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Posted on January 11th, 2013 by Nicole Kobie

3D printing: what’s out there and how much does it cost

MakerBot printing

3D printing suggests an intriguing future: forget going to the shops to buy an item, simply design and print your own.

For the present, however, 3D printers – which “print” items by layering liquid or melted plastic – continue to be just out of reach for all but the most enthusiastic early adopters, because of high prices and the skills needed to use CAD software.

That could be set to change, based on the 3D printers on show at CES this week. Competition is starting to push prices down, and new features are making it easier for mainstream consumers to use the machines. We checked out four to find out which offered the most potential.

MakerBot Replicator

When it comes to 3D printing, MakerBot is the name that first springs to mind. The company was one of the earliest to start shipping machines to be used at home by hobbyists.

MakerBot is now on the second version of its Replicator, and has added another version that supports a different type of material – previously it used a recyclable plastic called PLA; now the Replicator 2X supports biodegradable ABS, which is harder to work with.

MakerBot Replicator 2

The Replicator remains expensive at $2,199, but the machine has a build size of 410 cubic inches and is fast, too. Plus, it has an established, extensive community – 15,000 Replicators have been sold, and the hobbyists who use them like to share their ideas.

That’s at the core of Thingiverse, MakerBot’s sharing website, which has a new feature that allows users to upload a design for others to customise and print. That means a new MakerBot owner can get started without first mastering 3D design, by using the app to configure existing designs how they choose, such as an iPhone case.

MakerBot printed city model

“It’s going to give people the ability to make things that are customisable by other people,” he told PC Pro. “We built a platform so that people could change digital designs… now people can make things that other people could customise.”

“It’s like going to digital design school on the first day,” he said of the configurable API system. “It’s what gets you started.” Still, $2,199 is an expensive first step to take.

Afinia H-Series

Following MakerBot’s success, rivals have popped up, and Afinia has one of the more successful 3D printer designs.

It’s H-Series is small – it prints up to 5 x 5 x 5in – and is simple to use, its makers claim. It’s also priced at $1,200 – much less than MakerBot’s design, though it follows a similar additive printing process and uses the ABS material.

Afinia models and printer

The ease of use and lower cost make it a good choice for schools and small businesses who want to try 3D printing, but don’t want to spend too much or invest in training.

Unlike the MakerBot, it doesn’t yet ship to the UK, which is a shame as Make magazine picked the Afinia H-Series as its top choice in a recent group test.

Formlabs Form 1

MakerBot and Afinia both melt a filament of plastic down, using it to spray layers that eventually add up to the finished product.

Formlabs does things differently. The Form 1 printer’s base material is liquid, and it doesn’t require heat. Instead, a pan at the bottom of the machine – with room to make objects that are 5 x 5 x 5in – fills with the liquid, and the printer draws the design with a laser from the bottom. As the laser hits the material, it cures it, and the object is formed.

Form 1 3D Printer

The process takes longer than rival printers, but allows it to print very fine and delicate objects compared to the others.

The Form 1 is yet to be released, with shipments heading to its Kickstarter funders in April. As it’s still in early stages, it so far only offers one colour of the acrylic material, but the resulting prints can be painted.

Form 1 printed objects

The Form 1 costs $2,299 and it ships internationally at added cost.

3D Systems Cube

3D Systems made the biggest 3D splash at CES. Its Cube is offered in two versions – the first is a heavy-duty printer reminiscent of the MakerBot Replicator, but the second is a consumer-friendly version, designed for 3D printing beginners, and that’s what grabbed the attention.

3D Systems Cube printer

The $1,299 Cube can print in a single colour of ABS or PLA material, and is small enough to truly sit on a desktop – the company had people wandering halls with them hanging around their necks, while printing sunglasses. It prints objects to as large as 5.5 x 5.5 x 5.5in, so it’s not the smallest of the 3D printers, but not as large as the MakerBot. It also can connect over Wi-Fi, allowing users to start a print job from work, for example, and have it finished when they get home.

The Cubify Invent software is a key part of it, allowing users to design 3D objects without any CAD skills. However, the software costs an additional $49.

The Cube is slower and not as fully-featured as its bigger sibling, the CubeX, which can print in up to three colours and create objects as large as a basketball, but prices range from $2,799 to $4,400.

3D Systems CubeX

If either the Cube or CubeX appeal, the company ships internationally.

