3D printing isn’t just for professional makers anymore, and with so many entry-level machines it may be tempting for beginners to take the plunge into this new terrain.
While 3D printing offers an array of creative projects to try, this hobby may not be for everyone. We’ll go over all the details to help you figure out if 3D printing is worth it for you.
Things You Can Make
From Star Wars figurines to woodworking tools, a 3D printer can create a myriad of practical household items and fun gadgets. Whatever your other hobbies or profession might be, a 3D printer can create objects you can use, like accessories for your own board games, guitar parts, or even prosthetics.
You can find plans for various hard-to-find knobs, handles, hinges, seals, and even plugs on sites like Thingiverse, where users share mostly free, open-source plans for almost anything you can think of.
Companies like Boulanger are also starting to create their own 3D printing sites for replacement parts to lure the next generation of consumers who want to repair appliances rather than toss them out.
Cell phone cases, flower vases, and pots for plants are simple, popular items that can be fun to create. The sky really is the limit, though there are many other variables that may not make this process as easy as it first sounds.
3D printing is great for people who have patience. A simple cell phone case will take around one to two hours to complete, but a prosthetic hand will be closer to 15 hours. If you have visions of making large, intricate items, you’ll need time to let that happen.
You’ll also need to do a lot of tweaking and fine tuning. 3D printers are meant for tinkerers or anyone who enjoys taking the time to properly learn how something works. Failed prints are the norm for anyone just starting out, so if you are easily frustrated, this hobby may not be for you.
Any design will require filaments which are the material used to make your prints come to life. Filaments are thermoplastics that melt rather than burn, and can be found in many colors with different properties depending on your project.
Getting to know the various types can be daunting in and of itself, but PLA is the most common and cheapest type of filament to use. ABS, PETG, TPU, TPE, and Nylon are other popular filaments used for different prints.
3D printing guidebooks can help teach beginners some basic concepts on thermodynamics and engineering, as well as electronics. Choosing simple designs at the start can help you get to know the technology better, and waste less material and time while you make tweaks and experiment.
Once you get used to the machine and how to troubleshoot problems, users might be interested in the software side of things so they can create their own 3D models with CAD (computer-assisted design) technology.
Something else to consider is whether you have the space to set up a 3D printer. There are desktop-size models now that take up as much space as a computer tower, but keep in mind that you’ll also need space for all of the accessories that go along with it.
Filaments come in spools that will need to be stored properly. They should be kept away from humidity, dust, and other debris so that the material stays clean and in good shape when you go to use it.
That means you should keep them in an air-tight container, preferably with some kind of desiccant added to help absorb any excess moisture.
Then there are the other materials that are necessary for successful prints. Most 3D printers will come with a few standard print beds and tools to help with simple designs, but eventually you’ll want to invest in some other supplies.
Supplies and Accessories
Masking or Kapton tape, or PVA glue sticks are necessary to keep prints adhered to the build plates, so nothing moves around. Note: these are recommended for PLA filaments; other kinds like nylon, ABS, or PETG will need different kinds of plates and ways to keep them in place.
Extra print beds are handy, as are enclosures if you are using non-PLA filaments that have special temperature requirements. Print removal tools like scrapers and cleaners to get prints off plates are also important.
As you get into more complex designs, digital calipers and support tools will help to keep your printer in line and hold the print properly in place.
Other everyday tools like pliers, clippers, knives, and eye protection are commonly needed. You’ll also need a place to store any finishing materials like acetone, sandpaper, polishes, paint, and brushes.
The other important requirement when thinking about where to put your 3D printer is proper ventilation. Just because your bedroom is big enough to fit the printer and all of its supplies, doesn’t mean that’s the best place for it.
3D printing emits fumes that can pose problems in enclosed spaces. PLA filaments are generally the safest material to print with as they are made with vegetable-based plastics and are biodegradable.
While they release a somewhat sweet smell, the long-term effects of breathing these fumes in are unknown, and it’s generally recommended to have some kind of ventilation or air purification.
Even with PLA printing, you may not want these smells coming into contact with pets, bedding, clothing, furniture or areas where you eat. ABS printing fumes are even worse, and emit a toxic chemical called styrene that can cause headaches, fatigue, and light-headedness.
Best Place to Set-up
A workshop, garage, or separate space for printing is the ideal option for keeping fumes at bay. If you can start your print, close the door, and come back after it’s finished, you can escape the danger of breathing any toxic fumes in.
This isn’t always feasible for a few reasons: not everyone has a separate space to print, and you can’t always leave the print unattended.
Opening windows can be enough for PLA printing, but an air purifier is going to do the best job of eradicating any toxic fumes. Plus, opening windows can lead to issues with temperature and moisture control, which can severely affect the quality of prints.
An even better option is to purchase an enclosed printer that significantly reduces the fumes let into the air. These are great for smaller rooms like bedrooms where ventilation may be tricky, and many entry-level printers have this option.
How Much Do 3D Printers Cost?
