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What’s the Point of 3D Printing?
There are so many reasons to buy a 3D printer yet I often get asked (sometimes quite aggressively!) “What’s the point of 3D printing?”.
This question is usually asked in the context of 3D printing as a hobby. As in industry, there is no doubt that 3D printing has been and will continue to play an essential role in modern manufacturing.
So, in this article, I’ll talk about some of the reasons so many people love 3D printing as a hobby, why the benefits of 3D printing are being integrated into countless other hobbies, and what you might get out of 3D printing if you give it a go yourself.
Reasons to Buy a 3D Printer
3D printing offers so much as a hobby, far from being a toy, 3D printers can impact your life in many positive ways. Here are some examples of why you should get a 3D printer.
Above all, 3D printing is about having fun! You don’t need to have a hugely important practical reason for buying a 3D printer. Just downloading a free model and printing it for the sake of it can be a great way to spend your time and whichever way you look at it, it’s better and more rewarding than spending all weekend in front of the TV!
You can Fix Anything
Firstly, a 3D printer is a practical tool that you can use to solve all sorts of household problems in your daily life and home. From simple things like bespoke desk tidies to replacing that oven knob that you could never find a replacement for. When you own a 3D printer every breakage in your house becomes an exciting project that gains you skills and saves you money!
Secondly, using a 3D printer strongly encourages you to think creatively. When you have a tool like a 3D printer at your disposal you start thinking about different ways you can use it. Instead of rushing out to buy something that will make do, you can instead design and print a completely bespoke object that is tailored to your exact specifications.
Great for STEM Learning
If you have children then a 3D printer is the perfect way to get them thinking creatively and it will make them develop an engineer’s problem-solving way of thinking. 3D printing can be made relevant to many different disciplines, not just the STEM subjects. Read my article on 3D printing for kids for more info.
Integrate with Your Hobbies
If you have a hobby that could benefit from bespoke parts like fishing lures or tabletop gaming accessories than 3D printing is the perfect way to expand your existing hobbies and make them entirely your own.
It Helps You to Easily Learn CAD
Using a 3D printer goes hand in hand with using a CAD (computer aided design) software. CAD is used throughout the design and manufacturing industries and is a highly paid and sought after skill. It’s a lot easier to learn to use CAD when you are doing it for your own benefit and are designing things that you will use rather than examples from a textbook. 3D printing allows you to start with the most basic free CAD software like TinkerCAD and progress up to professional level CAD software like CATIA and AutoDesk.
Create Unique Gifts & Help Others
If you are a little bit creative and generous you can use your 3D printer to make unique and personalized gifts for other people. How about a personalized phone case or a plaque with your friend’s favorite catchphrase on it.
Be a Pioneer
3D printing is a technology of the future. Everyone has heard of 3D printing but not many people know what it is or how it works. You can be ‘that guy with the 3D printer’ who can always knock out a print as a favor for people. You can become an ambassador for the technology and amaze people with objects that show off 3D printing’s unique abilities.
Sell Your 3D Prints to Make Money
There’s a whole industry based around people using their own 3D printers to make objects for other people to buy. You can either think of an item that people what and sell it on a website like Etsy, like your own unique jewelry design for example. Or you can effectively rent your 3D printer’s time and print whatever parts are requested of you though agencies like MakeXYZ.
What Can a 3D Printer Make?
People use their 3D printers to make a huge range of objects. The most popular way people use 3D printers is to make objects related to their hobbies, like gaming miniatures or nerf accessories. You can use 3D printing to fabricate parts that are broken and irreplaceable. Or you can print objects and sell them to make money.
The list is literally endless. Here are some ideas off the top of my head of what you can make:
- Lego models
- RC model car parts
- Phone cases
- Plant pots and vases
- Custom Fashion
- Model rocket parts
- Gaming minis
- Trinket boxes
- Architecture models
- DIY parts
- Keyboard keycaps
- Airsoft accessories
- Aquarium accessories
The great thing about 3D printing is that you can make almost anything, it’s really just up to your imagination.
There are very few limitations to the shapes you can print. Compared to traditional manufacturing methods like milling and molding, there are very few limitations to the shapes you can create.
The only real limitation is the overall size of your print, this is limited by the size of the 3D printer you buy; most home 3D printers can make objects up to around 8 inches in each direction, but there are large machines available.
Are 3D Printers Expensive?
3D printers have dropped in price dramatically in the last 5 to 10 years. The current most popular home 3D printer is the Creality Ender 3 which retails for around $250. The Ender 3 can 3D print using PLA plastic with an accuracy of around 0.1mm and it can print objects up to 200mm size in each direction.
There are cheaper 3D printers available but many of them are unreliable so I wouldn’t recommend buying a 3D printer that is recommended or has a strong online community.
If you want to print in a stronger material, like ABS, or you want a 3D printer that can print larger objects then you’ll have to pay more.
The Creality CR-10 S5 is one of the largest low price 3D printers, it can print objects up to 800mm tall and wide and retails for around $800.
Spending more than $800 will get you a premium home 3D printer that will give you more reliability and ease of use. One of the most highly-regarded premium 3D printers is the Original Prusa i3 MK3S which offers many features to make 3D printing easier, like power loss recovery and fast printing speeds.
Can You 3D Print Anything?
There are few things you can’t 3D print but you need to be aware of the limitations of 3D printing and work around them.
For example, the most popular and easy to print material is PLA. PLA is great for most applications, but it can be too brittle for parts that need to be impact resistant or withstand a high force.
3D printing also leaves witness lines on each layer of the print. These are usually small and almost unnoticeable. However, if you are creating something with lots of fine detail or you want a very smooth finish, you will have to carry out what’s known as post-processing to smooth your print.
This smoothing can be as simple as using sandpaper or subjecting your print to a vapor bath of acetone which is more time consuming but will give you a glass-like finish.
Is it Cheaper to 3D Print?
It can be cheaper to create many things by 3D printing them yourself. Many people start 3D printing for just this reason. Because 3D printing can create such complex shapes you can often print objects that would otherwise need expensive molds or machining if made by traditional methods.
Once you’ve bought your 3D printer the materials costs are quite low. Most prints will only cost you a few pence in material and electric costs.
When you see that an average 1kg spool of PLA filament costs around $25, you make think that 3D printing is expensive. However, that 1kg spool will go a long way, in fact, you could print nearly 400 full-size chess pieces from it!
For more info, you can read my article on how much 3D printing costs.
Can You Make Money with a 3D Printer?
You can make money from your 3D printer and thousands of people do just that. The easiest way is to sign up for a printing service like MakeXYZ. Using their online platform you simply print objects on behalf of other people and then ship them to them. You tell Shapeways what printer and material you have so you are never asked to print something you’re not able to.
The other way to make money with your 3D printer is to think of a product that people want and sell it on an online marketplace like Etsy or eBay. On Etsy 3D printed jewelry and lithophanes are quite popular. But if you can think of an untapped niche where there is demand then you can easily make some money.
I hope that after reading this article a 3D printer will be making its way to your home soon!
As you can see there are many good reasons to buy a 3D printer and almost all of them will benefit you in many different ways.
If you have any more questions about 3D printing, shoot me a comment below and I’ll do my best to help you out.