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Makerbot, PrintrBot, Fab@Home and more -- where does one begin in the universe of personal 3D printer (P3DP) choices? Given the exponentially growing number of additive manufacturing (AM) systems targeted directly to consumers, you definitely have a few decisions to make.
Established systems and crowd-funded start-ups now number in the dozens, and are getting more exciting by the week. From total-do-it-yourself to assembled-but-needing-attention to almost-completely-out-of-the-box, the variety of choices dictates you do your homework. DE gives you questions to consider and resources to read or view for sorting out the best fit for your interests, skills and budget.
P3DPs are the man-in-the-street response to commercial AM systems whose prices have, until recently, started above $20,000 and often run to $100,000 and more. Emerging from both university-based and individual efforts, the P3DP movement began in 2004 with the open-source RepRap Project at the University of Bath, England.
Invented by engineer and mathematician Adrian Bowyer, RepRap stands for Replicating Rapid-prototyper, a Tinker Toy-looking structure that builds parts layer by layer by extruding melted plastic filament such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and biodegradable polylactic acid (PLA). (This approach is often compared to Fused Deposition Modeling, or FDM, the approach Stratasys invented in 1989.) In addition to its simplicity, the radical aspect of a Rep Rap system is that its software, documentation and designs are distributed at no cost under the open-source GNU General Public License. Further, a driving philosophy and primary feature is that the system can build 50% of the parts needed to build another identical system -- thus, the term replicating.
Glacier Steel, a sturdy, steel-frame RepRap printer from The Future is 3D. Image courtesy The Future is 3D.
The Cannonball Allstar from iPrint Technologies is a RepRap-based 3D printer, available assembled or in a kit. Image courtesy iPrint Technologies.
Dozens of companies have since sprung up that sell RepRap part kits and fully assembled models. In addition, in 2006, a new evolutionary branch of the P3DP concept began with the introduction of the Fab@Home system. Developed by Hod Lipson and Evan Malone of the Cornell University Computational Synthesis Laboratory, the Fab@Home project replaces the filament and nozzle of RepRap with a syringe feeder for material placement. This latter design allows the use of any semi-solid material of a consistency that will feed through the syringe -- supporting 3D printing in silicone, cement, frosting, chocolate and more.
This fast-paced subculture has already created multiple printer generations, and inspired dozens of straight-talking blogs, forums and user groups. Some online communities focus on a single brand, while others discuss and compare systems, software, materials and the personal-printing universe in general. To ensure a good fit, minimize frustration and get totally psyched, you could, and should, spend hours learning from these experienced users.
What’s Your Type?
Where do your interests lie?
- Does opening a box filled with nuts, bolts, rods, plates, motors and gears just make your day? Do you push the operational limits of every piece of hardware that comes your way? Is there anything in your shop that you haven’t modified in some way to improve its performance? Then you’re the classic kit customer, well suited to the assembly, calibration, repair and tweaking often required to get the most from your system. Kits start at $549 (PrintrBot).
- Are you a hands-on person with a streak of geekiness who doesn’t mind fine-tuning a device to make it work its best? Do you want to spend more time designing and printing objects than dealing with the printer itself? Then you’ll probably be happiest buying a fully assembled model from a company that provides strong online support. Just announced, the assembled RepRap-style Solidoodle starts at $499.
- Have you been waiting for a P3DP that eliminates the whole wires-and-struts look and might have more in common with your coffeemaker? Even you can join the P3DP revolution, though currently you’ll pay more for the opportunity. Bridging the office-desktop and kitchen-counter, these more productized systems range from $1,299 to $19,900, but can create pieces with quality rivaling those from production AM equipment. (3D Systems has made quite a splash entering this market with its new Cubify Cube.)
You’ll find many details to keep in mind as you compare systems, so don’t choose by price alone. Basic differentiators are build envelope (the cubic dimensions of the largest part you can build), part smoothness (mostly affected by layer thickness and build speed, which can vary greatly), and available materials. Most systems are driven by computer (PC vs. Mac), but some read files directly from an SD card. Verify whether all electronics -- and possibly a heated build-platform -- are included.
The 3D Systems Cube 3D printer creates parts from a filament of ABS plastic, available in many colors. Image courtesy 3D Systems/Cubify.
The ABS filament Up! V1.1s printer; the extruder moves in the x-axis only, while the build platform moves in the y and z directions. Image courtesy Delta Micro Factory.
Think, too, about multiple-color (dual/triple head) printing, delivery cost, lead time and whether you care if your system can use any supplier’s materials (you could be locked into those sold only by the system manufacturer).
Dozens of RepRap Choices
ABS plastic part created on a BotMill (RepRap style) system. Image courtesy BotMill.
RepRap.org offers instructions for building its Prusa Mendel, MendelMax, Wallace, Original Mendel and RepRapPro Huxley models. A number of companies sell kits and/or assembled units based on these designs; representative models with build volumes and pricing are as follows (see company websites for additional models and specifications):
- BitsfromBytes (a 3D Systems company): RapMan 3.2 (270x205x210mm, kit $1,390); 3DTouch (275x275x210mm, assembled, single-head version $3,490).
