Could anyone suggest a printer for a beginner and a how to guide?
That’s a very broad question.
If you love to tinker and have some soldering skills and electrical know-how, I would recommend you read up on the various styles of RepRap printer and build your own.
On the other hand, if you just want to buy something that will work out of the box, and you don’t mind spending a couple grand, then I would probably go with Replicator 2 from MakerBot.
I’ll echo the price range inquiry. $500, $1000, $1500, $2500… lots of different options out there.
In the “all set up and ready to go out of the box” category I’d suggest the Solidoodle 2. It’s lighter on the wallet ($500, or $550 for one with a heated bed - I’d recommend getting the heated bed) but still a very good printer.
The thing is (and this is speaking from my own relatively recent experience of jumping into the world of 3D printing) you’ll learn more than you expect in the first couple weeks, and you’ll learn what you wish your printer did differently, and you’ll start wanting another printer (and you’ll probably start wanting to build your next one yourself, too).
With the Solidoodle you can get all that education, learn those hard lessons, and build your next printer and still be under the price of a Replicator 2 or Ultimaker or other more expensive kit-based solution.
The other nice thing about the Solidoodle, especially for a total newbie, is that it has a very good community surrounding it. Check out http://soliforum.com and http://solidoodletips.wordpress.com, to get a feeling for the community. They’ve been a huge help in my learning process.
That’s true, these 3D printers are at the bleeding edge of consumer technology, but I did mean what I said that the Solidoodle is all set up and ready to go out of the box.
Install the controller software, unbox the printer, plug it in, get it connected to the software, control it manually to make sure there are no weird problems, then load up an STL from Thingiverse, slice it, and you can run your first print (just make sure you’re patient enough to let the print bed heat up if you’re using ABS plastic).
Will it be perfect? No. But it should complete successfully, and look pretty good. From that point you can go through the usual calibrations to get it looking better and printing successfully at lower layer heights, but we’re talking a Saturday’s worth of work to getting it calibrated nicely and printing very well. Maybe a full weekend if you’ve never touched a 3D printer before (that’s what it took me, and what position I was in when it arrived).
I’d suggest reading the http://reprap.org wiki. All of the major kinds of printers are laid out in a semi-standard format, with a decent comparison table. Given the amount of DIY in 3d printers under $10000, if the wiki is insufficient to provide an answer, it might be wise to hold off on getting a printer.
For a more direct answer, I really like my MakerGear Prusa. The guide was reasonably complete, and their tech support is excellent.
Make Magazine did a good review of some of the printers. You can read short summaries on the website but need to buy the issue ($7) to read it all: http://blog.makezine.com/volume/make-ultimate-guide-to-3d-printing/
I started with a Mendel/Prusa it was pretty easy to assemble, and has been a very stable beginning platform, with MANY customizable options available. it was built from scratch from yet another Mendel/Prusa. Thus fulfilling the role of being a “Self Replicating Machine”.