Should I Buy a 3d Printer? 7 Factors To Consider


3d printers have never been cheaper. Will they get cheaper yet? I have no doubt. Just like with computers that are constantly coming out with new, better, faster, can hold more and can communicate faster, 3d printers are no different. Here are seven factors to consider when deciding whether this is the time for you to buy a printer, or buy a newer printer for your home use.

Price

Prices are always coming down, but the lower that they go, the slower the drop is. Just three years ago, a DLP resin printer below $2000.00US was very difficult to find. The technology was new and the quality was much higher than anything that we’d seen to that point. Today, small footprint DLP resin printers are below $300.00US. That’s insane! You can use it to print at a z-axis layer height of 25 microns to get prints that are simply excellent.

Less expensive FDM filament printers are similarly priced. Some are sub-$200.00US, but I haven’t tried them to see what their quality is. The Ender-3 from Creality is a favorite, not only for the low price point, but the fact that it’s quality is rather good. FDM filament printers are not going to get as good results quality-wise as a DLP resin printer, but they have a whole host of advantages over DLP resin printers, too. Personally, I have one of each – an Ender-3 and an AnyCubic Photon.

For larger print volumes, you’ll have to spend more. The larger format Creality CR-10, for example, will cost around $400.00US and Prusa i-3 Mk 3 will cost double that. You are paying for larger volumes, but you’re also paying for higher quality in some cases. The Prusas are very well built, for example, and provide a good friend of mine with print after print in an issue-free environment. He just loves his, and he’s happy he spent more to get it.

Printer Physical Size

You have to consider your studio or work space when you consider a printer (or a second one, or a third one). For us home 3d printers, space is usually at a premium. The larger printers are just that – larger! So they’re going to need a larger footprint or more table space to operate. If you’re trying to keep it away from pets or children, then you may need a separate room to your normal living space to operate. Prints can take many hours and they need to be undisturbed. No cats playing with the filament spool, no children tapping the build plate, or anything like that.

Printers tend to use 120 volt plugs and don’t pull a lot of current, so access to a plug is all that you need. Most printers don’t need wiring directly to a computer to work. You can instead transfer a file to a USB thumb drive or a Micro-SD card and then load that into the printer. It means that you just have to transfer a small item to the printer, and not run cables through the house from the location of your computer to the location of your printer. Some printers can take advantage of directly connecting via USB cable or even ethernet, but it isn’t required.

Home Use or Factory Use

I say factory in the section header here, but what I am referring to is a home factory, or several printers all working simultaneously to produce more items. Many people buy several printers so that they can produce more models, all so that they can sell the completed items online or to local customers. Essentially, they’ve set up a mini-factory to produce models.

How does that affect your decision on if or when to purchase a printer? What makes the difference are the characteristics of those printers.

Speed or Quality

For home, hobby use, quality is likely more important than speed. You can likely leave a print overnight and come back the next day to get the completed model. For a home factory, speed may be of more concern, as long as the printer is good enough. One characteristic that you might not know if you’re just starting out in 3d printing is that FDM filament printers take longer to print when you add more things to print at the same time. So a model might take four hours. Two of the same model on the same build might take eight hours. Three might bring it up to 12 hours. I say might, as it may be slightly less, but only slightly. DLP resin printers don’t operate the same way. The time it takes is the time to make the tallest item. So, if you were able to put six of the same model into a build, then it would take the same amount of time as it would take to print just one. Every layer is printed at the same speed, regardless of how many models are in that layer.

Materials Handling

DLP Resin printers require you to have several cleaning baths set up to clean any completed models. That takes up space. It’s not too back, especially if you only use one set of baths but use multiple printers in a home factory use. For home use, you’ll need the baths too (one for isopropyl alcohol or Mean Green, and one for water), so no difference here.

You won’t have any of this sort of complication with an FDM filament printer. Sanding of the finished model may create some plastic dust that youll have to clean up, but the filament itself doesn’t need any special care in storage. Leaving it in a ziplock bag to isolate it from moisture is a good idea, though.

Safety

Resin for DLP resin printers is caustic and poisonous, so it’s vital to keep resin away from children and pets. This is supposed to be fun, and not deadly or harmful. I have a separate room for where my printing takes place, to isolate it from my pets. The door is closed at all times. I don’t want anyone to suffer for something that I do for fun. I have plenty of nitrile rubber gloves to use to safely handle the resin in its liquid form.

