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Buying a 3D Printer

What Are 3D Printers?

From the practical to the fun, a home 3D printer turns digital files into physical objects you can use or display. Import designs from a wide variety of sources, create your own concepts in a computer-aided design program or app, or use a 3D scanner to turn everyday objects into digital models that you can transform and improve. The printer uses spools of 3D printer filament, which it heats and extrudes layer by layer to construct your object. The most common types of filament are PLA and ABS plastics. Biodegradable PLA material is environmentally friendly, with adequate stiffness and stability for most projects, while ABS is more heat-resistant and offers more durability. Both filament types offer many color options.

There are a number of key factors to consider when choosing the right 3D printer for your goals. The size of the printer's platform or chamber will determine the maximum dimensions of each individual piece you print, and this size can vary widely between printer models. Some printers offer more than one resolution setting — measured in microns — which affects the level of detail the printer can re-create. But more detail also means longer print times. Even the best 3D printers take time to raise your object, ranging from 20 minutes for a simple 3D item to 12 hours for a more complex design. To that end, dedicating a computer table to your 3D printer will keep your desk space free for you to do other things while the printer is occupied. Some tables include storage for organizing supplies and accessories, while others offer plenty of space to assemble multistep projects and show off your finished creations.

Using Your 3D Printer

When you're ready to print, put your problem-solving abilities to work and let your imagination run wild. Create a personalized cell phone case or craft a smartphone stand with extra height. Build a better chip clip or design a custom cookie cutter. Print out a replacement part or invent the next great gadget. Pay tribute to your favorite fandom or wow someone with a one-of-a-kind gift. Or add another dimension by setting up an action camera to capture time-lapse images or record how-to videos.

Beyond the many ways it can be fun and useful at home, a 3D printer can also take its place among science toys as a learn-by-doing educational tool. There are many lesson plans and project ideas available online to encourage, inspire and engage students while they stretch their creativity and develop skills in math, science, engineering, and spatial reasoning.