Few things have the ability to change the landscape of technology quite like 3D printers do. Not since Henry Ford invented assembly line manufacturing has there been such a seismic change in the way we create the things which we use, with astonishing implications.
The way 3D printers work is amazingly simple. You pass in a design created in a CAD/CAM product, and the 3D printer interprets your design to produce a product. Then, layers and layers of a hot, pliable polymer is stacked until you’re left with something that resembles the relayed blueprints. The uses for 3D printers are endless, and are applicable in creative arts, medicine and even the culinary world. Some people have even used them to replace parts of the human body, including a Welshman who had his face crushed in a motorcycle accident.
Until recently, the only way you could get your hands on a 3D printer was by selling one of your kidneys, but now (as often is the case with consumer technologies) they’ve started to fall in price. Here are some 3D printers you can buy right now for less than a grand.
RepRap (Prices Vary)
RepRap is billed as “humanity’s first general-purpose self-replicating manufacturing machine”. So, what does that mean?
Firstly, the RepRap is a DIY 3D printer. It’s entirely open source, making it easy for people to make their own RepRap devices from commonly accessible components. If going on a components hunt isn’t really your thing, you can always buy a parts kit, and assemble it yourself.
Making yourself a 3D printer can cost anything from $200 upwards, with some kits costing upwards of $400. And the really cool thing about the RepRap? You can use it to print another RepRap!
UP Mini ($940)
Are you looking for a 3D printer that “just works”? The UP Mini might be what you’re looking for. This diminutive device is tiny in size, but packs a mighty punch, printing designs both quickly and robustly. It also easy to get started, without having to perform any manual calibration or configuration.
The UP Mini prints with ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) – a common material used by 3D printers which is cheaply available in most good hardware and electronics shops; as well as PLA filaments. Unlike some of the more expensive 3D printers, filament is not included and has to be purchased separately. It’s able to print anything that can fit within 120mm x 120mm x 120mm with a resolution between 200 and 400 microns.
Sadly, none of this comes cheap. The UP Mini will set you back a cool $1037 from eBay, That’s no small chunk of change. With that said, in return you get a small, powerful 3D printer that doesn’t get in your way, and that looks the part.
3d StuffMaker Creator ($700)
The 3d Stuffmaker Creator is a little known printer from Aussie firm iPrint Technologies. Don’t let the tiny price fool you; this 3D printer packs a punch. With sleek, industrial aesthetics, it looks the part too. Fully assembled, it takes up a space of 480mm x 480mm x 500mm which is roughly the same as a regular laser printer. The supplied printing software is compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux.
This beast quaffs 3.0mm Polylactic Acid (PLA) filament, which can be easily be found online. In addition, you get a reasonable level of accuracy, with each layer being a miniscule 5 microns thick. The 3d Stuffmaker Creator costs just short of $700, and can be grabbed from Amazon. One thing you will have to purchase separately is the 12V power supply unit, which you can easily find in most hobbyist shops for around $20.
Cubify Cube ($1299)
The Cube is a relatively inexpensive 3D printer, but doesn’t compromise on usability and looks.
Okay, I’m cheating a bit here. The Cube is just slightly over $1000, setting you back $1299 if purchased from Amazon. However, for that bit of extra cash, you get a pretty incredible 3D printer. Cube comes with plug-and-play functionality, WiFi printing and is sold in a range of pastel colors that are almost reminiscent of the iPhone 5c. They also make assurances to it being child-safe, which will be reassuring to any parent of an aspiring maker.
The Cube takes up very little desk real-estate, but can still print reasonably large designs, with the maximum size being 140mm x 140mm x 140mm. You can also print with two materials, including ABS and PLA (Polylactic Acid) – a compostable plastic with less environmental impact.
Cube is available to order right now, and you can get your hands on it here. We’ll reviewing it very soon, so keep your eyes peeled for that, and the accompanying giveaway!
The prices of 3D printers are dropping, and as they get cheaper and cheaper, it stands to reason that they’ll find themselves in more and more homes. Will you be getting one? Let me know in the comments below.