BASIC Guide to buying a 3D printer

There are common questions we recieve about our lab and they all seem to stem around 3D Printers:
  • Is it complicated?
  • Is it expensive?
  • What kind should I buy?
  • Etc..
So much so, that we decided it should be a small guide on what to expect or whether a 3D printer is appropriate for your lab.

What kind should I buy?

At the consumer level, there are typically two types of printers FFF/FDM or Resin.


Fused disposition modeling (FDM) and Fused Filament Fabrication are the same thing and can sometimes be heard interchangeably in the same conversation. FDM is trademarked and FFF is untrademarked, which can make things confusing when you first scope out 3D printing.

A FFF printer generally consists of similar components - a chassis, a hot end and a heat bed and the designs of them vary from open frame, enclosed etc.

The best description I have be able to come up with when explaining 3D printing is - it's a CNC with a hotend that is much like a glue gun tip that plastic(filament) is extruded through while it makes layers to produce a 3D object. 

Generally people can visualize this to some extent.

FFF printers are relatively inexpensive, easy to use and manage.

Resin Printers

Resin printers come in their various versions where terms are used to describe a similar processes that could occupy an entirely seperate guide, but all generally work off the same idea that a form of light hardens resin. 

While we have a resin printer, truthfully the process is more involved than FFF in my opinion. There are more consumables involved such as nitrate gloves, alcohol, water, brushes and additional equipment to such as a ultrasonic cleaner to ease the process.

Where resin printers shine is on miniature objects compared to FFF. The level detail obtainable is incredible but the size of the bed is a lot more limited.

What do you recommend?

My personal recommendation is always dependant on your intended use case, but for 3D printing my genuine recommendation for anyone starting into it is Fuse Filament Fabrication. It is a more suitable introduction for the family as resin can be messy and checmical based.

Is it expensive?

As with any craft or hobby, there is a cost to 3D printing and our experience it has been in the initial buy in. A repretable and community driven FFF printer can cost $299+ to start up and generally include everything needed to get started except for filament. Following, filament is typically $15+ dollars per 1KG spool - we buy the cheap stuff. 

Is it complicated?

3D printing is becoming more reliable and easier everyday, however; there are always key skills or mindset to certain hobbies. With 3D printing the biggest asset is the willingness to make, tinker and learn. Working with a 3D printer is a fulfilling experience and can greatly increase your productivity in design, bringing your designs to life as well as bringing fun projects to family. There seem to be different levels of 3D printing enthusiasts - those who just like to print anything and everything, those who only use it for rapid prototyping their ideas, and those who enjoy tinkering with the machine elaborating on design and improvments.

If you would like more detailed information on what to expect, the following are great resources:

BASIC Guide to buying a 3D printer BASIC Guide to buying a 3D printer Reviewed by on February 08, 2022 Rating: 5

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