So you want a printer but aren’t sure which to buy. There are so many options! I’m here to help as I recently went through the same process myself. Be sure to read about both printers and filaments before deciding on a printer to purchase. You may find your printer cannot do what you want it to do. There are a few other bits of vital information before proceeding.
Firstly, for a school or library I would strongly suggest not using a resin printer. They may be great for personal or professional use, but resin printers are based off liquid which is solidified to build you print. They look magical when printing, but spilled liquids are something I myself want to avoid with students and patrons. The other most common type of 3D printer takes plastic filament (think a spool of thread), melts it then cools it to solidity again: much less of a mess!
Secondly, ease of use is important. “Plug ‘N’ Play” models are great for schools and libraries. Printers also need to be calibrated, which is something a non-enthusiast wouldn’t want to deal with. If the printer auto-levels or auto-cleans all the easier for you.
Third, be sure the printer is from a good company. This matters both for reliability of construction as well as software support. To use a 3D printer you need to design or download a 3D image then transfer the design into “Slicing” software. This takes the 3D image and “slices” it into hundreds of layers formatted for the printer to place down one at a time. Think a more advanced (but easier to use) version of your normal printer’s drivers.
Now which printer should you choose?
3DHubs has an excellent and extensive comparison of top printers by category. Just don’t get lost with all the options!
PC Magazine has a more condensed list of recommended printers along with a great write up explaining different printer features that need to be considered.
How about filament?
The top two filaments you will hear about are ABS and PLA. I personally go with PLA since it seems to be the one with less health concerns. Most printers can print PLA easily and quickly and there are lots of options to choose from! ABS has the benefit of dissolving with acetone (potentially dangerous), if you want to see a method of smoothing out your plastic prints I have a link to a demonstration in the How-To part of the site.
Other filaments include color changing varieties, magnetic, conductive, wood-mimicking and more. Some are polycarbonates, capable of immense strength. Some are flexible, like nylon. (Yes, you can print nylon) Then we have glue, which can be used as supports for the plastic and dissolved in water after printing. Some of these filaments require special “extruders,” and some will require your printer to have “dual extrusion” capabilities. I don’t yet have dual nozzles nor a nozzle that can print flexible (nylon) materials, so I cannot fully comment on this yet!
One consideration is if your printer uses 1.75mm or 2.85(3)mm filament. To my knowledge, these are the only two sizes available. Be aware that with the wider size some filaments are listed as 2.85mm and others 3mm. I’m unsure if the 3mm is listed as rounding up, but they appear to be perfectly interchangeable. They are with my printer. This won’t be the case if you try to use 1.75mm in a 3mm printer, or vice versa!
Nicklievendag has a huge comparison on different filament types. Realize your printer might not be capable of printing all of them!
All3DP comes to our aid once again with a comparison of filaments that is extensive, to say the least.
One word of warning for filament is to not purchase cheap. Spending an extra $2-5 per roll is certainly worthwhile. $25/kilo is a good price for decent quality PLA. I bought two $20/kilo variety rolls and it breaks all the time.
How about your suggestion?
I don’t have much in the way of a professional opinion yet as to what you should buy, but if you insist then for my school library I acquired the LulzBot Taz 6 printer. It has worked excellent so far and has been easy to use both the hardware and software. I am looking for funding to acquire a nozzle head that can print the flexible materials to better comment on that in the future. So far the LulzBot has not served me wrong, but if the price point is too high they do have the smaller and more affordable Lulzbot Mini. The mini has the added bonus of an additional purchase of an acrylic enclosure to keep prying hands away from the moving components. Easier to put on display! Please feel free to email me if you would like any help or have questions.