3D Printering: Getting Started Is (Still) Harder Than It Needs To Be

Stop me if this sounds familiar. You are interested in 3D printing but lacked a clear idea of what was involved. Every time you looked into it, it returned to the back burner because after spending your limited free time researching, it still looked like a part time job just to get up to speed on the basics. If this is you, then you’re exactly the reason I say the following: despite 3D printing being more accessible than ever, getting started remains harder than it needs to be. It’s a shame, because there are smart, but busy, people just waiting for that to change.

A highly technical friend and colleague of mine had, off and on, been interested in 3D printing for some time. He had questions, but also didn’t have a very good understanding of the basics because it’s clumsy and time-consuming to research something when one doesn’t even know the right terms.

I told him to video call me. Using my phone I showed him the everyday process, from downloading a model to watching the first layer get put down by the printer. He had researched getting started before, but our call was honestly the first time he had ever seen a 3D printer’s actual workflow, showing hands-on what was involved from beginning to end. It took less than twenty minutes to give him a context into which he could fit everything else, and from where he felt comfortable seeking more information. I found out later, when I politely inquired whether he had found our talk useful, that he had ordered a Prusa MK3S printer later that same day.

It got me thinking. What from our call was important and useful, but not available elsewhere? And why not?

Here Are The Important Questions

When it comes right down to it, the problem is one of basic information not getting where it needs to be. Basic 3D printing information for a busy hacker doesn’t mean “what can a 3D printer make?” They already know that; it’s probably what got them interested in the first place. Basic information means answers to questions like:

  • What does the actual workflow of 3D printing look like? What happens from beginning to end?
  • Does it look like something I can and want to do?
  • How much of my time, money, and desk space will it need?
  • What else will I have to buy besides what comes in the box?
  • Does it have special needs, like unusual power or specific maintenance?
  • Are there any side effects to deal with? Noise, mess, or unpleasant smells?

These are the practical and high-level things a curious technical person needs to know. Such a person is already familiar with the kinds of things 3D printing can do, they now want to know how it can fit into their lives and what it will cost in time, money, and hassle.

Sadly, I found a real lack of easy to find 3D printing resources that present this information in a hacker-friendly way. Most of what I found was piecemeal, overly specific, or fragmented. Even busy hackers will find the time to research and learn things on their own, but it’s more effective if they can get the right tools up front.

Making Info For Busy Hackers

Here is the kind of up-front information a curious and free-time-strapped person will find most useful:

  1. An overview of how a technology works, from beginning to end
  2. What the important parts of it are called
  3. What those parts do

That also happens to be a generally useful method for presenting information in a hacker-friendly way. It provides even a busy hacker with a toehold, and interested folks can and will take it from there all on their own.

For 3D printing, this kind of information just doesn’t seem very easy to find. Some experimental Google searching came up with a mishmash of junk, much of which was intelligible only to experienced 3D printer people anyway. None of it was very useful for answering the really important questions I outlined above.

3D Printing Can Be for Busy People

I think there’s an opportunity here. If you are making introductory information about 3D printing, don’t forget to present things in a hacker-friendly way and try not to make assumptions about what your audience already does or doesn’t know. That doesn’t mean diving into spirals of ever-deeper detail, it means taking a step back. Focus on showing what’s possible, what’s involved, what is out there, and what things are called so that people know what to look for when they seek out more detail on their own. It’s the only thing holding some of these folks back from mashing a BUY button.

3D printing is more accessible than ever but there is still a lack of what I call “3D printing for busy people.” Any resources that do this are nowhere I, nor my friend, were able to easily find, and that’s a shame. Do you know of a favorite resource that would be a great primer for busy hackers? Don’t keep it to yourself! Share it in the comments because it absolutely deserves more visibility than it currently has.

83 thoughts on “3D Printering: Getting Started Is (Still) Harder Than It Needs To Be

  1. Unfortunately, unless 3D printing becomes as foolproof as pressing ctr+p on a word document, it will always be difficult to get into without doing at least some level of research.

    To actually operate the machine requires an even deeper understanding of how it works. I have yet to meet an FDM machine that doesn’t ever need some tweaking to get continuously good print results. Without that level of understanding, a bent shaft or a loose belt would be a death sentence for an otherwise operational machine.

    I don’t have enough experience with SLA machines to know how in depth maintenance or repair would be, but at least there seems to be less moving parts, and may be a significant step towards being an appliance for everyone, rather than a tool for tinkerers.

        1. I agree. I guess that’s the question. Want to dabble in 3D printing and willing to put up with bad prints and a lot of extra time? Go ahead and buy a Monoprice printer. Want to just print parts and not screw around with the print process? Bite the bullet and buy an expensive machine.

          However, I guess I did have decent success with the out of box print quality of a Cube3D that I got for basically free recently. However, the feed mechanism in the cartridges is kind of screwy, so the filament keeps breaking in the Bowden tube.

