What You Should Know Before Choosing a 3D Printer

D technology has long entered the life of many companies and in some areas began to actively replace the previously traditional production methods. Dental laboratories and clinics can no longer imagine their work without digital assistants – 3D printers and 3D scanners. The 3D printer helps doctors in carrying out operations – print CT scan results and visualize a future operation, or try on a model of implants. Making architectural models has become much easier – many elements of the future layout are made using a 3D printer. In mechanical engineering, aircraft construction and other industrial areas, 3D printing allows not only to create prototypes of future products, but also to print functional parts thanks to the emerging engineering materials. It is difficult to imagine a production area where 3D technologies would not find application.

An ideal and universal 3D printer, unfortunately, does not yet exist, and when choosing equipment, you will have to make compromises somewhere, and somewhere sacrifice some characteristics for the sake of others. In this article we will try to understand the main aspects of choosing a printer. First of all, you need to make sure once again that you are not mistaken with the direction and the photopolymer printing will be optimal for your tasks. If you need highly detailed models, jewelry or dental samples, or prototypes or master models with high surface quality that require minimal post-processing, photopolymer 3D printers should ideally suit you and all that remains is to choose a specific technology – MultiJet \ Polyjet, SLA, DLP or LCD.
If one of the main evaluation criteria is durability, strength, or the possibility of a wide functional use of the part, you should take a closer look at the FDM \ FFF or SLS technology.
If these abbreviations do not provide a comprehensive understanding of the technology, be sure to read our article on basic 3D printing technologies .
So, you understand various technologies and are sure that the use of photopolymer 3D printers will be optimal for your tasks. It remains to choose which printer is right for you.

What are the criteria for choosing a 3D printer

Choosing the right tool is the key to easy work and success. We will try to figure out which parameters may be important, and which will be secondary and least significant, or, in general, the tricks of marketers in pursuit of a buyer.

Print area

The first and most important parameter when choosing a 3D printer is its printable area, i.e. what is the maximum object that can be printed on the printer at one time. Therefore, you need to analyze the planned work and draw a conclusion about the overall dimensions of typical objects. Parts printed on photopolymer printers can be easily post-processed, as well as glued, so if most of the parts planned for printing will be small, and only a small part of them are overall, it is worth considering gluing the parts.

What You Should Know Before Choosing a 3D Printer 1
Large detail printed on an SLA printer.

Not always in 3D printing, a large print area will be an advantage. In SLA and DLP (LCD) technologies, a large build chamber area means a large vat, which must be filled with photopolymer resin and ensured enough resin in the vat throughout the print cycle, which can increase printer overhead. The Polyjet technology, developed and patented by Stratasys, as well as the analogous MultiJet technology from 3D Systems, uses the principle of inkjet photopolymer printing, followed by curing in layers, and scaling the print area does not affect the amount of photopolymer resin required to start work.

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Pictured is a Stratasys J750 3D printer. Only as much material is required as is required for the part itself.

It is worth noting that the increased area along the Z axis can not always be a significant advantage, since it entails a significant increase in print time, and cascade printing can be effective for setting a job at night, while additional material consumption for building supports is possible.

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Material compatibility

The next parameter that you need to pay attention to when choosing a 3D printer is what materials you plan to work with. At this stage, a number of 3D printers may disappear from the list, because not all printers can work with third-party materials, or work, but with limitations in warranty or in cut parameters when working with non-original materials. Therefore, if the printer works only on original consumables and there is no one suitable for you in terms of functionality or properties in the line of materials, it is worth considering alternative models of 3D printers. So, Stratasys printers with Polyjet and MultiJet technology from 3D Systems do not work with third-party materials – for them you need to buy an original cartridge with photopolymer material, and also immediately indicate that we will not further touch upon the professional models of SLA printers, since their budget is above 3 million rubles and each of them is an excellent subject for a separate comparison and review. The situation is somewhat different with Formlabs Form 2 and Uniz Slash printers. Original materials are supplied for them, but the manufacturer has left the possibility of using third-party materials. Unfortunately, the updated model of the Formlabs Form 3 3D printer came out with closed settings and Open Mode, as in Formlabs Form 2, no. Thus, the use of third-party materials on this printer is now impossible, we hope that the manufacturer will return the possibility of using third-party materials in the next firmware updates. The situation is somewhat different with Formlabs Form 2 and Uniz Slash printers. Original materials are supplied for them, but the manufacturer has left the possibility of using third-party materials. Unfortunately, the updated model of the Formlabs Form 3 3D printer came out with closed settings and Open Mode, as in Formlabs Form 2, no. Thus, the use of third-party materials on this printer is now impossible, we hope that the manufacturer will return the possibility of using third-party materials in the next firmware updates. The situation is somewhat different with Formlabs Form 2 and Uniz Slash printers. Original materials are supplied for them, but the manufacturer has left the possibility of using third-party materials. Unfortunately, the updated model of the Formlabs Form 3 3D printer came out with closed settings and Open Mode, as in Formlabs Form 2. Thus, the use of third-party materials on this printer is now impossible, we hope that the manufacturer will return the possibility of using third-party materials in the next firmware updates.

