3D Printing, Maker, Prusa

My 3D Printing Journey - Selecting a Printer

For Father's Day this year, my wife said she wanted to get me a 3D printer, which is something I've had my eye on for many years. I shrieked like a little girl in sheer excitement when I realized my dream of owning one of these things was coming true.

Armed with a number of resources and recommendations from a friend, I set out on my journey into the land of 3D printing.

I knew there was a lot out there, but damn, I didn't realize the world of 3D printing was so vast! Little did I know what I was getting myself into.

Even though I had some guidance, I was still overwhelmed with all of the information and what I needed to learn.

What type of printer should I get? What brands are good? Should I build one from scratch, buy a kit, or get a pre-assembled one?

Fila-what? PLA. ABS. PETG. Why are there so many damn acronyms?!?!

And what the fuck is a slicer? Do I need one? Does the printer come with one? Is it safe?

AHHH!

What the hell did I get myself into? I thought this was going to be easy!

After several sleepless nights, 27 panic attacks, and three weeks of therapy, I finally started to get a sense of what everything was and how to proceed.

I've only been in the 3D printing world for a couple of months now, so I am by no means an expert in this field, but I wanted to take some time to outline things I've learned and share some resources with you that will hopefully get you started on your own 3D printing journey.

Selecting a Printer

I had heard about a site called 3D Hubs from a buddy of mine, who actually runs a 3D printing side business through this site. Here, customers submit models they would like printed, which he then downloads and feeds through one of his three printers, packages them up, and then sends them to the customer, all for a fee.

While browsing this site, I noticed they had a guide for selecting printers based on different criteria. This helped a ton, as I could compare different brands and models, read reviews, and get an idea as to what the printer was going to cost.

After careful deliberation, I came to the conclusion that the Prusa I3 MK3 printer would be the best fit for me. It had great reviews, I'd heard great things about Prusa, himself, and it was under $1,000.

I decided to go with the kit, because I figured I would learn more about the printer by assembling it myself versus buying a pre-assembled one. That, and it was $250 cheaper and would ship 1-2 weeks sooner than the assembled one.

My printer came about two or three weeks later (much earlier than originally stated), and I'd say it took me about 15 hours or so to put together.

Granted, I am a perfectionist and I checked EVERYTHING several times before moving on to the next step, so my experience is probably more the exception than the rule. I also couldn't get the base leveled properly at first, so I had to tear it all apart and start over about three hours into the process.

Looking back, I'm glad I bought the kit and learned what I did about the printer, but in the moment, I tell ya, I just wanted to throw the damn thing out the window. I was just ready to move on to the actual printing and didn't think it would take as long as it did to put it together.

If you roll with this model, be sure to read the manual and check out the resources online. Prusa has a YouTube channel chock-full of tips, tricks, reviews, and troubleshooting guides, and the company has a great support system. The people in the forum are prompt to reply, and you can find a ton of information there if you get stuck on something.

One of the neat things about this printer - and I'm sure others are similar in this regard - is that as new models are introduced, Prusa supplies upgrade kits, so that you don't have to buy a whole new printer. You can just simply swap out some parts to get your printer up-to-date. A lot of the parts are actually 3D-printed, so you can always download and print the upgraded parts yourself.

One piece of advice I'd like to pass along when selecting a printer is to make sure you look at the build volume. A cheaper price tag may be nice for your wallet, but you'll be really disappointed if your printer can't handle the models you've been itching to print, so I'd spend a little extra if you can to get a printer with a bigger build volume (more on this below).

Also, make sure you look at which types of filament printers can handle. I won't dig into them in this post, but there are many different types suited for different environments and situations. Even if your printer can technically handle several types, you may still need to buy upgraded nozzles to guard against abrasion.

Overall, I am really pleased with my Prusa printer, and I have finally gotten to a point where I can walk away for a while without worrying too much about clogs or poor adhesion.

As much as I love it, I think my next printer is going to be one with a bigger build volume, as I've discovered there are a handful of models I'd like to print that are too big to print on my Prusa, but could be handled by other printers. As far as I know, my only option at the moment is to split the larger models up into smaller pieces and glue them together.

You definitely can't go wrong with this printer, though, and if you plan on having multiple printers in your household, this should be one that is in your arsenal.

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About Tony Thorsen

Father of two, husband of one, Maker of many things. Tinkerer, dreamer, pixel nudger.