Sales of 3D printers are soaring, and there's never been a better time to pick up a desktop unit and start modeling, prototyping, and creating. But not only is there a fair bit of jargon and terminology to understand, once you start looking for 3D printers, there's a vast array to choose from.
In order to try to help you, I've waded through dozens of printers to shortlist ten different units priced between $179 and $4,000, and then I've highlighted some of the important tech specs of those printers.
3D Printers: From $179 to $4,000, the price is right to buy one now (gallery)
When looking for a 3D printer, here are three things you might want to bear in mind:
- Build volume: How big a print is the 3D printer capable of doing?
- Materials: What filament material can the 3D printer use? The most commonly used material is PLA (polylactic acid), which is an odorless eco-friendly plastic made from corn starch. However, more expensive printers can use other materials -- such as ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), PET (polyethylene terephthalate) or nylon. There are even materials that are electrically conductive, or that have the look and feel of wood, clay, or even steel. There's even magnetic materials available. Different materials have different properties too, which might be useful if you need to make components that have a specific set of requirements. For more information on 3D printer materials, take a look at the excellent resource on MatterHackers.
- Resolution: How thin a layer the 3D printer can put down. The thinner the layer, the finer the end result.
Ultimately, which 3D printer is right for you will depend on a number of factors -- what you want to do with it, what materials you want to use, and your budget -- but with units starting out at under $200, there's never been a better time to get into 3D printing.