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I'm interested in designing & 3D printing as a hobby (e.g. printing chess sets, small toys for family etc.)

Conducting a Google search has brought up a range of small, cheap printers, but beyond that I don't know how to differentiate them.

E.g. selling points include:

  • "liquid light-sensitive resin"
  • "partially assembled" with "very few parts and minor configuration"
  • "Wi-Fi enabled"

My question is, which features are going to benefit a small-scale, new enthusiast to 3D printing?

PS. The software I intend to use is Windows 10 3D design

PPS. I'm not a graphic designer by any means, just a new enthusiast.

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    $\begingroup$ I am not sure that this is a good question. Perhaps you should ask about the significance of a specific feature rather than requesting a list of all possible options? $\endgroup$ – Tom van der Zanden Jan 13 '16 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ I was in your shoes a few years back, and I strongly recommend against buying a 3D printer as a completely new enthusiast. If possible, I would suggest joining a FabLab near you to give it a try on a rented machine before buying. $\endgroup$ – Silver Quettier Jan 13 '16 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ When I started researching what machine to buy, I tried to absorb as much information as possible... Luckily here in London, we have iMakr, and they run free weekly courses and information sessions. If you are not near enough to London or NY, try hooking up on 3DHubs.com, they have a really helpful forum. $\endgroup$ – Cris Thompson Jan 13 '16 at 16:11
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @SilverQuettier for mentioning FabLabs. I hadn't heard of them before (well, as a new enthusiast I haven't heard of much yet...), but there are some near to me (Leeds, UK) $\endgroup$ – user191 Jan 13 '16 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ First Questions you need to answer are: 1. Fused plastic filament extrusion or Cured Resin? Fused plastic is easier and cheaper to start with. Resin is slower and more expensive... 2. What size things do you want to make. Most medium size printers will print something the size of a shoe. For small things and parts that fit together, this will be ok. If you want to print full masks or lampshades in single pieces, you will need larger. (larger = more expensive). 3. Budget. This will help with the question of kit version over complete machine. Checkout imakr.com for prices in UK and US. $\endgroup$ – Cris Thompson Jan 13 '16 at 16:16
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Here are few things to consider from my point of view


Printing technology

The first thing that you need to take into account is printing technology. The most common[citation needed] right now is Fused Filament Fabrication. "Liquid light-sensitive resin" is being used in Stereolitography and Digital Light Processing - the SLA printers I found are less common and more expensive than FFF ones.


Price

Need to decide on budget. You can buy printer for 60k USD and 400 USD. Quality is somehow linked to price but that's not a rule. You can buy a shitty printer for a lot of money.


Printing area

Bigger allows you to print bigger things. You need to ask yourself how big things you really want to print. Remember that 3d printing is quite slow process - how often you will want to print big things that will take 60hrs+ to finish?


Printing materials

What kind of materials you want to print with? Some materials will need higher temperatures so check the max hot-end temperature, some will require heated bed.


Assembled or DIY kit

You can usually get kits for self-assembly cheaper than Ready-To-Print machines. However, it will require additional skills (i.e. soldering), tools and time to assemble. I am not sure if I would buy DIY kit for commercial use, but as an enthusiast I immensely enjoyed putting my Rostock Max together.


Reviews and reputation

It is generally safe to buy printer that already has some users. Beware of new magical Kickstarter printers which will "change the 3d printing forever". Reddit /r/3dprinting suggests that your new printer should meet 3 criteria:

  • Printer passes the youtube test - has lots of youtube evidence that this particular printer is working.
  • Printer is out of the pre-order phase. This means that all pre-orders have been delivered.
  • Printer has a reputation of working well among current users.

I found it to be a very good set of rules.


Upgrade capabilities

That's very user-dependent, but this point is very important to me. I want to be able to change and improve certain parts of my printer. Check if you can switch the extruder, replace the hot-end etc.


Support

I think one of the most important points. See if you can find a forum for your printer and how active community is. It will be immensely helpful if something goes wrong (and it will). Also, company support is very important. What will happen if you need a replacement part or your printer will stop working altogether?


