3D printers have been on the market for a few years now and, as various market laws predict, their cost has dropped enough to make them an option for the casual home user. But are they worth it? How do affordable home 3D printers compare to the high-end professional models, and are the ongoing running or repair costs inhibitive for the average home? Are 3D printers worth buying for home use? Let’s find out…
There was a lot of hype about 3D printers a couple of years ago. In case they’ve dropped off your radar since then, here’s a quick recap of why we should still be excited about the future of three-dimensional printing.
3D printing – also known as additive manufacturing – involves the creation of a three-dimensional object from an electronic data source. The process primarily works by a computer controlling the meticulous successive layering of materials, such as liquid, paper, sheet material or powder – although there are also systems that use a liquid light-sensitive resin that solidifies. There are thousands of exciting and potentially world-changing applications for this technology, the categories for which can be broadly defined as rapid prototyping, rapid manufacturing, mass customisation and mass production.
Just as with the genesis of the home computer, the 3D printer started its journey to market as a huge, complex, expensive piece of technology. However, today, many companies are finding innovative and profitable everyday uses for these printers, from healthcare solutions to school equipment.
However, will 3D printers ever be cheap, good and easy-to-use enough to make it into everyone’s home? As you might expect, there are lots of printer companies out there on a mission to make sure the answer to that question is a resounding ‘YES’. And we tend to agree. Obviously, the frontrunners are already out there on the market. If you wanted to buy a 3D printer for your home today, just head to amazon and be prepared to cough up a few hundred or thousand pounds. But the point of this article is whether that purchase would be worthwhile, considering the usefulness and performance of the printer, and its ongoing running costs.
It’s therefore worth considering the following point before you click ‘buy’. The idea of having a small device at home that can create the stuff we need is attractive, even it’s just those annoying but essential bits of plastic that are currently made halfway around the world and then shipped to us. But 3D printers aren’t particularly cheap to buy, they take some time to print even small objects, and you have to pay for the plastic filament to produce the miscellaneous objects. In other words, although it might seem like an easier option, there’s still quite a high cost in terms of time, resources and money.
So before you spend any more time or money considering the purchase of a 3D printer, ask yourself what you’ll use it for. Again, the internet is your friend here – there are lots of articles listing ‘cool things to make’ using your 3D printer if you’re short of ideas, and Thingiverse is an entire website dedicated to people’s creations! If you’re struggling to find more than a couple of things it would be fun to print, consider using a 3D printing service for one-off jobs rather than investing in your own piece of kit. For example, Shapeways has a great online service for personalised, 3D printed products – from games and jewellery, to art and tech. Alternatively, if you want to watch your creation being made, more and more high street shops (for example, Staples) are putting 3D printing centres in their stores.
Still feeling a strong desire to have a 3D printer of your very own? You’re not alone. One of the defining features of the 3D printing movement is its distinctly ‘open-source’ nature. When you think about it, it’s entirely natural for a device that’s all but able to self-replicate to become the poster child for a new way of thinking about getting products to market. There are many DIY 3D printer options available online, with the majority of the movement taking place on RepRap and in line with the principles of the ‘Maker movement’.
If you’re looking for more of a finished product and don’t know where to start, here are the top three questions you need to consider to refine your options. First, what printer type do you want – one that prints in layers (that’s known as ‘fused filament manufacturing’), or one that prints with light-sensitive resin (that’s known as stereo lithography)? Once you’ve selected a type (and it’s probably going to be the former), your second question is to check what printing materials you require and whether that’s a cost you’re okay with. Finally, you need to decide what kind of print volume you want. 3D printers with smaller print volume are typically cheaper.
Last modified: March 6, 2017