The question that has been on our for a while as a technical student and tweaker was the following: Should we buy a 3D printer? A number of things have preceded this, for the study we have regularly had to design various things in CAD software after which analyses were carried out. For example, we once made a car, satellite and a kind of airplane that can generate energy. Anyway, a lot of nice things but we live in a studio, so if such a thing stinks we don’t want it.
We ended up receiving a 3D printer from Artillery, this is a company from China that mainly makes 3D printers. The 3D printers are pretty much all alike, but they often differ in features and size. In this case I had an Artillery Hornet, a device which has a maximum print size of 22 centimeters deep and wide and 25 centimeters high. We happened to have a roll of filament with the right thickness lying around, so let’s take a look at what’s involved when you want to buy a 3D printer.
What you need to consider
If you want to buy a printer, the first thing you have to consider is where it will be placed. Printers are often 50 x 50 x 50 centimeters in size, and this printer has about the same dimensions. In addition, you need to put that roll of filament somewhere and that means you can’t put it everywhere.
Furthermore, every printer will make some noise, but experience shows that the noise is not too bad. Usually you hear some noise from the fans or you hear some mechanical noises from the print head or the bed that moves, but that’s it. I can sleep next to it, in fact…. Because I live in a studio I slept next to it.
The thing you have to take into account the most is that some filaments can give off quite an odor. For example, PLA has a somewhat sweet smell reminiscent of heated plastic but PETG is virtually odorless.
Those were actually the things that stood in my way, for the price of +- 160 euros I did not have to leave it at that. A kilogram of filament does not cost that much either with an average of about 20 euros. From a kilo of filament you can get about 20 small prints, 8 medium prints and 2 large. Especially that smell was initially against me, especially because at one point your whole house (studio apartment) will smell like it and the question is how unhealthy it is. According to research, the air is just as unhealthy as the air near a road so it seems to be okay. That is why I only print with PETG and that is something I can recommend to all of you. You have to take into account that PETG is a bit more difficult to print than PLA, but you can learn that too.
What you would like
As a beginner in the world of 3D printing, you want 3 things:
2. Lots of possibilities.
3. No steep learning curve
I now have an Ender 3 V2, which had to be assembled from scratch. With the Artillery Hornet it is fortunately already 90% done, all you have to do is attach the base to the vertical bars, connect the cables and screw the printhead to the base. This is really a relief, because when assembling a printer, a lot can go wrong for the first time. Think, for example, of the wheels being fastened too lightly or too tightly on the (black) aluminum profiles. If the wheels are too loosely attached, the printhead will vibrate, but if you’ve made it too tight, the wheels won’t roll anymore and your printhead won’t move as well (after which you can find out for yourself where the error is). That’s why we would advise anyone who is going to start 3D printing to buy a 3D printer that is for the most part already assembled by the vendor: it saves you a lot of hassle. The convenience thing is already tackled, the Ender 3 V2 has been on the shelf for 2 months because it needs to be calibrated and I always think: “That will come soon”. However, you should not think that a 3D printer is *click* and print, it certainly is not. You must regularly ensure that the print head is set at the correct height relative to the bed, if the print head is too far away the filament will not stick to the bed and if it is too close the filament will not come out. So it is a bit of a struggle if you buy a Chinese device.
What is also important is that your printer has a lot of features. You have to discover these possibilities, of course, but it’s nice if it has a filament-runout sensor, for example. At the moment that your filament runs out, you do not want the printer to maintain a temperature of 230 degrees for hours (in the case of PETG) without filament coming out. You can imagine that there is a chance that parts may overheat. Furthermore, it’s easy if your filament is automatically brought or sucked to the nozzle when you first put it in. That is a lot easier than having to push your filament through until it reaches the nozzle yourself. Also helpful are features that allow you to stop the print in case of an emergency, adjust the temperature, or change the fan speed with a few presses of a button. Many printers today have a USB port that allows you to connect a raspberry pi to print from the Pi in the future, this is called octoprint. This is nice because with the Pi you can install apps that can monitor your printing using machine learning and a camera.
No steep learning curve
That there should be no steep learning curve is actually a combination of the two previous points, but I would like to emphasize it extra. The moment you have to tinker with a printer or do a lot of operations before you can print (because your prints fail again and again), then at some point you are done with it and you put it in the closet. For example the ender 3 V2 with a lot of upgrades stood on the shelf because the frustration started to get to me at one point. Now there are often large communities of your 3D printer, but these people are also just hobbyists. Now there is probably a larger community of an Ender 3 V2 than the Artillery Hornet, but there are so many things you can do wrong with the Ender that I would not recommend it to people anymore. Also, there are major flaws in the design, including blocked holes for power supply ventilation, which you get to fix yourself.
So if you are starting out with the hobby, it is especially recommended that you make it as easy on yourself as possible because at some point you are going to run into problems that you need to solve anyway. 3D printers from China are unfortunately not yet fool-proof although some manufacturers do go to great lengths to make their devices as user-friendly as possible.
The printing itself
So how do you get all those cute figurines to print? Because chances are you have no experience in CAD and designing things takes you way too much time: Thingiverse.com. On this website you can find lots of 3D models for the price of 0 euro. You then download a .zip file filled with STL files. These STL files are the files you load into your “slicer”. A slicer is simply a program where you put a 3D model in, make some adjustments for the print settings (larger, smaller, rotating, thicker lines, etc.) after which a file rolls out that the printer can read, the G-code. The G-code is put on a SD-card, which you insert into the printer. The printer can then print from the SD card. Earlier I did mention that it is probably not “click and print”. That has to do with the bed being attached at 4 points on the bottom of the printer and the print head not knowing exactly where the bed is. So you need to calibrate this by putting a piece of paper between the nozzle and the bed and then loosening or tightening the 4 large gears with your fingers until you feel the print head pull slightly on the paper as you move the paper. By the way, after printing you can easily remove some threads and other artifacts with a flame and/or nail scissors.
In summary, there are 3 things you should consider before buying a 3D printer, can I put it somewhere, can it make a little noise and can I deal with the smells that come with it. If your answer to any of these questions is no, then I would recommend that you do not buy a 3D printer or think carefully before you buy. Once you have it, you can print a lot of cool stuff including chess games, miniatures of game characters, decorations for your house, planters, or even parts for your car/house/garden/kitchen. It’s great to be able to print things that you would normally have had to pay multiples for. Buying a printer which is already partly assembled (such as the Artillery Hornet in this example), takes care of many inconveniences and will eventually lead to greater joy if you are looking for your first 3D printer.