I remember when I was planning my first 3D printer purchase. These were endless hours of browsing phrases like “3D printer choice criteria” or “the most important 3D printer details/parts”. Almost every article’s main point was “it depends on what do you want your 3D printer to be used for”. And this is obviously true. Of course, I know that this is not what you are looking for, so in this article I would like to introduce you to a list of the seven most-important features of 3D printers which you need to look at before buying a new one of your own.
- Build volume
This is usually the first parameter given by 3D printer manufacturers. It determines the maximum size your printed element can be. It involves three numbers. The first two are the length and width of your printing, and the third is height. So, at the beginning you should think about the biggest thing that you might want to 3D print with your device, and reject all the 3D printers whose build volume is too small. You should also pay attention to the units used. Some manufacturers use inches, others use millimetres or inches, so be careful.
- The build platform
The heated bed is one of the most-important parts of a 3D printer. Simply speaking it is the base on which the first layer of your printing is set up. There are many types of bed available in 3D printers but the main difference between them is whether they are heated or not. In this case I would definitely recommend to go for a heated one. In most cases it is not a big expense, but most importantly it significantly improves the adhesion of your 3D printing to the bed, especially when using ABS material. And, believe me, printing which detaches itself from the bed five minutes before the expected finish is one of the worst things a user can possibly encounter.
- Frame stiffness
The frame is the part (or numerous parts) which holds your 3D printer together. Since your device’s extruder will move back and forth rapidly, you should look for machines with a decent, solid frame. The aim is to minimize the shaking of the whole construction, which is important to achieve good quality in your 3D prints. From my personal point of view, I would advise you to look for frames built of metal parts only; if your budget is high enough you should avoid plastic joints, since in most cases they make the construction wobbly.
- Printer software
Software is one of those things nobody pays attention to. In my opinion that could turn out to be a huge mistake, especially when you are not yet familiar with 3D printing. Many 3D printers use open-source software, and this is a cool thing. However, numerous parameters can be overwhelming for you at first sight if you are a 3D printing fresher. On the other hand, you could look for devices with dedicated software or even plug&play versions. This will certainly make everything easier at the beginning.
- The number of nozzles
Almost every desktop 3D printer has one nozzle. Almost every industrial 3D printer has two nozzles. Where does the difference come from? You might think that the price is the answer, and you’d be partially right, but, in fact, an additional nozzle is not only an unnecessary gadget. In most cases the first nozzle is used to produce the actual model, and the second one creates the support. When your 3D printer has one nozzle, both the actual model and the support are printed with the same material, and they stick together. As a result, the customer must spend additional time getting rid of this support material manually, and it doesn’t look nice. Using an additional extruder affords the chance to use dedicated water-soluble material which will disappear after putting your 3D printed model into the water for a couple of minutes. Sounds easy, huh?
- The heated chamber
It is a similar case as with nozzles. Industrial 3D printers have one, most of desktop ones do not, except for a few. The reason why manufacturers use whole isolated and heated chambers in their 3D printers is mostly a phenomenon called material contraction. Materials can change their dimensions according to the temperature, and making it more stable in a 3D printers chamber can really affect the quality and repeatability of your 3D prints. Internal heating is not the best solution for everyone, since it usually increases the 3D printer’s price, but you should at least make sure that your 3D printer’s interior is isolated in some way, or you should isolate it yourself; even cardboard can improve your printings.
- Other numerical printer parameters
Last but not least, some things are other parameters which the manufacturer can give in a printer description. These include the nozzle diameter, the z-axis single step, positioning, precision etc. For all of them, I would state a simple rule: look for the smallest numbers within your budget. They all affect the quality and precision of your 3D printed model, but a detailed explanation what they mean would take another article like this one. I hope I will be given a chance to describe them for you in a while.
Please note that details described in this article do not cover the whole spectrum of 3D printers’ various features. These are, in my personal opinion, the most-important ones if you are choosing your first 3D printer for your specific use. I wish you a full satisfaction with your purchase!
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