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Selecting A 3D Printer And Filament

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.
Filament Brand
A good quality plastic filament can make or break a printer. Different printers work slightly differently, and filaments that work great in one printer may fail and jam miserably in another. When starting out, use a brand recommended by the printer manufacturer, even if it's a few dollars more.
In addition to the printer & filament, you will need some simple tools, and a computer to create the print files and possibly run the printer. An inexpensive set of tweezers and a set of small files from Harbor Freight will make your life easier.


There are three different types of 3D printers:

FDM = Fused Deposition Modeling

DLP = Digital Light Processing

SLA = Stereo-lithography Apparatus

In this primer, we concentrate mostly on FDM style printers. The supplies are much cheaper and the printers can create larger and more robust prints. FDM printers use rolls of plastic filament and what looks like an automated glue gun (hot end) to lay down layers of plastic and build up the item being printed.

DLP and SLA printers use a liquid photosensitive resin and a UV light light source to form the item. The big advantage of SLA printers is their ability to print fine detail. The disadvantage is a limited number of resin options and additional work post printing to fully harden the item.

If you already have a number of FDM printers, adding a DLP/SLA printer to support small prints with fine detail might be worth considering. For your first printer, FDM is odds-on the way to go.

This video goes into detail on the differences in printing, post processing, safety and supplies for the three printer types.

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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.

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Make Magazine 3D Printer Buyer's Guide

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.

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3D Printing Technologies

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.

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.

Complete Guide to Filament for FDM 3D Printers

To say there is a wide range of 3d printer filaments for an FDM printers is an understatement. DrVax talks about 3D filament terminology and then looks at the different types of filaments, their advantages and disadvantages, typical uses, and limitations.

Tl;dr: Buy a couple of rolls of PLA filament to start out with. Later on, try experimenting with flexible or clear filaments.

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EWaste 60$ 3DPrinter

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.

Our webmaster's choices

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.

For filaments, PLA is the way to go. He's had good luck with the CCTree and HatchBox brands.

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