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How Do I Choose the Best Open Source 3D Printer?

By Jeremy Laukkonen
Updated May 16, 2024
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There are several different three dimensional (3D) printers available that use open source designs and software, and even more suppliers that have made use of these open source designs, so it can seem difficult to choose. The best open source 3D printer for your own particular needs can depend on the type of objects you would like to fabricate, your familiarity with the technology, and your budget. You will want to pay attention to the accuracy of each printer you consider, if you need to fabricate parts that meet strict tolerances. The type of material that an open source 3D printer uses to fabricate objects can also be important, since some are stronger than others. You may also want to consider choosing a printer that you can build yourself, since that can cost about half as much as buying a pre-built unit.

Three dimensional printing is a small scale fabrication and prototyping process that has existed in commercial and industrial settings since the 1980s, though various additive manufacturing techniques were described and experimented with earlier. Desktop 3D printing did not arrive until later, and failed to gain significantly in popularity until the introduction of open source 3D printers. There are a number of 3D printer designs that use the open source model, including both the hardware and software necessary to construct these devices. Due to the nature of open source concepts, many 3D printers are based around the same original designs with varying degrees of modification.

The first factor to consider when looking for an open source 3D printer is what you need it for. There are many different three dimensional printing methods, each of which can be best suited to particular tasks. Photopolymers typically provide high quality finished products, while plaster composites can often be produced very quickly. Many open source 3D printers operate through thermoplastic extrusion, which can typically make use of many different types of plastics, including high density polyethylene (HDPE), acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS,) and polylactic acid (PLA). If you want to create plastic parts, and need some flexibility, then one of those may be the best open source 3D printer for you.

Another main concern when choosing an open source 3D printer is cost. Most additive fabrication devices are very expensive, including the majority of commercial and desktop 3D printers. Open source units tend to be less expensive than traditional 3D printers, especially models that can be built with off the shelf parts. If budget is a concern, and you have a great deal of technical expertise, you may want to obtain open source designs and build your own printer. Kits that come with all the necessary parts can be both more expensive and convenient, and some companies also sell fully assembled models if you lack the time or skills necessary to build one yourself.

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