Three Things to Consider Before Buying a 3D Printer

A 3D printer can help you take your ideas and inventions from your mind to something tangible.

You may have a head full of ideas, but how do you get them out of your head and into the physical plane? 3D printers just the tools for that job. You dream up an object, then you design it on your computer, and then you can print out the object right in the comfort of your own home. The final product may be a fun and whimsical gift, or it might be something functional that you need for work. You’ll be amazed at the number of things you can do with the right machine. There are several types of 3D printers out there, though, so here is a quick overview of some of the most basic features.

This extruder-style device has a hot bed that reaches 110 degrees Celsius in 5 minutes.


An extruder style printer typically takes a long thread of filament (typically plastic), heats it to a specific temperature, and then extrudes it through a fine tip according to the exact measurements and coordinates you specify on your computer. It’s the most common form of computer-controlled 3D printer and it’s generally the most economical, too. You can use it to make plastic objects that are detailed, and you can make them in the color of your choice.

There is a USB port on this machine for transferring build files.


Vat polymerization 3D printing works differently that extruder-style printing. As the name implies, there is a vat, and it’s full of resin at the bottom of the printer, and a moveable tray within it. Above it, a strong but precise light source (usually a laser) blasts the fluid on the tray in a precise location directed by your computer. That light cures the fluid and makes it solid, then the tray drops a level to add another layer. This material and construction results in objects that are durable and resilient with a smooth finish.

This simple device effectively lets you draw in three dimensions.


3D printing pens are the simplest and most affordable way to dip your toes into the 3D printing world. The tool is similar to an extruder printer, in that it heats a filament and pushes it through a nozzle. But there’s no computer involved in this process. It’s a pen you hold in your hand that essentially lets you “draw” in three dimensions. It’s fun and extremely approachable, and but it’s more for art than for functional objects because they aren’t as precise as something engineered with computer software.