Building a 3-D printer is obviously a huge undertaking.

Does anyone know of any reasonably cheap guides to build my own 3-D printer?

  • $\begingroup$ I'm voting to leave this question open, because it is a good novice type question, that is always asked, and yes, whilst it is too broad and will invite opinion based answers, then again, so is What are the pros and cons of collecting parts yourself, versus getting a DIY kit and then modifying it? and that has (ultimately) been a well received question... $\endgroup$
    – Greenonline
    Jun 30 '17 at 4:37
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    $\begingroup$ I am voting to close this question, because (1) it is far too broad (what kind of printer are you looking to build?) (2) it is opinion based and vague (what is "reasonably cheap"?) (3) it asks for references ("guides") rather than self-contained answers (4) it shows no research effort at all. I think the latter is not strictly speaking a reason to close, but a few minutes on google would have lead to asking some much more focused questions rather than this overly general one. $\endgroup$ Jun 30 '17 at 6:13
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    $\begingroup$ Well Tom, I figured this page is full of the 3-D printing experts. I can do as much googling as I want, but it's nice to hear people's opinions. Especially all of you. Reasonably cheap means someone who is new to 3-D printing and doesn't want to sink $1000 into something that won't work. Sorry for the vagueness of the question. $\endgroup$ Jun 30 '17 at 12:49
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    $\begingroup$ While I appreciate that, StackExchange isn't the place for that. It isn't a forum or discussion board. Please see don't ask and how to ask for an explanation of what kinds of questions we are looking for. $\endgroup$ Jun 30 '17 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ I'm just making a point that you're going to quickly turn people off to stack exchange by dismissing their questions as "not researched at all". I don't personally care, I've gotten a brilliant answer by Greenonline already. I think it was very helpful. $\endgroup$ Jun 30 '17 at 15:32

Building a 3-D printer is actually very easy, assuming that you are electronically and mechanically competent, and there are a whole bunch of websites devoted to doing just that. The principal of which would be the RepRapWiki.

There are a number of different designs, mostly from a few basic designs:

  • Cartesian
  • Delta
  • Polar
  • Scara

Take a look at 3D Printers Explained: Delta, Cartesian, Polar, Scara, for further details.

I, personally, would suggest looking at the following 3D printer designs (although there are many more out there):

On the web, i.e. eBay/Amazon, there are plenty of ready assembled versions, DIY kits, or you can source all of the individual parts yourself. I seriously recommend reading this question What are the pros and cons of collecting parts yourself, versus getting a DIY kit and then modifying it?

I would strongly suggest that you do a lot of googling, and read around the subject for a couple of weeks:

  • Reading other peoples blogs;
  • Watching construction videos on YouTube to get a better understanding, and;
  • Going through the issues that other people have experienced whilst building there own printers

Doing this will help you glean a greater understanding of what is required, and what to expect when building yours - as well as getting an understanding of the individual parts required and how they all fit together.

Spending a fair bit of time on this site, SE 3D Printing, and slowly going through the questions and answers is also strongly recommended.

Building your own printer is, ultimately, more rewarding that purchasing a ready built one. This is because, due to its nascent nature of 3D printing, the printer that you purchase will, most likely, go wrong, and you will need to fix it. If you have built it yourself then you should be able to easily understand what is wrong, and then be capable of repairing it yourself. It is somewhat similar to the situation when the automobile first became popular, back in the 20's/30's (?) - the driver was, usually, also a mechanically competent engineer (unless they were filthy rich and were able to afford to pay a dedicated mechanic to accompany them - which was also the case, in those days).

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you so much! I have 3-D printed a couple of things using the 3-D printer at my undergraduate institution. I've also heard of Shapeways and other companies that print your .stl files in many different materials for a low cost. I'm an EE with less mechanical experience. I want to take on a project like this to learn and have a product that somewhat works. I also don't want to feel overwhelmed early on. I'm thinking a DIY kit may be a good start, but you're right.. I'll have to do some research. Thank you for those resources! $\endgroup$ Jun 30 '17 at 4:42
  • $\begingroup$ @mattcurrentjr - Not a problem, and welcome to SE 3D Printing! $\endgroup$
    – Greenonline
    Jun 30 '17 at 4:56

If you just want to build your own, get a kit. There are several out there. Most kits take from 1-5 days to complete depending on the kit.

If you want to design your own is quite a different story. The effort is totally dependent on how much you want to do yourself. My guess is the statement that you don't know the amount of effort indicates that you are probably not ready to design your own.

  • $\begingroup$ You're right. I don't think I'm ready to fully design a printer from scratch. I've printed before, but the idea of truly understanding the system is intriguing. Thanks for answering though! $\endgroup$ Jun 30 '17 at 4:44

Have you built a 3D printer before, or have much experience in electronics? Building your own printer is usually more expensive than purchasing a higher end low-grade consumer printer.

There are a few routes you can go.

Creality Ender 3 It's a good starting 3D printer around 200ish. Just going to throw that out there first - as that is probably a far better route to think about when thinking about cost. It's decent out of the box. Mix it with Amazon Basics filament (roughly 20 a roll), cheap chinese filament (roughly 10-15 a roll), or if you live near a microcenter - Inland Filament (roughly 15 a roll) and you're set with minimal effort.

