3D printers are poised to revolutionize the way in which people work, live and entertain in the near future. 3D printing, otherwise known as additive manufacturing, is the process of constructing solid objects that are three-dimensional in shape from a digital model. Although 3D printers have been in existence for decades, 3D printers have only recently been made available commercially.
Who Uses 3D Printers?
The breadth and depth of how 3D printers can be used is extensive, both in the home and in business. 3D printing is commonly used in a number of industries, including: construction, architecture, automotive, biotechnology, fashion, geographic information systems, and even food. From replacement limbs to confectioneries , clothing and prototypes, 3D printing provides a well-needed alternative to creating tangible items that will impact lives on a global level. Which 3D printers are the best?[related1][/related1]
The 8 Best 3D Printers on the Market
1. Ultimaker 2
The Ultimaker 2 is one of the best 3D printers and is available from the Netherlands-based company Ultimaker B.V., which began selling 3D printers in 2011. The printer is shipped fully assembled or as a DIY kit. According to the team at Ultimaker, assembly is easy and requires no special skills.
The features of the Utlimaker 2 include:
- Dimensions: 357 x 342 x 388 mm (35.7 x 34.2 x 38.8 cm)
- Build Volume: 210 x 210 x 205 mm (21 x 21 x 20.5 cm)
- Speed: 30 – 300 mm/s
- Quality/Layer Resolution: up to 20 microns (0.02mm)
This 3D printer uses fused filament fabrication (FFF) and stand-alone SD-card printing. The power requirement is 100 – 240V, ~4 AMPS or 24 V DC @ 9.2 AMPS. The temperature of the operation nozzle ranges from 1800 – 2600 C. Purchasing the Utlimaker 2 requires a lead time of 8-10 weeks and costs £1,895 or the equivalent of $3123. Filament for this printer costs approximately $42.
The printer weighs 11.2 kg (24.6 lbs), and uses the Cura – Official Ultimaker software package. It supports S.TL, .OBJ, .DAE and .AMF file types, and is compatible with Windows (XP 32 bit/7+), Linux Ubuntu (12.04+) and Mac OS X (10.6 64bit+).
At 49 decibels, this printer is relatively quiet and suitable for almost any type of environment.
Make-Magazine, in November 2012, named Ultimaker the most accurate and fastest 3D printer.
2. Cubify CubeX
Cubify CubeX is a product of 3D Systems, a 3D printing solutions company out of Rock Hill, South Carolina. In addition to providing 3D printers and materials to clients, the company also works to provide customers with the best software and additional hardware required to execute outstanding 3D visuals.
The features of Cubify CubeX include:
- Dimensions: 515 mm x 515 mm x 598 mm (20 ¼” x 20 ¼” x 23 ½”)
- Build Volume (single head print) : 275 mm x 265 mm x 240 mm (10.75” X 10.75” X 9.5” )
- Build Volume (double head print): 230 mm x 265 mm x 240 mm (9” x 10.75” x 9.5”)
- Build Volume (triple head print): 185 mm x 265 mm x 240 mm (7.3” x 10.75” x 9.5”)
- Speed: Maximum 15 mm/s
- Quality/Layer Resolution: 100 microns (0.100 mm)
The power requirement is 110 – 240v AC with a maximum operating temperature at the extruder tip of 2800 C. Cubify CubeX costs $2,799 and uses ABS, PLA and dissolvable natural PLA plastics. The filament cartridge costs approximately $99. Cubify offers a 90 day warranty for both labor and parts.
The CubeX software is compatible with Windows operating system and prints .CUBEX format. The CubeX proprietary software which comes with the 3D printer is capable of converting .CREATION and .STL file formats to .CUBEX; .OBJ files from Maya and ZBrush must be converted to .STL file format first.[newsletter2][/newsletter2]
A single head CubeX weighs 36 kg (79 lbs ), while the double and triple head printers weigh 37 kg (81.5 lbs) and 38 kg (84 lbs) respectively.
The CubeX won CNET's Best at CES for Hottest Emerging Tech in 2013.
3. Cubify Cube
The Cubify Cube is another 3D printer from the South Carolina company 3D Systems.
