Custom fixture for charger

With Christmas just around the corner, you’ve already started trying to match gifts to the people in your life. This post is simply to make it easier for you to successfully give a 3D printer for Christmas. No matter how intrigued people are by technology, a 3D printer is not for everyone. On the other hand, they don’t have to be an engineer to enjoy using their new printer.

WiFi Brackets

Let’s first look at why someone would want a 3D printer. I bought my first printer almost three years ago because I had a bad case of technolust. Looking at my posts, you can see I was desperately looking through Thingiverse for models to justify having my new printer. It took almost a year before I quit printing everything that caught my fancy and focused on more useful applications.

Earphone case. Thingiverse: 2654324

At the start of 2017, recognizing the limitations of my UP Mini printer, I bought my second 3D printer. Sticking closely with my basic principles of getting the most value for the least amount of money, I bought the Prusa kit. Buying the kit saved me over $100 but cost me almost five months in trying to get my printer working properly. I managed to assemble the printer correctly but did not understand the calibration technique. Fortunately my stubbornness is the stuff of legends and I never gave up.

Pi Zero Cases

This month, with my printer finally doing everything Prusa promised, I printed a number of brackets for my various electronic modules, several variations of Raspberry Pi cases, a puzzle container for my wife’s birthday gift, a knob for a vintage radio, a fancy light plate for the remodeled bathroom and a temporary dog tag when the local vendor’s engraving machine was out of commission. In other words, it’s become a very useful tool.

As you’ve already guessed, the transition from UP! Mini to Prusa was not an easy one for me. My online gaming time dropped dramatically as I spent all my time experimenting with various combinations of painter’s tape, Elmer’s glue, extreme hold hair spray and studying phases of the moon. Add filament temperature, bed temperature and slicer variations and you can understand why this was not a smooth transition.

Puzzle Box
Thingiverse: 695794

Despite all the promises and slick advertising, 3D printers have not yet reached the appliance stage. If you’re considering a 3D printer for Christmas to someone expecting a finished product with a low learning curve, look elsewhere. If you’re considering giving the 3D printer to someone comfortable with tinkering, results that are less than perfection and has a do it yourself attitude, this is a perfect gift.

Since you’re continuing to read this, I’m going to assume your candidate is still in the running for a new printer. Then again, we may need to define exactly who is going to be using the printer. I know one father buying his teenager a 3D printer for Christmas. He’s counting on their low tolerance to learning curves and is already planning how he will be using the printer. 

Switch plate
Thingiverse: 1834609
Nightlight from Amazon

Okay we’ve established somebody will be using the printer but which printer do you buy? Sadly, I’m not qualified to answer that question. I’m happy with my Prusa but there are certainly better printers out there. Price, print size, flexibility and print quality are all important considerations that need to be researched. I can tell you I’m glad I bought my Prusa but I have no clue how the competition stacks up.

Making life even more complicated, many of the printer manufacturers have taken a page from the ink jet printer book of dirty tricks and their printers will only accept proprietary filament cartridges. Although they say they are doing this out of only the purest motives, “to ensure you get the best prints possible,” it’s amazing how they downplay this feature.

Speaking of filaments, typically the low end printers can only use one or two types of filament. With choices of PLA, ABS, PETG, Nylon, FLEX and more new filaments coming out every day, it’s really frustrating to be limited to one type of filament. How are you supposed to know what they can use?

Fortunately, the publishers of Make magazine already have you covered.  Check out their comparison of 3D printers,

Temporary Dog Tag

Still not ready to jump out there with a 3D printer for Christmas? There is another way. I have yet to meet someone actively using a 3D printer that did not enjoy looking through Make magazine. Buy them a subscription to the magazine and by next year they can tell you which printer they want.

© Copyright 2017 Byron Seastrunk, All rights Reserved. Written For: Opinion by pen