Top 5 3D Desktop Brands
3D printing was first patented in the 1980s, the first machines were used for industrial purposes and they were very expensive. In recent years, desktop 3D printers have become readily available and they’re more affordable. Creating models, toys and prototypes in the home is now within reach of more people.
Desktop 3D printers are compact and portable unlike the cumbersome machines used for manufacturing.
How do 3D Desktop Printers Work?
Before printing an object, it needs to be designed using computer software and then that design is then sent to the 3D printer. The printer produces very thin layers which are printed one on top of the other. These layers stick together until the 3D object is complete.
The 3D printing process is called fused deposition modeling (FDM). The materials used to produce the print are heated and dispensed from special nozzles. As the layers are produced, the materials cool before setting to make the solid object.
Any molten material that can cool down and set can be used to make 3D prints. Plastics, steel, nylon, resins and polycarbonates are all used by 3D printers to produce various items.
There are some important components that make a 3D desktop printer and it’s useful to look at the components and what they do.
The build area determines the size of the object that is created by a 3D printer. Desktop models will not have a huge build area due to their compact size. The surface of the build area should be flat and this is called the print bed.
Some print beds are heated to prevent objects warping when the print is cooling down. When plastic or other materials cool there is some shrinkage which can cause warping. Some printers do not have a heated print bed and this limits the materials that can be used to print.
The hot end is a vital part of any 3D printer and it’s where the material is heated before it’s extruded. There are various types of hot end for extruding different materials at varying temperatures.
Peek Based Hot End
Peek based hot ends are able to extrude various thermoplastics up to a maximum temperature of 230°C. Peek based hot ends need to be well maintained to prevent them from clogging.
All Metal Hot End
All metal hot ends are needed for extruding nylon and polycarbonates which are heated to high temperatures. All metal hot ends extrude materials up to a maximum temperature of 320°C. All metal hot ends do not require any maintenance and rarely clog.
The filament is the plastic or other material that the 3D printer uses to create the finished product. Filaments come in 2 sizes and are 1.75mm or 3mm depending on the type of printer. The filament is on a spool which is loaded into the printer.
The extruder on a 3D printer is needed to feed the plastic or other material to the hot end. There will either be a direct extruder which is mounted on the hot end for finer control of the filament, or the other type of extruder is call a Bowden and this feeds the hot end from a distance for more accurate 3D prints.
Most 3D printers have one or more cooling fans which reduce the temperature of the print. Having a 3D printer with efficient cooling will produce better prints with a nicer finish.
A 3D printer contains many electrical components as well as the mechanical components used for printing. Printers have a power supply, electric motors, thermostats and a motherboard. The motherboard communicates with the computer and the software to create 3D prints.
Reasons to Use a 3D Desktop
There are a number of good reasons to buy and use a 3D desktop printer in your home. Learning to design and print items is rewarding, educational and fun. Making your own tools, toys and household items saves you money, time and it has environmental benefits.
Save Time And Money
If you are able to make your own tools or spare parts for a broken piece of machinery you’ll save money. After the initial outlay for the 3D printer, many things can be made for a fraction of the price you would have to pay for them. Making unique gifts for family and friends is another way to save your hard earned cash.
You’ll also save time by not having to visit stores or shop online for the things you need. Once you’ve submitted your design to the 3D printer you can sit back and wait for the finished product.
Learning to use a 3D printer and designing prints is a great way to learn new skills and it’s a particularly good way to educate children. Children love to create things and seeing something that they’ve designed come out of the printer is very rewarding. Using a 3D printer teaches children computer skills which is important in today's technological world.
3D printing at home has environmental benefits and you’ll be helping the planet. When goods have to be made in factory it contributes to air pollution, and the items have to be shipped. 3D printing produces less waste than manufacturing which is another environmental benefit.
Shipping items by land, sea and air uses fuel which is damaging to the environment. Making your own things in the home reduces the amount of goods that have to be transported.
How to Choose a 3D Desktop
When choosing a 3D desktop one of the most important things is the bed size of the printer. You’ll need to think about the things you want to print so that the machine can accommodate the finished product.
Layer thickness is another important thing to consider when choosing a 3D desktop. The majority of home printers produce layers starting from 20 microns to 500 microns. The thinner the layers are the better the finished print, but printing thinner layers takes longer.
Before buying a 3D desktop printer it’s useful to check what materials it uses to make prints. Many of the printers are able to use a variety of materials but some may only use plastic. If your printer only uses one material it will limit the type of things you’re able to produce.
