Recently, Tom's Hardware has begun covering 3D printers. As such, Avram has been doing a deep dive into the world of 3D printers and what it takes to use them effectively. What he has learned is that they are not exactly straightforward, but also not exactly complicated. There are choices that need to be made, processes that need to be followed, and you'll be able to accurately predict the end result.
First and foremost, you need to choose your printer. There are tons of companies that are in the 3D printer space these days, and there is a whole spectrum of printers available. There are a number of conditions to take into consideration: size, print surface, materials, method, and price. Size and print surface are often tied together - a smaller printer will likely be able to print smaller items, so you'll need to decide what it is you're going for.
Next is deciding the type of printing you want to do. There are several ways of printing, including extrusions (usually through spools of plastic) and resin (using a liquid and lasers). Extrusion printers are the ones most people are familiar with, and offer the less expensive entrance into the experience. They are similar to a standard inkjet printer. Resin is more expensive to get started but offers a more detailed print, as well as a lower cost to operate over the long run. This would be more like a standard laser printer.
All of these choices lead to possibly the most important aspect: price. Larger printers, more detailed tools, and better print technology will lead to higher prices. But, for those who are just getting started, beginning with a less expensive device might be the right way to go.
Now that you've got your printer and all of your supplies, it's time to put the printer to use. There are several places where you can download existing models for items, but the most popular is Thingiverse from MakerBot. On this site, you can find everything from a wall hanging of Homer Simpson's face to a chassis for a remote controlled car. Starting here gives you the ability to test out your printer and get comfortable with the concept.
Once you're comfortable with your hardware, you can start customizing. There are software products designed specifically for 3D modeling. They range from free to incredibly expensive, offering a wide range of features and precision. Unless your printer comes with a license for a paid version, it's best to try out one of the free ones in order to get used to it. If you're like Avram, though, the free products will not provide the precision that you need.
Tom's Hardware now has a lot of detailed information about 3D printers, including a number of reviews of printers. Use this information to help you make a smart, informed decision about which one is right for you and your needs. Then, make sure to share with us the items you make with your printer!
Scott is a developer who has worked on projects of varying sizes, including all of the PLUGHITZ Corporation properties. He is also known in the gaming world for his time supporting the rhythm game community, through DDRLover and hosting tournaments throughout the Tampa Bay Area. Currently, when he is not working on software projects or hosting F5 Live: Refreshing Technology, Scott can often be found returning to his high school days working with the Foundation for Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), mentoring teams and helping with ROBOTICON Tampa Bay. He has also helped found a student software learning group, the ASCII Warriors, currently housed at AMRoC Fab Lab.
Avram's been in love with PCs since he played original Castle Wolfenstein on an Apple II+. Before joining Tom's Hardware, for 10 years, he served as Online Editorial Director for sister sites Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag, where he programmed the CMS and many of the benchmarks. When he's not editing, writing or stumbling around trade show halls, you'll find him building Arduino robots with his son and watching every single superhero show on the CW.