Choosing the Right 3D Printer

 In 30 days of education

The world of 3D printing is amazing and nearly limitless. With many different types of printers and hundreds of models available, there’s a lot to take in. And that can make it overwhelming. But I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be. And trust me, integrating the right 3D printer into your classroom is worth it. So, come with me as I take you into the world of 3D printers.

Just about everything we do nowadays requires us to do a little bit of research before we get started, and 3D printing is no different. I have taken the confusion and time out of your research for the best 3D printers by researching every printer compatible with our system. The world of 3D printing is amazing and nearly limitless. With many different types of printers and hundreds of models available, there’s a lot to take in. And that can make it overwhelming. But I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be. I’ll walk you through it. And trust me, integrating the right 3D printer into your classroom is worth it. So, come with me as I take you into the world of 3D printers.

For starters, a typical consumer 3D printer is essentially a hot glue gun controlled by a computer. This type of 3D printing is known as Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) or Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). It works by laying down consecutive layers of material at high temperatures. Instead of carving an object out of a block, it creates an object from scratch. This is known as additive manufacturing and makes it possible to create some truly amazing objects.

Here’s some key terminology to consider when purchasing a printer:

Filament – The material used to print with. Most of these are plastic-based. The most common filaments for 3D printing are PLA and ABS. We’ll be doing a follow-up blog post about the advantages and disadvantages of most of the common types of filament later in this series.

Build Volume – The largest size an object can be printed on that printer.

Layer Resolution –This is the layer height for each layer that is being printed. A small number indicates high detail, while a larger number indicates a lower-resolution print. Most 3D printers have a range of layer resolution between 0.05mm and 0.4mm.

When it comes to choosing a 3D printer, it’s important to consider a few key factors: price, size, speed, layer resolution, and compatible filament types.

Now let’s tackle the most important element of selecting a 3D printer: the price. Prices can range from $270 to $9500 depending on the size, quality, and brand. Take a look at your budget, keeping in mind that there are other costs associated with running a 3D printer effectively in a learning environment. To get the full benefit of having a 3D printer we suggest you budget 40% for the printer, 40% for the curriculum and 20% for filament. If your budget allows, we suggest allocating at least $800 for the 3D printer to get a quality machine.

Once you’ve figured out your basic price range, consider the other factors: size, speed, layer resolution, and compatible filament types. Of these factors, size and speed are the two most important ones. Although we’ve designed most of our kits to work on even the smallest 3D printers, a small build volume will limit what you can do with the printer. We suggest getting a printer with a build volume of at least 152.4mm (6”) x 152.4mm x 152.4mm. We also suggest looking at the printer’s speed. Selecting a printer which can print well at high speeds will enable you to create faster and therefore get more benefit out of the 3D printer. You can also increase the speed of manufacturing by getting multiple machines.

Now for the final two important factors: layer resolution and compatible filament types. These factors should be dictated by how you plan to use your 3D printer. If you are using a printer for detailed product testing or complex parts, a printer capable of accurate, high-resolution prints is imperative. However, if you are using this in a classroom or summer camp, very rarely will you need the objects to be printed in high resolution. Our default print setting for most of our kits is 0.3mm (or 300 microns) per layer. Every printer currently compatible with our system can print at that setting. Printing in high resolution simply increases the print time by causing the printer to have to go over everything more often because the layers are thinner.

When it comes to choosing a printer based on compatible filament types, the decision making should be done in much the same way. Unless you’re planning on doing anything fancy with your printer, a basic PLA or ABS printer will suffice for your everyday printing needs. However, we always suggest printing in PLA rather than ABS. ABS has been found to give off toxic fumes and is harder to print with than the non-toxic, biodegradable PLA. The only other filament that it is nice to be able to print with and is used in our system is a flexible filament such as NinjaFlex or Soft PLA. Any additional materials compatible with the printer is just a bonus at that point.

So, here’s the short version –

  • Price: Budget 40% printer, 40% curriculum (if in education),and 20% filament. Most quality printers start around $800.00.
  • Size: Minimum suggested build volume 152.4 x 152.4 x 152.4mm.
  • Speed: Faster = better, while maintaining quality
  • Layer Resolution: 0.3mm/layer will be sufficient for most objects.
  • Compatible Filament: PLA

My Top Picks for 3D Printers:

(In no particular order, these were selected based on price, quality, and build volume. We’ve also worked with the majority of these brands extensively with good results.)


Dremel 3D40 Idea Builder

  • Easy-to-use
  • Quality prints
  • Moderately fast
  • Large build volume
  • Enclosed for safety
  • Attentive support team
  • Wi-Fi Enabled
  • Assisted leveling
  • Can get a version which includes MyStemKits.com kits and curriculum.
    Price reflective of the printer by itself.

$1299.00


Dremel 3D20 Idea Builder

  • Easy-to-use
  • Quality prints
  • Large build volume
  • Enclosed for safety
  • Attentive support team
  • Lower price point than the 3D40 Idea Builder
  • Can get a version which includes MyStemKits.com kits and curriculum.
    Price reflective of that package.

$999.00


Lulzbot Taz6

  • Open-source, which makes it endlessly adaptable
  • XL build volume
  • Attentive support
  • Heated build plate
  • Multi-material compatibility

$2500.00


Makerbot Replicator

5th Gen.

  • Easy-to-use
  • Quality prints
  • Fast
  • Relatively quiet
  • Established brand
  • Large build volume

$1999.00


Lulzbot Mini

  • Open-source, which makes it endlessly adaptable
  • Attentive support
  • Heated build plate
  • Multi-material compatibility
  • Lower price point than the TAZ 6

$1250.00


PrintrBot Play

  • Established brand
  • Low price point
  • Works with Flexible filament

$399.00

Recently added:


CoLiDo DIY

  • Low price point
  • Quality prints
  • Large build volume
  • Requires some assembly

$299.00

 

There are a lot of 3D printers to choose from. Outside of a few exceptions, they’re all very similar and produce very similar results. What you must determine is what your needs are. What are you creating? How long do you have to produce it? How much are you willing to spend? 3D printing is the future for makers and educators and it’s time to open up your mind to the possibilities. So, what are you waiting for? Get started today!

We’ve assembled a comprehensive table of all printers currently compatible with our system, including links to their websites, price, filament compatibility, size, speed, and more. Download it here. 3D Printers Comparison Table.  

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