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Easy installation and material replacement in Formlabs 3d printers – just remove the cartridge

Of course, the materials supplied in cartridges by the equipment manufacturer are the most convenient to use – there is a chip on the cartridge that will inform the printer about the characteristics of the resin and the required set of profiles for printing, as well as the expiration date, material remaining and other important information. However, such consumables are sometimes 2-3 times more expensive than resins produced by third-party companies and supplied in various containers, from small cans to barrels.
Now there is no problem in finding the right photopolymer resin and they are presented in a wide range on the market. So for dentistry, these are Next Dent from the Netherlands, Detax from Germany and HarzLabs from Russia, which are actively conquering the market around the world thanks to the high quality of photopolymer and affordable prices. For general engineering applications, polymers from Fun to do, Wanhao, Monocure3D and Gorky Liquid are well known.

Read our articles on Hartz Labs photopolymers.

It is also worth mentioning the photopolymer resins of the Chinese brand Esun , among which special attention can be paid to the burnout photopolymers Esun Castable for dentists, Esun Castable for jewelers and Esun Water Washable , the peculiarity of which is that the printed models from it are washed with ordinary running water without using alcohol.

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Having studied the assortment of materials, you already have an idea of ​​what materials, first of all, you will need and can narrow the circle for choosing equipment.

Usability and scalability

We must not forget about the ease of use of the equipment. The printer is just an output device, but the final result will depend on how you set it up.
We refer to usability as such properties that are not mentioned in the list of technical characteristics: ease of refilling material and ease of changing materials, printing stability, preparing a table and sending a print job, completing printing and preparing equipment for a new job.

Convenience of refueling and printing.

When the printer works with a cartridge – everything is simple here – the chip on the cartridge will tell you how much material is left, whether it will be enough for the current job, and also tell you which profile the 3D printer should use to complete the job. If we use compatible materials, then the 3D printer operator is responsible for the required level of photopolymer in the bath, and the settings for each material are either provided by the manufacturer, as did HarzLabs, who prepared parameters for the main printer models for their entire line of materials, or the operator selects. This procedure must be performed once for each material, then save the parameters and use them always when working with this material. Some 3d printer models, such as Uniz Slash Plus, are equipped with a pump for transferring photopolymer from a can to a bath,
Before starting printing, the printer needs to be calibrated, the result also depends on the speed and ease of this process. Each printer has its own calibration system – in some, the legs are adjustable, bringing the level of the installed tray to the ideal horizon, while in others, the build platform is adjusted for perfect fit to the tray. So, in our opinion, the simplest, most reliable and practical adjustment to date is for the Elegoo Mars printer.

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You can find our big review on the Elegoo Mars 3D printer at the link

Change of material. 

If the next print will be from another photopolymer, then it is necessary to change the tray or completely clean it from the material, followed by the replacement of the film, if this is implied by the design. The photopolymer is cured under the influence of ultraviolet radiation, which somehow enters the room and therefore the removed tray must be closed with a lid, and the unused photopolymer from it must be drained into a storage container through a filter element. Systems that work with cartridges do not allow the photopolymer to be drained into the original container, therefore it is necessary to store the removed trays closed in a dark place, while storage cannot be prolonged, since UV radiation will find a way to cure the material in the tray and make it unusable.
If you intend to constantly work with several materials, be sure to have a stock of trays for each material. This will save a lot of time, and the print will always be of high quality.

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Stable printing.