The features of Cubify Cube include:
- Dimensions: 33.5 cm x 33.8 cm x 28 cm (13” x 13.3” x 11”)
- Build Volume (single head print) : 15.2 cm x 15.2 cm x 15.2 cm (6” X 6” X 6” )
- Quality/Layer Resolution: 75 microns
The Cube 3D printer uses Plastic Jet Printing (PJP) technology, a dual jet, and supports PLA plastic, ABS plastic or tough recyclable or compostable plastic. The 3D printer facilitates both wireless and wired printing. The list price for a second generation Cube on Amazon is $1,299. The Cube’s filament cartridge costs approximately $49 and is capable of printing up to 14 mid-size creations. With cartridge, the device weighs 7.7 kg (17 lbs). Cubify offers a 90 day warranty for both labor and parts.
This 3D printer is sold with the software necessary to create .CUBE files. Both 32 and 64-bit operating systems support the Cubify Cube, including: Windows XP Professional or Home Edition with Service Pack 3, Windows 7, Windows 8. For Mac users, the Cube requires MAC OS X 10.8. For the Cube to function, the minimum hardware requirements include: a multi-core processor of 2GHz or faster for each core, 2 GB of RAM, and a screen resolution of 1024 x 768.
4. Airwolf AW3D HD
Based in Southern California, Airwolf 3D created the Airwolf AW3D HD printer as an affordable and rigid 3D printer for various types of users. The competitive advantage for this printer, according to the manufacturer, is the printer’s ability to make larger scale prototypes.
The features of the Airwolf AW3D HD include:
- Dimensions: 24″ x 18″ x 18″ (600 mm x 440 mm x 450 mm)
- Build Volume: 1,150 cubic inches (18,878 cubic centimeters)
- Speed: Perimeter 150 mm/s, Travel 400 mm/s
- Quality/Layer Resolution: 0.06 mm
This printer is sold for $2,995 and requires a 4-week lead time. The printer is shipped with a spool of 3 mm ABS filament, a flash drive with the software required, and a set of Allen wrenches.
Other 3D printing materials supported include: HIPS, PLA, Nylon, PVA, LayWOO D-3, Soft PLA, PLA 4043D, TPE, LAYBRICK, BendLay and T-glase. The Airwolf AW3D HD printer is shipped fully assembled via UPS within North America, and DHL for all other countries.
The power supply for the Airwolf AW3D HD features an internal auto-switching 13.5V DC, 320W. Windows and Mac operating systems are fully supported, and the printer is compatible with MatterControl (custom configured), Marlin Firmware, Repetier Host Print Controller and Slic3r GCode generator applications. The weight of this 3D printer is 18 kg (39.6 lbs).
5. Ditto +
The features of the Ditto+ include:
- Dimensions: 35 cm x 37.5 cm x 48 cm (13.8” x 14.8” x 18.9”)
- Build Volume: 21 cm x 18.5 cm x 23 cm (8.3” x 7.3” x 9”)
- Quality/Layer Resolution: 100-300 microns (0.1-0.3 mm)
The 3D printer is sold for $ 1,249 and is shipped as a DIY kit. For an additional $300, the 3D printer will be shipped fully assembled. The Ditto + software, Tinkerine Interaction Module, is included with the shipment, as well as a free spool of PLA filament. A lead time of 2-4 weeks is required.
Ditto + weighs 7 kg (15.4 kg), and facilitates power input of AC 110-220V, 50-60 Hz and power output DC 12V, 15A. Connectivity is made possible via USB and SD card. Ditto + supports PLA printing material of 1.75 mm; ABS is not officially supported. For operating system compatibility, all versions of Windows (XP or higher) are supported, as well Mac OSX 10.6.8 or higher. The file types .STL and .OBJ are supported.
6. AW3D XL
The AW3D XL is another 3D printer from Airwolf 3D.
The features of the AW3D XL include:
- Dimensions: 17.75″ x 18″ x 21″
- Build Volume: 12″ x 8″ x 7″ (300 mm x 200 mm x 178 mm)
- Speed: Perimeter 150 mm/s, Travel 400 mm/s
- Quality/Layer Resolution: 0.25 mm (0.1 to 0.4 mm possible)
The standard version of this printer is sold for $2,295 while the deluxe version is sold for $2,399. The AW3D XL also features integrated internal 12V DC, 300W, 25A power supply.
