Why get a 3D printer?
Just a few short years ago 3D printers were well beyond the financial reach of all but commercial enterprises and a small number of wealthy enthusiasts. Now, all that has changed and just about anyone can afford a printer of their very own; the cheapest models cost only a few hundred pounds, about the same as a mid-range smart TV.
Although the latest 3D printers might be relatively cheap the question is: why buy one? There is no simple answer; it all depends on the individual. Some may have to have the latest piece of tech, just because it's there; and there are those who have a clear reason for purchasing one. For example, an artist might use it to make moulds for casting pieces of jewellery or small ornaments.
As already mentioned at the bottom end of the price scale, a reasonable quality 3D home printer can be purchased for the same price as a decent TV. What does need to be taken into consideration, however, is the cost of materials; printing plastic comes in spools priced at around £30 each.
What will it and what won't it do?
The first thing to be aware of is that the typical home printer is not capable of printing replacement parts for cars, appliances or other home gadgets, but they are perfect for checking that two dimensional designs work when transferred into three dimensional objects. It's much easier to identify errors when the piece can be physically picked up and moved around than it is to interpret a set of drawings. With that in mind, 3D printers are ideal for designers, architects, artists and serious hobbyists.
Most home printers are capable of printing objects in only one colour, which can be somewhat limiting. New machines are entering the market that can print in two colours simultaneously: better than nothing, but still not brilliant. There are ways of overcoming this problem, though; with a little lateral thinking it might be possible to print the object in several pieces, each in the required colour, and assemble it afterwards.
The size of the object to be printed is limited by the dimensions of the machine's base; in most cases this tends to be around 15cm x 15cm on budget-priced machines.
The most common method of printing an object, especially in lower price range printers, is to squirt a string of plastic in layers of between 200 and 75 microns thick; a process that results in the surface of the finished article having a stepped-like appearance. Put simply, the finer the surface the more expensive the printer will be. In a similar vein, the strength of the objects printed by this level of machine will be quite low.
3D printing services
Professional 3D printing services are becoming more common, which may be a more sensible option for those who require a high quality finish or who have only an occasional printing requirement. The downside is that the convenience of being able to print at will is lost.
There is definitely a growing demand for home 3D printers, but whether a market exists for the majority of the populace remains questionable. No doubt within two or three years the situation is likely to be completely different and everyone will have one.