Do I need 3D printer?

The question in the title is the question for you. I already own 3D printer. I like gadgets – I’m simply a boy who is a little bit older. From time to time I dare to buy something for pure joy. I play with such toy for a while, and I’m selling it back, or I’m giving it to my children. This is the case I was wondering if I need a 3D printer or not. Will it be just another toy? I want you to consider the following thoughts:

What for will I use it?

The question I was asking myself was – what for? If it comes to printing some cool models found on the Internet, it seems more comfortable to order them from someone who is experienced enough. The cost will be much lower than buying the printer on our own and printing few samples. I’m aware that sometimes my desire to have something lasts rather short. I was not sure if I will have enough ideas and needs to make use of such gadget. Do you think that you will have?

On the other hand, I’m also a handyman. I like to do various things on my own, and I’m spending a lot of time in my garage working with wood, preparing furniture to our flat or fixing things in our RV. Wood is my material of choice because this material is relatively easy to shape and not so expensive. I can sometimes learn by trial and error and master my skills affordably.

From time to time I have to go to the nearby store to buy some metal joints, screws and other small things. In some cases, it would be handy to be able to print particular joint or – let’s say – cover to hide the hole I just made. I made a list of things I would like to print, and I reviewed this list from time to time to see if I have something to add or maybe some of the things I listed are no longer needed. The list was my way to find out if I would really use a 3D printer for something useful or not.

Summarizing, have you considered what will you use it for? If you have only a few ideas or you just want to print few cool things, consider ordering them from someone else.

What kind of printer?

While looking at the sample printouts pictures, I noticed that the layers are somewhat visible on samples printed on most of the popular filament based printers. I was not sure if this is a significant issue or not. It would be great to have a printout which is perfect, but this requires resin based, rather expensive device. On the other hand, I was thinking of something which is rather inexpensive and not that hard to assemble.

If you want to buy the printer which will not cost you $1000 or more, you should stick to DIY sets with the pre-programmed mainboard. I found a few ready-to-use printers which were not that expensive, but they required filament sold by the manufacturer or they are tied to the particular software. Since I’m able to handle assembly on my own, I was sure that I want DIY set. On the other hand, I don’t have a lot of time, so the stories of fellows who spent few days assembling their first printer scared me a little. Finally, I found a delta-type printer Anycubic Kossel which was described as relatively easy to assemble. It was also really cheap: you can buy it under $200.

The assembly of such device is not very complicated, but it requires some expertise in mechanics, some imagination, and ability to read and understand the manual. The problem is that these not-expensive devices have also not-so-well written manuals. I had to use my imagination too frequent. The good thing about the delta type printer was that it was straightforward to prepare and understand the principles. All motors are working in the same way, in most cases, you just have to do the same assembly step three times, and that’s it. The one more advantage of assembling your printer on your own is that you are getting used to it and getting to know each part of it.

Summarizing – I chose cheap, easy to assembly, delta type printer. I just wanted to check if I will be able to handle it and if I will be able to create printouts which will be useful in any way. Even if I fail, the loss will not be that big, and I can simply sell it back to someone else. Such approach requires some expertise to be able to assemble the printer.

Printouts preparation

One more thing you should consider is that you will have to prepare your models on your own if you want to produce something specific. As I wrote before, I was not interested in printing cool things from the Internet – I tried to use it to help me in my garage projects.

I was using CAD editors for some time now. I know that for most of my projects I will be able to handle drawings. If you have had no opportunity to draw something in 3D before, you may find it challenging. This is not only the matter of the creating the model itself but also matter of preparation in such way, that it will be able to be printed – without loose ends and parts hanging in the air. With proper dimensions and shape.

For my first models, I chose easy things. Simple round-shaped cover, two wire clips, two simple cubes just as a test. Once I was sure that I could handle such primitive models and I’m able to prepare them from idea to ready-made printouts, I started to play with more complicated ones. Looking at the sample models made by professionals, mine are still relatively simple, but they are more and more useful for me.

Summarizing – will you be able to prepare your models on your own? If you will need the help of professionals, you should consider ordering prints instead of producing them on your own. But you can also learn how to draw in 3D – it can also be kind of self-improvement for you.

First printouts

It was really exciting to wait for my first test printouts. I made few mistakes when configuring slicer software and I received rather strange results, but my third model went good enough to be examined by my also excited colleagues. There are layers visible, but given that there are 5 of them per millimeter, they are not that bad. When you are looking at the photos of someone else models, they seem to be bigger – most likely because test printouts are rather small.

The small size also comes with reason – the bigger the printout is, the longer it takes to print. I’m printing not so big pieces, using only a few grams of the filament, but they are taking 1-2 hours to be fully printed. This means that much larger projects will require whole night to be ready. If you want your results fast, you will not get them from the regular 3D printer.

Is it worth it?

Considering that my initial list of ideas is now growing exponentially, I can assume that buying the 3D printer was a good idea in my case. I’m able to handle most of the mechanic issues with the printer itself, I can design and prepare my prints all on my own and I’m not that tied to the finest quality of my works – they should be useful. I’m glad that I started with such an easy to assembly printer and I’m able to test my ideas. Now I’m starting to know what is really important for me and I can think of my next choice.