This 3D printer weighs 11 kg (24.2 lbs) and is shipped within seven days with a one pound spool of 3 mm ABS filament, a flash drive with the required software, USB cord, and a set of Allen wrenches.
The AW3D XL is available in quite a number of different colors, including: grey, blue, red, orange, natural, green, purple, yellow and lime-green. Like the Airwolf AW3D HD, the AW3D XL supports a number of printing materials such as: HIPS, PLA, Nylon, PVA, LayWOO D-3, Soft PLA, PLA 4043D, TPE, LAYBRICK, BendLay and T-glase.
For customers wishing to pick up their AW3D XL directly from the Airwolf 3D offices in California, hands-on training is available. This 3D printer is compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems.
7. MBot Cube II
Made by Magicfirm LLC, a company based in China, the MBot Cube II is a competitively priced 3D printer.
The features of the MBot Cube II include:
- Dimensions: 405 mm x 405 mm x 410 mm
- Build Volume: 200mm x 200 mm x 200 mm
- Speed: Up to 100 mm/s
- Quality/Layer Resolution: 0.1 – 0.3 mm
This 3D printer is sold for just over $1,500, with replacement cartridges at $24 each. The MBot Cube II weighs 18 kg (39.6 lbs) and supports .STL files. This printer uses the printer software RepliactorG, and is compatible with Windows (XP/7), Linux Ubuntu (10.04+), Mac OS X (10.6+). Power supply for this 3D printer is 100-240V, ~2 amps, 50-60Hz with output of 24V DC @ 6.25 amps. USB and SD card connectivity is supported. The manual for this 3D printer is unfortunately not written entirely in English, but is supported by a number of online tutorials and support forums.
The impressive lead time for this 3D printer is two to three days, with a product warranty of one year for product defects.
8. MakerBot Replicator 2X
The features of the MakerBot Replicator 2X include:
- Dimensions: 49 cm x 32 cm x 53.1 cm (19.1” x 12.8” x 20.9”)
- Build Volume: 25 cm x 16 cm x 15 cm (9.8” x 6.3” x 5.9”)
- Quality/Layer Resolution: 100 microns
The MakerBot Replicator 2X is sold for $2,799 on Makerbot.com. The MakerBot MakerCare Protection Plan is available at purchase or within 30 days of purchase for $500, and is only available for purchasers in the United States.
Shipping insurance is mandatory, and costs an additional $9. ABS filament of 1.75 mm is required and runs from a low of $43 to $90, and is available in a number of colors, including, but not limited to: pink, yellow, red, green, magenta, and purple.
This 3D printer does not support PLA printing material.
Weighing in at 12.6 kg (27.8 lbs), the MakerBot Replicator 2X has an operating temperature of 150– 320C and AC INPUT of 100–240 V, ~4 AMPS, 50–60 HZ. Power requirement is 24 V DC @ 9.2 AMPS.
This 3D printer uses the MakerBot Makerware software and supports .STL, .OBJ and .THING file types. Compatible operating systems include: Windows 7+, Mac OS X 10.6+, and Linux Ubuntu 12.04+. Both a USB cable and SD card are shipped with this 3D printer.
Where to Buy 3D Printers
The best 3D printers can be purchased directly from the manufacturers, or from online retailers such as Amazon and Newegg. Buyers should take into consideration product warranty, availability of replacement parts, after-sales service and product demonstration when choosing any model 3D printer.
The Future of 3D Printing
As the 3D printing technology evolves, 3D printers will become even more affordable and versatile. The 3D printing pen, 3Doodler, created by WobbleWorks in Boston Massachusetts, is already creating waves.[related2][/related2]
Founded in 2011 by Peter Dilworth and Maxwell Bogue, WobbleWorks managed to secure a pledge of $1.1 million on the crowd funding website Kickstarter over a 48-hour period. Their initial goal of $30,000 was nowhere close to the over $2.3 million the team received in funding.
Judging by the overwhelming response, and success in the marketplace thus far, much is to be expected from 3D printing and 3D printers in the near future. College graduates with degrees in biomedical technology, computer software and design, animation, and 3D printing design are assured jobs in years to come.
Article by: Edris Whyte