I’ve wanted a 3D printer more or less ever since I heard that they existed outside sci-fi. I’ve watched early kit versions emerge, and seen the print quality gradually improve; I even got an after-hours tour of Autodesk’s fabulous office in San Francisco, basically a shrine to the miracle of computer-controlled manufacturing.
There are two main kinds of consumer-friendly 3D printer: one melts a spool of plastic to build up a model line by line, while the other projects ultraviolet light into a tub of liquid resin, flashing one entire layer into existence at once. This second kind has really excellent resolution: I bought the
Creality 3D® LD-002R LCD Resin 3D Printer which has a vertical resolution of 0.05 mm (!).
Actually using a 3D printer was actually easier than I thought: lots of 3D models (like this handy toddler-proofing cupboard lock) are free to download. Once you have them on your laptop, a beginner-friendly application included with the printer on a USB stick converts your model into printer-ready slices. If needed, it can automatically add support structures to make sure your model prints correctly (like the little oloid and anti-oloid in my first picture). The detail is really good! I can hardly see the layers!
The plastic prints have good detail, and they also have decent strength: when my wife told me we would be having toddlers to visit, I was able to print cupboard locks faster and cheaper than I could have got them from Amazon (!). Even better, they actually stood up to the assault of twin toddlers.
Printing isn’t fast (5 seconds per layer, 20 layers per millimetre…) but then again, the printer doesn’t need any intervention once you start printing. Conveniently, printing is controlled via a build-in touchscreen, with print files loaded from a USB-stick, so unlike a conventional 2D printer, you don’t need to leave a laptop connected during prints.
Verdict so far: I bought this for the sheer coolness factor, fully prepared to find I had wasted my money, but my expectations have been greatly surpassed — much easier to use (and more useful) than I had expected. At $245, I’m calling it a bargain.