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2013 3D Printer Comparison Guide

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December 19, 2013

2013 3D Printer Comparison Guide

2013 3D Printer Comparison Guide

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The 3D printer industry is growing in both the professional and maker markets. With more and more 3D printers diving under the US$4,000 price-point, is it time for you to pick up one of your own? Though the consumer end of the market is still young, business is booming, and this disruptive technology is something that will definitely appeal to many Gizmag readers. That’s why we’ve taken the top desktop 3D printers and lined them up for a side-by-side comparison.

The Lineup

With so many open-source designs and readily-available 3D printers from both major corporations and Kickstarter start-ups, it would be nearly impossible to (both curate and read) create a complete list, so here are five of the most popular:

Keep in mind that this list is by no means comprehensive, these are just some of the most popular desktop 3D printers on the market. Also, many 3D printers, including many of those on our list, have modular components or open-source formats, so some of the technical statistics can be tweaked and changed to user preferences, providing they have the skill and know-how to do so.

Print Area

3D printer guide – Print Area

Desktop 3D printers have been somewhat limited when it comes to a print area, since the printer needs to, ideally, fit on your desktop. The LulzBot TAZ has claimed the largest print area for under US$5,000 for some time, and it stays true to that claim with the 3.0.

Print Volume

3D printer guide – Print Volume

Like the print area, the build volume of these printers is limited to your desk space. Though the LulzBot, which Gizmag reviewed back in October, and Cube X, which is the higher-end version of the 3D Systems Cubify printer, boast the biggest envelopes, consider the amount of desk space available before assuming bigger is better.

Print Speed

3D printer guide – Print Speed

The MakerBot and LulzBot boast vastly more aggressive deposition speeds than the other printers, while the UP! Mini is the slowest. When it comes to speed, you may be getting what you pay for.

Print Surface

3D printer guide – Print Surface

While heated print platforms have become an industry standard, as most 3D printers use ABS material, varying materials differentiate these printers. The heated perfboard of the Afinia and UP! Mini is, basically, an electronics breadboard, but the tiny holes give the ABS material something to grab onto while being printed. The other platforms are variations on the traditional smooth plate that originated on early desktop 3D printers. While heated glass works, these platforms often require a little extra help from PET material or an ABS slurry (or both) to make prints stick properly.

Filament Size

3D printer guide – Filament Size

Filament size can affect layer resolution, and in turn, the smoothness of prints. The standard filament sizes are 3 mm and 1.75 mm, so all of the printers are fairly accepting of various filaments – no need to buy brand-name.

Print Tolerance

3D printer guide – Print Tolerance

Print tolerance determines how close your print is compared to the original computer model. This statistic is most important if you are creating complex or moving parts. If you’re just printing Yoda heads, this is more of a luxury than a necessity.

Layer Thickness

3D printer guide – Layer Thickness

The Cube X, Replicator 2X, and the TAZ boast the best layer thicknesses, meaning they can create the highest resolution prints. If smooth, clean parts are important, smaller layer thicknesses are important, though it will take much longer to print.

Cost

3D printer guide – Pricing

Arguably, the most important statistic. The prices of 3D printers have come down drastically in the last year, and they are sure to come down more as the technology progresses. 3D printers are not perfect, and generally, you’ll get what you pay for.

MakerBot’s website claims, “Patience, know-how, and a sense of adventure required.” There is still a learning curve with 3D printing, so choosing the right printer may be a tedious, drawn out venture (maybe even with some remorse).

At first, 3D printers can seem daunting and even challenging, but once you’ve spent US$1,000 or more, frustration can easily turn to motivation. Even though these few printers are just some of the most popular, they are still drastically different in their capabilities.

The next industrial revolution is upon us, might as well join in.

9 Comments

Excellent article, Randall. Its nice to see a simple and clear comparison of the top players. Thanks for putting this together. These models appear to utilize the "FDM" method... are there any low-cost units out there that employ SLA (light polymerization) or even SLS/SLM methods (laser sintering) paradigms?

For readers interested, the open source 3D app Blender (blender.org) has excellent modeling capabilities (including sculpting), and there are add-ons available which help the artist determine the 3D-printing "viability" of their creations. It also includes the ability to output models to STL format. (Of course the program does a bunch of other stuff, too -- its truly amazing how sophisticated it has become! (I'm not affiliated, just a fanboy! ☺))

MzunguMkubwa
20th December, 2013 @ 05:24 am PST

I would have liked to have seen the AirWolf3dHD on that list as it's the one I'm leaning towards purchasing. It would be the most expensive at $2,995 but side by side with the others I think it's specs would justify the extra cost.

BobQCarter
20th December, 2013 @ 06:11 am PST

Based on personal experience layer thickness is a big false promise, as the official number doesn't mean it can print at that resolution in practice. The same for speed. It can go as fast as hell, but then if the quality is awful, it is just meaningless. Moreover, watch out for the possibility to use filament from different suppliers. The CubeX uses a proprietary spool that will force you to pay your material well in excess of 100€/Kg (160$/2.2 Lbs for the impaired), instead of 25-40€/kg!

ugosugo
20th December, 2013 @ 06:25 am PST

2 Years ago I purchased a 3D carving machine. It was only as good as the service backing it up. VERY POOR! only one technician to serve its entire sales. It is now a white elephant. YET, I have seen a community of users having great success with that machine--because they were already computer programmers familiar with workarounds. SO... You had better be very tech savvy, and research the backup before investing. The learning curve will likely be very steep for a novice.

Injection molded parts are the standard of the industry for many good reasons. If material choice for strength and durability of final parts is important to you, then casting and injection molding may still be superior. The real value of 3D for me will be carving molds for the more proven legacy techniques. 3D is not quite there yet in materials and capability for mold making in an affordable venue. Soon, it will be.

James Simpson
20th December, 2013 @ 08:47 am PST

To MzunguMkubwa:

I am very happy with my Form 1 SLA printer. I think it is the best quality and price combo.

M Duarte
20th December, 2013 @ 08:56 am PST

While I like the comparison of the different models, I wonder why the layer thickness and print tolerance categories use different measurement units. This kinda complicates the comparison of the individual printers.

I would recommed changing all the units to mm.

haldir
21st December, 2013 @ 02:50 pm PST

A DIY reprap (reprap.org) can cost as little as $500USD while $900USD would be more realistic if you don't shop around as much. Obviously this is a technical people only thing, as all the parts need to be assembled and collected by yourself unless you purchase a kit, but I think it bears worth mentioning.

asdf
22nd December, 2013 @ 02:00 am PST

Please don't mix units in your comparison guides. Not everyone knows how to convert 100 microns to millimeters in their heads...

christopher
23rd December, 2013 @ 03:24 pm PST

Ditto on the lack of unit conversion in your tables.

1 micron = 40 millionths of an inch

100 microns = .1mm = .004"

Also nothing about the software and it's ease of use.

The original Makerbot SW was pretty primitive and full of obscure parameters.

Overall a poor article.

Steve Jasik
19th January, 2014 @ 10:30 pm PST
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