          1. See, that’s the thing though. Little things breaking like that, or even an extruder gear slipping on filament are what a lot of people are going to struggle with if it is their first foray into 3D printing. Bed adhesion, filament quality, clogged nozzles, etc. Things that are not easy for the controller to monitor.

            I think for most people, cheap desktop printers would be the only option. I don’t think many people wanting to get into it with their own money would even consider dropping thousands of dollars on a more professionally oriented machine.

          2. >” Bite the bullet and buy an expensive machine.”

            You’re talking like everyone’s a silicon valley geek with a hobby in desktop engineering. An expensive 3D printer is easily the price of a nice car.

          3. Is the filament breaking while the printer is idle, or while it’s printing? If the former, it’s because 3DS makes absurdly brittle PLA. I got a bunch for free from a friend that works there. It’s fine as long as you keep it moving, but leaving it idle in a bowden tube will snap it almost without fail. It seems to take anywhere from minutes to days, depending on how much is left on the spool (how tightly coiled it is) and on the specific batch.

            I bet you’ll get much better results with 3rd party filament. I don’t know anything about whether that requires printer mods, though, I just gut the cartridges and use the bare spools in my MK3.

        1. I’ve used two separate Stratasys machines for over 10 years with thousands of hours of printing and I’ve never needed service on either one. I mean if you’re using them all day every day, maybe you might have problems, but then you can presumably afford the service contract.

      1. We have one at work that is regularly down and even when it is up the print quality is sub par. This is due to the fact there are still things that are required to learn to operate the machine well and no one has spent any time to do it. I often surprise colleagues with my print quality from a stock ender 3 pro.

    1. I recently picked up the Monoprice Cadet which appears to be a rebranded chinese printer. I have yet to make a configuration change on it or the slicer settings it came with. Everything “just works”. Compared to my large format 3d printer that can take multiple prints to get through the first 30min to hour, it’s a wonder. The software end of knowing what to do with the STL file and how to get it to it and printed are still a little complex but it certainly has gotten easier if you’re not buying random chinese printers.

    2. Modern machines with auto leveling don’t need much tweaking. The hardest part is getting the prints off the bed at the end (Which is what those tiny thin pallette knife tools are for!).

      And, of courses, there’s the fact that manufacturers rarely tell you what speed or temperature you should be printing at, so you have to look online for forum comments.

      But the machines themselves are fairly reliable aside from an occasional clog or two. Bent shafts and loose belts are probably way more likely on a DIY machine than a Monoprice mini or a da Vinci Jr Pro (Two cheap easy prebuilt printers).

      1. It doesn’t look like it’s got the zedroom to finish really, so my theory is that it’s a jolly wrencher beer stein and they’re printing teh lid upside down next.

  2. 3d printers are comparable to desktop consumer cnc machines, there is always a level of fiddling associated to both types of machine, and if the user pursues a high level of perfectionism, then it starts entering the rabbit hole. In both types of machining we are dealing with sub milimeter inconsistencies and getting perfect at those levels it always come back to the machine and how perfect, rigid and slop free it is.

    1. I don’t think printers are anywhere near the level of hard to use that a CNC is. Cheap CNCs have very limited geometry, so you need multiple steps for anything complicated. And on top of that, the end mills can break, there’s dust generated, loud noise, figuring out the alignment between steps, and difficult nonfree software.

      Plus, the culture of 3D printing teaches you fault tolerance from the start. Things are designed not to need precision, and we have tons of finishing methods for appearance. That kind of thing isn’t appropriate for most of what people seem to be CNC milling.

      3DP is something you can unbox, design your first model, and print, all in an hour or two, with a prebuilt printer for less than $150.

      1. “I don’t think printers are anywhere near the level of hard to use that a CNC is”

        Since both 3D printers and routers are CNC machines, you are effectively comparing oranges with oranges (in the first paragraph)…

  3. I fall into the “I tried and failed, but I’m too busy (and not wanting to fail yet again) to really dig into it…” category.

    I bought one of the Ender 3s two years ago. I was psyched. It was easy to build (following 3 videos), and easy to get something printed. I had a measure of success, even turning out some terrain and figures for my Dungeons & Dragons gaming.

    Then… the big stop. I had a pause of a few months and when I came back to it, nothing would print right. I have spent something on the order of 40 to 60 hours trying this and that. Swapping parts. Watching videos. Reading information where it “sounds” like my problem but then I spend an hour or two fiddling with cura settings and printing something… only for that to not work, or (worse) introduce new issues.

    I’ve mostly given up. My Ender 3 sits on the table. I’m to the point now where I’m eyeing that space. I’ve gone back to cardboard, clay and Hirst Arts to make my terrain. And yet, I feel disappointed and a bit like I’m an idiot because the tech and the help isn’t yet fool proof. My problem could be a bad hot end, it could be cura settings, a combination, it could be the damn spool of plastic… but with my busy life, another 40 to 60 hours isn’t something that motivates me.

