What to consider when buying your first 3D printer

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Over the past decade, we’ve seen 3D printing grow from a specialized hobby to something almost anyone can learn. With a wide range of printers now available and a large community, getting started with 3D printing has never been easier. Whether you are a hobbyist, engineer or designer, there are many applications for 3D printing.

If you’ve been looking to get started with 3D printing, but aren’t sure about the different types of printers or which printers you should be looking for, here’s our guide to everything you need to know.

What are the most popular types of 3D printing?

FDM printing in action. (Photo: iStock/Marina_Skoropadskaya)

At the consumer level, the two most popular 3D printing processes are filament printing and resin printing. Although there are other processes, printers that use these methods are much more accessible, affordable, and easier to use, especially if you’re just starting out. We are still a few years away from being able to 3D print steaks at home.

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) Printing uses a thermoplastic filament which is fed through a heated extruder, depositing the molten material layer by layer to finally form the article. FDM printing is also known as fused filament fabrication (FFF).

With resin printing, the most common type you will come across is Printing by stereolithography device (SLA). This uses a tank of liquid photoresist and a UV laser beam. The item is printed using a laser beam to quickly trace the resin layer by layer, causing it to harden and harden. When an SLA print job is complete, you will need to wash off the excess liquid resin, dry it and then post-cure it by exposing it to UV light and heat.

Filament vs resin 3D printing, which is better?

3D printing
A resin printer that does its job. (Photo: iStock/Olga_Z)

Both forms of printing have their pros and cons, but if you want the “best” results, resin printing trumps filament. That said, filament printers are still worth your time.

If you’re just starting out and want to learn the ropes of 3D printing, from design to finished product, an FDM printer is a good place to start. It’s relatively cheaper, both for printers and materials, and it’s good for printing fairly simple parts.

While layers on FDM jobs are usually quite visible, you can lower the layer height (also called resolution) to help create a smoother finish, but this will increase print time depending on the size of the job. . You can reduce the visibility of layer lines by reducing the diameter of the 3D printer nozzle, but you will need to purchase a replacement nozzle to do this.

If your goal is to make a lot of very small and detailed prints, like jewelry or game figurines, you better spend a lot of money and get an SLA printer. SLA printing is more accurate, resulting in better print quality with a much smoother surface finish. SLA printed parts are also much denser than FDM parts.

If you are still interested in resin printing, but want a more affordable option, you should consider a Digital Light Processing (DLP) printer. DLP printing also uses a photopolymer vat, although much shallower, and uses projected UV light. DLP printers are faster than their SLA counterparts, and better at printing larger, denser objects than SLA printers. However, DLP printers are less accurate and the surface finish is not as smooth.

Whatever form of 3D printing you use, just make sure you do it in a well-ventilated area.

What can you print?

What’s a good 3D printer if you don’t use it? If you’re particularly adept with 3D modeling software, you shouldn’t have much trouble translating that skill into designing print-ready models with 3D printing software. If you’re less inclined to create designs from scratch and want to start printing right away, the 3D printing community is pretty robust, so it’s not hard to find pre-made design files.

Thingiverse is pretty much the place to go for free 3D print files. From clips for your filament rolls to the Millenium Falcon, there are plenty of great designs to dig into. Other places like MyMiniFactory and Cults3D are also worth checking out, but you’ll have to pay for the models.

What printers do we recommend?

Creality Ender 3 V2 Printer – $350

Image: Creality

If you’ve never used a 3D printer before and are trying to stick to a budget, the Creality Ender 3 V2 is a good affordable starting point. This FDM printer has an easy to use interface and can produce decent quality prints for its price (maximum size of 220 x 220 x 250 mm). It is also quiet, which is always an added advantage when it comes to 3D printing.

The Ender 3 is an uncovered design, which is not uncommon for FDM printers, but you will want to be aware of where you install it as it can affect the quality of your print. It is best to install it in a room with a constant temperature, either too hot or too cold.

The Creality Ender 3 V2 printer is available here. You can also stock up on extra 1.75mm filament here.

Flashforge Adventurer 3 printer – $669

Image: Flashforge

If you want to spend a little more on an FDM printer, the Flashforge Adventurer 3 isn’t a bad choice. This enclosed printer has an easy-to-use interface and quick setup, with a build volume of 150 x 150 x 150mm. It takes about five minutes for the hot plate to reach 100 degrees Celsius and replacing the printer nozzle is also quite easy to do, so you can spend less time waiting and more time printing.

The Flashforge Adventurer 3 also has a built-in camera, allowing you to remotely monitor your print job in real time. It also has a sensor that will warn you when you are about to run out of filament and pause the job when it runs out.

The Flashforge Adventurer 3 printer is available here.

ELEGOO Mars 2 Pro 3D Printer – $369.99


If you want to get into resin 3D printing and are looking for something affordable, the ELEGOO Mars 2 Pro is a good place to start. This is an MSLA (Masked Stereolithography Apparatus) printer, which is a variation of SLA printing that uses an array of UV LED lights and an LCD photomask to harden the layers. With a maximum build volume of 129 x 80 x 160mm and a 2K LCD screen, the stability and precision of the ELEGOO Mars will have you creating finely detailed print jobs in no time.

If you take the Mars 2 3D, make sure you also take resin, because the printer does not come with it. It’s also worth taking some isopropyl alcohol for the post-print wash.

The ELEGOO Mars 2 Pro 3D printer is available here.

ELEGOO Saturn 3D Printer – $639.99


Want to go a little bigger with your resin 3D printing, both in volume and price? Just like the ELEGOOD Mars 2 Pro, the Saturn is an MSLA 3D printer, but with a build volume of 192 x 120 x 250mm and a 4K HD monochrome LCD screen. This is a great option if you know you will be printing a lot of larger models or want to do larger bulk runs for smaller models.

The ELEGOO Saturn 3D printer is available here. And don’t forget to collect resin too.

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