GUIDE: How to Choose a 3D Printer

3D technology is becoming popular and some companies have started replacing the previously traditional production methods with 3D printing production.

Application of 3D Printing

Today, dental laboratories and clinics have dentistry 3D printers and 3D scanners. The 3D printer helps doctors in carrying out operations, i.e., print CT scan results and visualize a future operation, or try on a model of implants.

Moving to the construction industry, making architectural models has become much easier thanks to 3D printing technologies. Many elements of the future layout are made using an architectural 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. 3D technologies are useful in nearly all industry

Which is the Best 3D Printer?

An ideal and universal 3D printer, unfortunately, does not yet exist. Therefore, when choosing a 3D printer, you will have to make compromises and sacrifices.

In this article, we will provide advise on the main things to consider when choosing a 3D printer.

But before we begin, you have to understand the different types of printing that are possible with 3D printers.

If you need highly-detailed models, jewelry or dental samples, or prototypes or master models with high surface quality that require minimal post-processing, choose resin 3D printers. After that, you will need to decide on the specific technology you prefer, i.e.,  MultiJet\Polyjet, SLA, DLP or LCD.

On the other hand, if you are mostly interested in models that are durable, strong, and versatile, go for printers that use FDM\FFF or SLS technology.

For beginners, here is a detailed guide on basic 3D printing technologies.

After knowing what technology you would prefer your printer to be using, it’s time to select the particular printer to buy.

How to Choose a 3D Printer

Here are the most important things to consider when choosing a 3D printer:

1. Print Area

First, consider the print area or the build volume, i.e. the maximum size of an object that can be printed on the printer at one time. The kinds of models you will be printing should help you decide on the print area size.

Parts printed on resin printers can be easily post-processed and glued. Therefore, if you will be mostly printing small parts, it is worth considering gluing them.

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Large detail printed on an SLA printer.

A large print area will not always be advantageous. For example, in In SLA and DLP (LCD) technologies, a large build chamber area means a large vat, which must be filled with resin. There must be enough resin in the vat throughout the print cycle. The requirement for a lot of resin can mean increased printing costs.

Polyjet technology and the analogue MultiJet technology use the principle of inkjet resin printing, which is followed by curing in layers. Therefore, with these technologies, having a large print area does not affect the amount of 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.

Also, the increased area along the Z axis is not always a significant advantage, since it increases the print time. Moreover, cascade printing can be effective for setting a job at night if additional material consumption for building supports is possible.

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Material Compatibility

Next, consider the materials you plan to work with. Not all printers can work with third-party materials. Others may work with third-part materials, but with limitations in warranty or in cut parameters.

If a 3D printer only works with original consumables and the functionality or properties of the materials are not suitable for what you will be printing, go for alternative 3D printers.

For example, Polyjet and MultiJet technology 3D printers do not work with third-party materials. For these printers, you need to buy an original cartridge with resin material.

On the other hand, Formlabs Form 2 and Uniz Slash printers can use both original and third-party materials.

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

Of course, the materials supplied by the printer manufacturer are the most convenient to use. For example, there is a chip on the cartridge that will inform the printer about the characteristics of the resin and the required print profiles, expiration date, material remaining and so on.

However, proprietary consumables are sometimes 2-3 times more expensive than resins produced by third-party companies.

You won’t have any difficulty finding 3D printing materials. For example, for dentistry, there is Next Dent from the Netherlands, Detax from Germany and HarzLabs from Russia. For general engineering applications, polymers from Fun to do, Wanhao, Monocure3D and Gorky Liquid are well known.

Read our Hartz Labs resin review.

Esun resins, such as Esun Castable for dentists, Esun Castable for jewelers and Esun Water Washable are also worth mentioning. With the latter resins, the printed models are washed with ordinary running instead of alcohol.

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Now that you have an idea about the materials, it’s now time to choose the equipment.

