Now that I’m a dad, I’m starting to realize that I need to give my kids the cutting edge advantage like my dad did for me. For him, it was getting us an Apple ][+, at no small expense. It was a huge gamble, but my dad was right to take the risk. It paid off for my brother and I. It wasn’t just that my dad committed the family resources to an unproven technology, it was that he could see that this technology was the start of an important new path that his kids would have the option to travel down. The sooner we could start, the better. Who knew where the path would lead? Nobody.
For my kids, I think 3d printing is going to be one of the important tools of their lives. It uses the stepping stone that I was given and takes it further. Now not only can you visualize anything your mind can think of, but you can hold a copy of it in your hand. No doubt that 3d printing at home is in its infancy, much the same way that computers at home were when I was a kid. So, to me, 3d printing appears to be the most likely tool my kids can have to propel them into their future. In my opinion, a 3d printer in the home will foster: problem solving skills, imagination, healthy non-conformity, the concept of iteration, no fear of being wrong or failing, and hands on application of the scientific method.
So, I’m in research mode. Here are the links I can find to commercially available sub-$5000 hobbyist 3d printers. I’m mostly focusing on fused deposition modeling type printers. The other technologies I’ve seen for 3d printing are either experimental, lacking in resolution, lacking in base affordability, or the media is too specialized (and presumably expensive).
MakerBot Industries has one called the thingomatic. These guys have been at the heart of the maker/DIY front and honestly, they have a lot of momentum. Their machines are iterating very quickly, and they have a huge community rallying around their project. Their laser-cut plywood product is undoubtedly borne from the DIY mentality their product aims to foster. They have some super nice features like an automated build platform, and a new dual extruder head option. They’ve generated a lot of buzz about attracting $10M in investor funding, so it’s likely they will be able to afford support staff for the foreseeable future. Has Mac software available and/or printing from an SD card. Their wiki and build instructions are incredibly detailed. $1,299 kit, $2,500 assembled.
Reprap, represents the wild west of 3d printers. It sort of kicked off the DIY 3d printer revolution happening now. As such, it’s really focused on bootstrapping quickly with the least amount of time spent on worrying about what the machine looks like. (what the machine looks like?? Look what it’s DOING!) There’s no official source for parts. That’s kind of the point, though. It’s open source, so you need to find someone who will print our the parts for you (and you presumably pay them)
botmill surprise! a presumably reputable source for reprap based 3d printer design. No exterior enclosure, all wires exposed. This machine will undoubtedly appeal to the mad scientist crowd. $1,395.00 assembled. Pretty cheap, actually.
Ultimaker The videos I’ve seen of this thing are of it printing really really fast. Designed and sold out of the Netherlands. €1,194.00 base (kit)
UP! best consumer based enclosure design. The machine itself looks great. Sensible and clean. Definitely made to alleviate concerns about reliability and reputability. Looks like a real product. Compact. Comes with integrated software. Higher on the price scale. Has Mac software. You’d think they could price it under $2650+~$150 shipping. C’mon, China. What the hell. Alibaba says I can buy whole laser engravers for that price.
RapMan. Pretty. laser cut clear acrylic. Alibre sells software, so they probably will support the machines they sell for a while. With the revolution happening at the pace it is, your mileage may vary on how long they do support it. (5 years?)
Bits from Bytes 3DTouch lots of options for number of print heads. mo’ printheads, mo’ problems. It may be the most capable from an aspect of possibilities, but the workflow must be significant to munge multicolor GCode. Maybe not.. It’s probably right on the edge of being past the scope of being a machine for the home.
buildyourcnc’s white ant I have the buildyourcnc.com blacktoe 2×4 cnc machine and it’s great. Their white ant 3d printer is still in active development, and given the flexible nature of their design ethos, this could be cool. The downside here is that you can’t buy everything you need right from them. You have to pick up some of the required parts from MakerBot. Which is kind of a drag. What I think we owners of blacktoe and blue chick machines are waiting for is some word about why an extruder print head for our existing machines is impossible. I guess I could image why. I’d gladly replace my 3 axis control board with a 4 or 5 axis board if I could interchangeably use a router or a 3d printhead. GLADLY. Use the motion control table and hardware I already have for multiple tool heads? Yes, remind me why I can’t have this? A ridiculously large 2′ x 4′ FDM 3d printer. It’s probably impossible because its a ridiculous idea.
So, for me, time to make a verdict… and that task is pretty easy. MakerBot has the juice right now. I love how they’re dedicated to the movement and driving innovation. They have lots of instructions and a huge community. And funding, so more brains getting paid to focus on it means good things for the future.
If price is a sensitivity for you, buildyourcnc’s white ant would be a good choice, with botmill coming in a close second. If I was in the Netherlands, I’d probably go for the Ultimaker. UP! sure looks nice, but I can’t fathom why it’s so expensive. Cut the price in half and then it’s a horse race.