    1. If it worked and then stopped working well for no apparent reason, it’s almost definitely the filament having absorbed moisture over time. Just buy a new roll of filament or follow an online guide about dessicating your old one.

    2. > My Ender 3 sits on the table

      That is unfortunate and slightly heartbreaking. The unfortunate reality of the Ender 3 is that it *is* a good printer, *if* you get a good one. I wouldn’t say that I’ve been ‘lucky’ that I got a good one, because it seems that getting a ‘bad’ one is fairly rare, but it stands out as it’s recommended as an entry level printer by a lot of people.

      > with my busy life, another 40 to 60 hours isn’t something that motivates me.

      Totally understand that. The only thing I could suggest is to find a local maker group/hackerspace near you who you can ‘loan’ it to, in the hopes that someone with more experience and time can figure out the problem for you.

      > I spend an hour or two fiddling with cura settings

      Again, I don’t want to sound condescending, so apologies if I do, but really it’s probably better to leave the Cura settings at their defaults for the Ender 3 (regardless of what people tell you) and focus on troubleshooting the hardware instead.

      1. Thanks – I thought I was doing good and then… bad. And it’s not that I think Ender3 is bad, it’s a great printer… but I just don’t have the time to debug and keep debugging.

        The thought of donating it to a school or club has some appeal, I might ask my granddaughter about that.

    3. I had a maker select v2 at one point. Eventually it clogged pretty badly, and I just sold the thing rather than spend any more time unclogging it, to an expert who could do it quickly.

      I then bought a da Vinci Jr pro and later a Monoprice mini, and I’ll probably never go back to the more “DIY” type printers that aren’t commercial and polished.

      Making your own tools while also making the actual project is a great way to spend way more time than you would expect, so I tend not to.

  4. My daughter assembled a 3D printer for her freshman engineering class at LeTourneu University. The printer was a Tarantula Pro and was under $200 (I paid $189 plus shipping). So I decided if it was good enough for them, I’d do OK, too. I assembled it in a couple of hours and was off and printing. The added benefit is my daughter’s cadre of associates majoring in all sorts of engineering who use the printers that I can call upon for advice.

  5. Send them n00bs off for a refresher on 2D printing first, claiming it’s just like that then you add a dimension. Then you can have a good laugh when they come back and ask how many pages a minute does it do and where does the toner cartridge fit.

  6. Interesting read, I just yesterday ordered the 3D printer pen from this article:
    https://hackaday.com/2017/10/05/mini-spool-system-for-3d-printing-pen-tidies-things-up/

    Planning to move forward with some indoor projects for a few months.

    A helpful resource that is supportive for 3D printing in my experience are the Fab Lab’s at the area colleges/universities that have the Maker Space’s or whatever they’re called. Another resource for 3D printing are some libraries as well as some local and online companies that offer 3D printing services. These resources have site support at times, if not during all open hours, that makes using the devices almost as easy as dragging and dropping the STL file from your thumb drive and then selecting a few buttons to click. Maybe changing a few settings if supports are required, different fill settings and maybe layout along with some hair spray on the pad. From there once re-sliced… you click print… of which can be performed after dragging and dropping the STL file into the location if the settings configured are suitable.

    I’m a novice for sure in regards to 3D printing and was surprising to me how easy the systems are to use if in working order with knowledgeable staff that maintains and uses the devices.

    For me, I started off with using Solid Works that was available in the Fab Lab to design the object that I wanted to print if there wasn’t a suitable open source STL online. Then, I created an OnShape account that is a basic version of Solid Works though thick server side and not much for client side other than the browser (Cloud based I think is the term now days). From Solid Works or OnShape, you can convert your design to the STL format for the 3D printer.

    This article goes into the range of CAD options if you’re interested in other ways to design the object you want to make:
    https://hackaday.com/2019/01/11/ask-hackaday-help-me-pick-a-cad-package/

    Keep in mind, there are STL files free online for existing objects at places like thingiverse.com and elsewhere. I recently printed a bunch of these ( https://remoteqth.com/3d-vhf-ant-insulator.php ) parts for an ~450MHz yagi I wanted to make for a like-for-like comparison to a Chinese antenna:
    https://www.facebook.com/james.analytic/posts/3695849177143524 (last link with previous “Continued from…”)

    For resources to learn how to perform the above tasks in detail… youtube for the most part has videos regarding as well as the manufacturers of the products along with Hackaday articles and comments regarding other options like Open Source ways and advice from those experienced.

  7. Want to learn to 3d print?

    Step 1) Manage your expectations.

    – It’s going to be challenging at times.
    – Not every 3d shape you can imagine will be as easy to print as another nor come out as nice.
    If you are willing to compromise, alter your ideas to fit the medium you will do much better.
    – Relying on a hackerspace/library/etc.. printer is tough because many prints take too many hours.
    – Owning your own printer is tough because shit is gonna break and you have to fix it.

