How to Choose Your First 3D Printer
Part of the catalyst for starting 729 Labs was to have a place to showcase awesome things that members of our team are working on, as well as show our “build, measure, learn” mentality through exciting projects. Currently 729’s own CEO Rob Fife is learning about 3D printing by building his very own droid!
“This was the decision (to learn to 3D print) I made around the droid building and figuring I’d kill two birds with one stone, that I would learn 3D printing while experimenting with the droid building, and giving myself the refresher course on electronics, which had become really stale, it seemed like the right approach.”
Rob sat down and told me all about the 3D printer he chose and gave me some insight into the way he set up his fun new machine.
In the end he chose the Creality CR-10, explaining that it was a combination of price and features, as well as good reviews that really helped him land on this printer. Originally he really wanted the LulzBot TAZ 6, but this printer is fairly expensive at about $2,500 bucks and it seemed like too much of a risk to start with something that expensive. Rob also looked into models such as the Tarantula, however with printers like this, the first thing you had to do with it was print a series of parts to actually make the printer itself usable, and that seemed like a rough go. The Tarantulas frame is made of plexiglass, and without the added parts it was too shaky for fine detailed printing.
He also looked into other models from LulzBot and MakerBot, but their printer beds were not big enough for printing structural parts. The bed on the CR-10 is 400 by 400 and 300 millimeters tall on the z-axis. (When you’re standing in front of the printer, Y is forwards and backwards, X is left and right, and Z is up and down.) It has a fully metal frame using MakerBeam or something similar. Because it has a fully metal frame, it’s a lot more rigid out of the box and it has that large print bed.
The CR-10 does have five or six pieces that the company suggests you print early, although they’re not required for basic printing functionality. Rob said, “ I actually wish I had printed some of these pieces a little earlier. Especially the bed-leveling knobs made my life a lot easier.” He has added a camera mount for a GoPro-style camera to take some time lapse video of the prints, and knows there will be some additional upgrades to print for the machine itself. For example, printing and installing the strain-relief addition for the cables to prevent the cables from being yanked out during printing.
When buying a 3D printer it’s more in the neighborhood of purchasing a table saw or something like that, that comes in a box and is in pieces. It’s not like a power drill where you charge it up and you’re ready to go. 3D printers require some assembly and some tuning even without printing the other parts. During his research Rob found several people who talked about spending days and weeks trying to get these printers together. One of the things that was a positive about the CR-10 was that most people said it took about an afternoon to set up. And that seems spot on. Rob said it took about three hours to get the printer together, running and spitting out a mess of spaghetti.
Here’s a table that shows the various specs that Rob was reviewing and comparing for each of the 3D printers under consideration. While there are certainly many more printers available on the market, this chart is a great starting point and includes many of the items that are important for consideration when choosing the right printer for you.
|Printer Brand||Price||Out of the Box Ready?||Print Bed Size||Bed Heat Max||Printable Materials|
|LulzBot TAZ 6||$2500||Yes||280 mm x 280 mm x 250 mm (11.02 in x 11.02 in x 9.8 in)||110℃||PLA, ABS, HIPS, Nylon Copolymers, Copolyesters, Wood, Metal, Stone, Polycarbonate, PVA|
(11.8″ x 11.8″ x 15.8″)
|80℃||PLA, ABS, TPU, Copper, Wood, Carbon Fiber, Gradient Color etc.|
(7.87 in x 11.02 in x 7.87 in)
|110℃||PLA, ABS, PETG, Wood, PVA and Flexible Filaments|
(11.6 x 7.6 x 6.5 IN)