3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, is the process of taking a three-dimensional digital object and creating a physical form of it by adding materials layer by layer until the object is complete. Originally created in the 1980s, 3D printing was previously reserved for scientists or engineers who were innovating new technologies. But, as demand grows and technology improves, prices have fallen to make 3D printing accessible for the non-expert.
Because of this, you’ll see 3D printers in homes, schools, and offices. Further, anyone who is interested in learning more about 3D printing can begin to learn it, so more and more novices are venturing into this world.
Let’s dig into the specifics of how you can successfully get into 3D printing with Staples.
Do You Need a 3D Printer?
This seems like a simple question, but it can be anything but. Even though the barrier of entry to 3D printing is relatively low, it’s not exactly inexpensive to maintain. 3D printing can be costly, and time and again, someone will buy a 3D printer with the intention of creating projects, but after a few weeks, their investment will start collecting dust.
So, before you jump in, ask yourself:
- After my first few prints, will I have other projects lined up?
- What are the materials I want to use and how easily can I get them?
- How will my needs evolve as newer, more streamlined technology enters the market?
- Can I continuously afford to print in the future?
These questions and more will help you determine if purchasing a 3D printer is a smart choice.
Once you decide that you do need a 3D printer, beware of impulse buying, especially if you don’t have a base knowledge of what types are out there. Don’t simply rely on Youtube videos and sales pages to point to a specific 3D printer. Rather, conduct extensive research on what you specifically need out of a machine, and go from there.
It is also a good idea to consider these five points as you’re browsing 3D printers:
- Budget: How much should you realistically spend?
- Mechanical Requirements: What is the right balance between your skill level and the skills required to operate your new machine?
- Appearance: How will your 3D printer function aesthetically in your home or office? Do you have room for an extra gadget?
- Material Selection: What types of materials will you want to print?
- Geometry: What shapes are you wanting to print?
Keeping these considerations in mind as you shop will help narrow down your choices until you find the perfect printer for you.
Which Type of 3D Printer Should You Buy?
Below are some basic questions that you should keep in mind as you’re choosing a printer.
What are the different types of 3D printers?
There are several types of 3D printing technologies that both beginners and seasoned professionals gravitate towards. These include:
SLA printers can produce objects that have high levels of detail, smooth surface finishes, and tight tolerances (minute details that have very little variation – think machine parts!). SLA technology can be used in businesses and homes to create objects such as small computer parts and prosthetic limbs.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
SLS melts together nylon-based powders to create solid plastic. SLS parts are made from thermoplastic materials, making them extra durable and able to construct complicated shapes. Because of its durable construction and ease of use, this technology can be used to print a variety of household and office items such as hand tools, gloves, headphones, and more.
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
Fused deposition modeling (FDM) is a cost-effective and common desktop 3D printing technology that quickly produces plastic parts. The most common type of 3D printing technology, the FDM printer works by extruding a plastic filament layer-by-layer onto the build platform. In its most common business use case, engineers use it to test the fit and form of machine parts. For home use, however, many hobbyists use this technology to produce practical materials such as prosthetic limbs, casts, toys, and more.
Digital Light Process (DLP)
DLP uses a digital light projector screen to project an entire layer of the build all at once, resulting in faster build speeds. Home users and creative businesses alike can use DLPs to print highly detailed sculptures and three-dimensional renderings of artwork.
Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)
Multi jet fusion builds functional parts from nylon powder, which you can easily find online. Rather than using a laser to synthesize the powder, MJF printers use an inkjet array, much like a regular printer, and heat to apply fusing agents to the nylon powder. Hobbyists make power tools with these printers, and the manufacturing industry also creates low-cost machine parts.
PolyJet technology is used specifically to fabricate parts with multiple properties, such as colors and materials. Both home and business users can leverage this technology for creating smooth objects, like helmets, piping, medical prototypes, and more.
FDM printers are the most common among hobbyists, but In terms of which type of printer is better for beginners, that really depends on the person. Each of these technologies is accessible and easy to use by anyone with the drive to get into 3D printing, but we recommend doing some additional research into which technology will fit into the projects you’ll be doing most often.
What are the different brands?
The 3D printer market has become much more competitive over the past several years as more hobbyists have entered it. These companies manufacture 3D printers at accessible prices:
Shop these top 3D printers at Staples.
What do you want to print?
What are your goals in terms of what you’re printing? If you have ambitious things planned, like machine parts or medical devices, you may want to opt for a more robust machine than the standard entry models.
What features and capabilities are you looking for?
Filaments are special plastic materials that 3D printers melt and extrude through the 3D printer nozzle. There are several types of filaments to choose from. Be sure to research which kinds of filaments will work best for your proposed projects.
Like a regular printer, you’ll need to consider the resolution of your 3D printer. The resolution of a printer, measured in dpi, is the minimum detail and layer thickness your printer can manage. A general rule of thumb is to find the highest resolution in your price range.
Lastly, you’ll need to consider how fast your printer will create something. With other machines, people typically look for the fastest speeds, but with 3D printing, it’s the opposite. Slower print speeds produce cleaner, more high-quality projects. So, find a printer that has a mid-range printing speed and be patient with the printing process.
To print a digital object, you’ll need software to help render it. Many of today’s 3D printers have software available to insert via a disk or download. This software is compatible with Windows systems, but many are also compatible with macOS and Linux systems as well.
Wired vs. Wireless
One of the most commonly asked questions for any piece of modern technology is, “Should it be wireless or wired?” The same can be said for 3D printers. Generally, these machines print from computers via a USB connection, so these models are easier to find.
There are a few 3D printers that feature wireless connectivity, however, these models can print more slowly than other models, especially if the file being printed exceeds 10MB. Other connectivity options include Ethernet and SD card.
How Much Does a 3D Printer Cost?
3D printers can range in price pretty drastically. There are more affordable options (under $300) and luxury models (over $3,000) available for home use. If you’re new to 3D printing, consider getting a mid-range model that you can learn how to use effectively. This way, you will not only have a great machine that will help you ramp up, but you will also have a durable machine for the future.
3D printing has become a huge hobby for technology enthusiasts, and a great tool for schools and offices. But, it’s important to know all of the specifics when you are looking for a 3D printer for your needs:
- Pricing – 3D printing is an investment, so research options that are well within your budget.
- Materials and Projects – The projects you’re planning to undertake, and the materials you’ll need to create them, should be top of mind as you’re browsing.
- Speed and Resolution – Take the speed and resolution of a printer into consideration because they will directly translate into the quality of your product.
- Types and Brands of 3D Printers – The type and brand you’re looking for in a 3D printer are critical because they'll inform how you’ll get started in this industry and how you’ll progress.
Don’t rush into a decision – take your time looking through the specs of several machines to find the best one for you now and in the future. Additionally, keep the considerations above in mind as you’re browsing so you can make the most informed decision possible.