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The Different Flavors of Home 3D Printers

We've been reading a long thread on the MakerBot Operator's Google Group initiated by Shawn M, who is considering purchasing a MakerBot Thing-O-Matic 3D printer. He asks about the level of effort required to produce high-quality parts with this particular device. 
As is often the case, a simple question led to some insights. A very long discussion ensued with commenters pointing out the differences between various personal 3D printers, including the CupCake, Thing-O-Matic, Up!, BfB and RepRap Mendel.
The gist of the thinking was that there are several different flavours of personal 3D printers that lie upon a range of characteristics. It's more than just the cost difference between these models. There are other factors to consider:
  • Durability and robustness of the design and the parts that make it up
  • Time required to correctly assemble the device; or not at all if it's already assembled
  • Level of flexibility afforded by access to hardware and software parameters
  • Effort required to maintain operability
  • Level of manufacturer and community support 
  • Device capabilities, including build envelope, resolution, materials, etc.
It all makes for a difficult choice that ultimately depends on what you seek as an operator and your willingness to spend dollars and/or time. Generally, the lower the price, the more time and effort you'll have to put in yourself. 
Nevertheless, we thought commenter Zip Zap had it right with this thought:
All 3D printers are time hogs
That may be true, but they are also amazing, and there's a price for that.

Essential Calibration

An Ode To Digital Fabrication