Choosing A 3D Printer for Your Team: A Buyers Guide

You’re in the market for a 3D printer for your team, and with so many options out there, how do you navigate through what’s best for your team? I will help you navigate the swamp that is becoming the 3D printer world and hopefully equip you with the knowledge you need to equip your team better.

Why does your team need a 3D Printer?

3D printing has taken large leaps when it comes to technology. They are faster, smarter, and less prone to breaking down, than when they were first released; although it still happens, even to the best of printers. If you are here, then it means you may have an idea why you need a 3D printer, but do you really know why? I mean, you are here to find a product that can fit your needs, yet if you have never used one before, how do you know why you need one or even what you need it for? 

The practicality of a 3D printer will allow you and your team to build and design most of the parts or even tools you need in most environments, It will take you as far as your team’s imagination will allow it to go. The question to ask is how it can benefit your team and is there a person who can learn how to operate it? Remember, you need to understand everything you read about 3D printers, and I am here to help.

What is with all the Terminology?

When dealing with the operation of a 3D printer you can get bogged down with understanding things like pools and supports and that gets deeper into the different styles and how they are managed. As someone who is choosing a 3D printer for your team, try to stay away from the specifics of the printing details. I mean sure, you want to investigate the types of software you will need, but you just do not want to get lost in the details of that software. Many 3D printers use their software to do what is called “slicing.” Many times, you will hear of third-party slicing software’s that work great, but most of the time it is included in the software package of the 3D printer you buy, this is unless you get a printer that you have to build.

With that in mind, let’s look at the different acronyms you will see when searching for your 3D printer. Below is a list that I have created to help you navigate the three different types of 3D printers you will be looking at.

  • FDM – Fused Deposition Modeling a.k.a FFF- Fused Filament Fabrication – this is a form of additive manufacturing. It’s a process that takes any material, in our world PLA or ABS filament usually, and lays it down with heat to fuses the filament together.
  • There is also SLA, which uses a laser to cure and is created with photosensitive resin and uses a projection screen instead of a mat. Also, far more detailed prints with usually higher resolution than FDM/FFF machines.SLS – Selected laser sentry (middle ground of the three types of 3D printers) uses microscopic lasers that burn the model each layer at a time. This can be more expensive on the materials than the other two and only slightly better resolution than the FDM printers.

Now that you know the types of 3D printers and their acronyms, let’s look at the types of filaments that are used in them. In 3D printers, the materials that you use matter. Some printers will print with any filaments on the market today, but most have a strict limit to the filaments they can print with. Let’s look at the different filaments and their acronyms. For more information I have links to some sites that will go into detail, click on the name of the filament, and it will bring you there.

  • PLA – Most common filament comes in 2.2lb spools about 3 meters, which can print a lot. Much easier to work with for beginners.
  • TPU – flexible, mostly used in creative phone cases.
  • ABS – the 2nd most common material. Higher melting point and lasts longer, especially outdoors. More brittle than PLA and more difficult to work with. Recommend enclosure to print using this filament, or the filament will peel away from the bed. It requires better adhesive base as well.
  • PLA Wood – not actually wood, but has traces of wood in it and can be sanded and stained has a natural wood look.

With these filaments in mind, think about what you as a team would be printing and what printer you want. Would you want the standard FDM printer or maybe the SLA? Once you know the type of printer you need for your solution, you can decide what type of filament you would most likely be printing in.


So, what type of 3D Printer is best for my team?

To better understand the types of 3D printers, I have classified all the 3D printers into two categories: the hobbyist grade and the other being engineering-grade printers. This will make it easier for when you are choosing a 3D printer for your team.

Hobbyist grade 3D printer ($200-$1,000):

  • Great for PLA filament and smaller ABS parts (ABS is the same stuff Legos are made of)
  • Usually no heated chamber, nozzle runs at 250 Celsius and bed at 120 Celsius
  • Generally, they have open chambers
  • Subpar frames and not as accurate but still good enough to make basic quality items
  • Examples: Creality, FlashForge, and Ultimaker original plus kit

Engineering grade 3D printer ($1,000-$25,000):

  • Designed for nylon and polycarbonate
  • Have higher nozzle and bed temps, and often include actively heated chambers
  • Nozzle – 320C / Bed – 160C
  • Usually a closed chamber to hold temp around 60C
  • A stronger frame and better accuracy and dependability
  • Examples: MakerBot, Ultimaker S5 PRO, and StrataSys

Important 3D Printing Terms

Now that you have a general understanding of the types of printers and filaments, you should know a few terms before you go off on your search. These terms will help you further navigate the details of the 3D printer world.

3D Printer Terms You Should Know:

  • A Raft – looks like a spilled drink on the base, but it is the foundation for your print, and every print that you make should have this.
  • Bridging – is a connecting piece that spans a gap, and usually requires support under it.
  • Bed Leveling   this is very important. All 3D printers need to have a level build plate, and when selecting your 3D printer, you will find some that have automatic leveling and others that require manual leveling of the build plate. The automatic bed leveling feature will save you lots of time.
  • Extruder – This is the unit that heats and melts your filament. This can come in many different styles, and some even come in what is called a dual extruder. This type of extruder can print out two separate filaments at the same time, and can come in real handy when you are printing a multicolored or multifilament type. The most reliable extruder on the market is MakerBot’s new Smart Extruder Plus.

But wait there’s more!

Before you go, you should note that some 3D printers have a heated build plate, and others do not. This means that the plate that your print is building on will have a small element that keeps the build plate warm and is a good source for curing your filament. This will allow for stronger prints and allow the use of higher density filaments such as TPU or wood PLA, even carbon fiber PLA. 

As you can see, finding a 3D printer that assists your team’s needs can be challenging with all the information out there. We know because we have gone through the process you are going through right now. Just know that there are many resources out there, and I would challenge you to investigate as much of them as possible. Join a Reddit group of 3D printers and ask questions. The communities for 3D printers are very helpful and can expand on this knowledge.