I finally did it.
I got a 3D printer.
I have spent the past five years or so looking at the various devices out there, trying to figure out how to justify buying one.
Then HobbyKing had a shipping sale, and shortly thereafter I was the proud owner of a bright orange Fabrikator model 3D Printer.
The orange Fabricator printer, or as I now like to call it, ‘MINE’
It’s based on the ‘Tiny Boy‘ model of 3D printers, and sells for under $200, a bargain in the printer world. And while its print volume is only about a 3 inch cube, for beginners it’s a great introduction to printing.
So why should you consider it?
- Prebuilt. I many times considered making my own printer (even buying some parts), but always shied away from starting. The fact is, getting a ready-built machine was the deciding factor here. I wanted to print things out, not assemble a device and then maybe – maybe – get it working fine after. Don’t get me wrong, I may assemble my next printer, but one step at a time works best for me right now.
- Small. Small can mean bad, but it’s good too – I can place this beside my computer and run it while I work. Far more convenient than running cables to another table, or dedicating a couple of feet square for a huge device I use only occasionally.
- Quiet. I can actually run this at night, it’s so quiet. I don’t have experience with many printers (just the ones at the local Makerspace) but based on those I know this one is well on the low end for noisiness.
- Ideal Starter. I like the idea of a 3D printer – but will I use it? For around $200 I’m able to test out just how convenient it is, and how best to use it on projects. Much better testing things out for $200 than spending $1,000 and finding out I’m not a ‘3D print’ kind of guy!
- Safe(r). Unlike some printers that use ABS, this one is exclusively PLA. PLA is a plant-base plastic, and its fumes while the printer runs are actually quite pleasant, which makes it easy to run in a room without the the windows wide open. Also, it means the printer doesn’t require a heated plate to print on, reducing the chance of burning yourself (note that in both cases the print head is hot, so you still need to be careful.)
Now a word of warning: 3D printers are not for absolute beginners. I’ve taken a couple of printer courses at the local Makerspace, and I’ve run several projects on their printers while there. You’ll also want to look into some training, to at least understand how they work, and how to put together a print.
As well, the printer uses Repetier-Host for the printer management software. This lets you upload the code for your design and it processes it, converting your .stl format file into a series of movement instructions that lets the printer create the object.
And design? I use Sketchup, but I’ve heard good things about Blender. One warning: Sketchup’s license does not permit the free program to do commercial designs, so you may wish to spend your time learning Blender, which is completely free and unrestricted. Of course, if you’ll never do a part for a commercial project, either will be fine to use.
Once up and running, I immediately set about to create – legs. It turns out they recommend raising the printer up a bit for improved air circulation, and from their site you can get a design for little square feet that the printer rests on. At about 10 minutes printing time each, my first project was a success, plus a great introduction to using my printer.
Since then, I’ve done other prints, and can recommend you start slow with small parts, watch the prints in the beginning very carefully, and be sure to follow the instructions for starting and stopping (such as feeding in plastic until it squeezes out the head to be sure it’s primed properly.)
One more caution: Buy the right color plastic! I’m not sure why I picked up a spool of purple (on sale, perhaps?) but I wish I hadn’t. It’s a big spool, and I know I’m going to be using it a long, long time. I’d recommend instead either a neutral color (black/brown/grey) or a vivid color to make the detail in your parts easier to see, such as orange. Still, at the price it sells for I suppose I could just order another spool…
So, if you’ve been wondering about 3D printing, and you have a hankering for a printer of your own, consider this one from HobbyKing. At this price, it is a very inexpensive introduction to the topic, and a great gift for someone when you move on to a bigger printer…