What printer should a novice consider?

I’m thinking about buying a 3D printer but I can barely spell “3D”. I’ve been to a local store that has about 20 models on display, the sales people are some what non-committal about which a beginner should start with, which makes sense.

Based on what several sales people have told me, and somewhat of what I read, I don’t want to start with an “entry level” model, I want something that will minimize the learning curve and produce results soon (so as to please my wife and avoid the I told you so lectures), if such a thing exists.

I am not looking at highly detailed parts, mostly larger parts, screw threads, tongue and groove connectors to put larger pieces together.

Screw threads and tongue-and-groove require tight tolerances. That pretty much means that the cheap printers aren’t what you are looking for. Have you set any sort of budget, or still feeling that out?

Minimizing the learning curve means you probably don’t want a kit?

Getting something with an enclosure will increase your options for types of plastic. Prusa have a reputation for quality, but you are assembling a kit, and they haven’t focused on enclosed printers.

There are lots of high-end kits (e.g. for Voron) that can deliver phenomenal results, but fewer out-of-the box printers that get consistently good reviews. There are some companies that sell fully-assembled Voron printers, but that might cost more than you are interested in paying up front.

I like my (large!) Qidi X-Max 3, but while I’ve been able to get excellent results on a lot of prints (including working printed threads down to M3) I don’t think it would be a good first printer. They just seem to assume prior experience in lots of ways. Someone who wants to dive into that could get help here with issues and answering questions, but that’s clearly not what you are asking for.

It’s still not clear to me whether Creality have actually complied with their open source obligations for the K1 series. They made a splash last fall about “open sourcing” some of their information for that series, but it’s not clear to me that they have honored the license terms of all the software they are shipping. That’s kept me from paying much attention to the reviews of the K1 series to know whether they are mechanically or electrically sound.

Bambu also haven’t had a reputation for honoring all licenses perfectly; they had to be shamed into releasing the source code to the slicer that they made based off of Prusa-Slicer; that was kind of rude. They claim that their firmware is 100% developed in house and has no open source in it, so that they can keep it proprietary. However, they have in the past week or so promised to enable installing third-party firmware on their printers. Several forum participants here have reported good results with Bambu’s hardware.

Size makes a huge difference here. How big do you want to print?

Thanks for the great response …

  • Don’t want cheap, I have a budget, approaching $1k USD, but that will include plastic, too.
  • Didn’t want a kit, but it sounds like kits end up being better than out-of-the-box?
  • Can I build an enclosure? I assume it does not have to be fancy, just enough to keep heat in, breezes out? I planned to run this in my basement bathroom, door closed, exhaust fan running.

My initial loathing of a kit might go away if I can get better results with a kit. I am concerned about self-support, but it seems this forum would help with that.

One of the first projects will be rather large, hence the tongue-in-groove, I assumed that I would have to print several pieces. The project will be an enclosure for several “devices” and will need to be about 13-14" tall, 8" wide, and 4" deep (with the cover closed) - all inside dimensions, so add however much for the thickness of the enclosure. As for strength, one of the devices is a liquid collection tank with a capacity of about one liter, the other devices will weigh several pounds, so allowing for 4-5 pounds of weight put on the external mounting system (tabs or key-holes). I envisioned a top and bottom half for the box and cover, four pieces, glued together after printing. The cover could be screw on, “no user servicable parts”.

1 Like

I definitely don’t want to try to talk anyone into a kit, especially if it doesn’t sound like fun. It might be something you decide you want anyway, and plenty of folks here have built printer kits and could help, though never on a schedule of course, not being paid support. :grin:

Plastic will run on the order of $20-25/kg for normal plastic. Specialty filament can be more (e.g. my PET-CF filament is $65/kg).

PLA plastic, the most common “beginner” filament, will get brittle holding water. In common filaments, PETG, ABS, or ASA would be better choices. ABS and ASA really need an enclosure, preferably a heated enclosure. I print ABS with a 100°C bed and a 50°C enclosure. I would probably choose ABS for this. It glues together very well with acetone-based glue. This can be model cement, or ABS filament dissolved in acetone. ABS shrinks when it cools, which is why you really want a heated chamber to print it. PETG has very low shrink when it cools, but is really hard to glue; not much sticks to PETG. And PETG is fairly stringy.

You can buy fabric enclosures for under $100. They are supposed to be flame-resistant. I enclosed one of my printers using polycarbonate channel panels that are screwed to the side and the gaps taped. That was more expensive than the fabric enclosures; the 2x4 polycarbonate channel material isn’t cheap.

Dimensions are usually quoted in mm. Your 8" x 4" build area is easy to find. But 13-14" tall for a single print will be more of a challenge. You want something like a 225mm x 125mm build area which itself is easy, but 350mm Z is more specialized. The Bambu max Z is 256mm; it’s a 256mm³ printer. The Creality K1 max is 300mm³. Even my large Qidi X-Max 3 with a 330mm x 330mm build area still is limited to 315mm Z. I have an SK-Tank kit that is 350mm x 350mm x 400mm, but that kit doesn’t even include necessary printed parts, and is definitely above your budget.