    Step 2) Manage the task

    Are you already experienced at designing 3d objects using some CAD program?
    If so that’s great!
    For everyone else realize that doing so and actually operating the printer are two very different things. Both are within reach for a reasonably able-minded person. But learning either is big enough of a job without the other. Pick one, learn CAD or learn printing. Come back for the other LATER.

    If being able to produce a physical object from scratch makes you more excited than designing it then learn the printer first. There are plenty of designs one can download off the internet and print without knowing any CAD.

    If on the other hand you just want to make art and even non-physical digital art excites you then learn CAD first. You can learn to transfer your digital portfolio into real-world plastic later.

    So you still want to print?

    Step 3) Find someone to show you how.

    There is a TON of information available on the internet. That is good. You will learn to appreciate that as you get more advanced. It is too much to sort through on day one. Find someone to hold your hand and show you just the basics.

    Go to the local hackerspace. Most have open nights where you don’t need a membership and most have 3d printing classes available for a small fee. Or check your local library. Many of them have printers and classes too.

    But there isn’t one near you?

    I see that argument in comments here way too often. And in the few who leave the name of their city a quick internet search usually proves them wrong! Once upon a time, when I was in college, school work home and friends were all within a few city blocks. That was nice I admit. But come on! You can find your way too and from a place that is an hour or two away at least once. One class is usually all it takes. Travel isn’t THAT hard.

    But, if you do happen to live way out there in the country and there just aren’t any resources within a days drive. That’s ok. Do you ever travel for anything? Visit relatives? See a medical specialist? Sporting events? Shopping? Just to get away? The next time you find yourself planning a trip to a bigger city for something else check in advance. Is there a hackerspace?

    Most people in hackerspaces want to help. It doesn’t matter if you live far away and don’t plan on coming back. They are out to get more people making and hacking not just build memberships. Contact them ahead of time, explain your situation and someone there will be falling all over themselves to be there and teach you!

  8. I think the important thing is although there are still complicated aspects of 3D printing it has gotten much easier. Decent printers don’t require manual bed leveling, you don’t have to tune stepper driver currents or muck with firmware all the time, and slicers have gotten much more user friendly.

    But the great thing is the amount of community support out there and most people are really keen to help newbies and also save them money by choosing the right machine

  9. It’s true 3D printing isn’t mainstream and won’t be for some years I’d expect. It’s not nearly at a level of a laserprinter or ink jet.

    It isn’t just mechanics, it’s also software, understanding solid modeling, understanding how to translate a model into a printable and useful object, understanding how slicing works.

    And yes mechanics is important aspect of maintaining a 3D printer. A blocked nozzle, tensioning the cold end extruder/drive mechanism for the filament, tensioning belts, leveling build plates, choosing the type of filament and all its thermoplastic properties and how it impacts how it will stick to the build plate, how fast you can print, how it affects the objects properties like layer adhesion, how to get the best result with regards to layer orientation.

    Lets face it, 3D printing doesn’t have the killer application that it desperately needs. I mean, the car brings you from a to b every day, service stations are in almost every village, town or city around the entire planet. A car is much more complex compared to a 3D printer but the servicing around it makes it possible for a non engineer to maintain it. It has taken 60+ years for it to develop in such a way.

    So 3D printing is for those otaku’s, nerds and other knowledgeable people among us who enjoy a challenge, enjoy tinkering with mechanics, electronics, software and give shape to the things our twisted minds create };)

      1. It’s not mythical. A Continuous Ink System is the greatest thing you can add to an inkjet. It allows you to print all day for cheap. And keeping the printer printing means clogging up and having to do a head clean is an extremely rare occurance. Of our el-cheapo Epson WF-25xx we print multiple dozens of issues of craft club newsletters each month, colour photocopy reams of whole pages, print documents off bitsavers and any other stuff we like.

        I retired our HP Laserjets once the CIS showed its value. I’ve also collected a few more Epson WF-25xx printers as spares, just in case we ever have some insurmountable problem but that hasn’t happened yet in the 5 or more years we’ve been (constantly) running it. Just keep a few spare bottles of the inks squirrelled away so you don’t run out of ink before reordering more.

        My advice for inkjets is, don’t buy one unless you can be sure of getting a CIS to fit it (check eBay for your prospective printer model) and go from there.
        So
        An inket printer WITHOUT a CIS: worst thing in the world
        An inkjet printer WITH a CIS: pure magic!

      2. In some alternate universe.

        You don’t want to buy it anyway because the ink will cost 3 times the price of the machine and still dry up within 24hours if opening the package.

