3D printing is a pretty amazing technology, but I struggled to see it really catching on with the mainstream public until this year’s Maker Faire. This technology has improved by leaps and bounds since last year’s Maker Faire, and 3D printing is being used in many exciting ways. I am focusing today’s post on 3D printers and 3D printer tools. I’ll start off by showcasing a couple of tools that can be used across a range of 3D printers, and then I will highlight 3D printers for every budget. I’ve also thrown in some books on 3D printing at the end of this post, to help you break into the field.
This incredibly smooth 3D creation was created on an Atom 3D Printer
3D Printing Tools
Mosaic Manufacturing’s Palette
This multicolored leg cast was designed to be worn over an artificial limb. This type of casing was created to mimic the shape of a real leg. If you are going to have an artificial leg, you may as well have some fun with it, too, right? Your standard single extruder 3D printer prints in a single color at a time, with users dividing a project into parts to use different colors. The Palette machine created by Mosaic Manufacturing allows multi-filament printing from a single extruder 3D printer. Hook up the Palette, and suddenly your printer can switch colors within a project! The Palette works with printers that use standard 1.75 filament spools; check their FAQ page for other compatability questions. This artificial limb was created on a MakerBot 3D printer (not sure which model). Here are some more projects created using the Mosaic Manufacturing Palette tool:
Tinkercad is a free app that makes 3D design and printing simple and accessible to everyone. Used by designers, hobbyists, teachers, and kids, this app allows to you create your own shapes, manipulate existing shapes or print shapes from a user-generated library. This model home takes doll house creating to an entirely new level – and can you spot the elaborate planter box on the right? That was also printed using the Tinkercad app!
Two more software recommendations from my brother:
OnShape professional-level cloud-based CAD software is completely free! It allows everyone on a design team to work together at the same time using a web browser, phone, or tablet.
3D Printing: An Overview of 3D Printers in 2016
I didn’t have time to examine every 3D printer that showed at Maker Faire this year. These caught my eye – and I am also including two that I didn’t see at the fair but that I have a personal recommendation for.
Wanhao Duplicator I3
My mechanical engineer brother own the Wanhao Duplicator I3. He says that it is an inexpensive but powerful Chinese printer. It is not user friendly, but has good community support. He recommends this printer only to those who have a talent for tinkering or engineering. If you are looking for a more user-friendly starter 3D printer with US support, he recommends the Printerbot Play. I did not find either of these 3D printers at Maker Faire. The WanHao Duplicator I3 is isgnificantly more powerful than the Printerbot Play: it has 8 times the build volume and a heated bed. This is why they cost is similar in spite of the fact that the Wanhao printer is a largely unsupported Chinese product.
Toybox 3D Printer for Kids
The Toybox 3D printer (price not yet published) currently prints a set series of toys using a connected app. It is a fun introduction to 3D printing for kids, but I would recommend waiting on this product until they can build more customization into the process. I did handle several of their printed toys during Maker Faire, and they seemed well designed and solidly printed.
Atom 2.0 3D Printer and Laser Engraver
The Atom 2.0 ($1699) stood out for the super-fine layers. It is often easy to tell that an object has been 3D printed because you see the layers of plastic. The Atom is able to print in layers so thin that the lines are virtually invisible – as shown with the printed bust featured at the top of the post. You can add a laser engraver to this machine.
ORD Solutions makes a range of printers (currently running a sale). Their printers start at $1749 RoVaPaste 3D printer that can print any material that is available in a liquid or paste. They were using a syringe to print with Nutella when I dropped by! Their top-of-the-line RoVa3D 5 Extruder 3D Printer costs $2750. This 5 extruder design means that you can create an object with five colors (without needing the Palette featured earlier in this post). It also means that you can clone print, creating five copies of a single 3D printed object in one go.
The FLUX Delta ($749 pre-order; $999 list price) caught my eye because it includes a scanner. This means that you can scan and then 3D print simple shapes. The scanner also makes it easy to monitor a project from anywhere. The FLUX Delta has both laser engraving and drawing capabilities – exceptional add-ons for a 3D printer.
I didn’t see a booth for MakerBot, but their machine was being used in conjunction with the Palette from Mosaic Manufacturing. The presenters at their booth said that the MakerBot was their personal favorite machine. This company makes a range of 3D printers, starting around $750 on Amazon and moving up to $6500 (not the same model!) on their website.
3D Printing isn’t just about plastic! Pancake Bot ($299.98) allows users to take fancy pancakes to a whole new level. This 3D printer had a booth at Maker Faire, but they weren’t set up yet when I was there (at the start of the Friday preview session).
3D Printing Books
Are you ready to give 3D printing a go? Check out these books:
- 3D Printing Projects: Toys, Bots, Tools, and Vehicles To Print Yourself
- MAKE 3D Printing: The Essential Guide to 3D Printers
- MAKE Design for 3D Printing: Scanning, Creating, Editing, Remixing, and Making in Three Dimensions
- The Invent To Learn Guide to 3D Printing in the Classroom: Recipes for Success
- Tinkercad – Introduction to 3D Printing
Have you ever used a 3D printer? Do you see 3D printers catching on, longterm? Which of these options caught your eye? Is there another 3D printer that should be on my list? How about 3D printing tools or books?