they do exceptionally well on direct extruders. It is recommended that extensive research is done when selecting what type of printer extruder you should get based off of what types of filaments you would like to use.
Step 2: Assemble Your 3D Printer
Admittedly, depending on the printer you decided to purchase, you may or may not have to do this. If you have to assemble your 3D printer, be sure that you are careful unboxing it, being sure to lay everything out as you take it our of the box being sure not to misplace anything. Some where in the contents of the box there is typically a list, either on paper or on a flash drive, that shows all of the items that make up the contents of the box, it is recommended to run inventory and make sure that nothing is missing. If the contents of the box is complete, review the assembly instructions (these are typically found with the inventory list). After that follow the assembly instructions to the best of your abilities. If you have any problems or hit any roadblocks, forums, social media pages, and Youtube are all great places to find quick reliable solutions.
After assembly, you will have to download some kind of slicing software. Slicing software is used for putting files that you would like to print into the right format as well as adjusting print settings such as temperature, extraction rate, print speed, print detail, infill, etc. Most slicing software is free, but higher quality software can be purchased. A couple popular and widely used slicing softwares are Cura and Simplify3D. Cura is a free software, whereas Simplify3D requires monthly payments, but some argue that Simplify3D is a nicer software. Both are available for download online.
If you interested in some prototyping or modeling work, cad programs such as Fusion360 or TinkerCad can be used to produce items that can be printed on your printer.
Step 3: Fine Tune Your Printer for High Quality Prints
At this point, your printer should be completely assembled and ready to print. If your printer does not have a self leveling bed you will have to manually go through the process of getting the bed level (instructions for bed leveling will typically be with your assembly instructions). Once your bed is level make sure that your printing surface is prepared for a print, meaning that proper measures have been taken to ensure that filament will stick to the bed. Once this is done normally some sort of sample print is run to identify any problems the printer might be having as well as any potential improvements. These test print files often times come with the printer on some form of mobile media device, but they can also be obtained through websites such as thingiverse.com. Other prints can also be used to find optimal print settings such as temperature or extraction rate, these will typically only be found on sites such as thingiverse. Also with a lot of the cheaper printers, you can find printable upgrades that other people have created in cad that will drastically improve print quality. These files can be found on sites like thingiverse.
Step 4: Reap the Fruits of Your Labor and Have Fun Exploring
At this point you have successfully built or purchased your own 3D printer. Now what you do is up to you. Have fun, explore all of the possibilities 3D printing has to offer, and do what whatever you set out to do when you first decided to wander down the path of 3D printing.
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