While 3D printers have undergone a remarkable surge in popularity, consumers are still faced with the ever-important question of budget. Should you pay top dollar for a printer of excellent quality, or decrease your budget for a cheaper model? We take a look at just some of the most important features of 3D printers, and how the issue of budget affects them.
Perhaps the most important factor when considering a budget for a 3D printer is the physical build quality of the product. It is simple economics: a more expensive printer will, more often than not, be better built than a cheaper model.
Enthusiast printers such as the LulzBot TAZ 5 (pictured left), MakerGear M2, Ultimaker 2, and Witbox feature better build quality than correspondingly cheaper machines. The PrintrBot Simple Metal (pictured right), widely regarded as one of the best budget printers, cannot compare where build quality is concerned.
Another important distinction between enthusiast and budget 3D printers, which is closely related to the issue of build quality, is the print volume. More expensive printers tend to be larger in size which, in turn, greatly impacts the build volume. The Ultimaker 2 and Witbox, both of which will set you back at least $1,999, both feature a build volume in the region of 223 x 223 x 205 mm. Models in the $599 to $999 range see a huge reduction in build volume with the popular Sharebot KIWI featuring a build volume of just 140 x 100 x 100 mm. The simple truth here is if you want to print larger objects, you need a larger printer, which will cost more.
A further complication in the matter is the print quality. There are two dominant plastics in the realm of 3D printing: PLA and ABS. PLA (Polylactic Acid) comes in a wide range of colours and, importantly, does not necessitate the need for a heated printing bed. From a practical point of view PLA produces a sweeter smell than ABS thanks to its plant-based origin. It does not, however, hold up in higher temperatures.
ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), on the other hand, is a very strong and durable material capable of withstanding high temperatures. Given its strength, machinability, and heat resistance it is the material of choice for engineers. As such it can be used with more expensive printers as it requires a heated bed. Budget models such as the PrintrBot Simple Metal are unable to machine this material. If you want to produce products using ABS you will need a more expensive printer: Lulzbot Mini, Ultimaker 2, or any other high-end model will suit your needs quite well.
While we have analyzed but a few of the important aspects of 3D printers the conclusion is clear. Budget models like the PrintrBot Simple Metal are suited to those who want to see what 3D printing can offer without breaking the bank. They are capable of excellent printing but their small build volume and inability to support ABS does limit the possibilities. If you want to print large, high-quality, durable products you should purchase a high-end machine. Be sure to read reviews before making your final decision in buying your 3d printer.