        1. I can’t let these two baseless assumptions go unchallenged, do you even have an inkjet with CIS?

          Ink costs per bottle here in Australia (where I believe you are) are $15 AUD for a 100ml bottle of back, yellow, cyan or magenta, and even cheaper if you buy the 4.
          Do you know how many A4 pages printing 100ml can print? Well, neither do I exactly but I can tell you from experience it is a great, GREAT many!

          And how do you justify your claim the ink will “dry up within 24hours” ? That’s nonsense. CIS reservoirs and their ink pipe stay fluid and I have not once had to clean them in 5+ years.

          1. Im in Australia as well but no I havent tried an inkjet with CIS reservoirs but I certainly got sick of my wifes inkjet needing new cartridges every time she didnt use it for short while (ok 24 hours was a bit of exaggeration) The laser it got replaced with is always ready to go

  10. Actually, I was pretty surprised how easy it was to get started. I assembled a Reality Ender 3 Pro and printed a few items all this weekend. I watched a couple of videos about assembly, leveling the bed and printing one of the files that came with the printer. It printed perfectly on the 1st try.

    Over the years I’ve read a lot about 3d printing on hackaday, so I had some knowledge of the process and terminology. I downloaded a couple of models from Thingverse, installed the Creality slicer (wine on linux), ran the models through the slicer and printed them. The prints turned out great.

    To get the BASICS of 3D printing (at least for my printer)
    1. Watch a couple of videos about assembling and printing on the printer
    2. Install the slicer application and configure it for the printer
    3. Download a model from thingverse
    4. Open it in the slicer, add supports for overhangs if needed, add a raft and export it to gcode
    5. Copy the gcode file to an sdcard and put it in the printer
    6. Level the bed
    7. Preheat the bed and extruder
    8. Install the desired filament
    9. Use the printer menus to select and print the gcode file
    10. Watch the printer start printing and wait (many hours usually) for the print to complete.

    Sorry if I am oversimplifying this, but the article is about getting up to speed on the basics of 3d printing.

  11. I find a lot of the problem is the cheap 3D printers most people recommend (Ender 3 and similar) are very finicky out of the box. It’s hard to get the great results everyone shows off without it being a hobby by itself (or just lucky).

    The cheap printers still don’t come with bed leveling, often have confusing software included, and just have a high rate of defects.

    You have to spend 4 to 10 times more to get a machine that really prints easily out of the box and has some good instructions and software.

    Maybe the Prusa Mini will change that and I hope others follow.

    Right now, I can’t recommend an Ender 3 or similar to someone like my dad. He does woodworking and fixes his own cars, but he won’t fiddle with a 3d printer for hours to get a simple part made. He also won’t spend a thousand dollars or more on one that would work well for him.

    I also agree that 90% of the info out there is out of date, too specific, or just wrong. Hard to find much between a vague fluff piece about 3D printing being magic and a step by step guide to modify a specific machine.

  12. Just this week, I decided to give my existing phone to my wife and order myself something newer (I’m not one for buying the newest phones at all, but this was a price friendly way of replacing her very aging phone without leaving me hugely out of pocket).

    In the end after reading lots of reviews, looking at lots of websites, I brought a motorolla G7 Power. It’s ‘last’ gen, but 2 gen’s newer than my current phone, the battery on it is huge, the screen is reasonable and all the software on the phone was something I was familuar with. I couldn’t find any bad reviews, nor any ‘really bad’ bugs that people had encountered that’d cause me problems.

    I ordered the phone happily, and a day later it arrives. All seems good so far, it’s as described as far as I can tell. I go to work and notice that the wifi at work keeps dropping out constantly. Around a day later of random google searches in the evening I realise the issue – this phone has no support for 5Ghz wifi, even though the manual and spec sheet on amazon say it does!. It turns out that the version of the phone in the UK is different to that sold in the US, and this is one of the major differences. It never occured to me to even check this, as my phone that’s two generations older has this ability all ready, and there’s not a huge amount on the net about this (other than people with the UK version of the phone complaining about it) as all the reviewers etc got US versions, and likely never knew this difference even existed.

    Thankfully I can return the phone due to the fact the spec sheet the seller had uploaded was incorrect and get a refund, allowing me to get a different phone instead…. but had this been a 3d printer, I’d have no idea what’s ‘normal’, what’s ‘annoying for a pro but you’ll get by’ and what’s ‘absolutely essential’ in a 3d printer.

    From what I personally know, you want a self leveling headed bed, you want some kind of replacable and removable surface that you print on to. You want easily swapable hot ends, and you want hot ends made from a resonable metal. I’ve heard of such things like Ruby hotends and I have no idea how this would even work, nor if such a hotend was suitable for a begininner, or something that only someone doing a lot of printing would even need to concider.

    My point is that when something that I’m as familuar with as a phone, can trip me up (and I think of myself as very tech savvy), I have no idea where to start with 3D printers….

  13. About being harder than it should be is, I guess like many things, related to how much you are willing to spend on your tools. My first mendel triangle frame tought me many things, but mostly never to skimp out on tools!