The final result directly depends on the stability of the print. A laser and an optical system in SLA technology and a matrix in DLP \ LED are responsible for the high-quality result. The matrix is ​​more stable and resistant to external factors such as transportation, movement, etc. The printer must be well insulated from dust and UV rays from the outside, as well as from stray light, which can often be present on 3D printers with DLP \ LCD technology. Pay attention to the workmanship of the case and the tightness of the covers, as well as how the space near the tray is isolated from stray light from the matrix. Some printer models, such as the Formlabs Form 3, are equipped with lid open sensors that will stop printing when the lid is lifted.

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Stirring Resin Resin in Formlabs Form2 Printer during Tray Printing

Preparing a job and sending it to print.

You have to place the parts on the table, prepare the file and send it to the printer. We are sure that we will have to do this often, because 3D printing is gaining momentum, which means that the 3D printer software should cope well with this task. The programs of all devices allow in automatic mode to place parts on the table, focusing on the minimum print time or the maximum number of parts required to be placed on the table, arrange supports. Programs do this according to their algorithms, and you cannot do without operator control. Let’s not dive deeper into software, as this is a long topic for a separate article. After the task is formed, it must be sent to print. This can be done in several ways, depending on which interfaces the printer supports – through a memory card, via USB cable, USB flash drive or Wi-Fi \ Ethernet. We believe that the possibility of wireless transmission is a serious advantage, and will effectively scale in the future.

It must be remembered that when an uninterested person works with a 3D printer, the risk of equipment failure and unsuccessful printing increases significantly. That is why in mass production 3d farms or a number of identical 3d printers will be most effective for preparing a detailed job description and sequence of actions.

The software of some printers allows you to create a unified control center for the status of equipment, print status, and also send a job to a free device.

Additional equipment for 3D printing

In addition to a 3D printer and materials for the manufacture of quality products, you will also need additional equipment.

First of all, it is an ultrasonic cleaner for cleaning models after printing. With its help, excess material is removed from the surface of the product, making it smooth and even. There are more budget options, but with a smaller volume, for example, the Uniz UC-4120 ultrasonic bath for 3.2 liters

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or Formlabs Form Wash 8.6 liters.

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It all depends on the number and size of models that you plan to produce at the same time.

Also a necessary additional element is an ultraviolet chamber for additional curing of models, which allows to increase the strength and durability of printed products. The most budgetary option that can be used for these purposes is a regular UV nail lamp, but very few models can fit in it and the curing time will be much longer than in a specialized UV camera.

There is a wide choice of models on the market – from the simple and reliable Wanhao Boxman-1 camera with an illumination area of ​​32 × 20 × 20 cm to the Formlabs Form Cure with a turntable and a preheating system with an exposure diameter of 193 mm.

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There are already devices on the market that combine the functions of cleaning and curing products, such as the Anycubic Wash & Cure . If necessary, you switch the cleaning mode to additional illumination, it is convenient and practical.

Equipment budget and cost of ownership

And now we have come to the moment when it is necessary to determine the available budget for the purchase of equipment. It is incorrect to consider the purchase budget in isolation from the cost of equipment ownership, and we will show this in the table below.
Consider the cost of owning several printers that are the absolute bestsellers in Russia today. For convenience, we believe that printers are taken for intensive work and consume 1 liter of photopolymer per week, which is far from the critical load.
Explanation of calculations. For high-quality printing, the tray must be changed after the 3D printer has consumed 2 liters of photopolymers. If the manufacturer has provided for the replacement of the film, then the bath is included in the costs only once a year, because its frame wear is minimal. If there are additional elements requiring replacement, LCD display or laser, we take them into account based on the inherent resource of operation of these elements. The table also took into account the cost of additional equipment – UV cameras and ultrasound baths. The choice of such devices is very large, we take the most affordable and suitable models for permanent work.

We do not take into account the possible costs of non-warranty repairs, since the sample is the most fault-tolerant. Maintenance costs and post-processing costs are not included as they will be the same in each case.

