So You Think You Want to Buy a 3D Printer for Yourself and/or Others

There are a lot of things to consider when thinking about buying 3D printers for the first time. The who, what, when, where, and why were important things to consider. Click here for the post about buying one for yourself.

  • Who. I know you’re awesome and that you will devote an awesome amount of time towards making this work. Be realistic about time commitments with regards to the following answers.
    • Who are you? How much money do you plan to spend? How much is in the budget for repairs?
    • How tech savvy are you and others using the printers as well? What is your experience with 3D printing? How well can you Google answers to your questions? Do you have a supportive IT department?
  • What. So many choices. What to buy? Below are some questions to consider before having your heart set on what someone else bought.
    • What are you going to do with the 3D printer(s)? Look at the materials, level of detail you want, and how big are the things you want to build. Can they be pieced together if too big?
    • Will this machine fit all your needs? If not, are you considering an ecosystem?
  • When. When will you need them?
    • With some brands of 3D printers, do not expect them to work out of the box.
    • If you have never worked with 3D printers, expect at least 10 hours (not including print time) worth of work before you decide to take on printing orders from others. Expect additional time investment with MakerBots.
  • Where. These machines take space. They also take workspace. Be realistic about the amount of use you want out of them.
    • Where do you want to put it while you use it?
    • Where will it be stored if not where it is used? If you store it somewhere not where it is used, it might not be used as often as you would like.
    • Is there a general area where all others have access to it as well?
  • Why. Yes, let’s all agree that these little additive manufacturing machines are cool. Other than that, why are you buying these?

For example:

1. I’m pretty tech savvy. I can maintain the FF Creator Pro on my own. Maintain 4-6 of them and be IT for them? No. My colleagues can call MakerBot and talk to their customer support whenever they need to. I did not want them to have to troubleshoot anything if it came to that, but if they needed to, there’s customer support. MakerBot has a purchasable 3 year all inclusive warranty and is easier to approach with a use friendly interface.

2. PLA will serve most of our needs. For the finer prints, the Form 1+ will print with resin.

3. I needed it sooner, and they may or may not want to use them later. I did most of the setup. The point for me is to get them on board and using the technology.

4. These take room. If they were just for me, piling them into my office was fine. There were some noise complaints, but the printers finally found a home on counters in a dedicated classroom with lab hours.

5. Other professors in the the team teach physics, mathematics, and sciences. They eventually want to use these for their purposes too. So far, there is no need to stray from PLA or resin.

My simplified spreadsheet:

Company Pro Con Choice(s)
MakerBot – crowd funded backed by Stratasys Longest established company. 3-year warranty available for purchase. Minis can be portable. Bad reputation for putting things out before they’re ready. Extruder* problems. Only prints PLA. 4 minis and 2 replicators to buy. 4 minis to take out to schools if need be. X2 and Z18 currently not worth the investment. 3D Scanner.
Cubify – crowd funded backed by 3D Systems Second longest established company. Fewer complaints about extruders. Made a mini to compete with MakerBot, but had to pull it due to failure. None. The max warranty was 1 year and limited online support.
FlashForge, PrintrBot, AirWolf..etc Cheaper than MakerBot, less problems (after initial setup), and better prints. Prints ABS. I would be your technician. ABS needs venting when printing. None. After looking into all these companies, decided that we needed another material.
FormLabs Form 1+ prints complicated things and uses resin so it is more sturdy. Resin left in resin tank needs to be used within 2 months. Need to measure amount of resin carefully. Form 1+ resin printer with extra accessories. There is a extended warranty that you can buy. The other resin company only had 1 year warranty.

*Extruder: print nozzle on a 3D printer for filaments (plastic in a roll like PLA and ABS)

Verdict: see the Ecosystem Post

So You Think You Want to Buy a 3D Printer for Yourself

There are a lot of things to consider when thinking about buying 3D printers for the first time. The who, what, when, where, and why were important things to consider.

