After a couple of months of research I finally decided on what 3dprinter I wanted to purchase. Given the diversity and the expansion of the market there really is no shortage of choices out there. And while in the past year the entry price on ready to print out of the box machines has fallen sharply, the price variation between models and companies is still rather significant, with higher end home models like the Makerbot and UltiMaker costing just over $2k, but other machines with slightly less build perform and usability coming in at under $1k. The printrbot simple is $399, or $299 if you are willing to assemble yourself, granted the size of the print is fairly limited but for less than $500 it looks impressive and lots of people have positive reviews. Luckily there are a lot of resources out there that helped me make the decision. The two most important were Make Magazine’s Guide (although they really don’t cover repraps) and the Reddit guide complete with a handy buying chart.
Open Source: Not surprising given my strong open source stance, purchasing an open source printer was tops on my list. I wanted a machine whose hardware and software were both open. So, if Makerbot’s recent acquistion by Stratsys and the insuing patent wars they are kicking off wasn’t enough to dissuade me from their machine, their move to closed source is a complete deal breaker (not to mention being overpriced).
Reprap: I wasn’t 100% sold on getting a version of the reprap printer, but I do think from an academic angle I am really interested in the reprap movement, a distributed group of individuals collectively working to bring 3d printing to the end user with the goal of making a printer which can print itself. Reprap still has a ways to go to making a fully printable printer, but the reprap community is largely responsible for moving these things out of high end industrial manufacturing to the individual market. Indeed one could make the argument that they are responsible. I will have a lot more to say about this in the coming months but needless to say I had a preference for a reprap model.
Print Capability: I wanted something with a sizeable print platform. I don’t necessarily need something with a huge platform but I would like to expirement with printing larger prints, so as good as the Printbot simple is I eventually ruled it out. I also want the ability to print in multiple materials, so a heated bed to print both ABS and PLA was necessary.
Print Quality: I don’t need something that prints excellent out of the box, I am find with working to dial it in. But I do want something that if I work to dial it in I can get a good quality print out of.
Kit vs. Assembled: Obviously a pre-assembled printer is easier but a kit is cheaper. Although it takes longer to get working I was willing to invest the time in building to get a better printer and because this is also a learning exercise. No better way to learn than to build a kit (except maybe buying all the parts instead of purchasing a kit).
Upgradability: One of the reasons I like open source stuff is the ability to tinker, change, alter and upgrade. As different parts and technologies improve I wanted the ability to modify my printer and upgrade. This also brings me to a sub criteria which was durability of the frame. While many things are upgradeable I didn’t want to be taking the printer apart completely to upgrade the frame, a solid frame to me was important.
Community: Since I am a newbie at this I wanted to make sure there was a strong user base already that can give advice and help troubleshoot when I can’t independently figure something out. This relates to reprap above.
Delta verus Cartesian: There are two styles of printers right now. Ones that print along the X,Y,Z access and those that use a traingulation system based on three reference points (Delta). While I was intrigued by the Delat printers and for a while was seriously considering one, I concluded that I wanted something with a bit more of a track record (the Cartesian printers have been around longer).
Mendel90: While I think any of the above options would have been great choices (open source, strong communities, reprap based printers) I decided on the Mendel90 because I liked the frame design and wiring design a bit more, using dibond as the frame instead of plastic parts and rods, or laser cut wood. I purchased a kit from nophead (more on this later) and am expecting the printer soon, although I can’t actually start building until sometime later next week.
Images via: Wikimedia and Nophead’s Blog