Usability and Scalability

Consider how easy it is to use the equipment. The printer is just an output device, but the final result will depend on how you set it up.

Things to consider here include the 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.

Let’s look deeper into each of these:

Convenience of Refueling and Printing

When the printer works with a cartridge, the chip on the cartridge will tell you how much material is left, whether it will be enough for the current job, and which profile the 3D printer should use to complete the job.

If you use third-party materials, then you’ll be responsible for the required level of resin in the bath. The settings for the material will be provided either by the manufacturer or yourself.  This procedure must be performed once for each material, and then saved for use when working with the particular material.

Some 3D printers, such as Uniz Slash Plus, are equipped with a pump for transferring resin from a can to a bath.

Before starting printing, the printer needs to be calibrated. Each printer has its own calibration system. In some, the legs are adjustable, bringing the level of the installed tray to the ideal horizon. In others, the build platform is adjusted for perfect fit to the tray.

Elegoo Mars printer has a very simple calibration process.

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More information is available on the Elegoo Mars 3D printer review article.

Change of Material

If the next print will be from another resin, you have to change the tray or completely clean it from the material and then replace the film. The resin is cured by ultraviolet radiation which enters the room. Therefore, the removed tray must be closed with a lid, and the unused resin from it be drained into a storage container through a filter element.

3D printers that work with cartridges do not allow the resin to be drained into the original container. Therefore, it is necessary to store the removed trays closed in a dark place. However, the storage cannot be long since UV radiation will find a way to cure the material in the tray and make it unusable.

If you will be working with several materials, be sure to have a stock of trays for each material. This will save you a lot of time. Moreover, the print will always be of high quality.

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Stable Printing

The result of your model will depend 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. This is made possible through a 3D printer software, which is known as a slicer.  Slicers automatically place parts on the table, focusing on the minimum print time or the maximum number of parts required to be placed on the table and arrange supports.

After, this, the task must be sent to print. This can be done in several ways, depending on which interfaces the printer supports. For example, you can send the task through a memory card, via USB cable, USB flash drive or Wi-Fi\Ethernet.

When an inexperienced person works with a 3D printer, the risk of equipment failure and unsuccessful printing is high. That is why in mass production, 3D farms or a number of identical 3D printers should be fed with a detailed job description and sequence of actions.

Some printer slicers can 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

There are some additional equipment you will need for 3D printing.

Ultrasonic Cleaners

To begin, there is an ultrasonic cleaner for cleaning models after printing. This tool helps to remove excess material from the surface of the product, making it smooth and even. There are some budget options, but with a smaller volume, such as the Uniz UC-4120 ultrasonic bath.

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or the Formlabs Form Wash.

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The number and size of models that you plan to produce should help you decide which ultrasonic cleaner to go for.

UV Curing Chamber

You’ll also need an ultraviolet chamber for additional curing of models. Curing increases the strength and durability of printed products.

If you are on a budget, you can use a regular UV nail lamp. However, 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 range of UV curing chambers on the market. For example, there is the Wanhao Boxman-1 camera with an illumination area of ​​32 × 20 × 20 cm. There is also the Formlabs Form Cure with a turntable and a preheating system with an exposure diameter of 193 mm.

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There are also devices that combine the functions of cleaning and curing products. A good example is the Anycubic Wash & Cure.

Equipment Budget and Cost of Ownership

Next, you have to determine the budget for the purchase of equipment. You have to consider both the budget and the cost of equipment ownership.

In this section, we’ll assume that your printers will be working intensively and consume 1 liter of resin per week. Here is a simple calculation on the cost of the printer as well as of ownership.

For high-quality printing, the tray must be changed after the 3D printer has consumed 2 liters of resins. If the manufacturer has provided a replacement film, then the bath is included in the costs only once a year, because its frame wear is minimal.

If there are additional parts requiring replacement, e.g., LCD display or laser, we take them into account based on how long they are going to last. The table also takes into account the cost of additional equipment, i.e., UV cameras and ultrasound baths. These devices are available in a wide range of choices. We did our math with the most affordable and suitable models for permanent work.