Now... to answer your question - what TYPE of printer?

FDM: That the plastic in the rolls - and by far the cheapest type of 3D printer (and the most common)

SLA: That's the Resin Printers. This is far better quality (normally), but much harder to use, not really for those just getting into 3D printing. They are also far more costly. If you have the ability - this is the ones that start getting cheaper to make - but making a large resin printer is not easy at all.

Bio Printers: I do not suggest making this. In fact, you probably can't even easily buy them. From your scope of what you are looking for - doesn't seem much like what you want either. This is the type to make molds for cataracts, organs, other medical needs.

There are other various types of 3D printers, a lot of them actually, but these are three big ones. As I said, I'm going into a general overlook - if you want more info, I'd be glad to give you more in any of the topics.

SLA / DLP (both very similar)

I'm going to assume you want to look between either SLA or FDM. SLA (Resin) can be extremely pricey, and the resin even moreso. They work by curing Resin via light.

The -cheapest- way to build an SLA printer is by a projector! If you happen to have one already, then this route can cost you 20ish +-, not including Resin.

What you need: Projector(50-100+ or free), old DVD drive/ cd drive from a pc (5 from goodwill, free for most people who have old systems laying around), Nema 17 Motor(brand new 15ish - shopping around ebay I have gotten 5 for 15 before), Threaded rod (home depot - 3-5), Arduino (10ish), a glass vat (dollar store), and some form of a base - either a cleaned off blank circuit board - pegboard, or a few various other things that can be used, various screws, mounts, belts ect. You also need resin. Monoprice has some of the better priced resins at like 40-50 per vile. Amazon has some cheaper ones too. As you can see, the price is already starting to go up.

Making a SLA printer, the basic idea is that you are hooking up the projector to be controlled by the Arduino. The Arduino you are loading open source (freely available code online) for SLA printers. The Arduino will control the projector itself, using the light to cure the resin as the build plate moves. The threaded rod you attach to the Nema 17 motor to move the build plate up and down. The plate will need to dunk the bottom side into the glass vat - the projector actually cures your print upside down - connecting to the build plate! As the build plate moves up, it will pull your print up with it to. After building, you will need to finish curing your print - you take it and cure it in UV light, or just set it outside in sunlight for a few hours. SLA can get some super high quality prints.

Check out this tutorial. http://www.buildyourownsla.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=2768


This is the type I'm assuming you are thinking about - the type where the extruder (print head) moves, and the build plate sometimes moves, and is sometimes heated. You print with rolls of plastic.

There are a lot of open source designs out there, one of the most popular designs is the i3 style. This is the style of the Ender 3 that I recommended above. It might not be the -best- design, but it is certainly popular! The "best" is highly subjective though.

For this, you need to have some sort of building material. You can use anything from Legos, plywood, plexiglass, metal, ect. Although you can use just about anything to build with, metal via 2020 rods (50ish+) are going to be some of your better, more stable options. You need a build plate. You can go cheap and use an unheated metal plate, mirror, glass, table... really anything flat - plus the addition of some blue painters tape for adhesion. You need some way to have endstops - either endstop switches - which cost a few bucks a piece (let's say 10 for 4 switches), you will need a good handful of screws, bolts, nuts, t-slot nuts, brackets - you get the picture. This can be cheap to pricey quick. (let's say 20ish for random number). You will need (if building i3 style) two threaded rods (10) or if you are going xyz style 4 (20). You will need Nema 17 motors - i3 style 3-4 motors(15-80) - xyz 2-5 motors (10-100), an arduino board (can go cheap from 20 all the way to amazing boards such as the duet wifi 2 which is around 200), a PSU (get a good one here 12v at least 40amps - switchable psu), you need some mosfet boards 1 for your extruder and one for your bed if you are using a heated buildplate. Speaking of heated buildplates, if you use one don't make your own. It's safer to buy one and they can run cheap. You will also need a lot of wire, solder, shrink wrap... I'm sure you're getting the picture on that there. Basic microcontroller and electronics work tools and accessory parts there including various sensors and whatnot of the like. Extruder gear, you can build your own - but until you are really familiar with it, just go buy one. You can pick up an entire extruder assembly, off brand knock off for around 20.

The probably hands down best way to learn to build your own 3D printer is to get your hands dirty with a pre-built or a kit, start taking it apart, and really learning how they work rather than just following a guide to build your own. There is so many resources out there that are only 'half complete' or 'half correct' that without foundation knowledge - it becomes pretty easy to burn your house down. Not to mention, building your own is almost always more expensive than a kit.

  • $\begingroup$ Link only answers are not something we particularily endorse here. The question also does not specify SLA at all. $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    Jan 18 '19 at 6:21
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer but we are looking for comprehensive answers that provide some explanation and context. Very short answers cannot do this, so please edit your answer to explain why it is right. Additionally, we prefer answers to be self contained where possible. link only answers are frowned upon (as links tend to rot) & will be rendered useless if the linked-to content disappears. If you add more context and detail from the link, it is more likely that people will find your answer useful. $\endgroup$
    – Greenonline
    Feb 6 '19 at 2:23

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