Week after week, our research reveals new features available from 3D printer manufacturers. Printers may be faster, higher quality or have other terrific enhancements. But we realized that sometimes a great feature is available only on from one manufacturer, and we'd like to see it combined with a feature from another manufacturer. That got us thinking: what would be the ultimate 3D printer?
A bit of thought put some constraints around the question: it would have to be suitable for home or small office use (we like to focus on the small here, and less on the industrial scale models).
What would be the characteristics of the dream machine? What would we like to see for sale in, say, five years? Here's our list:
- Build chamber: moderately-sized of at least 20x20x20 cm
- Quiet operation: similar to the sound level of a current laser printer (oh, and a pleasant "ding" when the prints are complete!)
- Clean operation: no messy fluids or powder to clean up. You shouldn't have to have a shower after printing
- Multiple colors: we'd like to be able to specify any color for any segment of the object
- Multiple materials: ability to print at least two, and preferably three different materials during a single print operation without reloading consumables, and be able to select those materials from a wide selection that includes metals
- Compact size: no larger than 4x the build chamber volume. And light enough to sit on our normal desk without causing immediate structural failure
- Speed: average-sized prints are completed within two hours
- Clean up: minimal use of extra support structures that are easily removed
- Resolution: Casual inspectors deem surfaces "smooth" by a quick touch
- Compatibility: able to accommodate and print-optimize a wide variety of digital 3D formats directly
- Cost: Well, that's the big question. We'd like to be able to purchase the unit for less than USD$3,000
We think those characteristics might be a good start - and a massive challenge for printer manufacturers (sorry!) What other features would you like to see?