For something that big and heavy, you probably don’t want something with a bed that moves back and forth. You really want something that raises and lowers the bed (or the printing gantry) and moves the print head around in X and Y. Most of these printers are “corexy” these days.

Here are two example kits which in 350mm³ (the only way to get the height you want for those kits) are a bit under $1K:

I have no experience with those vendors; I don’t know anything good or bad about them. At least the second doesn’t include printed parts, so you would need to find someone to print them for you. Just listing them as reference examples for a kit for a widely-built printer (Voron).

If you are thinking about printing the tank in stages that are glued together (is that where you were thinking about tongue and groove?), that gives you a lot more options for height. Almost any printer with a heated enclosure is likely to be able to work in that case. Some printers have carbon filters, too, to help adsorb VOCs. I have them in both of my printers for this reason. You should be able to find a printer that doesn’t require much in the way of assembly if you can do that.

So what’s the largest single part you want to be able to print? (Not the largest thing you assemble from parts you print, the largest single thing that would come off the printer from a session?)

If you want to print lots of multiples, keep speed in mind. You can design your possible part in CAD, export it as STL or STEP, and then download a slicer for free and try slicing it. It will tell you about how much it should weigh (for the filament type you select) and about how long it would take to print (on the type of printer you tell it to slice for). You don’t have to pay a cent to try that out.

Hope this helps you explore this idea and see whether you want to do something.

If this instead sounds discouraging, if you really only want a few one-offs, there are 3d printing services. That’s likely cheaper if you aren’t going to keep doing this on an ongoing basis, even though it’s not cheap. Worth being aware of the tradeoffs anyway.

1 Like

Thanks for another great answer!
As I said, I am rethinking the kit option, however the “doesn’t include printed parts” is ironic (to me), sounds like the kit is not intended to be a “first printer”, as I think you mentioned.
I’ll have to start thinking in millimeters, despite being very small. I quipped to a friend that measuring in mms is like stating your age in days. But, that is the way of the world (and its easier, too).

The liquid tank was going to be built from off the shelf PVC pipe; I’ve been told that printed things need to be treated with a solvent to water proof the surfaces. If can actually print the tank, that would be so much better, and I can shape/size it to be shorter than the 355 mm (14 inches) I stated. It would make the cover/door smaller, too.

I like your suggestion about designing the part first and learning its complexity. And I will look at printing companies, too. That might be the best option, given the “business model” for this part - I’m “giving” it away, but to not be a business or have income, I’m having the buyers provide all of the parts, drop-shipped to me, and I will assemble and test the device and ship it to them, all that expense with me donating my time. A printing service would ship the completed part to me. However, I have other projects to assist my disabled wife, too, so a printer in-house would be ideal.

I think my next step is to follow your advice and do the design to see exactly what I am getting into with this “largest part”. And to research the water-proofness of various materials.

Many folks bootstrap themselves or others. It was part of the original ethos of hobbyist 3d printing — RepRap was the “self-replicating rapid prototyper” that kicked this all off, and the original goal was that much of the machine itself should be 3d printed. “Print it forward” was a big thing for growing the hobbyist community. As this community has grown, however, those who just want to use the machines have far outweighed those of us who are fascinated by implementing and modifying the machines. :raised_hand:

How much of the part design have you done so far? What CAD or other tools have you been using so far, if any?

This might be a case where going through iterations on designs here could help figure out what printer would be most cost-effective for you.

1 Like

The design is in my head, I do need to select a CAD tool to draw it so that I can be sliced? Is that the correct process? Do you have a recommendation? I did find a promising third party printing company and am waiting for a response from them.

You should find this an interesting story. It is why you even know of 3D printing.

Yeah, you need some modeling tool to create a model in the computer. For art models, lots of people use Blender (originally created for making movies), but for functional, mechanical parts you are looking for 3d CAD.

All 3d CAD is complex; more capability can mean more complexity to learn. Regardless of your choice, you will spend some combination of money and time to learn.

FreeCAD is free and powerful but has something of a learning curve.

TinkerCAD is meant to be accessible without lots of learning, and is limited.

A subset of Fusion360 is currently available for hobbyist uses without cost, though what is available without paying changes from time to time.

OnShape is web-based and is currently (last I knew) free to use if you share your designs publicly.

OpenSCAD is an environment in which you write code to describe your object, instead of dragging things around on the screen.

There are many more; these are some of the relatively common options.

I run Linux and have written a lot of open source software, so I use mostly FreeCAD and sometimes OpenSCAD. That doesn’t make them the best choice for you, necessarily.


There is also BlocksCAD which is based on OpenSCAD with a Scratch-like UI over it.
So it’s a combination of GUI and coding for model designing.

1 Like