We did not take into account the possible costs of non-warranty repairs, maintenance costs and post-processing costs.

Cost

1 year

2 year

3 year

Expenses

Formlabs
Formlabs Form 3 5,003.14 USD

5,003.14 USD
Formlabs White Resin, 1l     149 USD 12,139.78 USD   12,139.78 USD   12,139.78 USD   36,410.57 USD
Formlabs Resin Tank 222.31 USD 5,780.84 USD 5,780.84 USD 5,780.84 USD 17,342.53 USD
UV camera Wanhao Boxman-1 471.03 USD                 –               –               – 470.92 USD
Ultrasonic bath Uniz 3,2l 193.04 USD             –               –               – 193.04
                           Total cost of ownership

 

59,394.18 USD
Uniz
Uniz Slash Plus 3,401.62 USD

3,401.62 USD
Unis zABS white, 0.5l 87.45 USD 9,095.32 USD 9,095.32 USD 9,093.63 USD 27,280.90 USD
Bath Uniz 104.10 USD 2,706.73 USD 2,706.73 USD 2,706.73 USD 8,123.02 USD
UV camera Wanhao Boxman-1 470.74 USD             –               –               – 470.74 USD
Ultrasonic bath Uniz 3,2l 193.01 USD             –               –               – 193.01 USD

Total cost of ownership:

 

39,488.03 USD
Phrozen
Phrozen Shuffle 4k 1,943.97 USD

1,943.97 USD
Harz Labs Basic Resin, 0.5L 45.82 USD 4,765.33 USD 4,765.33 USD 4,765.33 USD 14,296.68 USD
Bath Phrozen 98.58 USD 98.58 USD 98.58 USD 197.17 USD
Film 24.29 USD           315.89 USD 315.89 USD 315.89 USD 947.66 USD
Phrozen shuffle 4k LCD module 319.32 USD 319.32 USD 319.32 USD 638.56 USD
UV camera Wanhao Boxman-1 470.59 USD             –               –               – 470.59 USD
Ultrasonic bath Uniz 3,2l 192.97 USD             –               –               – 192.97 USD

Total cost of ownership:

 

18,684.96 USD

As you can see from the table, for 3 years of not the most intensive work, a 3D printer will print materials worth 10 times more than its cost. This is why we put the cost as the last attribute to consider when looking to buy a 3D printer.

To correctly assess the effectiveness of  a 3D printer for your business, you need to analyze the expected volume of work. 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.

Best Resin 3D Printers

Formlabs Form3

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Pros:

  • One of the most easy-to-use resin 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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CHECK PRICE

Pros:

  • High quality and speed of printing
  • Large printing area
  • Compatible with third-party materials
  • Useful features, including resin pumping system, automatic material control, etc.

Cons:

  • Can only be started from the control PC or smartphone
  • Noisy operation in the operating mode
  • The resin pumping system requires periodic maintenance and cleaning

Phrozen Shuffle 4K

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CHECK PRICE

Pros:

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

Cons:

  • Unobvious control and settings. We recommend using alternative software or purchasing additional software Formware

Elegoo Mars 3 4K

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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. You should place on a table to prevent accidental movement
  • All connectors are at the back of the printer.

In this short comparison, the price segment up to $700 was represented only by the Elegoo Mars 3D printer. We did not add such models as Phrozen Sonic Mini, Anycubic Photon SWanhao GR1Wanhao D7 and others.

Conclusions

Choosing a 3D printer is challenging since you have to correctly prioritize before buying. Every 3D printer has its pros and cons. Therefore, you have to consider the features of the 3D printer you want to buy to know what you’ll be getting for your money.

Not sure which 3D printer to buy? Let our experts guide you through a free consultation. The costs of a 3D printer cannot be compared with the possible losses in case you purchase an unsuitable 3D printer.

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