How to try 3D printing

3D printers remain expensive, but before investing it’s possible to try out the technology first – even for free, if a local hack space has one, such as London Hackspace.

Alternatively, it’s possible to design your object and send it to a 3D print company. One firm at CES, Sculpteo, showed off its new iPhone case printing, which allows cases to be customised and printed for $25 – a much cheaper way to get a taste of 3D printing.

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28 Responses to “ 3D printing: what’s out there and how much does it cost ”

  1. NIck Says:
    January 11th, 2013 at 11:01 am

    What are the running costs for these things? How much does a litre (or whatever) of input plastic cost?

     
  2. Philip King Says:
    January 11th, 2013 at 11:43 am

    The Afinia H-Series looks very similar to the Up! systems made by PP3DP which is available in the UK. We have an Up! Mini which is a very capable FDM system for not much more than a grand. :-)

    @Nick – costs vary as the input material is not the same in each process. Most of the systems above use FDM (fused deposition modelling) which is simply melting and depositing a plastic filament through a heated nozzle. The stereolithography-type systems such as the Formlabs system above require more costly liquid-based light-curable resins, but the resolution of the final parts is much higher.

     
  3. Philip King Says:
    January 11th, 2013 at 11:46 am

    @Nick again – for our Up! Mini, the material cost I believe is around £40/kg of filament.

     
  4. Chris Freemantle Says:
    January 11th, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    ABS and PLA filament are around £50/Kg ’standard’ price, but expect to pay about £20/Kg if you look around and don’t want particular colours. Lots of colours available, including luminous green and blue. I’ve just brought a sumpod kit for about £700 with quoted build area of about 9×9x6 inches. Other machines and kits are available if you look around. btw, 1kg of plastic should make quite a lot of objects – have you you ever weighed Lego?

     
  5. john Says:
    January 11th, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    too many error in this articles.
    biodegradable ABS?
    also one certainly can buy up! printer in the uk

     
  6. Mike Bateman Says:
    January 11th, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    No mention of RepRap the project,
    It’s an open source and fun!
    I build my first RepRap and now build my own larger custom printer

     
  7. kene Says:
    January 13th, 2013 at 5:46 am

    I want to know how I can buy on of these printers. And how much I can produce with 1kg of filament. And those each filament differ in color?

     
  8. David Says:
    January 17th, 2013 at 9:16 am

    As an engineer these reviews are in reality useless and only look at the bottom end of the market, one of the most important things to consider with 3D printers is the vertical resolution, especially if you want to produce smother curved surfaces such as domes, all 3D printers work by building in a series of steps and whilst the hopefully soon to be released Form 1 has a step height of just 0.025mm Makerbots new version 2 prints at 0.1mm thick or 4 times thicker whilst the AlfiniaH and the Cube print layers are 8 times thicker at 0.2mm, if you want to produce fine detail and smooth curves obviously the higher the resolution (smaller print layer thickness) the better.

     
  9. Ian Tullie Says:
    January 17th, 2013 at 10:37 am

    3D printing sounds like fun, and as a inveterate tinkerer, I’m quite tempted. However, the problem I see is that the materials so far are all just forms of plastic. This is great for toys and scale models for engineers and designers (in fact, the only usable item I’ve seen produced so far which didn’t fit into these categories is the iphone case), but for this to gain real uses, I’d like to see what can be done with other materials such as metals. When you can print new door handles, car parts, etc, then it will really take off. I realise that this technology is very much at the dot matrix level at the moment and what I’ve asked for is full colour photo printing, but surely that’s the dream – to be able to print almost anything you’d ordinarily go out to buy, Star Trek Replicator style.

     
  10. Ian Says:
    January 17th, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    Have a look at Shapeways. You can buy a lot of objects for two grand! And get lots of different materials.

     
  11. Barbara Dixon Says:
    January 21st, 2013 at 9:32 am

    I have just been watching morning TV and the woman behind all this innovation, Ping Fu, was wearing shoes and a hanbag that were 3D printed, very stylish too.

     
  12. Xan Says:
    January 24th, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    I think that the real secret that will be out soon is ORSTO technology.

    I have seen the results of this new rapid prototyping.

    Full football size models in under 20 minutes. Compared to Objet 5-12 Hours
    With a 1 micron finish accuracy. (that is Not a typo)
    Wow.

    Apparently to be crowd funded with industry insider estimates of reaching over £10 million.

