Selecting A 3D Printer
There are many different technologies used for 3D Printers, and each technology has wide range of prices. Start by selecting the technology and maximum build size for your 3D printer, then decide if you want it assembled or as a kit.
Things to consider...
- Who will be using the printer?
- Will the students be running the printer themselves, or will it be accessible only to staff? Younger children and exposed moving parts are not a good mix.
3D printers are built either within a box, enclosing most of the moving parts, or open-frame, where everything is exposed, including pinch points.
- A few printers are designed to be carried from one place to another and include a built in handle. Most 3D printers work best if set up on a sturdy surface and left there. Do you have a dedicated space or cart for the printer and supplies?
- Print Size
- What will you be printing? Most items will be under 4" or 100 mm. However, some projects may require larger parts, e.g., the arm for a balance beam scale. Sort out how you'll use the printer and the size you'll need before making a purchase decision.
- Filament Size
- Most 3D printers create objects using spools of plastic filament. Choose the printer that uses the smaller 1.75 mm diameter filament. The smaller filament runs thru the print head faster, reducing the chance of a clog. As filament spools are sold by weight and not by length, a 1kg spool will give you the same number of prints no matter what the diameter.
- In addition to the printer, you will need plastic filament to print with, some simple tools, and a computer to create print files and possibly direct the printer.
A good quality plastic filament can make or break a printer. Use a brand recommended by the printer supplier, even if it's a few dollars more.
There are over 8 different 3D printing technologies currently available. This site introduces each of them. All have their distinct advantages. Many have distinct disadvantages, including limited material choices and high price.
The Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is the most common type for home/classroom use and it's the one that we will be talking about in this primer.
Teacher's Creative Fundraising For Classroom 3D Printer
This video shows how a Plymouth teacher was able to provide her students with a 3D printer in the classroom, and how her students are using it ... and learning.
- YouTube URL
Make Magazine has a regularly updated buyers guide that covers the different types of 3D printers, what is available in each price range, and suggested 3D printers for schools.
Not for the easily intimidated, this project describes the design of a very low budget 3D Printer that is mainly built out of recycled electronic components. The result is a functional, small format printer for less than 100$.
Students will get an introduction to machine building and digital fabrication and end up with a small 3D Printer built out of reused electronic parts. It will also make them more conscious about the big problems and opportunities related to e-waste generation.
Build or Buy?
There are different levels of kit assembly, from "screw together a couple of pre-drilled components" to "here's a bag of parts". Choose a level that comfortable for you.
If you have older and more-or-less responsible students, building can make a great class or after-school project, allowing your students to see "behind the curtain" as to how machines like this function and what goes into creating them.
If none of that sounds exciting, we highly recommend buying a pre-assembled printer.
One option is to buy your first 3D printer pre-assembled and generate enthusiasm for the printing process. When you start having more projects than printer time, look at options like a build-it-yourself $60 Printer or a $200 some-assembly-required kit.
Our webmaster's choice
Our webmaster has been very happy with his Ender 3 printer, as evidenced in the Tuning your 3D Printer page. At around $230 from Amazon, it's a great printer if you do not need an enclosure.
Use the right stuff!
Our webmaster has found that using the right filament can make the difference between success and failure. Different printers work slightly differently, and filaments that work great in one printer will fail and jam miserably in another.
Always check with your manufacturer or printer's user group and use the recommended printing filament - even if it's more expensive. Especially when you're first starting out.