- BotMill (a 3D Systems company): Axis (200x200x140mm, kit $1,065), Glider (same, assembled $1,395).
- Buildatron: Buildatron 2 (200x200x140mm, kit $1,599; assembled $2,500). You can send Buildatron pictures of problem builds, and the company will help diagnose what went wrong and how to fix it.
- Delta Micro Factory: UP! v1.1s (140x140x135mm, assembled $1,499); Up! Mini (enclosed structure, just going into production, 120x120x120mm, assembled $899). Extruder moves in x-axis only, while platform moves in y and z directions.
- The Future is 3-D Inc.: The company builds RepRaps for you, no money down. Mendel Basic comes in three sizes: smallest build 300x300x240mm, assembled $2,100; largest build 406x406x292mm, assembled, $2,300. Glacier Steel, with one-piece-metal construction, has a largest build of 406x406x445mm, assembled, $2,800.
- iPrint Technologies: Prusa Explorer (200x200x100mm, DIY kit, $595; semi-assembled, $795, assembled, $995); Cannonball Allstar (200x200x120mm, DIY kit, $1,195; assembled, $1,595).
- Leapfrog: Creatr (hobbyist, 300x250x260mm, assembled $1,635); Xeed (business, 370x340x290mm, assembled $6,438); robust laser-cut aluminum housing.
- Makerbot Industries: Thing-O-Matic (listed here for completeness, but no longer available); Replicator (225x145x150mm, assembled single head $1,749); Dualstrusion ($1,999).
- MakerGear: Mosaic, for people primarily interested in printing (127x127x127mm, kit $899; assembled $1,299); Prusa Mendel, for the true build/mod/maintain user (203x203x203mm, kit $825).
- Mauk Custom Creations: Cartesio M(edium) VO.5, a desktop computer numerical control (CNC) machine with a 3D print extruder (200x200x200mm, kit $2,256).
- PrintrBot: funded through Kickstarter.com, just started shipping kits in March (152x152x152mm, kit $549).
- Robot Factory: 3D ONE (245x245x245mm, assembled $3,926).
- Solidoodle: Solidoodle 3D printer (152x152x152mm; assembled $499 Base Model; Pro Model with heated platform, $549).
- SUMPOD: SUMPOD BIG (300x250x150mm, kit $718); SD card-reader included.
- Ultimaking: Ultimaker, described as having very simple electronics (210x210x220mm, kit $1,562).
An example of a classic, open-source RepRap Mendel 3D printer. Image courtesy RepRap.
Choc Edge 3D edible chocolate printer (Fab@Home style) system, showing extruder syringe dispensing melted chocolate. Image courtesy Choc Edge.
The World of Fab@Home
The Fab@Home project includes hundreds of engineers, inventors, artists, students and hobbyists across six continents -- all with broad production goals ranging from food to toys to replacement parts to buildings. Its roots were in the design of a robot that could “evolve” by reprogramming itself and producing its own hardware; the project quickly became much broader. One of its key elements is the openness to use multiple materials, such as edible ingredients or a two-part epoxy.
Compared to RepRap designs, Fab@Home systems are still much more DIY projects, with numerous parts suppliers listed on the project’s website. The original Fab@Home Model 1 has a build volume of 203x203x203mm; Model 2 has the same build volume, but has been redesigned to perform better and be easier to assemble, particularly with respect to the electronics.
- Essential Dynamics: Imagine 3D Printer (203x203x203mm, assembled $2,995).
- The Next Fab Store: Fab@Home v1 (203x203x203mm, kit $1,950; assembled, single syringe $3,300); v2 (203x203x203mm, kit, single syringe $2,125; double syringe $2,500)
More Recent P3DP Activity
There seems to have been an explosion this past year in the P3DP development field. 3D Systems’ new Cubify Cube certainly elevates the legitimacy of this market. The sleek, fully assembled ABS-filament-fed unit features a build volume of 140x140x140mm and was specifically designed for home use. It employs USB and Wi-Fi connectivity and costs $1,299.
Websites and Blogs to Follow
in the Personal 3D Printer World
Most personal printers have a corresponding forum or blog, such as forums.reprap.org, bitsfrombytes.com/forum, forum.ultimaker.com, makerbot.com/community and pp3dp.com/forum/ (for the Up!). It’s definitely worth your time to read these to learn what real users think. General online communities include the 3D Printer Forum (around for about 18 months), CubifyFans.blogspot.com, FabAtHome.org/?q=forum, and 3D Printer Users (which relates an excellent step-by-step experience of building a RapMan 3.2).
Here are a number of additional sites that are all worth an extended read, plus an e-report:
Many more systems are in the works, including those launching via the new wave of crowd-funding online communities such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Makible. An extremely hot topic is the development of a personal, high-resolution ultraviolet (UV)-cure-resin printer; several are for sale, while some are just at the prototype stage:
- Veloso: high-resolution 3D printer based on TI’s digital light processing (DLP) projector and liquid photopolymers; Indiegogo crowd-funded (150x112x200mm, Basic Kit I without projector, motors or linear guides, $599; Basic Kit II without projector, $1,999; Full Kit $3,999).