Choose a printer that allows you to change the nozzle for different projects. If you want to produce accurate and highly detailed prints you’ll need to use a smaller nozzle. Nozzle sizes for the majority of desktop 3D printers range from 0.25mm to 0.8mm.
If you’re new to the world of 3D printing it’s better to buy a basic printer until you’ve learned how to design and print. Some 3D desktops are aimed at experienced printers and may be too complex for beginners. When you become more experienced you always have the option to upgrade your printer.
What Are The Top 5 3D Desktop Brands?
We’ve selected 5 manufacturers that produce desktop 3D printers that are suitable for home use.
MakerBot Industries is based in the United States with their headquarters in New York City.
MakerBot produce a range of 3D printers including the desktop models the Replicator+ and the Replicator Mini+. The Replicator + is an upgraded version of the original Replicator and new model has a larger build volume that its predecessor. It prints 30% faster than the old model and features a grip surface which prevents prints from warping.
A great feature on this printer is the built-in camera which allows you to monitor your prints from a mobile device.
The Replicator Mini+ is a compact desktop 3D printer making it a great choice for hobbyists. The printer is lightweight and portable whilst remaining robust and durable.
MakerBot printers can be controlled using the control panel, or remotely using the free MakerBot Print software. MakerBot 3D printers are compatible with Windows and Mac operating systems. Files can be sent to the Replicator Mini+ via Wi-Fi or USB and the Replicator+ has an ethernet port.
FormLabs is a technology manufacturer and developer based in massachusetts in the United States.
FormLabs manufacture industrial and desktop 3D printers and their Form 1 was released in 2012. The new Form 2 desktop printer is an upgraded version of the Form 1 and it’s a great choice for a home printer. FormLabs printers produce high quality prints with an excellent finish.
FormLabs printers use laser technology to cure the prints made from liquid photopolymer resin. The resin is contained in cartridges which are quick and easy to change when necessary.
The Form 2 features a touch screen display, a handy peeling mechanism and wireless controls. FormLabs printers are controlled by their PreForm software which can be downloaded for Windows or Mac. Files are sent to FormLabs printers via Wi-FI, USB or the ethernet connection.
Aleph Objects Incorporated
Aleph Objects Incorporated is a US company based in Loveland, Colorado.
Aleph Objects make a range of 3D printers and the Lulzbot Mini, Mini 2 and Taz 6 are compact desktop printers aimed at the enthusiast. In June 2018 Aleph Objects released the LulzBot Mini 2 which is an upgraded version of the original. LulzBot printers produce good quality prints with a clean finish.
LulzBot 3D printers support a variety of printing material making them more versatile than other printers that are available. Nylon, polycarbonate and t-glase, which is a transparent material, can all be used by LulzBot machines.
One of the downsides with LulzBot 3D printers is that they have to be tethered to a laptop or desktop computer whilst printing. The Cura software needed to control the printer is a free download compatible with Windows and Mac.
iMakr is a UK-based company with stores in London and New York.
iMakr make a number of desktop 3D printers including the FlashForge Finder, Creator Pro and the Dreamer. FlashForge printers are a good choice for newcomers to the world of 3D printing as they’re easy to use. The compact printers made by iMakr produce quality prints at an affordable price.
iMakr FlashForge printers can be loaded with a variety of materials to create prints apart from the Finder which only uses polylactic acid. The Dreamer and Creator Pro are capable of printing with metals which makes them a good choice for engineers.
iMakr FlashForge 3D printers are compatible with Windows and Mac operating systems and can be controlled with software including Flashprint and Cura. All of the desktop printers made by iMakr have a display screen and designs are sent via Wi-Fi or USB.
Ultimaker is a dutch company and they have offices and manufacturing facilities in the United States.
Ultimaker manufacture a number of 3D printers for industrial uses and for hobbyists. The Ultimaker 2+ is their desktop model and it’s a good choice for the more experienced designer and printer. Ultimaker 3D printers are not the cheapest but they’re very well made and produce high-quality prints.
Ultimaker 3D printers work with a range of materials including plastics and nylon, making them versatile. The nozzles are interchangeable to allow for different print qualities and varying print speed.
Ultimaker printers are controlled with Ultimakers own Cura software via a USB port and there’s an SD card slot. The printers are compatible with Windows and Mac operating systems.
The fascinating world of 3D printing awaits you and if you’re looking for a well made 3D desktop printer there’s a huge choice. The brands that we’ve looked at in this article are all a good choice when you plan to make a purchase. There are 3D printers suitable for beginners and experts alike, and there are machines to suit all budgets.