3D printing is all the rage and it’s hard to know just where to start. If you have a budding manufacturing magnate on your Christmas list we’ve got a few fun things for them to check out. One word of advice? Don’t buy cheap 3D printers. I’ve tested a few so far and a number of the “cheap” open source models and some of the models you find at Office Depot are unusable at best. It hurts me to say this but there is really a race to the bottom when it comes to 3D printing right now. Things may be expensive, but like any early-adopter you should save your pennies and pick the right model for the job.
First, I’d recommend the Makerbot Replicator 2X, an “experimental” Makerbot that can print using corn-starch-based PLA and plastic ABS. Being able to print in both materials is vitally important if you want to make high quality items and each material has its different qualities. For example, you can print translucent objects with PLA but not ABS and ABS objects are far more resilient than PLA objects.
At $2,799 it’s not a cheap toy, but if you’ve been planning to jump into 3D printing there’s no time like the present. I actually make a little money using MakeXYZ, a market for 3D printed objects. By printing things for other people you can actually pay for the ‘bot and the printing material in a few months.
Want to spend a little less? Take a look at the Afinia H series, a $1,599 printer with a smaller build plate than the Makerbot but, in some ways, superior resolution. I tested the rugged little Afinia and came away impressed. You can order the printers here.
One of my favorite products of 2013 was the Makerbot Digitizer. It’s a $1,400 3D scanner that can scan in almost any object. I reviewed it here calling it close to magic, which is the truth.
Don’t want to spend too much? 3D Systems has released the Sense scanner, a $399 model that requires you to move the scanner around an object in 3D space. They’re beginning to ship now and we’ll have a full review shortly, but that’s the gist of it.
Finally, you could probably use some filament. While Makerbot sells their own excellent filament, I’ve had good luck with Monoprice. You may have to mess around with the spool holder for your printer – Monoprice’s spools don’t fit the stock Makerbot spool holder – but you will save about $25 off of Makerbot’s prices.
Be sure to leave plenty of room under the tree for your printers – these things aren’t tiny – and enjoy entering the amazing 21st century.