As our hobby grows from what was once just bragging rights at a local LAN party, to professional modders making a full time living off of customizing computers, so have the tools. From the early days where having the latest Dremel made you a big shot and only those working in the industry had the luxury of a CNC machine or a laser. This of course has changed like all technology, it wasn’t but five years ago a small CNC machine or laser would set you back 10K+ at least. While personal lasers and CNC machines are still around one thousand dollars plus, 3D printers have greatly reduced in price with some under two hundred dollars. This has made it where anyone can afford a basic 3D printer for the same price as a mid range video card. With this accessibility the game has changed, mods are becoming more detailed, more extravagant and done much faster. While a print is running the modders can be working on another facet of the build.
Now with this adoption of technology comes a wave a backlash from certain members of the community, deeming the use of such technologies as “cheating” or against “the spirit of the hobby.” To those individuals I say, turn in your power tools and if you want to embrace “true” craftsmanship, please only use manual hand tools, nothing electronic or digital please. After all to the generation before you, your power drill, your Dremel, your vinyl cutter those could be contrived as “cheating.” As in any hobby, there will always be an evolution that takes place, and it is up to the members to either ride the wave and embrace this evolution or drown in the under current and get washed out. /End rant.
Now for those on the very edge of buying your first printer, wondering if its worth it? Is it safe? But I can’t 3D model? Is it expensive? Let this serve as a small primer for your concerns and questions.
Is it worth it?
Well look at it this way, lets say I want to make Victorian style case mod that is going to need lots of special accents throughout the case. Victorian accents are very complicated and very precise, one lopsided accent could potentially ruin the entire aesthetic of the build. However with a 3D printer, one could model all the pieces and depending on the level of detail in the print, have near perfect copies made, in hours. Now there is clean up and finishing involved but overall the printer will give the builder a solid base to work off of.
Is it safe?
All tools have their associated dangers, with 3D printing the biggest risk is the machine failing and it resulting in an electrical fire. This is mostly seen in the DIY kits with heated beds that are not correctly cabled to handle the high wattage from the switching power supplies. It is always recommended to keep your printers in an open space away from clutter and to do regular inspections on your hardware.
DIY or Prebuilt?
The million dollar question! So just like the PC market there are prebuilt printers and then there are the DIY models. Just like prebuilt systems they come with a certain level of support and warranty from the manufacture where the DIY kits, well lets just say the only support you will get is if your kit is missing parts. After that, you are at the mercy of the community for assistance. The pros of the DIY kits are that they are fully modular and since they are open source there is a large community for each of these kits that offer help and upgrades. For example my Folgertech FT5 comes in at $499.99 plus tax and shipping, this printer is a kit and requires the buyer to build it from the ground up, which takes 20-25 hours to setup and dial in. My Zortrax m200 comes in at close to $2000, but is set up out of the box and is ready to print. The major factor in this is what are you using the printer for? What quality are you expecting out of your printer? Lastly, how much experience do you have with software and physical troubleshooting.
Now these are just some of the key points involved with buying a 3D printer and how they can be used, but do not let this be the end all reason you choose to or not to buy a printer. Always research the printers you are looking at buying, after all everyone wants a solid investment for their money. Also keep in mind just because its expensive doesn’t mean it is good and just because it is cheap does not it mean it bad. So of my better printers are sub $500, yes my best being the $2000 dollar Zortrax, but after that is my heavily modified Monoprice MakerSelect Plus* coming in around $400 dollars. No matter what printer you decide to go with, always keep spare parts on hand, nothing is worse than a part on your machine failing and then having to wait for your replacement parts to come in. Lastly a safety reminder that you should always keep printers in a well ventilated area, and always keep an eye on them since they do operate at high temperatures and have the possibility of catching fire.