What is a 3D printer?
To put it simply, a 3D printer is a printer that prints in 3D. To put it slightly less simply, it produces 3D parts using an additive layer-based process. This means it prints by layering hardened material upwards from bottom to top into a shape decided by the program you run, resulting in the replication of the rendered object in 3D.
The types of 3D printers:
There are two main types of commercial 3D printers which both operate by building up prints layer by layer:
Resin: These print via a layer of liquid resin over an LCD screen which emits UV light to harden the resin layer by layer into the shape you want to print. The hardened resin is slowly pulled up and another layer is hardened by the carefully exposed UV light until the print is complete.
Filament: An FDM or Filament Printer acts more like a hot glue gun, layering reels of heated plastic wire (filament) and building it up layer by layer into what you want to make.
What do I need to get started?
Well, most 3D printers come with the basics. A filament printer will need assembly and so will come with small implements needed to assemble it such as an Allen wrench. A resin printer on the other hand, will come with a scraper to help you separate the final product from the printing plate. The big thing you will need is a computer to set up the software and format the file to print.
You will also need patience. You’re starting a new thing and there will be a learning curve. It’s a new piece of technology and so there will be teething problems as you get used to using it. A 3D printer is a specialist tool so it’s less user friendly than an average printer. As such you will need to come to understand the hardware inside and out as you learn to diagnose and fix problems. You will also need to find and learn the software available to create the files to print from, many of which are available online for free. This may all sound daunting, but you will not be alone when you get started. There are plenty of websites on which you will be able to find support from a community of users who will be willing to help you out as you learn.
It is also best if you allocate your printer a dedicated space. They are loud and require decent ventilation, especially for resin. (Not that the resin is all that hazardous, it just smells a bit.) Resin printers also require additional chemicals to clean and maintain so proper precautions and research are necessary. Filament printers work via heating so may become a fire hazard if left unattended.
Finally, you will need to get the appropriate resin and cleaner/filaments once you get started so you have material to print from.
Resin or Filament?
The main factor in deciding which type of printer you want to start with is to know what you want it for. Filament printers come with a larger building area so can print larger objects than a similarly sized resin printer. Filament comes out in thicker layers so layer lines will be more prominent, and a Filament print often takes longer than a Resin print due to larger prints and layers taking longer for it to draw out. They are better for printing larger items in which detail is less of a factor and layer lines won’t be too disruptive.
Resin printers print in much smaller layers. As such, signs of the printing process will be harder to see so they are capable of finer detail and appear much smoother. The finished print can also be stronger than a filament print depending on the resin used. Also, as each layer is done in a flash of ultraviolet light, they are capable of a much faster print. The finished product they’re capable of will be a lot more detailed with a smoother finish. However, for a resin printer, gloves and maybe goggles (often included with the printer) may be required as you’ll be working with chemicals. You may want to work in a more ventilated area and the process can be messier with proper disposal of waste products being a factor to consider.
Buying your first printer:
Now we come to finding a specific model, and it’s here that you will need to do some research of your own. Once you’ve decided between getting a resin or a filament printer, you’ll have to start looking into specific models. Consider what you want it for, then look for a specific printer that can do what you want and prints what you want it to print as well as you need it to. Specific brands may have specific features and the technology upgrades often so there’s no clear best one for every job.
Check out reviews on specific printers to find the model that’ll work best for you and look into the manufacturer. Then look online for what settings they need to work best and any issues they may have. Remember to look at any online communities for unbiased help and advice. You could also shop local and get some advice in person from someone who knows what the product can do.
The average beginner friendly printers will range from around £150-£250 ($200 – $300) but try not to spend too much on your first printer. Give yourself space to learn and make mistakes and if you enjoy the experience, you can continue to modify and improve it over time.
For further information I found a helpful playlist that I will link to Here. It talks more in-depth about information such as maintenance, operating a printer, choosing software to print from and finding the files to print!
Personally, I think I will start with the ‘Ender 3 pro’, a filament printer that is often recommended for beginners. I hope you will find this article helpful for getting started with 3D printing! For more Tech tips, check out our technology section above! Also, check us out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!
Thanks for reading!