  14. I started with Howstuffworks (https://computer.howstuffworks.com/3-d-printing.htm)

    I made myself a little cheat sheet with terms I thought might be good to hang on to. Then I watched some of Teaching Tech’s and other youtuber videos for getting started with 3D printing. Then Teaching Tech’s video for how to assemble a few printers. During each of these steps I had more and more grasp of the terminology and the logic of what was being covered. I’m still on the journey.

  15. I’m a grade A tight arse and after building my first 3D printer a number of years ago from old inkjet and scanner parts. I picked up a anycubic mega s for a couple of hundred AUD. And was blown away by the simplicity. Using nothing but the default slicer settings a following the very basic set up instructions. 10 screws to assemble it level the bed and print it is fantastic.

    Yes there is some peculiarity with the firmware and doesn’t really work well with octoprint but. It was cheap and works really well.

  16. I got an inexpensive 3D printer kit. It went together easily just following the pictures. There were a few parts they could have made ambidextrous with a bit more thinking, but nothing too hard to work out. My kit requires manual leveling, and it does not take long to figure out that the beds are not perfectly level so it is a compromise situation getting it leveled. My first prints from the models on the included SD card turned out really well.

    The big thing I have learned is that you really need to learn a 3D CAD package. There is just no getting around it. If you want to make decent parts that is. I have discovered, probably like thousands of others have, that places like thingiverse have models submitted by everybody from CAD experts to people who have less of a clue than you do, which is not saying much. The reviews are not existent for a lot of them. Don’t get me wrong, I have found some really cool things there that have had no issues. Things way beyond my abilities to design, but also a lot of things that are just junk and a waste of time.

    I guess a lot of it is where your comfort zone lies, but I think even the low end hardware is pretty amazing and not too hard to tame, but the design side is an entirely different story.

    Also, there is some humor in that the first 20 or so things you print on the 3D printer are improvements for the 3D printer itself, and these tend to be pretty well reviewed so you can generally pick ones that work well. it is when you start getting into the more obscure things that are not well reviewed that the quality of the models start to become dicey.

    1. Agree, there is no way of getting around having to learn CAD in some form to make your own things.

      The pitfalls are the complexities of the CAD suites in that they all have different ways to do the same operations and learning which shape to select, grid coordinates, translation and subtraction of shapes and so on.
      All this menu and button pressing takes a lot of time.
      Then there’s the consideration of whether the cloud-based app might one day vanish, leaving you without access to your models, or your models are in some format unable to be imported by anything else.

      There is a solution to quickly getting up and having your first STL model, however, it’s not for everyone.
      OpenSCAD.

      If you have any ability to write a single line of code in BASIC or Python then this is a great way to get producing simple models very quickly. It dispenses with the need to learn how to how to push and pull on sizing nubs or figure out which icon to click on, at all.

      My own case: I had my 3D printer working well producing stuff off Thingiverse, so I opened OpenSCAD and for moy first-ever model
      typed in something like the following:
      cube([20,20,20]);
      and hit F5 and F6.

      The lightbulb went off in my head when I pressed the STL button. … here was my “Hello World!”, my OWN design, ready for slicing and printing. Literally 30 seconds work. And from a script right here on my PC rather than some suite’s custom format save file stored who-knows-where.

      Now of course things get more complicated, but in OpenSCAD it is a natural progression to build upon what you know, just like learning any programming language. From that basic cube I’ve modelled things like computer bezels and the IBM Selectric typeball shown here on HAD recently.

    1. agreed, this article is bizarre, I’ve had a prusa i3 mk3 (as I was tired of messing with my first cheap 3d printer) for over a year with zero maintenance, the software is nicely configured and no settings for speed, temperature, or anything else have needed to be adjusted.

      if you want it to be easy, don’t buy the literal cheapest unsupported hardware on the market. a real prusa isn’t even that expensive.

      anyone commenting here about how their printers require constant fiddling or are never working should spend slightly more so they can get on with actually printing and designing things.

      at this point I think recommending anything else to a beginner is morally irresponsible.

  17. It all goes back to an early marketing decision: calling additive fabrication machines “3D printers”. The implication was (and is) that this should be as easy as printing documents. What you see on your screen is what you get out of the printer.

    Fast forward to reality: EVERY STEP of the workflow is more challenging than it is in putting images in ink on paper. As everybody who’s ever tried an FDM machine knows, even that first layer, which is arguably “2D printing”, is a whole different process from putting ink on paper.

    The problem is with expectations, and those expectations were set up by those magic words, “3D printer”, which ignore the first principle of customer satisfaction: under-promise and over-deliver.

    And the thing is, FDM fabrication really IS an incredibly enabling technology. Need a full-size prototype to check the ergonomics of your idea? No problem. Need to make clamps to hold together a bunch of pieces of rod or tubing together? Easy. And by “easy”, I don’t mean, “it you can put it on your computer screen, you can make it”. I mean that you don’t need a CNC mill or 30 years of machinist experience, to make things from scratch.

