Saturday, February 22, 2014

Object [printing] Lesson 1: Simple. Do your homework.

The decision has been made, we will be printing objects at my house (see my last post, entitled Why I chose to print objects at my house).  I now have to select and buy a printer.  How hard could it be?  It's a new space, right?  Can't be too many options, right?  Wrong.  Boy, was I in for a surprise.  It's clearly a craze; everybody wants to make a 3D printer!  I guess, in this way, things are different from 1984 when, to my recollection, it was pretty much Mac or nothing if you wanted WYSIWYG printing.

In 1984, your only option was pretty expensive.  As I recall, dad spent something like $3K for the Mac and the printer together.  Oh, it hurts to think of how much that was for compute power that was far less than what we have in our phones today!  I digress.  The upside of this 3D printer craze is a wide variety of choice and price.  In fact, by the end of my research, I had discovered more than 2 dozen different printer models to consider!  It's hard to find just the right one, as 3D printer stores aren't found on every corner or even in places you might think, like Best Buy, at least not yet.  So, despite all the information on the web, you are likely buying without seeing the real deal.  So, it's important to do your homework.

I started with a name I had heard about before, Makerbot.  They look like fabulous printers and there are good reviews for them.  However, the base price was, for me, a bit steep given my objective.  Next was to Google 3D printers.  Quite a few will come up.  I salivated at what could be produced by the professional printers manufactured by Stratasys, who recently purchased Makerbot.  I found and looked at Cubify, RepRap, and 3D Systems. I was surprised to see Amazon selling a variety of printers.    I began to be wooed by the Solidoodle and was thinking that might be a good one for me.

Then I discovered the Bible of 3D Printing, MAKE: Magazine's Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing.  If you are thinking about buying your own printer, make the $10 investment and read this.  I put it on my iPad and read it cover to cover.  Fantastic stuff in there from how 3D printers are being used to reviews of 23 different printers to information about the materials and software.  It's a wonderful source of information.  After reading this guide, I was even more excited about the space and made my selection.  The printer for me would be the Printrbot Simple.  It won the "Best Value" category in the reviews and I liked what the reviewers had to say about it.

I went to the Printrbot site to order the printer - it turns out there are options.  They make 3 different printers, but beyond the models, they also sell them as kits!  So, if you are a capable "maker", you can assemble it yourself and save $100!  Yeah, I didn't do that.  I'll take a pre-assembled piece of precision electronics, motors, and wires, please.  Remember that I mentioned Amazon?  Before placing the order from Printrbot that indicated a 2 to 3 week lead time for an assembled printer, I checked Amazon.  They sell assembled Printrbots and ship free via Prime.  Sweet.

I ordered from Amazon and added filament to my order.  Buyer beware here.  If you choose to buy with Amazon, pay very close attention to the filament and get the right type.  Amazon showed ABS filament (it's a type of plastic that has a higher melting point) with the printer.  However, the Simple only support PLS filament.  Guess which one I ordered?  Yep, ABS.  Discovered that after shipping and had to return it.

There you have it, Lesson One:  Do your homework.  There are many many options and a wide variety of prices.  Get the magazine and pay close attention to your filament purchase!

BTW, my printer is here.  It's surprisingly small.  I knew it had a small print volume (4" cube), but the printer itself is much smaller than I expected, like only a foot long and a foot tall when fully extended.    I have sample filament that came with it, but no extra filament due to my poor observational skills.  It's time to print something!

Stay tuned for Lesson Two: Be careful when feeding filament for Mr. Shark.

No comments:

Post a Comment