The cost

 

 

1 year

 

 

2 year

 

 

3 year

 

 

Expenses

Formlabs
Formlabs Form 3    360,000.00 ₽

     360,000.00 ₽
Formlabs White Resin, 1l     16 800,00 ₽             873,600.00 ₽   873,600.00 ₽   873,600.00 ₽   2 620 800,00 ₽
Formlabs Resin Tank     16,000.00 ₽             416,000.00 ₽   416,000.00 ₽   416,000.00 ₽   1,248,000.00 ₽
UV camera Wanhao Boxman-1     33 900,00 ₽                 –               –               –        33 900,00 ₽
Ultrasonic bath Uniz 3,2l     RUB 13,900.00             –               –               –        RUB 13,900.00
                           Total cost of ownership

 

 4,276,600.00 ₽
Uniz
Uniz Slash Plus   245,000.00 ₽

    245,000.00 ₽
Unis zABS white, 0.5l       6,300.00 ₽            655,200.00 ₽  655,200.00 ₽  655,200.00 ₽  1 965 600,00 ₽
Bath Uniz       7 500,00 ₽            195,000.00 ₽  195,000.00 ₽  195,000.00 ₽     585,000.00 ₽
UV camera Wanhao Boxman-1     33 900,00 ₽             –               –               –       33 900,00 ₽
Ultrasonic bath Uniz 3,2l     RUB 13,900.00             –               –               –       RUB 13,900.00

Total cost of ownership:

 

 2 843 400,00 ₽
Phrozen
Phrozen Shuffle 4k 140,000.00 ₽

    140,000.00 ₽
Harz Labs Basic Resin, 0.5L       3 300,00 ₽            343,200.00 ₽  343,200.00 ₽  343,200.00 ₽  1,029 600.00 ₽
Bath Phrozen       7,100.00 ₽      7,100.00 ₽      7,100.00 ₽       14,200.00 ₽
Film       RUB 1,750.00              ₽22,750.00    ₽22,750.00    ₽22,750.00       68,250.00 ₽
Phrozen shuffle 4k LCD module     23,000.00 ₽    23,000.00 ₽    23,000.00 ₽       46,000.00 ₽
UV camera Wanhao Boxman-1     33 900,00 ₽             –               –               –       33 900,00 ₽
Ultrasonic bath Uniz 3,2l     RUB 13,900.00             –               –               –       RUB 13,900.00

Total cost of ownership:

 

 1 345 850,00 ₽

As you can see from the table, for 3 years of not the most intensive work of a 3D printer, it will print materials worth 10 times more than the cost of the device. It is for this reason that we attributed the financial factor to one of the last, which can influence the decision to purchase, and it comes after the convenience of using the printer. To correctly assess the effectiveness of equipment for your business, it is necessary to analyze the expected volume of work, and the results may turn out to be the opposite, since with small volumes of printing, the comfort of equipment reconfiguration, ease of use and the possibility of an easy change of material come first. If you do not have a 3D printing specialist, and only rare print jobs are assumed to be sent by a specialist engaged in other projects,

Most Popular Printers of 2020

Formlabs Form3

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Pros :
One of the most easy-to-use photopolymer 3d printers on the market
Easy change of materials The
printer is easy to learn and does not require studying the parameters and properties of materials

Cons :
Inability to use third-party materials
Low printing speed when loading the entire table.
High cost of consumables

Uniz Slash Plus

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Pros :
High quality and speed of printing
Large printing area
Possibility of using third-party materials and the omnivorous nature of this printer
Photopolymer pumping system, automatic control of the material level.

Cons :
Starting the printer only from the control PC or smartphone
Noisy operation of the printer when entering the operating mode
And, oddly enough, the photopolymer pumping system. It will require periodic maintenance and cleaning.

Phrozen Shuffle 4K

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Pros :
Affordable price and low running costs
Precision printing
Supports all technology-compatible materials

Cons :
Unobvious control and settings, we want to believe what will be decided in the next
Slicer firmware – we recommend using alternative software or purchasing additional software Formware

Elegoo Mars

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Pros :
High-quality printer in the most affordable price category
Works with third-party materials
Convenient and reliable table adjustment unit

Cons :
Lightweight. Place on a table to prevent accidental movement
All connectors on the back of the printer.

In this short comparison, the price segment up to 50,000 rubles was represented only by the Elegoo Mars printer , and they deliberately did not add such models as Phrozen Sonic Mini , Anycubic Photon S , Wanhao GR1 , Wanhao D7 and others, since their comparison is a topic for our separate future review. …

conclusions

Choosing a 3D printer is a difficult process, and it is difficult primarily due to the fact that you need to correctly prioritize before buying. Each existing 3D printer has both pros and cons, and which of the parameters will be the most important for you, and which are the least important – it’s up to you.
Do you still have doubts when choosing? Be sure to arrange a visit to the showroom with the seller or order a test print. The minimum costs when choosing equipment cannot be compared with the possible losses in case of purchasing an unsuitable 3D printer.

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