Wondering which 3D printer to buy?  When I get asked this, I don’t have an easy answer, but my recomendation is to do two things:

  1. Sort out what kind of 3D printer end user you are
  2. Do the research  3D printers that fit with #1

When I first set out to purchase a printer, I was asked “What are you using it for?”, which left me tongue tied, and still does. I just like to problem solve and fix whatever comes across my desk and I still don’t have a proper answer. “Uh, a doorbell ringer, er… well, a micro-controller case, quadcopter parts, cosplay props, gaming pieces, a wrench….ack, damn… you know like stuff you need…sigh…..EVERYTHING…”

What kind of end user are you?

The first question for a potential 3D printer buyer should be:

What kind of 3D printer end-user am I?

One way to match your needs to a printer is to look at the categories outlined by 3DHub, a community of over 23,000 printer owners  that allow its members (including myself) to rate their own printer.   Printers are rated on ease of use, quality of prints, community technical support, customer service (if available), and upgradability. Here is a summary of categories of filament printers:

Printer is rated on openness, upgradeability, print quality and community technical support. Designed for hobbyists, designers, and  small business and can be upgraded

A do-it-yourself (DIY)  kit is for those wanting to “tinker and get their hands dirty” . Offers the challenge of assembly and hopefully no compromises on print quality.  Fexibility to add upgrades or make modifications.  Rating is focused on community support.

Plug & Play
A printer designed to work straight out of the box with reliable print quality and low failure rates,  and customer support.  The limitation is the ability to make modifications.  Rated on reliability, ease of use, and customer support.

A printer that is under $1000 and rated on overall value for money.  Typically used by the price concious and new starters

I am in the enthusiast category, with modest DIY tendencies, a strong need for community and sensitivity to customer service. Luckily, my first printer, a Makerbot Replicator 2, has served me amazingly well. It is also one of the most reviewed printer on 3D Hubs after the Ultimaker 2, the Ultimaker Original Plus and the DIY Prusa i3.

Once you have an idea of your consumer category, your need for technical support, and and tolerance for dicking around with your printer, its time sort out which printer might suit you.

My top considerations considerations:

1.  Customer service (if available)

Many printer manufacturers are great a building awesome functional machines, but may not always be able to bridge the needs of a customer with the appropriate machine. It’s a wild west  in 3D printerland and I had to do my own research.  I think he battle for best 3D printer will be won in the field of customer service.  3D manufacturing companies and  need to equip front line staff with some sales and customer service 101 skills. That being said I have experience great customer service from both Makerbot and Printrbot.

2. Importance of community technical support
I have strongly relied on the support and infrastucture of existing communities.  The Makerbot, Reprap and Ultimaker communities are huge and offer an abundance of support online and often answer within minutes to posting on forums.   I do not want to spend alot of time on printer maintenance and when I do, I want to fix my problem quickly and get on with the business of printing.  Nothing sucks more than not finding a solution to a problem and printing down time.

3. Ease of use (both in harware and software)
I have to admit there is actually considerable technical skill required to get quality printed objects, regardless of the machine that you choose and there is no substitute for the time spent experimenting and getting to know your machine.  In addition to the hardware,  I think its worth considering your needs in preparing a 3D design for printing.  I find Makerbot desktop sufficient to translate my models into a printable file and do not have the need or patience to be more hands on with the language that instructs the printer to perform operations.

I am in the midst of purchasing another printer I don’t fin this an easy decision either, but I hope that this helps you get some idea of the kind of end user you are move onto comparing printers outline.

Here are some early results from the recent 2015 Make: 3D Fabrication Shootout .

…..read Part 2 of Which printer should I buy?





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