The two most common printer files you will encounter are .STL and .Gcode files. Understanding these will remove some of the confusion when 3D printing for the first time.
The first file we will cover are .STL files. This file format is supported by many different modeling programs that are used for creating 3D shapes of objects. The files are created using CAD (Computer aided design) like AutoDesk, Fusion360, TinkerCad and many more. The data stored in these files do not take into account what type of filament color or types you are using. It is not possible to print .STL files directly because your printer does not know what you want to do with the model. You will need to “Slice” this model into .Gcode so your printer can understand it.
You’re probably asking yourself, “How do I slice and why do I need to do this”? Creating or finding the part is only half of the equation when 3D printing. You need “Slicing” software, like Cura, to create the instructions your printer needs to build the model on the 3D printing build plate. The code is a jumble of letters and numbers that the printer uses to understand how fast to move, when to retract, how much plastic to feed and at the exact X/Y/Z coordinates. Gcode is also used when operating CNC Machines (Computer numerical control) becuase it defines how fast and at the exact X/Y/Z coordinates the tool should cut.
Basically, to create the Gcode you will need to load your .STL files into a slicing software to tell the printer how to print.
You are going to need to ask yourself a few questions to determine what type of printer to buy. What types of things will you print? How large? What types of materials are important to you? What kind of budget are you working with?
Obviously we all want a 3d printer that can spit out titanium models in a few minutes. If you have that type of coin, leave us plebeians to our penny pinching ways. My journey is under $500 including the cost of filaments.
MP Select Mini 3D Printer V2 – $220
This is a nifty little budget printer. For starters, this printer can be had for as little as $190 with coupon codes if you’re willing to wait. This printer is assembled when you receive it. It has a color led display, wifi-enabled, large support base, a heated bed. For the price, it makes some quality prints compared to the larger and more expensive printers. There are a few limitations with a smaller printer. The print speed is 55mm per second and the max extruder temperature does not get as high as some other pritners. The resolution is 100 microns with a build area of 4.7″ x 4.7″ x 4.7″ (120 x 120 x 120 mm). This can print both PLA and ABS filaments although it is widely recommended that you only use PLA.
This will be our first printer of choice. Initially, I liked some of the larger printers but space in my work area is important to me so I went with a smaller setup. I will use this to learn and decide how I feel about 3D printing in the future.
Maker Select 3D Printer v2 – $299
This is the larger version of the mini Maker select and would be my ideal choice if not for concerns with workbench space. Although it prints at the same detail as the mini it has many other advantages at around the same price. This printer has a large print bed at 7.9″ x 7.9″ x 7.1″
(200 x 200 x 180 mm). This printer can use a ton of different filaments including ABS, PLA, XT Copolyester, PET, TPU, TPC, FPE, PVA, HIPS, Jelly, Foam and Felty. The print speed is 100mm/sec and the max extruder temperature is higher than the mini. Sadly, this does not have built in Wi-fi like the mini but all things considered is an awesome choice. Head over to monoprice.com to check it out.
Creality3D CR – 10S 3D – $399 – $450
The CR-10 is a printer with a ton of community support. It has user replaceable parts. The aluminium frame helps keep the extruder steady when creating prints. The printer area is very large at 300mm x 300mm x 400mm. This printer costs a bit more and requires some assembly but I’ve seen some great prints come out of this machine. If you want to get some of the best prints without spending more than $500 then this might be the path for you. These can often be found on Gearbest.com.
YouTube is a resource
I find many ideas and answers to my questions just by watching Youtube. I highly recommend following RCLifeOn. He has some great information on how to choose a 3D printer.