- MiiCraft: DLP pico-projector-based system with open-source software (43x27x180mm, kit with projector approximately $2,000).
- LemonCurry: UV photopolymer DLP 3D printer; Google open-source project.
- ScribbleJ on Thingiverse: DLP-based resin printer (prototype, used parts purchased for less than $200).
- Vienna University of Technology: LED-cured resin (“milk-carton sized,” possibly $1,570).
Building on the RepRap design:
- Makibox: Makible crowd-funded (kit listed at $350).
- Maxifab: 3D Printing Framework (203x203x203mm, looking for funding on Kickstarter).
- SUMPOD: Aluminum Small (120x120x100mm, assembled $653, Indiegogo pricing).
New in the Fab@Home world is the Choc Creator chocolate extrusion-printing machine from Choc Edge (175x175x70mm, assembled $3,256). In addition, a P3DP based on sintering powders is under development: Check out BluePrinter ApS’ selective heat sintering (SHS) thermal print-head printer for plastics (160x200x140mm, assembled $13,079).
Space constraints limit this discussion to the basics. Depending on your needs, you may want to put in the required web research hours to learn more about the many P3DP and hobbyist offerings online.
June 23, 2012
February 7, 2012
I'll let you decide what to buy but I want to give my two cents about the $1300 3D Cube. I've been really intrigued by it but I haven't found any customer reviews of it yet. I've also been wondering if it has been designed so you have to buy filament from them. They've also got an "Activate" button on their web site and that makes me wonder if they've limited the use or installation of the software.
I also think it would be good if you pick something that is self-contained, rugged and easy to transport if we're going to be using it in libraries or other borrowed spaces for a while.
And I have concerns about the quality of the objects that some printers can produce. I've seen some hobbyist class printers make objects that could politely be described as blobs of plastic not worth making.
Finally, I saw a list somewhere with the price of raw material for many printers, including the professional quality ones, and some of them were incredibly expensive to operate. Material cost was sometimes over $10 per ounce.
February 7, 2012
We don't need a lot of people involved but I'd like to see a group recommendation. I may make some suggestions but I'm not going to second guess its decision unless I think it hasn't been well researched or thought out. The group is also going to need to figure out how to charge for the filament that's used.
I may not have made this clear at breakfast but I'd also like someone to take charge of training, reserving library meeting rooms or finding other spaces to use it in.
A 3D printer could be so popular that we might need more than one soon. So I'd like to suggest thinking a little about what we might want to build or buy after we get our first printer.
May 8, 2012
When I have more time I am going to read your whole post John because I am really interested. I read Lifehacker.com everyday and a couple weeks ago they had a whole series of 3D modeling "classes". Link
John, out of those which do you think are the best? Does bigger size = better?
February 7, 2012
I have spent a lot of time reviewing this but the $549 Solidoodle pro model is hard to beat for your 1st unit Rob. The material is also the low priced at 2lb for $43.
Take the time to read this link… http://reviews.cnet.com/3d-pri…..88066.html
But, no one has received their units yet so it may be prudent to wait until the buzz gets out on the internet when people actually get these in their hands.
February 7, 2012
John, it might be prudent to wait but I ordered one anyways. I trust your judgement and I think the risk in being an early purchaser is small because of its low price. Replacement parts are also very inexpensive compared to the Cube and its open construction and standard components should make it easy to fix if we need to.
I ordered the "Expert" model which comes with a heated platform and a full enclosure, along with a reel of black filament. I was going to buy more filament but I didn't know what colors to get. Unfortunately, the deliver time is 8 to 10 weeks (wait time for the 3D Cube is 6 weeks).
Can I get you or someone else to write a blog post about our new asset?
May 8, 2012
July 9, 2012
Just curious of the focus of the organization is going to be on 3D printing in the short term? While I know that the technology is cool, I also know that the reason that Sally got involved (and thus, my connection) was for woodworking, cabinetry, possibly doing some garden container building, and eventually (if things go her way), she wants to see a commercial kitchen (but probably not any time soon) that can be used for people to make things that they can sell (you typically can't sell something made in your home kitchen).
So I'm just curious if 3D printing is going to be the main draw in the short term.
February 7, 2012
February 7, 2012
This video shows a exoskeleton that was made for a little girl who does not have the strength to raise her arms. It was made with a professional 3D printer but it could probably be made with our hobbyist-class 3D printer.
We probably won't be making exoskeletons with it. But our maker space is going to have wide variety of tools along with many smart creative members with all kinds of knowledge and skills. And that combination could result in a some truly amazing inventions or ideas.
November 12, 2012
December 8, 2012
February 7, 2012
The printer arrived Monday and I haven't tried to use it yet. I will say that it came in a sturdy box and it was very well protected by foam. Its "fit and finish" also looks excellent.
I'd like to get a small group together at my house soon to learn how to use it and to start writing a simple users manual for it. The instructions on their web site are good, but not great.
I've also read reviews that weren't very favorable, but I've also read some very positive ones. We'll find out for ourselves soon.
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