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Choosing which 3D printer to buy shouldn’t be like trigonometry!
Many customers keep asking me about the best features to check for when selecting the right 3D printer for their specific needs, and the answers I give always vary, because you have to take into consideration several factors:
 Why do you want to buy a 3D printer? (work / personal use)
 What application are you going to be using the 3D printer for?
 What’s your initial budget? And planned on-going budget for ink?

From my experience there are six major factors that one should consider before purchasing a 3D printer:
1. Ease of use
2. Accuracy (resolution)
3. Volume (Foot print)
4. Speed
5. Post processing
6. and let’s not forget the bottom line: price
Ease of use – If you are using a 3D printer for recreational purposes, as a hobby, at home or for your degree, then ease of use is a very important criterion to consider. Professional users will handle complex processes without too many complaints; however, I’ve noticed that the request for ease-of-use, all over the world, seems to be more prominent from more users – even professional home users.
Accuracy / model resolution – This feature determines how many details you will find in your final printed 3D model and how close it will be to the original engineering model. In my opinion accuracy is a given, a must – especially if you are a professional users. I mean, if this is your business and you want to succeed, how can you expect anything less than accurate? Your customers are not paying you for an idea of what the engineered model will look like – they want the real deal, so, in order to give it to them, do NOT buy a printer with low resolution. Specifically check the resolution of the Z axis – this value determines the thinness of each layer, the smaller the number the better.
Foot print - The term defines the maximum volume that can be printed in one run without using glue. Most 3D printers today have enough footprint area to print most standard models and there are exceptionally large printers that can print large products. Ask yourself – what are you printing? If you are making a piece of jewelry or an ear aid you probably don’t need to have a large footprint, but if you want to print a piece of furniture, like a chair, table, or bookshelf then you should probably consider the investment.
Speed – They say time is money, so if you’ve got projects with deadlines that have to be met – more commonly found in professional usage – then you should consider buying a 3D printer that can keep up with your demands. Interestingly enough, I’ve also found that home users aren’t that patient either, this generation wants it now, fast, here… so – bottom line, get a printer that can process quickly.
Post processing – huh… what’s that you ask? You finished the job; it’s printed what’s this about. Post processing is a VERY important criterion for all users; it falls into the SPEED category. Most 3D printers try to minimize or hide how long the 3D printer has to process the job AFTER it has completed building the model. The post processing can involve liquid, chemical, peeling or other curing process. Post process is part of the production time and should seriously be taken into consideration when choosing the right 3D printer for you.
Cost – Most of home users start with the cost factor… but I want to end on this criterion because it’s only one of the six important factors and not the most important. If you just buy a cheap printer, how will you know if you really did get the quality for your money?
I see the budget comprising of 3 cost considerations:
1. The actual 3D printer cost and necessary accessories that you will need on an on-going basis
2. The model material cost (the type of the material you are using to print, measured in cubic inch or cm) this includes the waste rate too (all printers use materials, and most waste some, so aside from being friendly tothe environment you are paying for stuff that is going to the garbafe too)
3. Maintenance costs – 3D printers are cutting edge, they are highly sophisticated and they will need annual tuning and cleaning. Don’t forget that when you build your budget.
If I was to categorize / stereotype what most often happens - I’d say that recreational and home users are looking at the actual 3D printer costs, before the materials, while companies calculate maintenance and materials into their entire budget plan seeing the 3D printer as a capital expense.
Be smart, try and figure out your TCO (total cost of ownership) using these 3 main considerations before buyin. If you know how many models you are going to print, you could take all costs and make your calculations to figure out your ROI (return on investment).
Well, I hope this article has helped you to figure out which new 3D printer you are going to buy. Always, always ,always learn from your peers – check your references, see what your colleagues bought, look at companies like yours and see what works for them. If you’d like to learn more, click here to read my next blog about “Fitting the right the right 3D printer for your application” at: https://twitter.com/EldadSayada, http://widetech-ltd.blogspot.co.il/

amazed

Thanks for the pointers. As of now, I like to print 3D images out of a hobby but who knows I might make this as a business when I perfected the art of 3D printing.

I'm currently using a printer that has an ink that is not expensive. Is there a 3D printer that has an ink that is not costly?
eldad,

With the cost of ownership quickly shrinking, 3D printers are (almost) getting to be a desktop item. My shop has looked at 3D printers several times but cost of ownership was much higher than a CNC Mill, Lathe, or Router. We recently picked up the 3D systems Cube printer. Not as our main 3D system but more of a 'getting our feet wet' thing. The reason we chose 3D systems is they have a scalable menu. You can go from a $1200 'hobby' printer to a no expense wasted super 3D printer which can print in several materials at once. The CubeX is an example of a 3 color printer for under $4k USD with a large printing area. This would be our next baby step. Several have asked why we skipped building our own or buying a pre-assembled Makerbot, mainly because their still just 'open source' printers with a steepish learning curve. I know some people would say "oh..it's not that steep" "you're just not trying hard enough"...but lets be honest...I'm not going to sink 80+ hours in a DIY system building it...just to spend another 40 hours learning all the hacker software. Instead this system was literally printing the Rook test piece in UNDER an hour.
It's not just cost now...but getting away from the byzantine software that these systems use.