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Video:Tips for Choosing a Printer for 3D Printing

with Michael Curry

A 3D printer is hardly an ordinary printer, and is one that must be chosen with the help of a professional. In this About.com video, learn about different types and sizes of 3D printers.See Transcript

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Transcript:Tips for Choosing a Printer for 3D Printing

Hello, my name is Michael Curry. I'm the 3D printing evangelist at MakerBot Industries.

How do You Choose a 3D Printer?

Well, the first thing that you're going to have to look at with a 3D printer is what do you want to use it for. Is this for your business? Do you really, really need to have the ability to produce photo-ready prototypes instantaneously. Is this for your hobby. Do you really, really want to make those aircraft parts for your model airplane? Or is this for some use that we haven't quite imagined yet? Are you looking to push the envelope? Are you looking for everything that currently be offered, and you want to experiment with going further?

3D Printer Sizes

There are printers of different sizes. Most printers tend to be very small. You're looking at build volumes of less than a cubic foot. Now, that doesn't limit what you can make, it just limits what you can print in a single printing. So, example, like this heart gear which I'm holding, which is actually a moveable object. This is assembled from multiple printings. So you actually have nine different parts here that are held together with snap pins. All of which were printed out of the printer.

Essentially you're limited by the build volume of the machine and your own imagination. So no single part can be larger than the build volume of the 3D printer you're using, but any single part can be added together to make a whole.

Different Types of 3D Printers

There are several different printers on the market right now that offer different materials. The MakerBot Replicator 2 is optimized for PLA plastic, which is the cornstarch-based plastic, which offers a higher resolution.

There are other machines which offer ABS plastic. ABS is more of an engineering plastic. It offers more strength under load than the PLA plastic. ABS requires what's called a heated build platform where, essentially, if you're printing with ABS, the plate that you're printing down on to will be a heated surface that's warmed up to 110 degrees centigrade. And that helps the plastic, the ABS plastic, stick to the platform and it helps it not warp and crack.

The considerations of cost have a lot to do with what experience you want to have with your printer. There are printer options that are available in the sub-$500 category. Those are for kits. So you're going to get a box of parts and you'll have to put it together and get it working on your own. As you get into the higher range printers, you're looking at printers that are fully assembled machines that are ready to print out of the box and that come with a support group behind them. A group of people who you can call, you can send emails to and you can get very quick answers to any questions or problems you run into.

To learn more about 3D printing, visit About.com.

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