I’ve recently started looking into consumer 3d printers since I’ve been wanting to prototype models as I work out new designs, and the timeframe offered by printing services doesn’t really work for quick prototyping. I had kind of ignored developments in 3d printers for home use for a while because I felt like the printers either looked like they came out of someone’s garage, or because the affordable printers were actually pretty pricey (or more commonly both!). So I was really surprised at the design, build quality, and pricing of some of the newer 3d printers on the market. While the print quality hasn’t necessarily improved by leaps and bounds in the last couple years (especially relative to the quality I’m used to getting from companies like Shapeways ), they have improved in every other way. Which means all the discussion about 3d printing going mainstream is starting to look more and more accurate.
Below are a few recent printers that I’ve come across that look promising. Since I wanted to compile my own research somewhere I figured I should probably make this information useful by posting it to my blog (which was badly in need of some new content anyways ).
Up! Mini 3D Printer
One thing I’ve been surprised about is how so many of the 3d printers available for home use are not enclosed. Not only does this impact the print quality, but I just can’t see how breathing in the fumes of melting plastics can be good for you. So I was happy to find a few 3D printers incorporating an enclosed casing into their design. The Up! Mini does so while keeping the cost below $1000 (you can buy it from resellers like Inventables for $899). I’ve read various reviews around the web and as far as I can tell it seems to be a decent printer with it’s share of the usual problems that 3d printers at this point in development are expected to have (while it is “plug and play” it’s no Mac).
Robo 3D Printer
Aside from the fact that the guys behind it are local to San Diego, I liked the fact that this 3D Printer looks solidly made and sells for an affordable price of $699.[ Apparently many others have taken notice and their Kickstarter campaign did very well.] I’ve seen too many 3D printers that require attaching the many pieces of the frame together with screws and bolts and while I’m sure they work well, it just seems like something as delicate as 3D printing should have a solid frame with as few pieces as possible. Fewer joints and connections means less movement, and I assume less to worry about when troubleshooting. The Robo 3D is made from 2 main pieces giving it a solid construction as well as making it less of an eyesore.
Unfortunately the Kickstarter campaign did so well that any new orders won’t be shipped for 3-4 months. Check their site for more details.
Buccaneer 3D Printer
I wish I had seen this when it was up on Kickstarter because I might have taken a chance on it. The Buccaneer has all the qualities I was looking for in a 3D printer — minimal amount of parts, minimal and aesthetically pleasing enclosure, and a truly affordable price at $397. It was definitely inspired by not only Apple product design but Apple philosophy by hiding all the junk that goes on behind the scenes to make it as user friendly as possible. My only issue with that is that if an Apple product malfunctions you don’t need to take it apart because you can take it to an Apple store and have them fix it for you. That’s not really an option with the Buccaneer so as much as I don’t want to be messing with the innards of whatever 3D printer I end up getting, I can’t help but wonder if not being able to will be an issue with this printer. But I have to give them bonus points for the design. It doesn’t look anything like all the other 3D printers out there (and that’s a huge compliment).
Unfortunately the date for accepting pre-orders on their website jumped from August 2013 to December 2013 which means that if you didn’t get it during Kickstarter you’re not going to see one for a while. Also it seems unlikely that they will be offering it for as cheap as the Kickstarter price.
Check their site for more details and updates.
Other 3D Printers?
I haven’t really come across any other 3D printers that sell for less than $1000, come pre-assembled, and don’t look like a high school science fair project. But I suspect with the amount of interest in printers like the Robo 3D and the Buccaneer that have pushed the price down while promising quality, there will be more effort put into creating truly affordable printers. For 3d printing to really become mainstream it has to be seen as more accessible and a big part of that is the price. Having more quality printers at an affordable price is the only way for 3d printing to eventually become widely adopted.