It’s a new year and perhaps it’s time to put your 3D printing goals into action.
Everyone thinks about New Year’s resolutions, and usually they are repetitive and essentially unattainable for many. However, as a Fabbaloo reader it’s very likely you have an interest in the technology of 3D printing.
Most readers will already own or use a 3D printer, but our audience is composed of many people, a reasonable percentage of whom do not own or use a 3D printer. Why do they read our stories? It’s probably because in their hearts they really do want to get involved in the technology in some way.
Perhaps 2021 is the year to do just that.
If you’re one of those 3D printing aficionados sitting on the fence, there are several excellent ways to get involved in 3D printing, and let’s take a look at them.
Join a Makerspace
This is perhaps the easiest and least expensive ways to get involved in 3D printing. Most cities have one or even several public makerspaces one could join to gain access to various types of making equipment. Typically makerspaces include 3D printers on their list of gear because they are inexpensive and can be used to make a wide variety of parts.
By joining such an organization you can easily learn how to 3D print, and have the benefit of other more experienced people nearby that can assist your learning trajectory.
We had some thoughts about using 3D printers in makerspaces back in 2017.
Buy a 3D Printer
Certainly you could buy a 3D printer, as there are perhaps hundreds now available on the market, many sporting very inexpensive price tags. Similarly, materials are usually lower priced than they’ve been in the past.
That said, this is the most challenging approach for joining Club 3D, as you will typically be on your own and have to learn the hard way. That’s how many of us old-timers joined years ago: learning by making millions of mistakes.
While this approach is time-consuming, it is also the way in which you can learn most deeply how 3D printing really works and thus position yourself to become a great 3D printer operator.
For advice, I suggest you read our 6 Tips for Selecting a 3D printer For Your Projects post, and also our recent 5 Terrible Ways to Choose a 3D Printer story.
Use a 3D Print Service
Having no makerspace available — and that is a possibility given COVID-19 restrictions these days — another way to 3D print without a 3D printer is to use a 3D print service. These are services that typically operate a fleet of industrial 3D printers for hire.
The process is usually straightforward, involving sending your 3D model to the service and picking some parameters like sizes, colors, materials and finishing steps. The service will provide you with a quote for production, and if accepted they’ll physically send the print to you in a few days.
This option is pricey, as the fee for prints can eventually get close to the cost of buying your own equipment. However, 3D print services almost always run far better equipment than you could do on your own, and thus the print quality is usually a lot better.
Before you select a 3D print service, it’s important to know which process is best for your specific application. Our story, Choosing The Best 3D Print Process, may help.
Find a 3D Printing Buddy
By far the cheapest option to get involved in 3D printing is to find someone who already has a 3D printer and is willing to let you use it. This isn’t as strange as you might suspect because it turns out that many consumer 3D printers are simply idle most of the time. An operator would more than likely allow you to print objects on the otherwise-idle equipment. Probably they’ll be excited to get the machine going, too.
However, this is an approach you must be very careful with, as you could inadvertently exceed the friend’s tolerance for usage. But for a beginner with modest requirements, this could be a good option.
Learn 3D Modeling
Finally, if you really want to get involved in 3D printing, don’t print at all — instead learn how to 3D model. This is a skill only a percentage of 3D printer operators have, and if you do, you can get far more 3D printing done. The ability to create your own models from your own thoughts is an incredibly powerful ability.
That said, learning 3D modeling can be a long journey through tutorials and even books. It may take you a year or more to become competent in any tool capable of driving a 3D printer properly. Additionally, some 3D modeling systems are quite pricey and this should be accounted for.
Joining Club 3D
One of the above approaches will almost certainly be your gateway into the fascinating world of 3D printing. Soon you’ll be heading through the entryway of Club 3D.
But not actually the door the building pictured above; that’s a beer vendor I happened to notice the other day.