What I’m Learning about 3D Printing

For Christmas this year I bought my daughters (4 and 7 years old) a 3D Printer.

Okay, maybe it was for me, but I saw it as a learning opportunity for them and something that I could create little toys for them on. I have wanted to purchase one for several years, but the price point has been too high up until now. About 2 years ago when I first became interested the cheapest version was more than $1,000 and about a year ago when I considered buying one I was looking at a minimum of $500. This time when I went looking on Amazon I could fine more than 10 3D printers that were under $250 and I went with the Monoprice Select Mini 3D Printer.

Since purchasing the printer, I’m not sure that my girls have learned much, but I sure have. I’ve attempted printing about a dozen different items and successfully only printed 3: a cat, a dog and a shark ring. At this point, only one of my nieces is impressed.

Honestly, I bought a simple 3D printer and it was still hard to setup, hard to figure out and even when understanding the instructions, the attempted items I’ve tried to print have not turned out successful. Here are my learnings thus far:

  1.  It’s Complicated – I expected this to be easy for me as I normally pick up on things like this pretty easily. Everything is precise when it comes to the code, the settings, the filament, etc. and 1 thing out of place will ruin everything.
  2.  It’s Expensive – even though the printers themselves are dropping in price rapidly, it’s still not cheap when at best you can print little plastic items that are next to useless. In order to print things, you will have to spend $1,000 or more on a good printer. The additional cost of the filament (plastic) itself isn’t that cheap either.
  3.  It’s Tedious – because you must download the code, convert the code, adapt the code, establish the settings, etc. every item you print, it can feel very tedious to create anything. That’s just in the setup, most items take about 3-4 hours to print as well after you hit print.

You might think based on my learnings that I’ve changed my opinion on 3D printers being a big part of the future. I’m actually even more excited about them than before as I now understand them better and what they can do or should be able to do. While I have predicted them to be 2-3 years away from commonplace in homes and workplaces, I would now say that I think they are more like 4-6 years away.

Moving forward I think what needs to happen for 3D printing is for a common file format to be established for all printers (like a PDF file for posters) and for all printers to all have very standardized setting options. I also think the printers themselves will come a long way in the next few years with higher quality production for a lower cost and faster production time.

All that to say, if you’re interested in 3D printing, now is a great time to start learning and playing. If you are just interested in what it can create, but not interested in learning how it is created, I would just wait. 3D printers are not yet cost effective and the most expensive asset that we have is our time and it will currently cost you a significant amount of time to learn how to even print a useless little plastic cat.

If you are a 3D Printer owner I would love to hear what you are learning!