     
  13. Bruce Says:
    February 18th, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    I have seen this exact same ORSTO post on about 8 different boards verbatum. Just a copy and past job from one individual. No other mentions of this from anybody. Is this a SCAM?

     
  14. Will Says:
    March 3rd, 2013 at 12:36 am

    @bruce about Xan’s post, it is quite clearly a fake spam comment. I too have seen it elsewhere not to mention the claimed 0.001mm accuracy (compared with the 0.25 etc of other machines) is more than a little suspect given the infancy of this area of engineering.

     
  15. Mike Williams Says:
    March 3rd, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    @Bruce @Will Just think how fast the print head would have to travel to print 1 micron at a time and complete a small object within a reasonable time. At the same speed as a 0.25mm machine, it would take 250x longer!

     
  16. DesignerDy Says:
    March 5th, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    Talking about 3D printing I can say that this is the best innovation for now. Because it opens wider opportunities to all of us. Now 3D printing is maybe costing too much, but in the future, after about 3-4 years when this thing will be available for everyone I think people will no go to fix theirs broken things but they will create another one.

    The side that everyone can use different material to print model shows us that it is really universal thing. If we now can create real guns just from  weapons 3D model, that some time ago was 2D model.. to cookies to eat for a Christmas..or clothes for fashion shows.. 

    Also, I am going to buy simple Computer Keyboard and print it because I am preparing a presentation about the 3D printing benefits on IT sphere and want to have just for real example. I want to show that everyone could have their own created keyboard, have its original product. This is amazing innovation !

     
  17. Helen Says:
    March 6th, 2013 at 11:42 pm

    Has anyone seen the 3D printer that Lego uses? I was on youtube and was bored and discovered this by accident. I have no idea how expensive it is but this particular machine takes just on 2hours and 25minutes to do a full face replication about the size of the palm of your hand. I want one of these but I’ll wait until they get a bit faster. I’m just fascinated by the possibilities of 3d printer technology.

     
  18. Michael Says:
    April 5th, 2013 at 8:35 am

    As an Engineer with years of AutoCAD & Solidworks experience, I love this new potential in 3D Printing. I have always worked for excellent Engineering Companies, but because of the wankers in politics & banking I now live in a high unemployment area. My question is could I make a living working from home? Does anyone have a good success story in 3D Printing?

     
  19. printersfans Says:
    April 12th, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    It seems like a day doesn’t go by that we don’t hear about the amazing things 3D printers can make. They started out using plastics and now a few models can create objects out of metal. When could we expect to see 3D printers that can fully build themselves, including all of their motors and electronic components?.

     
  20. andy Says:
    April 12th, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    could you print a 3d printer on a 3d printer?

     
  21. angie Says:
    April 18th, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    the answer has to be yes. Most of it. Not the electronics nor the wiring but in a few years when some mixed material versions are available i would expect many more complete useful items to be produced

     
  22. LeChat Says:
    June 23rd, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    I’ll be very interested when 3D printers can print metal objects. It will open an entirely new era in manufacturing.

     
  23. Dan Says:
    November 6th, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    3D Printer filament is not expensive thanks to UK3DPrinting.co.uk They provide PLA and ABS in both 3mm or 1.75mm at £29.99 per 1Kg with free delivery. Check it out http://www.uk3dprinting.co.uk

     
  24. Marc Williams Says:
    November 11th, 2013 at 9:38 am

    If you are in the UK then the reprap is the most popular model out there and therefore has the biggest community which you can tap into to get support and ideas and even customise if you get really serious. The best deal I can find which comes with all the difficult bits (eg the extruder) pre-assembled. 3Dkarma.com

     
  25. jack Says:
    January 19th, 2014 at 10:53 pm

    how much price offer for 3d printing job work?

     
  26. Daniel Says:
    February 17th, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    Could I print a plastic skateboard deck like these? http://www.slinkystudio.info/reviews/2013/4/19/penny-nickel-skateboard-review.html

     
  27. Steven Says:
    February 19th, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    Hi, if anyone would like to print their own ABS or PLA filament, then take a look at this new desktop extruder called the Noztek Pro
    http://www.noztek.com

     
  28. PeterGrant Says:
    March 8th, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    I guess they mean PLA biodegradable filaments like this: http://www.3d2print.net/shop/filament/pla-filament/; not ABS biodegradable filament, right John? Meanwhile, I have ordered spools of ABS filaments direct from 3d2print.net. It’s a Scandinavian supplier, normally with me orders take a about 3-4 days for the supply to arrive.

     

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