3D Printing

How to compare $500 3D Printers

Poly Lactic Acid ModelLast week, I wrote briefly about 3D printing. It is basically a printing machine, but the only difference is it prints out 3D objects. The most common way is by glueing material on top of each other with no space, and it will slowly become an actual object. Please, refer to the last post: 3D Printing into our Life.

There was an article that 3D printers now sell around $500, so  cheap that average guy like me could  afford it. I took a brief look at companies that are selling online. It was in fact really cheap. This Hong Kong startup Makibox  offers one for $200. If you want to compare comparison of prices across different companies, please refer to 3ders Price Compare 3D Printer. They list out at least 30 printers, and I found this pretty useful. But there was a problem; when I looked into the individual product pages, there are a lot of industry keywords that they would not make sense to an average guy like me. Today, I will share what I found about those terms, and how to compare them.

Note: This is for low end household model. I would not be comparing 3D printers for industrial usage.

What is PLA?

First Thing that caught my eyes is PLA. Most products have this listing, but I had no idea what it was, at the time. It stands for Poly Lactic Acid. You still have no idea? Don’t worry. I will break it down further. It is basically the material that can be melted for modification and cooled down for solid representation. Plastic is a good example. It sits on the top list of their features because in  3D printing, the materials they use can be divided into PLA and ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene). They are both similar plastic like materials, but PLA is more suited for faster cooling and easier modification, while ABS is know for its toughness once it is cooled down. For most small and affordable 3D printers, it will be equipped with PLA.

heated bed

Heating Bed

I came across this term as in “it does not come with Heating Bed”. You cannot buy something without knowing what it is missing. Heating Bed is a manufacturing term, describing a glass, metal, or ceramic board that improves the quality of printing. It prevents the plastic material like PLA or ABS from shrinking after heat is applied. Although it is hard to describe the quality of improvement without actually seeing the objects, it is safe to pick this feature when you have space in your budget.

 

Resolution

Resolution is a rather familiar term. It is used in a camera quality. The higher, the better. However, when it comes to 3D printing, that won’t be the case. It describes the thickness of additive layer. Because 3D printing is mostly done by successive layer of material, big resolution means the grumpy end product. In this case, the thiner the resolution is, the higher the quality will be. For those around $500 price range, I found it varies from 0.04mm – 0.4mm. It is definitely a key factor in choosing which one to buy.

 

Conclusion

I explained above about PLA, Heating Bed, and Resolution. They are the ones that had me determine which one to buy. Of course, they represent just the snippet of 3D printing features. Other things to consider would be the size of physical printing machine, speed of printing, accuracy of printing extruder. It is important to spend some time thinking of your need and find the matched printers.

Where to Go From Here

Here is some links I found useful when researching about 3D printer features. You can definitely dive in deeper to know more about what the above terms are.

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