How Big of a 3d Printer do I Need?

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The ideal size of a 3D printer primarily depends on the user’s needs. Expensive 3D printers, for example, are designed for printing on materials like metal, while desktop printers are dedicated to rapid prototyping.

Amateurs who don’t expect to print large objects but professionals looking to sell high-quality products will most likely want large printers that can produce objects in volumes. In such a scenario, users need to focus on several essential factors:

Print Quality

The accuracy of the print out depends on two factors: the accuracy of the XY axes and the thickness of the filament layers. Objects with excellent print quality result in higher fineness and the ability to print more delicate details.

The accuracy of the X and Y axes varies from one machine to another, and the manufacturer may not even mention it. However, it determines the horizontal accuracy of the 3D printer.

The maximum layer of thickness for personal 3D printers ranges from 50-100 microns. Some printers, however, offer an accuracy of up to 20 microns. This feature is critical when buying a 3D printer because it determines the quality of the printed material

Print Speed

It is measured in mm/second and most 3D printers have speeds in these three categories: 40-50mm/s, 80-100mm/s and 150mm/s. Print speeds often depend on the desired print quality. Thus, printers with higher speeds don’t always translate into high-quality output. Devices with slower speeds are suitable for larger and high-quality objects because they require more accuracy.

As such, printing an object using an accuracy of 100 microns takes longer than when using an accuracy of 300 microns. 

Type of 3D Printer

3D printing is a broad term that explains the technologies used for producing physical. There are up to nine 3D printing technologies, the most popular being Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Stereolithography, and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS).

FDM 3D printing operates by heating and extruding a thermoplastic filament to create one precise layer at a time. The print bed then lowers the object to allow the next layer to lie on top. This printing cycle continues until the final object is formed.

The second most common 3D printing technology is Stereolithography; also uses an additive printing technique, but instead of extruding the plastic, the process uses a UV light beam to harden the model from the photosensitive liquid to a high-quality printout. 

Selective Laser Sintering the same as Stereolithography only that the process involves the use of powders instead of liquid and UV light beams. The technique uses a laser to melt the powder to create the layer of printed material. SLS is suitable when printing on complex materials like metal, as the two previous methods don’t support the process.

Your Budget

The prices of 3D printers range from $500 to $500,000. Of course, high-priced equipment are larger as they are designed to handle complex and large printing jobs. Also, if looking to print pieces measuring (20x20x20 cm) whether it is designed to produce prototypes, toys, models, decoration, and you have a budget of $1000 and $10,000, a desktop 3D printer should suffice.

Desktop 3D printer are suitable for businesses and individual printing projects alike because they cater to all their needs at a reasonable price. Some 3D printers still cost a little under $500, but you need to factor in other charges like VAT, customs duties, shipping and delivery costs, and the quality of the printer.

Entry-level printers cost between $800 and $1500, while medium to high-end printers cost $2000-$5000. High-end printers deliver excellent product quality, adjustable precision, optimum rendering of prints, product warranty, and powerful software.

Single Vs. Multiple Extrusion

The extrusion head functions the same way as the print head used in printers. There are two types: the single and multiple extrusion head. The single extruder is suitable if printing in one color, but if using two colors or two materials simultaneously, then the multiple extrusion head is necessary. 

Some printers have dual extrusion heads that allow you to use PVA for supports that dissolve in water and PLA for the object. You may need a little more skill when using two colors or materials, as it is more difficult to set up a printer with multiple extrusion than a simple extrusion.

Type of Material 

There are two materials for 3D printing: Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) and Poly Lactic Acid (PLA). Both materials are thermoplastics and become malleable and soft when frozen, heated and cooled. However, the type of printer you use determine the kind of material you need. 


It is the most common type, and it is also used to create small household items. The material is derived from corn starch and is suitable for beginners who just started 3D printing. Other features that make it an excellent 3D printing material include

  • It cools rapidly eliminating problems such as model warping
  • It is eco-friendly and biodegradable
  • It is available in translucent colors
  • Has a low melting point causing models to deform when on high heat
  • Is difficult to work with if you want to create interlocking parts and joints


The material is derived from petroleum-based plastic and is an excellent choice if looking for strength and flexibility.

  • Flexible to create interlocking parts
  • Has a high melting point hence print outs are less likely to deform
  • Emits fumes when printing
  • Takes long to cool

Print Volume

You also need to consider the number of items you want to print. Print volumes for personal 3D printers vary greatly but hardly exceed 25x25x25 cm. The price of the printer, in comparison to its size, is one of the reasons.

Naturally, when you increase the print volume, you also increase the probability of printing low-quality prints. You also need more printing material, which increases the risk of filament failure and the time taken to print the items. 

Generally, it is essential to consider the print volume when determining the size of the printer, but this factor is not that critical. Keep in mind you can always resize your models to accommodate that of the printer.

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