All about 3D printers in our great guide: What is a 3D printer? How to use a 3D printer? How does 3D printing work? Learn everything from us.
3D Printer is a machine that creates 3D objects, where the objects are built up layer upon layer automatically by the machine. The process is called additive manufacturing, namely adding layers on top of each other. You have probably heard of cutters, which work after subtractive manufacturing, namely that they remove layer after layer.
The goal of this great guide is for you to know what to think about when buying a 3D printer, just to buy the best 3D printer for your needs.
Which filament brand is best?
Filament – See which brand is best
Which 3D Printer is Best?
3D Printer – BEST-IN-TEST
What do you use 3D Printers for?
3D printers make it possible for all people to easily manufacture complex objects from, for example, the home.
Unlike giant machines installed in factories, modern desktop 3D printers are small and relatively inexpensive (the cheapest ones cost less than a good smartphone) and are easy to install at home.
Lots of people already have a 3D printer in their home. So what do they do with these 3D printers? It turns out very much. Does your child want a new toy? Has the door handle broken? Print it in 3D and it’s solved, for a fraction of the cost of buying the spare part (or toy) new.
It is often cheaper, faster and more customizable to print anything in your home (or office) than to buy such items from the store. The technology is already quite mature and the build quality of the machines is improving. It’s not hard to imagine a world where everyone has a 3D printer in their home. That’s not entirely unreasonable, given the standard inkjet printer that came out a number of years ago.
In industries, 3D printers are used to faster, more efficiently, and more cost-effectively, create objects on a large scale at a fraction of the cost over traditional methods. Nowadays, there are even machines that print buildings in 3D.
How Does a 3D Printer Work?
If you are familiar with how a standard inkjet printer works (the one that prints standard documents), it is quite easy to understand a 3D printer.
Just like a regular document printer (inkjet) that requires a document to print, namely a file, such as PDF, or DOC, a 3D printer also requires a specific file.
These files usually have the STL format, but also come in other formats. These are the files that the 3D printer uses to print the 3D model.
You can change the settings of your 3D printer through the computer just as you change the settings of an inkjet printer through the computer. However, the settings are slightly more for 3D printers.
3D Printers work differently depending on…
Like regular document printers that come with different techniques (ink, laser, etc.), there are also different techniques for 3D printers.
Most people who talk about 3D printers mean a machine that works according to the FFF method. It is by far the most common method.
The method is also called a process, and sometimes you say “FFF process” but mean a 3D printer that works according to this process.
FFF stands for Fused Filament Fabrication, and is the method of creating an object layer by layer by melting the raw material (filament). The method is also called FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling), and is the same thing.
There are also other methods for 3D printers (the most common):
FFF works by a raw material called Filament, passing and melting through a nozzle, which moves in the X-joint, Y-joint and Z-joint (Often it is the building plate that moves in the Z-joint instead of the Nozzle and the extruder ).
At the same time as the nozzle moves, the filament melts, and becomes solid after it has melted and passed the nozzle, and ended up on the building board. See the illustration:
SLA and DLP
SLA (Stereolithography apparatus) or DLP (Digital Light Processing), is the method or process for creating 3D models by using light rays to “bind” the raw material.
SLS (Selective laser sintering) is the process of creating 3D models by a laser (high energy source) radiating to the raw material, and binding it to a solid shape.
What can you create with a 3D Printer?
Tips on things you can create with your 3D printer can be found everywhere online. There is not much that limits the creation of 3D objects.
Many people use 3D Printers to create spare parts, handles, glass coasters, toys, models, decorations, and much more.
Others use 3D printers to create goods that they plan to assemble into an even more complex model. Or maybe a little more advanced moving parts, such as gears, pedals for the bike, fidget-spinner, and more.
If you use the 3D printer diligently, and are good at it, you can also use a 3D Scanner to scan in an existing product, and print it fairly quickly. Then you have suddenly copied an existing product for which you may have paid a lot of money.
As you can see, there are a lot of possibilities when it comes to 3D printing.
What materials do you need for the 3D printer?
It depends on which 3D Printer you have!
The simple answer is Filament.
FFF 3D Printer is by far the most common form, and it is the one you hear and see around you. These printers use Filament.
Filament is thus the raw material, and is made of plastic (usually).
SLS 3D printers use a powder (ie not filament).
SLA 3D printers use a liquid polymer (not filament either).
Examples of some filament types: PLA, ABS, PET, NYLON, FLEXIBLE FILAMENTS, METAL FILAMENTS, WOOD, CERAMICS, MAGNETIC, CONDUCTIVE, and the list goes on.
Basically, all filaments are plastic materials with additives and modifications.
Do you want to know more about Filament in particular?
Read our separate guide on filaments.
Do you want to compare all types of different filaments, what they are used for, and what their common properties are? You can read this in our large comparison of all filament types for FFF 3D Printers.
How to get started with 3D printing?
3D printing is easy for everyone to learn. But before we give you a shopping list and dive into the details, it is better to first look at the different steps from idea to finished model. Once you understand the steps well enough, you will be better equipped to decide which one to buy. The goal is to after this reading know what you should think about when buying a 3D printer.
Step 1: Design of 3D model
If you want to print an object in 3D, you need a digital design file that encodes the object’s three-dimensional geometry. Therefore, design is the first important step in using a 3D printer.