    I bought both a cheap FDM machine and a cheap “CNC engraver” a couple years ago, and really, the workflow for FDM was quite a bit easier to figure out than the CNC. But I figured them both out, because there’s a whole world of support out there, if you look for it. It’s called “YouTube”.

    1. It is not only a marketing decision to sell 2.5d additive manufacturing desktop devices as a 3d printers, in the EU this was also used to circumvent the Machinery directive, as there is an exception for printers (being desktop appliances). But in the last guidance document (search Guide to application of the
      Machinery Directive 2006/42/EC) they explicitly state that 3d printers are excluded from this (point §67)
      I’m pretty sure that none prusa derived printers fulfill the machinery directive. In fact I doubt that any non enclosed 3d printer meant to be used in a desktop is legal at all in the EU.
      This is not being enforced yet as it can be seen

  18. mine was out of the box and printing in a couple hours. what they dont tell you is the amount of time you spend actually designing the things you want to print vs actual print time.

    of course the other night i went to print something and the micro usb port sheared itself off the printrboard. its going to take some brain surgery to fix that.

  19. When I read the title I thought this was going to *be* the in-depth documentation for “smart, but busy, people just waiting for that to change” rather than a call for someone else to write it.

    I mean, the author is clearly experienced enough to help a friend get started and get through the hurdles, and is able to articulate the challenges newcomers face… So why not write the guide instead of bemoaning the fact it doesn’t exist?

  20. I have $500 equivilent to spend. I’d spend less but this seems like a reasonable figure for a turn key solution.
    As in, I want to be able to buy a unit – dont mind assembling it, plug it in, load the drivers that come with it and be printing pre-designed models in under an hour.
    I want to be able to essentially CTRL+P from common 3D free programs and certainly download models people have already designed off the interwebs and be able to tweak them.

    I dont have hours to spend on it which is why I’d rather pay for it.
    Problem is exactly as the article.
    There is no clear path for a turn key solution that is known and trusted.
    My laser printer “just works”.

    I have the skills to learn the ins and outs but I frankly dont have the time along with too many other hobbies.
    I want to hit the ground running and be spitting out models that are reasonable by the end of the day.
    If I want perfection I’ll send them to shapeways (I already have people doing me favours via this route but want to speed up and prototype random stuff at lower cost)

    To quote reg above:
    “Also, there is some humor in that the first 20 or so things you print on the 3D printer are improvements for the 3D printer itself”

    No. I dont want that. That’s the sort of thing putting me off as it’s almost become lore.
    I’m past the point where I want to buy cheap tools and improve them. Unless I want to…

    I think the budget is reasonable. If it’s too low, give me some examples please.
    Thanks for reading & feedback.

    1. for that sort of money the Anycubic mega S is a good start. but is literally is 10 screws to assemble load filament, level bed, download some items from Thingieverse slice and print (the slice and print is the trickest part)

      The anycubic though has some limitations for future upgrading but if your dont want to push the envelope and have a basic printer that works reasonably well and built like a tank. I often throw mine in the back of the car to take to work and just plonk it on the bench and off it goes

      1. Thanks “nobody” and “saabman”

        “(the slice and print is the trickest part)”

        Does that mean you have to find software seperately or that there is a degree of setup required first?
        For the Anycubic and teh Prusa.

        Such that it’s not just a case of CTRL+P and I’m getting my stuff printed.
        I can unbox a laser printer add paper and get 99% results first time.
        If anything there is the paper feed to adjust. And the instructions cover that completely.

        Anything else stopping the prints happening would means it’s broken.
        That’s the path I and I think quite a few other people are looking for in the 3D printing world.
        If there is any adjustment, the QiG covers it. Not a reccommendation to go spend hours looking at youtube for the RIGHT videos, not knowinf which the right ones are! :)

        1. Totally off-topic, and I don’t mean to pick on you. dave, but I’m just wondering. I’ve watched over the decades as words have changed. I’ve seen “Santana” become almost exclusively “Santa Ana winds”, and “whoa” slowly but surely becoming “woah”. I even see that whatever spell-checker is tracking what I type hasn’t objected to either of these. I wonder if I will live to see “teh” become at least an acceptable alternative spelling. Not yet though, according to the spell-checker.

  21. I have been on the edge of buying a 3D printer a couple of times, I have the space for it, I have the cash (not much, but enough), I have a technological intrest, and I have the use for 3D printed parts.

    Last time I looked into an Ender3Pro, reasonable size/prize for something I probably wouldn’t use that much.

    I also downloaded/tested different 3D modelling software.