For FDM filament printers, you again have none of these concerns. Instead, there are many more moving parts with an FDM filament printer, and many don’t come with an enclosure to keep small hands or paws away. The printer will move in the x-axis, y-axis and z-axis, unlike only the z-axis for a DLP resin printer. If you’re living solo with no pets or kids, or have a dedicated room that you can close off, then you’re in good shape. Otherwise, think through the safety scenarios before picking up a printer. Prints with either style of printer take quite a while, and it’s impractical to sit and watch it for the whole print job when prints can take in many cases more than six hours to complete.

Build Volume Dimensions

Generally speaking, if you’re printing something small (like 4.5″ x 2.5″ x 6.0″ or smaller) and want high resolution, then you’ll want a DLP resin printer. If you’re printing something small (like 8.5″ x 8.5″ x 9.5″ or smaller) and want medium resolution, then you’re good with a smaller FDM filament printer. Larger prints, like 12″ x 12″ x 15″, will require larger format FDM filament printers. You can go even larger, but it’ll require more specialized FDM filament printers.

A new batch of larger format DLP resin printers is entering the market. They boast print volumes around 10.5″ x 6.0″ x 15.5″, so quite a lot bigger than the Elegoo Mars or AnyCubic Photon (more than quadruple the print volume, or double all three print axes). This is a great step forward, but the prices are just shy of $2,000.00US for these printers.

Here is a sample of current FDM filament printers and their build volumes and prices:

PrinterBuild Volume (mm)Build Volume (inches)Approximate Street Price
Prusa Mini180mm x 180mm x 180mm7.09″ x 7.09″ x 7.09″$349.00US
Creality Ender 3220mm x 220mm x 250mm8.66″ x 8.66″ x 9.80″$179.99US
Creality Ender 5220mm x 220mm x 300mm8.66″ x 8.66″ x 11.81″$394.99US
AnyCubic I3 Mega210mm x 210mm x 205mm8.27″ x 8.27″ x 8.07″$209.00US
Prusa I3 Mk3S250mm x 210mm x 200mm9.80″ x 8.27″ x 7.87″$749.00US
Creality CR 10300mm x 300mm x 400mm11.81″ x 11.81″ x 15.75″$410.00US
Creality CR 10S Pro300mm x 300mm x 400mm11.81″ x 11.81″ x 15.75″$529.00US
AnyCubic Predator370mm diameter x 455mm14.57″ diameter x 17.91″$415.00US

Here is a sample of current DLP resin printers and their build volumes and prices:

PrinterBuild Volume (mm)Build Volume (inches)Approximate Street Price
AnyCubic Photon115mm x 66mm x 155mm4.53″ x 2.60″ x 6.10″$269.99US
Elegoo Mars120mm x 68mm x 155mm4.72″ x 2.68″ x 6.10″$279.99US
Monoprice MP Mini Deluxe120mm x 70mm x 200mm4.72″ x 2.75″ x 7.87″$289.99US
Phrozen Shuffle XL190mm x 120mm x 200mm7.48″ x 4.72″ x 7.87″$1299.99US
Peopoly Phenom276mm x 155mm x 400mm10.87″ x 6.10″ x 15.75″~$1799.99US
(just entering the market in Nov 2019)
Phrozen Transform292mm x 165mm x 400mm11.50″ x 6.50″ x 15.75″~$1799.99US
(just entering the market in Nov 2019)

My recommended 3d printers, both DLP resin and FDM filament, can be found here (with their Amazon.Com links):
https://home3dprints.com/recommended-3d-printing-gear/recommended-printers/

Quality of the Prints

This is an obvious one, or is it? Print quality should always be as high as possible, but there are some tradeoffs. Generally speaking, DLP resin printers are higher quality for a print than their cousins, the FDM filament printer. You saw, in the section above, that the FDM printers, by and large, have a larger print volumes. So, for a person like me that wants to print highly detailed vehicle and figure models for tabletop gaming, the DLP printers win out. But I also want to print buildings for my tabletop games. These can be considerably larger. Luckily, my favorite designer of buildings breaks them up into parts small enough that they’ll fit on an Ender 3’s print bed (and short enough that they’ll fit in the Ender 3’s print volume). The Ender 3 (as with all FDM printers) doesn’t have the fine resolution of the DLP resin printers, but I don’t need the high resolution for a building model.