So how do you create 3D design files? Do you have to be good at sketching or drawing to do that?
It turns out that anyone can design 3D objects! You do not need to draw or sketch. You simply use CAD (Computer Aided Design) software. Using the tools and shapes available in the software, you build your 3D object.
If you have ever worked with MS Paint, GIMP, Inkscape, Illustrator or Photoshop, the CAD software will be familiar to you. They all have similar interfaces and are very user friendly.
Step 2: The Slicer program
Once you have the design file, the next step is to open the design in a dedicated software (called “Slicer”). Slicer’s job is to process the 3D design and create a file with instructions for a 3D printer to print your file. You can change settings in the 3d printer to control various aspects of the printing process.
It also plans the best way for the printhead to move during the print phase so that it can create the first layer, then move up, create the second layer, move up, and so on. Based on its calculations, it instructs the printer what to do in a language called G-Code.
It seems like a lot is happening under the hood of this innocent software!
In principle, you as a user do not see any of this with G-Code and you do not have to worry about it unless you want to become experts.
Often slicing software is also available in many CAD programs.
Step 3: Print the model with the 3D printer
This is the easiest step of all. If you have a 3D printer connected to your computer, simply press “Print” and see how the machine handles the rest.
Depending on how the 3D printer is connected to the computer, you may also need to download the file in a USB stick that you connect directly to the 3D printer.
Regardless, you will see your machine begin 3D printing and lay down the material layer by layer until a physical 3D object is ready.
What skills do you need to use a 3D Printer?
During the previous paragraphs, we have looked at different steps in the 3D printing process. If you are a beginner, you may need to gain experience in those steps before you become really good at each of these steps.
Design knowledge / construction
If you want to design your own objects, you need to be familiar with 3D design software / CAD software. Note that this is not an essential skill as you can always download CAD models from the internet.
Each CAD software is a little different, so choose one, and try to become completely familiar with its interface and capabilities.
Thankfully, there is very good tutorial for almost every popular CAD program on the internet. Start with basic skills for building simple 3D objects and once you feel confident with your knowledge, move on to advanced sections that deal with more complex objects. Basically, a good person can learn all this in a few hours.
Download design instead of designing yourself
Instead of designing the object yourself with CAD software, you can simply download an existing 3D model from the internet.
In fact, most do. The good news is that the internet is full of free and open design of just about anything you might want to print. Thingiverse is the largest 3D file sharing platform and a great starting point for downloading 3D designs. We recommend that you check this page. There are plenty of other places that offer interesting designs as well.
Use external 3D printing services
Did you know that you can enjoy most of the benefits of 3D printing without even owning a 3D printer?
You can simply upload the design file to an online 3D printing service.
There are several such services.
There are several reasons to use such services. You may just want to try a prototype before investing in a 3D printer and do it all yourself. Or maybe you want to print with a material that your current 3D printer cannot handle.
Which 3D Printer to Buy?
Finally, the most important part that everyone has been waiting for: Which 3D printer should I buy then?
Now that you know how 3D printing works, we go straight to the point:
Difference between expensive and cheap 3D printers
The cheapest 3D printers usually come in kits, and can cost about 2500 SEK and up. However, these types of 3D Printers in kits require more from the users than complete, pre-assembled 3D Printers. You need a lot of computer skills, electrical skills, etc. This is recommended for those of you who want to learn all about this technology.
Complete 3D printers are more common, starting at around SEK 4,000, and are ready to be used in principle immediately after delivery.
Of course, there are also really expensive machines of 20,000 SEK and up, but the price is not something that guarantees quality. The best 3D printers in our opinion on the 3D guide are the ones in the middle class. You can read our best in tests and see for yourself which 3D printers ended up at the top of the list . They are ranked according to customers’ own ratings around the web, and are thus real customer reviews.
Most common price differences for 3D printers
size The size of the model, or volume, is the area on which the model can be built. Usually is about 15cm x 15cm x 15cm.
Which material you want to print with of course places demands on the 3D printer, and in this way the price is affected.
board Heated building board is a requirement for ABS filaments, but also other filament types.
Speed The speed of the
3D printer is usually measured in mm / s, and this also affects the price tag on the machine.
Precision, or accuracy, also affects the price.
Some printers have higher security standards. Especially when we talk about 3D Printers that have a heated building board and may need encapsulated building area as unhealthy and foul-smelling fumes occur at certain filaments.
Software is usually included with the purchase of complete 3D printers, but in some cases you may need to purchase software separately. This can cost a lot and be worth checking out in advance.
The Future of 3D Printers
The ultimate dream is that everyone should have their own “factory” at home and manufacture their own goods.
With a 3D printer at home, think about the money you can save by having products take the shortcut past warehouse management, transport and logistics, and instead go directly to you as a customer.
Imagine if you could get a replacement part for a product in a few hours instead of waiting for it to come from a remote location.
Imagine wearing a shoe that is designed to fit only your feet and no one else’s.
It will be a different world – just like computers and smartphones, 3D printers can do the same for manufacturing.
Many say that 3D printers will soon become part of every household, changing the balance between manufacturers and consumers.
The future must decide!
3D printers make our world more environmentally friendly
3D printers could change how we get products, how we throw things away and how we reuse plastic and other materials.
If you advance in the right way in this technology, it will probably benefit our world environmentally.