    Here is where the problem lies for me:

    I don’t need another hobby, I need a machine that produces parts I dream up within hours.
    I don’t se the modeling as a “fun” process, (like some of my friends, who makes models they never print, just for fun)
    I don’t want to fiddle with belt-tensioners, extruders and hotends, manual bedlevelling and all that boring stuff.
    I don’t want a machine that needs constant software uppdates, and then trobleshooting for hours after every one because new problems arise.

    I need something that can sit idle for weeks, and deliver a perfect print on startup, every time, without drying the filament over night first
    I need a 3D modelling software that is totally without bells and whistles, but does what it is supposed to and is easy to learn.
    I need a reasonable build size

    All my friiends who has 3D printers are always waiting for parts, waiting for filament, have the machine in parts or can’t print for some other reason.
    Some of them has a desk full of boatys with different problems in each one, and has never printed anything else since they never solves the problems.

    It has worked out so that I have one friend who loves 3D modelling, and is really fast doing so, but his printer is never working correctly, and another friend hates the 3D modelling, but he has a printer that is always working and cranking out good prints constantly.

    I contact one and ask “could you model this for me” and after getting the file I contact the other guy asking “can you print this for me”, none of them ever wants to be payed for their help, since they only get to do the “fun part” according to them.
    Now I introduced them to each other, they make stuff for each other, the perfect print guy has helpt the always broken printer guy to uppgrade and tune the printer to a working condition, they still do trade services anyway.

    What I need is a manned 3D printing service that does the constant fiddeling and uppgrading of the machines, replacing filament and hotends before it’s to bad and affects the prints.
    I also need a library of useful models to print, either “as is” or after tweaking them to what I need, because why shoul I spend time on modelling a clip or a button that I need, if someone else already did it?

  22. I bought my printer for £67 off eBay brand new for Xmas.

    Apart from the 15 man-hours assembling it, and the upgrades, it’s been great!

    Oh and the really dodgy mains wiring (I really must print off a shroud for that….)

  23. Remember: when you operate a 3D printer to fabricate a CAD design you’ve made you’re doing at least three different and highly specialized jobs. These aren’t *easy* jobs.

    Just because the device is cheap it doesn’t negate the substantial expertise to mechanically repair, operate, and model for any CNC machine. Nevermind the applied materials knowledge.

    1. If only the real world worked that way, I’d be a millionaire recognised for the 101 highly specialised jobs I can do, and have minions to do these tasks for me.

      But for “reasons” I still need to fill out my own expenses, despite it costing my more in hourly wage (never mind billable) than the total claim !!

      This is why I’d happily throw money at it and no longer consider a cheap anything if I expect to have to put in considerable time with it. But cannot afford to waste money only to find out the expensive thing isn’t quite as described…

  24. My thing about 3D printing always was that I despised the typical surface texture of FDM. So I sat on the sidelines until the Form 3 came out. SLA isn’t a panacea. It has problems and shortcomings, but they’re different from FDM and I’m happier liv ing with them as opposed to the ones for FDM.

  25. Even a mid-range printer can turn into a nightmare. My company got a Creality CR-10S Pro. The “Pro” part of the name is a complete misnomer. I am a technical person: the thing took three weeks to get setup for reliable printing, and in the end I popped the thing on its back, unscrewed everything, reprogrammed new firmware, recalibrate everything, and finally got it to print big items (anything more than 2 hours…)

    If I wasn’t a technical person, there were a mountain of obstacles that would have stumped anyone else. And this isn’t supposed to be a junk printer. So I strongly agree with the whole premise of this article. 3D printing for the sake of just getting the @(&£ things to print is a hard thing to achieve, while avoiding 3D printing for the sake of becoming a 3D printer Whisperer who has to shaman dance around the thing and check your Jupiter alignment and pray to the Bowden god, make an offering to the god of Heating Beds, burn incense for the goddess who protects against z-axis shifting, etc….

    Not easy.

  26. Failing spectacularly is part of the experience and I would even go as far as to say necessary. There are so many variables involved in obtaining that perfect print and these variables change constantly, often times over the span of a single print. This is probably the single reason why easy to follow documentation that works for everyone is few and far between. There are many upgrades you can use to get very close to that “push to start” simplicity and in the end all makers are likely spending about the same when factoring in time spent learning, tweaking, etc. If you’d rather pay to skip the learning curve, that’s certainly an option so it all just depends on what you want to get out of 3d printing.

    1. I have been prining for a couple of years on a two hundred dollar Micromake Delta, which worked pretty much out-of-the-box. It was actually pretty easy. Good thing, too because my board went out and I bought an SKR V1.3 board, and I have been down for 5 months, just trying to figure out how to get things running again. Without my previous period of blissful ignorance, I would have given up months ago. The firmware process (Marlin, for instance…) Is a joke. It takese back to my first attempts at computer programming 40 years ago. Most of 3-D printing IS NOT READY FOR PRIMETIME. Want to write a technical manual for profit? This area is WIDE OPEN!

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