Sure, I could do a better job printing on one of the new Peopoly or Phrozen larger format DLP resin printers, but the resin costs will be higher than the same sized building printed on a smaller FDM printer. And the printer itself will be quite a bit more expensive. But the quality would be outstanding. There’s no doubt of that!  Really, it’s a cost versus quality fight, but remember that the Y-axis on these new larger format DLP resin printers is still only 6.5″ or smaller. That still might not be large enough. But if the model would fit, it would be of definitely higher quality coming from a DLP resin printer, especially since you could still print at 50 microns or even 25 microns if you want to take nearly double the time.

FDM printers are not equal in their quality, though. The resolution and layer heights of the FDM printers above do vary and can be set from 150 to 300 microns. Nozzle sizes can make a large difference, too. If you switch from a standard 0.4mm nozzle to a 0.2mm nozzle, your quality will go up (ensure that you set your slicer to know that you’re using the smaller nozzle). Your layer heights can drop to 100 or even 80 microns, and that means much slower printing, but you’ll gain much higher quality. You’ll also find that you’ll get more clogged nozzles to deal with, but if you can keep the filament clean going into the printer, you’ll gain great looking prints!

Special Material Features

Special materials can make a difference in the features of your print. For example, using a flexible plastic can give you rubber-like qualities to your finished model. This is ideal if you’re printing model tires for a scale race car, for example, or bendable connectors for use holding wires or connecting two models together but you need the joint to bend.

Different materials are available for FDM filament printers and for DLP resin printers. Have a look at these articles for ideas on what materials would be best for your use case:

What is the Best Filament for FDM Printing Figurines?

What is the Best 3d Printer UV Resin?

For normal model printing for home use, I would recommend PLA or PLA+ filament for FDM printers. The advantage here is that, if you don’t need special materials, then the PLA or PLA+ is cheap and comes in a ton of colors. Store it in the usually-supplied ziplock back and it will last for a good long time (over a year at least).

For DLP resin printers, using standard resin is your best bet for cost, and Eco-Resin for safer, pet and children (not to mention us adults) friendly resin. Note, though, that after cleaning and curing, all UV resin is just as safe. It’s the liquid resin that can be caustic and poisonous. The Eco-Resin comes in several bright colors, but not in bland gray which I like (it photographs well). The light blue, however, will photograph just fine, too.

Time (Should I Wait To Buy?)

There’s always new, better, larger, faster and more capable printers on the horizon. If you have a real need for a printer with a specific size or capability, and it’s not out yet, then by all means wait. For me, the reason to wait is the inevitable price drop. I’m very interested in the larger format DLP resin printers. But they’re being introduced at roughly $1800.00US. That’s a lot! I suspect, however, that if I wait for a year, that the new batch of whatever printers come out in late 2020 will drive these 2019 printers down in price. Down to what? Who’s to say. I’m hoping to buy one in the sub-$1000.00US range in the future, and I’m willing to wait.

FDM printers will likely do the same. Prusa introduced the Prusa Mini recently. It’s a smaller volume, but it has the Prusa excellent feature set, very low maintenance issues quality, and high FDM print quality. It’s an example of waiting to buy on a Prusa 3d FDM filament printer. The print volume is lower than many of the printers out there, but if what you’re printing is smaller, then this might be a good fit. Ender 3 is already a great price, and may drop in price as time goes on, too. Add-on modifications can be printed on it, for it! You can upgrade all sorts of parts, too, with aftermarket purchased parts to make it even better, from replacing the control circuit board to replacing the nozzle with a finer one.

Your mileage may vary on waiting. I waited just a little too long or not long enough on my AnyCubic Photon purchase. I waited until after the printer was $350.00US, and it went back to its $400.00US price range. I bought at that $400.00US price. A month later, AnyCubic started selling it for $279.00US. An earlier purchase would have yielded me a sale price, and later would have yielded me a lower normal price. But I timed it exactly wrong. I, like most of you, don’t have a crystal ball for telling the future. If any of you do have one, please pass it on! I could certainly use it!

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