  • Who. I know you’re awesome and that you will devote an awesome amount of time towards making this work. Be realistic about time commitments with regards to the following answers.
    • Who are you? How much money do you plan to spend? How much is in the budget for repairs?
    • How tech savvy are you? What is your experience with 3D printing? How well can you Google answers to your questions?
  • What. So many choices. What to buy? Below are some questions to consider before having your heart set on what someone else bought.
    • What are you going to do with the 3D printer(s)? Look at the materials, level of detail you want, and how big are the things you want to build. Can they be pieced together if too big?
    • Will this machine fit all your needs? If not, are you considering an ecosystem?
  • When. When will you need them?
    • With some brands of 3D printers, do not expect them to work out of the box.
    • If you have never worked with 3D printers, expect at least 10 hours (not including print time) worth of work before you decide to take on printing orders from others. Expect additional time investment with MakerBots.
  • Where. These machines take space. They also take workspace. Be realistic about the amount of use you want out of them.
    • Where do you want to put it while you use it?
    • Where will it be stored if not where it is used? If you store it somewhere not where it is used, it might not be used as often as you would like.
  • Why. Yes, let’s all agree that these little additive manufacturing machines are cool. Other than that, why are you buying these?

Considering all of these, the following were the steps I took:

  1. As I read about 3D printers on Wikipedia and watched Print the Legend, I thought about my tech savviness. I’m decent. I enjoy learning tech stuff and have a high tolerance for tech frustrations (that are within my control).
  2. Googled “types of 3D printers” and “Best 3D printers of 2015”. Be mindful that many things change very rapidly in the world of 3D printers. This was complied in late March early April. Some guides I considered:
    1. 3D Hubs – Based on many product reviews
    2. 3D Print – This looks at the best cheap printers, but I do not necessarily agree with everything they’re saying.
    3. Tom’s Guide – There is a table to compare the specs.
    4. 3D Forged – Nice Pro/Con charts
    5. Amazon. Good old product reviews of 3D printers on Amazon.
  3. I started my own spreadsheet of products. I did not want to spend more than $1500 and wanted dual extrusion, ABS or PLA (so I needed a heated bed wiht adjustable temperatures), and I wanted something that was upgradable.
  4. LulzBot was single extruder, PrintrBot required too much set-up, MakerBots seemed to be okay with sending out machines with problems that I cannot fix due to warranty, so FlashForge Creator Pro was my choice.

ReWiring the Fan

Rewiring the fan on FF Creator Pro looked a lot more daunting than it actually was once I followed the wires.

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  1. Remember to ground yourself.
  2. Turn the FF on one of its sides, not front of back. Unscrew the bottom lid.
  3. Unscrew the offending fan and screw in the new fan.
  4. You will need to cut some of the zip ties and thread.
  5. Pull the old wires connected to the offending fan away from the tube and follow to find where to unscrew.
  6. Take note of where the black and red wires are.
  7. Unscrew the correct screw terminals to release the wires and replace with the correct wires.
  8. Carefully thread the new wires into the tubes and ziptie them up like the previous ones were.
  9. Screw bottom lid back on and turn upright.
  10. Toss out the offending fan.

Cracked Fan

So, remember I recommended that unboxing video?

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When the extruder fell and fan cracked, I thought all was lost. Then I found that triangular piece… and decided to super glue it back together.

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It worked with the other extruder fan and printed a traffic cone. When I pressed my luck and tried to print another traffic cone, it shredded itself and splintered everywhere in the FF. I was lucky the door was down and there was a top.

I contacted Mr. Tang, and within 4 days, my new fan came and I had to rewire it.

FlashForge Creator Pro Set-up

Make sure you watch the video before and while you’re unboxing. Below is the video I watched. On my particular machine, it was hard to see the voltage switch to switch it over to the appropriate amount for the United States. I used my cell phone to take a picture to verify that it was set to the wrong voltage and used a screwdriver to switch it over. In this video, I was a little confused about what to do with the filament holder since mine was different. Other than that, this video was great.

FlashForge has their own unboxing video. You can watch that as well.

FlashForge Delivery

I ordered FlashForge Creator Pro from Amazon. I kept a close eye on when it was supposed to arrive.

I was very excited when the box finally arrived. The UPS delivery man rang the doorbell and by the time I got to the door, he was walking away. He said that it was too heavy to take to the door just to see if I’m home. Finally, he came back with it. Sure enough, it was heavy. The box came from China and through customs at LAX. It looked a little beat up.

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Make sure you are there to receive the package. The box is rather awkward to fit into a car.

Test Print FFCreator Pro

This is my first test print. Once I looked online that it was what I had printed already but taller, I paused the print just so I could see what it looked it. There was about 30% left. I think I did a pretty good job leveling the print bed.

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