Get ready for cheap 3D printer bonanza


Those waiting for a cheap 3D printer should be happier than a pig in certain biological materials, because a number of them are hitting the market now or are slated to. Craft and DIY enthusiasts of many different stripes will soon have the ability to become manufacturers unto themselves.

Seriously cheap 3D printer goes viral with crowdfunding campaign

Some big news in recent months was a Kickstarter campaign that began in April, according to USA Today, seeking funding for a cheap 3D printer called the Micro.

The manufacturer, M3D LLC, is selling the Micro printer for $299 per. It’s not enormous, as it’s a 7-cubic-inch desktop model, only capable of objects about 4.6 cubic inches, according to CNET. According to M3D’s website, the printer can use multiple materials – basically a small fabrication shop on one’s desktop.

Next generation of manufacturing

3D printing, also known as “rapid prototyping,” basically prints an object out of thin air. The machine implements files from design software (such as AutoCAD) and “prints” using spools of filaments that are fed through extruders and nozzles, printing pieces a few hundred microns thick. Wood, plastics, ceramics or metals can be used, depending on the object. The applications speak for themselves, but 3D printers were largely confined to commercial uses due to the expense involved.

The most common use heretofore is for making prototypes, as they aren’t necessarily best-suited to mass production. (They can be a bit high-strung and temperamental.) However, the DIY enthusiast or craftsperson could do a lot with one. There are also 3D food printers in the works, according to Forbes. They aren’t quite the food replicator from “Star Trek,” but they’re as close as it gets in real life!

Any tool this useful, however, is also usually expensive. Jay Leno, for instance, has a Dimension uPrint in his garage (Leno owns some extremely rare cars and spare parts just don’t exist for some of them), according to Popular Mechanics, which cost “less than $15,000” in 2009. However, Leno notes that’s one-tenth of what 3D printers used to cost.

Expense dropping

Not all cheap 3D printers are created equal; features, capabilities and things like whether or not you also need to get software for it varies. One drawback, according to Tom’s Guide, is that most can only use ABS or PLA plastic, though that’s changing. According to Gizmag, a team from Michigan Technical University is working on an open-source 3D printer that will work with metals, with a price around $1,500.

That said, cost of entry is dropping precipitously. One of the most affordable models available until recently is from Makerbot, according to Wired, which start around $2,000. The Micro is part of a wave of much more affordable 3D printers. Besides the Micro, there is also the Printrbot, according to Ars Technica, which costs the same as the Micro in kit form. However, an extra $100 will get yours built for you.

There is also the MOD-t by New Matter, which launched via a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo recently, according to Mashable. The first 500 orders got an introductory price of $149, the next thousand went for $50 more; right now, according to New Matter, they’ve attained enough funding to sell at their desired retail price of $249 – including shipping and a free spool of filament. The MOD-t also uses wi-fi, so no cables are necessary.

Indiegogo also has another 3D printer seeking funding called the Phoenix Ez3D, which starts as a kit for $375. For $400, they’ll build it for you. Phoenix also throws in their own design software.

There are more that are becoming available at very attainable price points all the time, such as this list of affordable 3D printers on Hongkiat.