3d printing and rapid prototyping has exploded recently. An industry that used to be super expensive now has some compelling choices under the $2000 and even under the $1000 mark. Today we at CNC Estab will be digging into all the machines that have come out recently to see just what you can get for your hard earned dollar.
The rise of cheap rapid prototyping / 3d printing machines
With the rise of Kickstarter, we’ve seen a ton of new exciting 3d printing machines available for home use. One thing to keep in mind is that there are a few different methods for 3d printing. Lets dig into this first before we get into the different kinds of models you can buy.
Different ways to 3d print – What’s the deal?
Essentially there are 7 – yeaht thats right – 7 ways that you can 3d print as classed by the American Society for Testing and Materials under the Addictive Manufacturing ASTM F42 group.
Here are the 7 different ways you can 3d print:
1. Binder Jetting
With binder jetting for 3d printing there are two materials being used. The liquid binder and the powder base. The binder is spread out and then the glue is spread using jet nozzles to set the powder base where needed. This is done over different layers, and then the powder is cleaned off to leave the bonded powder behind which will be the final object.
2. Directed Energy Deposition
Not found in home use machines. Essentially metal powder is used and it comes out of a nozzle combined with n energy source like a plasma arc or laser.
It looks like metal is getting squirted out, but the heat source bonds the metal powder together super quick. This is typically used with a 5 axis machine and an object is built up in layers. This process is used to create parts with tougher metal such as titanium.
3. Material Extrusion
Building a part up layer by layer, the extrusion nozzle shoots out material, but the nozzle is heated which will melt the material so it an be moved and added from different angles to produce a shape. Typically ABS and PLA plastic is used in this process. This process is probably the most common in household 3d printers.
4. Material Jetting
This process uses a nozzle that jets out little droplets and then is hardened by UV light layer by layer. The nozzle puts out actual build material and supporting material that you can remove later.
5. Powder Bed Fusion
As the name suggests you have a powder bed of your material (can be parts of metal, ceramic, plastic or glass). A high powered laser is then used to fue the powder into the desired shape. Then the powdered bed is lowered one layer at a time to produce different layers that will turn into a final object.
No support material is needed as the unused powder remains and becomes the support structure during the 3d printing process.
6. Sheet Lamination
This process builds up different sheets using an external fore. Essentially you take paper and glue or metal and ultrasonic welding in layers then layer up your object. This isn’t very common with home use.
7. Vat Photopolymerisation
As the name suggests you have a vat of photopolymer resin (clear very sticky bond glue type stuff for those who haven’t seen it. A UV light source then shoots into this vat and hardens parts of the resin (common process used is called SLA – Stereolithography). The light hardens the material in layers with the vat filling and unfilling as the light hardens every layer.
Top 3d printing/ rapid prototyping machines for your home or apartment
Now that we got the process out of the way, its time to look at what kind of machine might fit your needs.
Best sub $1000 machine: Flashforge 3d printer creator pro
Made by FlashForge, the FlashForge 3d printer creator pro is a highly regarded home printer made by FlashForge. At just under the $1000 mark, you’re getting tremendous bang for your buck. We love the build quality on this with the metal frame and the 6.3mm aluminum build platform.
With this sub $1000 machine you are getting an easy to maintain, durable 3d rapid prototyping machine. Using a dual extruder you will be making a lot of parts here out of plastic ABS.
The advantage to this printing machine vs some others is that there is an enclosed chamber. This is great for safety and protects your ABS prints during the layering process of the ABS plastic. You are going to have to tinker a little with this machine to get the best results (like every home 3d printing machine – but no more so though)
Best sub $500 3d printer
For those of you on more of a tighter budget, there are a few other options available out there. The HICTOP Prusa I3 3d desktop printer is the perfect fit here as one of the cheapest rapid prototyping machines for sale. At under $500 you can get this machine close to the $3-$400 mark. This is made in China and is cheaper because it is not fully enclosed.
The cheapness also reflects in the work to get this printer up and running. You`re going to have to assemble it yourself and calibrate it yourself. It took us a few days to get this machine assembled and calibrated correctly.
The unit does not come with an instructional cd, just an sd card with instructions and some sample .stl files. Like we mentioned earlier, it takes time to get this machine calibrated. The Cura software is okay to use, but you`re going to have to experiment a little with the printing speed, fill densities and the extrusion speed to get your print jobs cleaner, so you don`t have to finish the job by hand much. Overall if you have some time to assemble and tinker, the price point here can`t be beat.
Keep an eye out for the M3D though – more on this machine below.
Other 3d printers
Coming in between $2000 to $3000 this printer is a great professional 3d printer, its not the cheapest 3d printer, but allows this workhorse can create parts to sell over Etsy or for other commercial purposes.
Using resin to make your parts, you can have different types of resin formations and colors depending on the object being made. This unit has a fully sealed chamber but has a removable build platform for you to remove your part easily for the next print.
Great thing abut the Form 1+ compared to the HICTOP is that there is no calibration needed, you can get set up and printing almost as soon as you get the machine. The Form 1+ gets down to 25 microns (0.025 mm) so extremely detailed, and comes with a build volume of 125 mm x 125 mm x 165mm.
This is probably the cheapest 3d printer around, at only $100 its worth dipping your toes into the world of 3d printing. This printer uses resin as well which can be purchased through their website. With this machine you`ll be able to create some smaller objects. We`d recommend going with a higher end machine, but this is a great start, and can be a fantastic gift option.
This one started on Kickstarter and took a while to get out, but this promises to be the easiest to use 3d printer in the world. This 3d printer comes with some really cool features. The app allows you to wireless 3d print through your network and allows you to create 3d models on your actual phone to be printed. This eliminates the need for expensive software on your PC or Mac to get started.
With a highest layer resolution of 50 Microns (0.05 mm), and a max print size of 130mm x 96mm x 139mm, you can create some fairly sizable objects. Remember you can glue together parts to form a larger item.
The micro 3d printer allows you to print either PLA or ABS. This is a great printer for $350 or $450 with one PLA filament. Available in a range of colors including clear, this 3d printing machine comes in pretty cheap. But cheap here does not mean bad. This printer has the looks and layer resolution to go toe to toe with some of the higher cost printers out there.
Able to get down to 50 microns (0.05 mm) in resolution with a print area split into two, the base at 113 mm x 109 mm x 74 mm with and additional 91 mm x 84 mm x 42 mm on top. So an overall height of 116 mm. The Micro only really just hit the market, but we are confident this model has a great future ahead of it.
So which 3d printer are you interested in? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!