A frequently returning question we get from readers is: ‘What are the best 3D printers for beginners?’. Well it depends on what you want to learn / make. There are a few questions you might want to ask yourself when choosing which 3D printer is right for you:
- Are you most interested in how a 3D printer works?
- Are you most interested in the end result / creating objects?
- Should the 3D printer be safe to use?
Learning how a 3D printer works
I started my journey into 3D printing a few years ago by building an Ultimaker original DIY kit. I didn’t have a clue about what to expect. With zero understanding of electronics and even less knowledge of mechanical components, assembling a 3D printer kit was certainly not easy and the learning curve was definitely steep, but it was worth every moment of my time.
We’ve published a guide covering all the different aspects to keep in mind when deciding which DIY kit to buy. Below you’ll find the best DIY kits for beginners.
The Best DIY Kits for Beginners
Assembling a DIY kit is not the only way to learn how to 3D print. 3D printing consists of both the hardware and the software (making objects, slicing objects). If you wish to focus more on the latter, buying a pre-assembled 3D printer might be the way to go. Choose a pre-assembled 3D printer when you don’t want to worry about the hardware and just want it to work – a plug-and-play machine that takes away the hassle of tweaking electronics.
The Best Pre-assembled 3D Printers for Beginners
Of course there are more aspects you might want to consider when deciding which 3D printer is right for you. Is safety an issue, and are you looking for a 3D printer that is safe to use in the classroom? Then skip the DIY kits and limit your search to the pre-assembled 3D printers. You also might want to read our article about the safety of 3D printers.
3D Printing Jargon explained
When you’re exploring which 3D printer is right for you, you’ll come across a lot technical specifications. Many of the words used are not self-explanatory, 3D printing has its own jargon and therefor we’ll explain a few of these terms below.
In total, there are seven different types of 3D printing technologies. In this case, when we talk about 3D printers for beginners, we mean desktop 3D printers – the ones small enough to fit on your desktop. Therefore we can focus on two 3D printing technologies, FFF / FDM and SLA. What’s the difference between these technologies? Short answer: FFF / FDM 3D printers use strings of plastic filament or plastic pellets as a 3D printing material and SLA 3D printers use a liquid resin.
FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication) and FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) are both exactly the same 3D printing technique, but not everyone can use the term FDM as it is trademarked by Stratasys. FFF was introduced by the open-source RepRap community. You can read more about both FDM and FFF in the category material extrusion.
SLA stands for Stereolithography and is the first 3D printing technique. SLA 3D printers are known for their capability to print high resolution. SLA printers are most popular amongst people who print scale models with high detail and jewellery designers. Here we explain how SLA works.
SLA and FFF / FDM 3D printers both have their own characteristics. Below you will find the most important differences in the hardware of these machines.
FFF / FDM 3D Printer parts
Some manufacturers just call it an extruder, some call it a tool head and others call it an extruder block. Fact is that all FFF / FDM 3D printers have an extruder and they all consist of multiple parts.
When we’re talking about a direct drive extruder, the extruder contains a motor which makes it bigger and more like a ‘block’. If the printer has a bowden type extruder, the motor that moves the filament is placed somewhere in the back of the printer’s frame.
Thermistor / thermocouple
Thermistors and thermocouples are temperature sensors. A thermistor is usually more accurate than a thermocouple, but thermocouples can handle higher temperatures. An FFF / FDM 3D printer only uses one of these in the extruder – not both – and most desktop 3D printers nowadays use a thermistor instead of a thermocouple. Measuring an exact temperature is important because a difference of a few degrees can already have a great impact on your print results.
Hot end / Heater block
The heater block or the hot end are the parts of the extruder that get hot enough to melt plastic. When you are wondering what materials a certain 3D printer can print, you look at the maximum hot end temperature. A 3D printer with a max hot end temperature of 200°C can not print nylon because nylon has a melting point of 214°C.
The bed is the platform the object is printed on. Both the surface and the temperature of a bed determine whether a printer is able to print specialty materials or not. Most of the time a bed is made from borosilicate glass, aluminium or acrylic.
For some 3D printing materials, a heated bed is recommended / required. ABS and Polycarbonate require a bed temperature of at least 90°C. When you buy a 3D printer with a heated bed and safety is an important aspect, it is best to limit your search to 3D printers with a closed printing environment.
Besides a certain temperature, the print surface of a bed can make a lot of difference in both getting a print to stick and removing a print from the bed. Popular print surfaces are PEI and BuildTak.
SLA 3D Printer parts
Ultraviolet (UV) laser
The UV laser of an SLA printer is used to solidify the photopolymer resin layer by layer until the 3D object is complete.
The vat contains the photopolymer resin. The clarity of the vat is important for maintaining a good print quality because when the laser beams go through a cloudy vat, it loses luminosity.