How To Choose A 3D Printer – A Step By Step Guide

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Image of multiple printers

In this post, I am going to walk you through a process I used to select my first 3D printer. This post is focused on printers that use a fused deposition modeling process or FDM.

Decide What You Want Your 3D Printer To Do

To me, the first step in how to choose a 3d printer is deciding what you want to do with your printer. How you plan to use your 3D printer will be a primary factor in deciding which one is best for you.

Various uses and considerations for 3D printers include:

  • classroom learning
  • creating unique, customized articles for personal use, gifts or even for sale
  • hobby
  • do you want other functionality such as laser engraving or 3D scanning
  • multi-color or single color articles
  • types of material you want to print with

For me, I wanted a printer that had multi-color, multi-material capabilities to create unique articles. Other functionalities such as laser engraving would be nice to have but not a requirement.

Determine your budget

How much do you have to spend? While I am a firm believer in “you get what you pay for”, I am also not made of money so I had to work with a fixed budget.

Factors to consider when setting your budget include:

  • what you plan on using your printer for – how flexible do you need your printer to be
  • where will your printer be located – based on your use, do you have and existing location that will work or do you have to create a workspace
  • printer material – as you print articles, material is consumed and has to be restocked
  • desired quality of printed articles

For my purposes I wanted to use my printer for creating unique, customized articles in a spare room that will double as a workshop. I knew I had to buy other things, like a workbench, beyond the printer so I factored these into my budget.

In this post, I will walk you through the process I used to find the best 3D printer under 1000 dollars based on my desired use factors though the same process can be used for larger or smaller budgets.

3D Printer Functionality

FDM printers generally have the capability to print with one or two materials at a time. The material, a roll of meltable material, such as PLA (polylactic acid plastic) or ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastic filament, is passed through a heated extruder and deposited layer-by-layer in a programmed pattern to build up the article. There are quite a few materials that work with FDM printers but I will not go into them here.

For single material printing capability, a printer with a single extruder will fit the bill. If you want multi-material capability, such as the ability to print a multi-color object, than a printer with dual extruders is required.

Other printer functionalities to consider:

  • build volume – dictates the size or objects you can print
  • ability to remotely monitor your print job
  • filament detection – useful automatically stop your print job if the filament spool runs out
  • heated build plate
  • temp controlled printing enclosure
  • wi-fi connection
  • build plate leveling process
  • print speed, precision and layer resolution
  • printer quality
  • ease of use, set up

Of course, more functionality means higher price so you may need to adjust your budget or your desired functionality as you work through your research.

The primary functionalities or criteria I wanted based on my use factors included:

  • printer quality
  • multi-material capability, i.e., dual extruder
  • filament monitoring
  • heated build plate

Researching 3D Printers

As with pretty much any purchase having a significant price tag, I want to get as much functionality as I can for the same price. I’m sure you are the same. A structured research process will help drive your decision. In this section, I am going to walk you through my research process.

I started my process by searching on Amazon for 3D Printers. That initial search yielded hundreds of printers. How to narrow down the choices?

  1. Filter on printers with reviews of 4 stars or greater – remember my ‘quality printer’ criteria
  2. Sort the listing by price – I had a price target of less than $1000
  3. Scroll through the listing to find the printers that met my basic criteria – dual extruders, less than $1000
  4. I added the printers that met my basic criteria to My Wish List for further research

This process returned 4 printers for further evaluation:

Image of FlashForge Creator Pro 3D printer
FlashForge Creator Pro
Image of BIBO Touch 2 printer with laser engraver
BIBO 2 with laser engraver
Image of QIDI X Pro 3D printer
QIDI X Pro
Image of QIDI Tech 1 3D printer
QIDI Tech 1

I built out a spread sheet that listed all the criteria for each printer in an easy-to-compare table:

  • Manufacturer
  • Price
  • Build Volume
  • # Extruders
  • Filament Detection
  • Filament Types
  • Layer Resolution
  • Positioning Precision
  • Print Speed
  • Build Plate Leveling
  • Build Plate Type
  • WiFi Connectivity
  • Input File Types
  • Amazon Rating
  • Additional Comments
1000 Printer Comparison spread sheet
1000 Printer Comparison Spread Sheet

While Amazon included quite a bit of information about each printer, it did not have the same information for each one so I had to do a little more work.

I went to the website for each printer manufacturer to obtain the information I needed to fill out the comparison table completely. I also downloaded user manuals, if available, for each of the printers and reviewed them accordingly. As a final check, I emailed an inquiry to two of the manufacturers to see how responsive they would be to my questions.

This research approach enabled me to readily identify the 3D printers that met my criteria, make an ‘apples to apples’ comparison and ultimately decide which printer I wanted to purchase. I will tell you about that in an upcoming post.

Conclusion

Here I’ve walked you through a step-by-step process on how to choose a 3D printer. Deciding what you want your printer to do, determining your budget, considering printer functionalities and conducting comparison research will help you decide which printer is best for you.

This approach can be used for 3D printers within any price range. If you want to save some time and have a budget consistent with mine of around $1000, please feel free to email me at jeff@3dpbuzz.com and request a copy of my spread sheet.

Good luck on your quest to find the perfect printer and Happy Printing!

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