As always, cost is a major consideration when considering whether 3D printing is something you want to get into. Entry-level 3D printers will cost around $200-300 and are fine for basic PLA printing.
Mid-range models start at $500, and will include more bells and whistles to create faster, high-quality prints. Higher end 3D printers start around $800, and while there isn’t a ceiling when it comes to cost, most individuals won’t need anything that exceeds $2000 – especially beginners.
Of course, it depends on what you want to print and how dedicated you are, but anyone looking to get into the hobby to see what it’s like may want to try and catch a mid-range model that’s on sale for the best experience.
Keep in mind that most experts agree that 3D printers do not eventually pay for themselves. While you may be able to save some money on replacement parts for appliances, or feel good about making your own flower pots, the amount of supplies you need to buy usually outweighs any savings.
Can You Make Money Off 3D Printing?
Failed prints are very common, especially at the beginning, which means you will go through a lot of filament, tape, and cleaning and finishing materials while you learn the process. If you consider these costs as part of the hobby, then you may be able to justify it, but not if you’re trying to start a business.
That’s not to say that you can’t make money off 3D printing, it just means like any business, there will be trial and error before you fine tune your process. The market is also saturated with 3D printers on Etsy and other niche sights, so think about what you want to sell and whether someone is already doing it.
You likely won’t make any money printing simple items off of Thingiverse because anyone can do it (and someone already is). The best solution is to create your own designs and either sell the plans or the items, or both.
In the world of 3D printing, originality is king. If you can hack the market with a fresh take, or the thought interests you, then 3D printing may be something you can make money with.
Best Starter 3D Printers
The best 3D printer will be the one that meets your various skill level and budget requirements. You may also have specific designs in mind, so maybe a resin printer is important to you.
With so many options, it might be hard to narrow it down, so come up with a list of things you want your printer to do, and how much you’re willing to pay.
One of the best budget printers under $200 is the Creality Ender 3 V2. It’s great for creating basic PLA prints with reliable results. It has an HD screen and glass-mounted aluminum print bed for easy print removal. This is a great option for someone who wants to check out what 3D printing is all about.
The Anycubic Kobra is under $300 and recommended for teens or beginners who want to improve their STEM skills. It has automatic bed levelling, is compatible with PLA, ABS, PETG, and TPU filaments, and is noted for its print bed and touchscreen. This printer only connects through a USB or SD card.
The Monoprice Voxel 3D printer is a fully enclosed, fast-printing machine that costs just over $300. This is an affordable entry-level printer that delivers high-quality prints, making it great for anyone who wants to use it at home or in a classroom. Wi-Fi connectivity is another bonus, though some users reported software frustrations during setup.
The Ender 3 S1 Pro offers some premium features that the Ender 3 won’t have while still being relatively affordable at $440. This printer will be great for beginners who already have plans for their printer and want to create reliable prints from a higher-quality extruder.
The S1 Pro has a self-levelling bed, and can handle high temperatures up to 300 degrees C for nylon, ABS, or PETG filaments for more variety of prints.
These are just some entry-level printers that are affordable and have gotten great reviews. 3D technology is rapidly growing, and every year new, affordable models come on the market.
There are also a lot of second hand printers out there on sites like Marketplace and Craigslist, since many people give up on this hobby quickly. You could pick up a great printer for even cheaper if you don’t mind that it’s been used.
If you’re looking to get into 3D printing to make money, there may be frustrations at the beginning. Learning this practice takes time and patience, and turning it into a viable business may take years.
If you’re happy enough to keep 3D printing as a hobby or a way to create things you can use around the house, then it can be a highly rewarding venture. It can offset your other hobbies, as well, and become an important part of your personal toolkit.
With so many entry-level options under $300, cost isn’t a huge concern for getting into 3D printing, but keep in mind that there are other materials to buy, as well as some maintenance you’ll have to do. Replacement nozzles and new spools of filament are part of the process of creating quality prints.
3D printing is a great hobby for kids and adults alike, and can be a fun way to get the family interested in a new project. There are machines geared towards any skill level and budget, giving you an array of options to find something that fits your lifestyle.
3D printing is definitely worth it if you can balance your expectations and enjoy the process of learning a new skill.
Emily grew up in a household where there was always a summer garden, and a room being renovated. This influence followed her into adulthood as she has worked in various trades for more than a decade, specializing in tile and trim carpentry. She owns and runs MLE Renovations and has over 15 years of professional renovation and landscaping experience.
Emily has a Bachelor's degree in English Literature from the University of Guelph, a Masters in Creative Writing from Humber College, and a Journalism diploma from Conestoga College, so writing about DIY projects is her dream job! She&rsquo;s particularly interested in green design, re-purposing items, and creating environmentally-friendly outdoor landscapes. She always has a project in mind. Next on the list: creating a rain garden on the front lawn, and turning her garage into a working office and guest suite.
Emily lives just southwest of Toronto, but grew up in Chicago, and has family across Canada and the United States. She currently works in a Lowes garden center and has an orange tabby cat who helps her decide where plants should go - without getting his paws dirty.