3d printing is an interesting new technology that allows you to build an object up, 1 layer at a time, from a 3d model. There are a few main kinds of 3d printing, but the most common is FDM. FDM, or fuse deposition modeling, is the simplest, as it basically consists of a fancy plastic extruder and some motors that move the head around in 3 axes, allowing it to draw shapes with the plastic, move the head up a little bit, and draw a new shape, slowly creating a (normally plastic) 3d object.
The advantage of this is ease of implimentation, small size, cheap components, and relative safety, the most dangerous part being the hot end that extrudes plastic. The disadvantages are that it normally prints in only plastic, and normally only a single colour, although you can do two or three colours with some FDM printers. It is also quite slow, taking hours to build medium sized objects. The other kinds of printer are stereolithographic printers, that print using light to cure resin, and SLS(selective laser sintering), that uses a laser to melt powder into shapes. SLS can print in metal and other materials, but is costly (as in, industrial cost), bulky, and dangerous, as it uses high powered lasers.
I mention this both because I am interested in 3d printers, and because I have recently bought(well, preordered) one! the Micro 3d printer (https://printm3d.com/themicro/) is a good quality, low price little FDM printer, so I decided to preorder one.
I bought the Micro because it was cheap (it stands at 350 US dollars currently, although it is on special, and that doesn’t include shipping), but for someone wanting a better, larger printer, there are a lot of options. There is the Makerbot Replicator (or any machine from Makerbot), which are around 2000-3000 dollars for the replicator printers (and around 6500 for their top model). The disadvantage of Makerbot is twofold: First, being proprietary, it is difficult to make their printers function with open source software. Secondly, they started out as open source, but moved to proprietary after using the open source community to get money and fame, which many people disliked for being twofaced.
Another machine is the ultimaker 2, which is around 3000 dollars. The ultimaker has a good build size, is very fast, has good quality prints, and is open source, along with Cura, the printer’s software. They also have the ultimaker original, which is an older model but also a reasonable amount cheaper.
Another option, for people who like building, is to buy a reprap kit, or to just build one yourself; that way, you can get what you want from the printer, and have the satisfaction of building one yourself. There are many more 3d printers around, from cube3d, ibox, Up, objet, and more. Happy printing!
(Cover image from the reprap project.)