I've been getting a lot of questions lately about my 3D printers and what I do with them. I thought I'd round up a lot of those answers into a blog post.
have two 3D printers. The first one I got about 3 years ago now. It
cost about $1600 and came as a kit that you had to put together. It's called a MakerBot Thing-o-Matic. I've
put an extra $500 worth of upgrades into the bot including the LCD
control panel and two different types of new extruders.
I made a timelapse video of me putting together the kit over several days. It took me about 12 man hours to put the whole thing together and to get my first print out of the printer. The music is by Lucy Michelle and The Velvet Lapels and they are a fantastic band from Minneapolis.
Both of my printers are plastic filament printers. The filament comes on a spool and is 1.75mm in diameter. The extruder pulls in the plastic filament, heats it up, and deposits it on the build platform. There are two main types of plastic people are using. ABS is the same kind of plastic in legos and milk cartons. It's very strong and will flex slightly if needed. The plastic I have been using lately in my prints is PLA which comes from corn. It's much more brittle then ABS but has no fumes and actually smells rather sweet when printing.
The total build area of my MakerBot is about 100mm x 100mm x 100mm. I'm currently printing with a nozzle with a diameter of 0.4mm. You can see on the platform is blue painters tape. This seems to be the best option for printing PLA. The trouble is finding something that the PLA will stick to but that will not stick to well.
The filament comes in a wide range of colors from countless vendors. They even make clear and glow in the dark. Below is a model I printed and assembled of a 5 cylinder rotary engine. Except for some springs the entire thing was printed on my MakerBot Thing-o-Matic. You spin the crank and all the pieces move. It's totally cool.
My second and most recent 3D printer is a PrintrBot Simple. I got this kit about 3 months ago. I was a early adopter and part of their BETA program so I got the whole printer for $250.00 and it has the same build size as my Thing-o-Matic. The quality of the prints is pretty good but it will never be as good as my MakerBot. For a $250 printer though the prints are fantastic.
I actually don't really print with it that often. This printer is more about the idea of making a small and inexpensive machine that can print and print well. I'm constantly trying to improve the printer and that's where the enjoyment comes.
My favorite thing about the PrintrBot Simple is the way that it moves. The print bed moves left to right for the x axis. The extruder moves back and forth for the y axis. It looks like its dancing when it prints. Its just fun to watch.
So what do I make with my printers? Well, sure I make things for around the house. Once you have a printer you start finding all kinds of uses for it. It comes in really handy when you need to make a custom hook or bracket. Each piece I make ends up costing like 25 cents in plastic so it could be considered really cost effective if you don't factor in all the time I spend tinkering and the initial cost of the whole bot.
Really though you should never buy a machine like this because it's practical; it isn't. It's a fun machine that can make some very useful parts and pieces if needed.
I've been making different type of bracelets for my wife, and I've been trying to think of what the printer is as a tool and try to utilize it in that way as much as possible. The printer makes 3D objects just great but that's not really what it's doing. The printer is drawing with plastic and so I think about using the machine to draw. These bracelets are all the same but I've exposed the infill.
If I was to print a cube on my 3D printer the inside of the cube wouldn't be solid because it would waste plastic and time printing so we print an infill pattern at different varying density depending on the usage and also the shape of the object. The infill is the best example of what the 3D printer does that no other machine does and that's what I've been playing with as a design element.
Hope that answers a lot of your questions. I'm always looking for excuses to print things so if you need something or want something just let me know.