This list is definitely not complete. There are many more things that might be taken into account like configuration (delta or XY), multiple extruders, closed cases etc.

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I think the list of masteusz is a good one but before you can decide on what you need you have to get a better understanding of how 3D printing works, like Silver Quettier said. Please be aware that printing a object is yet not as easy as printing on paper. The machines that print 3D are more like industrial machines than that they are like your inkjet printer at home.

For the curious beginner I would suggest to first concentrate on modelling and printing technique.

Modeling

You can of course download things from ThingyVerse or YouMagine but you might be more interested in making things than printing them. I don't know Windows 10 3D design. I personally find Sketchup Modeling software a good entry-point because they have a large set of video tutorials and while you learn you can add more complicated extensions to the program. There are also extensions that help you make your model 'watertight' and 'ready for print'. Of course you can find heaps of tutorials on Youtube for other modeling software like freeCAD or Fusion but you might find it a bit overwhelming.

Printing

As suggested in the comments, you could start with letting your objects print by others. It's worth to set aside a small budget for that. They easiest to design for is SLS printing. You don't have to worry about overhangs etc. Buying a SLS printer is not an option but you can have it print at multiple printingfarms like Shapeways. You soon enough find out that making a print 'light' and hollow will save a lot of cash. Shapeways will tell you if there is anything wrong with your design too.

A bit harder is FDM printing where layers of threads are stacked. Because overhangs need support, most of the time extra plastic is printed that has to be removed later. Plastic is not expensive and insides can be printed hollow, so cost is not so much a thing you have to worry about when designing. On 3Dhubs you can find experienced people who own a printer and want to print for you. They can tell you what is printable and what not. If you have a hub near you this is a good option to get familiar with the technique. If you did that a couple of times you can decide to go to a fablab or makerspace where you lent/rent a printer. Make yourself familiar with slicing software like Cura before you go. There are many settings like for filling the space in the object and for making support for parts that 'hang in the air'.

When you buy a printer you probably print mostly with PLA and ABS and all printers can print that. Even when you own a printer you might sometimes want to print a part at Shapeways because of the material options or to make something that is impossible to print. 3DHubs gives you the possibility to experiment with a large range of printer and materials. Print quality though is often influenced by the experience level of the person printing it so don't deside what printer to buy on these results. 3DHubs has a good printer-guide.

On the other hand, having a printer yourself makes it a lot easier and more fun to print objects you have downloaded. Also, making something, seeing the result and then adjusting it, is a more organic way to learn and create designs.

Welcome to 3D printing ;)

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The number one most important thing about a 3-d printer is the Extruder/PrintHead component. If these are buggy, the printer is worthless. Seems like most printers are pretty good with everything else. The place that they die is in the Extruder/Print Head assembly.

The second most important thing is quality of the plastic parts. One nice thing about that is you can usually reprint the plastic parts by going to thingiverse.com and downloading them.

So, I'm on my 2nd printer. I returned the first one to amazon and may very well return the second one. It is a frustrating game. On thing I notice is that VERY FEW printers have a LOT of ratings. Some might have 4 stars, but only 8 votes... The latest one I have had 200+ votes but a 3.5 rating. If you have 200+ votes and anything below 4.2, you've got an inconsistent and potentially crappy product.

So, to sum up, Get details on the extruder. Does it cool properly, is the design such that the filament is properly driven and pushed? Is the hot head the only hot part, or is the tube getting heated too. Does the extruder throat near the hot head have a Teflon tube inside it?

Read the ratings on Amazon, read the bad reviews and then look at the pictures of the product to verify them.

Best of luck.. I'm about to return #2 printer and perhaps part out #3. Not quite sure yet..

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One of the biggest questions you should ask yourself is: What is your end goal?

  1. Is it to get your printer and immediately print something (pre-assembled).

  2. Is it to learn about 3d printing by constructing a kit, encountering all kinds of potential issues getting it working, then once it is working getting everything all dialed in and then getting good prints.

The 2nd option requires less initial investment but may take considerable time and frustration. (I did this 6 months ago)

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