3D printer buyers in the West are accustomed to prices in the thousands for desktop 3D print gear, but what kind of deals could you get if you purchased directly from Asia?
I took a spin through AliExpress, the consumer-oriented arm of Alibaba, the world’s largest exchange for manufacturers. AliExpress sells basically everything you could imagine, sourced from a wide range of manufacturers to the world. As for 3D printers, there are literally THOUSANDS of listings for different kinds of 3D printers, most of which you may have never heard of.
Here you can purchase not only a single 3D printer, but you can also buy huge lots of them, if required. It’s not uncommon to see a vendor selling 3D printers in batches of 100. This level of purchase would be applicable to a Western reseller or institution wishing to set up a large array of 3D printers.
You can purchase industrial-level 3D printers at a cost of tens of thousands of US dollars, as well as small desktop units.
But how cheap can they get? Let’s look at some recent examples.
Meet the “A8 3D Printer”. It’s description: “Hot Selling Reprap Prusa I3 Arcycle Big Size 220*220*240mm DIY 3D Printer kit with 1Rolls Filaments 16GB SD Card/LCD Free”. The price: USD$107.15. With the buzz about the sub-USD$100 printer of years ago, this almost hits that mark. However, there’s a catch: to ship it to the West, you must pay USD$80-100 in addition to the machine’s price. Heh, it also includes a roll of filament, which in the West might be sold for half the price of this machine!
This is the HE3D Prusa, which is a kit. It includes auto-leveling, a more advanced feature, and is priced at only USD$151.05, more if you want a second extruder. Delivery will run you USD$50 or so. You might be able to land this one for under USD$200.
Here we see the Impresora 3D Kossel delta 3D printer. Again, this is a self-assembly kit, but the price is only USD$153.13! Delivery will run you around USD$100, however, as this is a larger item.
This item is a DLP resin-based 3D printer, capable of printing high-resolution prints for jewelry and other fine detail applications. The price? Only USD$650.
Ok, you may be wondering why you shouldn’t just order one of these inexpensive machines. There are reasons not to.
First, you have very limited ability to gauge the reliability of these machines. With so many companies presenting equipment, it is easy for a company to produce fraudulent products, go bankrupt and start again with another name. In fact, anyone using AliExpress will note that your account will have a very prominent “Open Dispute” with vendor button. I guess it’s used frequently.
Second, the level of support provided by these companies could vary significantly. In the West, you are literally on the other side of the planet and thus support is automatically challenging. Some companies may have trouble assisting you in your native language.
Third, some of these machines are not original products. While many are based on freely available open source designs, some are not. Here are two examples, one based on an open source design and one not.
This is the JennyPrinter. It’s not an Ultimaker, but it certainly looks like one.
This nameless machine is NOT a Formlabs Form 1 3D printer. But you’d be challenged to tell the difference.
If you wish to fully support the original designers of a machine, perhaps you should consider buying from them.
AliExpress provides an ability to acquire incredibly inexpensive 3D printing gear, but at the same time introduces more risk in your purchase. The decision, of course, is yours, and it should be based on your situation and risk level.
On the other hand, how much risk is USD$200?