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How to own (and love) a 3D printer

Albert Filice | July 3, 2013
Your new 3D printer is sitting in the box just waiting for your attention. What do you do?

Earlier in 3D printing history, printers had to be built from complex kits that entailed soldering a printed circuit board (and often hunting down missing parts). Nowadays, the kits tend to be greatly simplified. Kits like the Ultimaker contain fewer parts; don't require any soldering, drilling, or cutting; and use a single type of bolt to hold the pieces together.

Building a printer out of hardware from a nearby store is another option, and that makes a RepRap  (Replicating Rapid Prototyper) viable for if you have the necessary skill and patience. A RepRap is generally constructed from generic hardware plus some parts that can be printed on just about any 3D printer. Using printed parts removes the need for custom manufacturing, but you do need access to another 3D printer before you can complete the build.

Familiarize yourself with 3D printer terms
3D printing can be confusing to learn if you're constantly stymied by terms (like extruder, filament, raft, and print bed) that you don't understand in the context of the technology. Before you start, take a few minutes to get familiar with the specialized terminology. The RepRap wiki has a good introduction to 3D printing terms, so look it over, and keep it open as you read instructions until you have a good grasp of the vocabulary.

Pick a good location for your printer
Smaller isn't always better in 3D printers, since the size of the printer limits the size of the things you can print. But if you don't plan to print anything too big, or if you need to conserve space, a smaller printer may be your best option.

Smaller printers, like the Solidoodle and the Afinia, can fit on a shelf. Your printer can go anywhere that seems sensible to you, but it's a good idea to keep it out of the reach of pets and small children, due to its very hot moving parts. If space isn't an issue, a sturdy table or workbench is a good spot for a large printers.

3D printers can make a good deal of noise, so keep that in mind when choosing a location for yours. The amount of noise it makes depends on the printer's design and the motors in use. Depending on the printer, the melting of the plastic filament can produce a noticeable odor, too. If that's the case with your printer, place it somewhere that has good ventilation, but not so good that air will be blowing over it constantly.

Filament, filament, filament
You'll have plenty of options for filament material and color, and all of them have their special quirks.

Most printers are designed to be compatible with one type of plastic filament, usually either ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) or PLA (polyactic acid, which is basically polyester).


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