1 April 2013 by Permi Krishna
Although in its emerging stage, 3D printing technology has captured the fancies of gadget freaks and consumers alike. Unlike conventional printers that allow people to print on flat surfaces like paper, 3D printing technology can be used to create solid, three-dimensional objects from digital models.
With the help of CAD (Computer Aided Design) models, the 3D printer is able to obtain thousands of cross sections or "slices" of the three dimensional object. The virtual model is stored in the STL file format and the actual models created by these printers are very similar to the virtual models. The printer reads the .stl file and builds up the three dimensional object by spraying on layers of liquid, paper and powder.
3D printing companies you should know about
Conduct extensive research before buying a 3D printer as prices can vary vastly - from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars for one unit. MakerBot is perhaps the largest and most popular 3D printer manufacturer and its Replicator series has set standards in the 3D printing industry. However, MakerBot is now facing serious competition from 3D Systems and their 3D printer named CubeX. FormLabs is the newcomer in the industry but their Form1 3D printer is already receiving rave reviews from experts.
Choosing best 3D printers
If you are looking for reasonably priced yet good-quality 3D printers, you can look at other lesser known companies like Eventorbot, Bits from Bytes, DeltaMaker, etc. that are offering great 3D printers for the mass market at affordable prices.
Ease of assembly
3D printers by 3D Systems and MakerBot are some of the most sought after in the industry. For a first-timer buying a MakerBot printer the best option as their printers are very easy to assemble.
Color and plastic options
When you are buying a 3D printer, you should also look at the color options and two and three-color printers can be quite expensive. Most printers can create models out of PLA plastic or ABA plastic but not both so you need to decide the type of models you want before purchasing a 3D printer.
Model making methods used
MakerBot's 3D printers are cheaper and even have dual-extruder print heads. Most 3D printers use fused-deposition modeling method to create objects, which can be slow. FormLabs is now creating 3D printers that use stereolithography to create models that are smoother and more detailed. Stereolithography creates models much faster and requires fewer parts as it uses UV light to harden the material that forms 3D models. A laser beam is directed at a vat of the polymer, which hardens thin layers of the polymer to create very accurate models. Models created using this technique are harder and much more durable.
3D printers that use fused-deposition modeling consume more power as the material that makes up the model needs to be heated so that it can be sprayed thinly in layers. Hence, buy a 3D printer that uses stereolithography if you want robust and long-lasting models. A 3D printer with dual-extruder technology is also a good option as stereolithography printers are hard to find. Dual-extruder printers have two nozzles so that layers are created more quickly. You need to check the type of material, ease of assembly, speed, smoothness of final model and recycling options of various 3D printers while buying a 3D printer.