There’s no denying that 3D printers are now within reach of home users and hobbyists. Do you remember when laser printers cost a small fortune to buy? Nowadays they are just as cheap to buy as their inkjet cousins. The 3D versions are now becoming just as affordable too.

If you’re into technology and gadgets, you will love having the use of a 3D printer. The only question is – how much do you know about them? Today’s handy guide will tell you more about these innovative devices and help you to buy the right one for your needs. Here is what you need to know:

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(via Wikimedia Commons)

What types of 3D printers are on the market?

You might not realize it, but there are a few different types of devices available to buy today. Let me run through the various options:

  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). Here is the type that most people will have heard of when reading about 3D printers. It’s an “additive” process where layers of plastic are heated and extruded. Some of the best 3D printers on the market are FDM devices;
  • Stereolithography. These work the same as the above but use UV light to heat up some liquid and harden it. People that want higher quality objects should buy one of these 3D printers instead; and
  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). They are like stereolithographic models. Except that lasers and powders get used instead of UV light and photosensitive liquid. Objects can get made from metal with an SLS 3D printer.

To build or not to build?

Are you looking for an affordable 3D printer to use at home or in the office? If so, you will doubtless want to buy a model that is ready to use “out of the box” as it were. Just like their laser and inkjet counterparts, all you do is set it up and plug it in!

But here’s the thing. It’s also possible to build a 3D printer from scratch! That’s right; if you are a self-confessed technology nerd, you can make a bespoke device using plans available on the Web. After all; the 3D printing community is one comprised of makers and inventors!

Of course, for the novice user, I recommend spending a bit more cash to buy one that’s already built and ready for you to use.

How much should you budget for a 3D printer?

As with anything in life, the more you can spend on buying such a device, the better quality results you will receive. Devices under $1,000 are aimed at home users and hobbyists.

$1k+ models are suitable for commercial use and produce higher quality output. It’s worth bearing in mind that you also need to account for the cost of materials, as they don’t come with the printer.

What materials are needed for 3D printing?

The final section in today’s guide covers the materials you will need to print stuff out. Unlike conventional printers, you will use one of two forms of thermoplastics instead of ink:

Poly Lactic Acid (PLA) is a thermoplastic made from corn starch. It’s the most common material used by home users and hobbyists and is eco-friendly. The only downsides are that they have low melting points and can sometimes be hard to work with if you need to make complex 3D objects.

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) is the other type and is used in professional settings. Made from petroleum, it’s used in cases where strength and flexibility are needed. However, they emit a lot of fumes during the printing process.

Now you know more about 3D printers, it’s time to go out and buy (or build) one!