Progression of 3D Printers

I didn’t quite get in on the ground floor on 3D printing but I’ve been using them for a while. The RepRap and the Thing-O-Matic predated me by a bit.

I started off using a Makerbot 5th Generation Replicator. It was for the time a decent printer, and had excellent integration that open source printers don’t have. I had a cloud connected printer, with an integrated camera and good app control out of the gate. Makerbot owned Thingiverse, so I could find a model in Thingiverse, hit a button, which would pop up the Makerbot app and start the printing process. I could easily and securely track the print status in the Makerbot app. It was slow, but it worked reliably.

The problem is that Makerbot charges $200 or $250 per detachable print-head assembly, and it only lasts a couple hundred hours before it dies. The quality of the printers weren’t spectacular either. It was limited to 100µm resolution, which sounds quite granular but is more noticeable than it sounds.

So I moved into the DIY world. I tried out Monoprice Mini Select (a clone of the Malyan M200). It had a tiny bed but was pretty cheap. I was evaluating using a bunch of them to print in bulk. It was glitchy enough it wasn’t worth pursing. The Ender Pro 3 was the default go-to cheap printer for the DIY market. Out of the gate, it’s acceptable. But it requires about another fifty to hundred bucks to make it safe, tuned and producing good quality prints. I kept as a backup printer for some time before gifting it to a good home. More than a few people use it, or use them in bulk. The Ender Pro 3 has very good accuracy while printing, but is a bit clunky to use and repair.

I decided to stop cheaping out and did my research. Prusa i3 absolutely dominated virtually every top ten list by anyone related to 3D printing. Their full sized printer ran $750 in a part kit, or $1000 factory assembled. The biggest initial issue with printing with a Prusa i3 is the setup and configuration. It took me about 18 hours, which is pretty typical. It is extremely well documented and lots of support, but it’s still an 18 hour build.