Friday, September 26, 2014

3D printing without a 3D printer on a budget

Want to get something 3D printed but don't have a 3D printer? Have an idea you'd like to see made real? Seen something 3D printed and just got to have it? If you go to services like shapeways or sculpto you might have gotten a serious sticker shock. But don't give up, there is an alternative. Recent adventures (featuring Rodney from Watch it Played) taught me how difficult this can be, but how to navigate the headache. If your part doesn't need to be super accurate and you don't mind doing a little leg work you can get a thing in your hand for a fraction of the cost that those big services charge.

Just follow these steps and you will be on the way to considerably more reasonably priced 3D printing:

  1. Have a model to print. I suggest starting with something small. Most 3D printers charge by volume. I recommend the square hollow die. It's small, prints reliably well (tell them not to use support), and 4.87 cubic centimeters the risk is fairly low. Plus when you're done you'll have a dice you can use.
  2. Search MakeXYZ or 3DHubs. I mention 3DHubs to be fair, but you'll probably go with MakeXYZ. With a 3D model in hand it's much easier to say "how much do you charge". So send them the die (or whatever) and ask for a quote. Remember, a quote is free, and if you don't like it you can walk away.
  3. Search Google. If MakeXYZ doesn't turn up anyone in your area, or even if it does, chances are a google search will make you aware of a school or library in your area that also has a 3D printer if one is avaible. Send them your model and ask for a price.
  4. Haggle. If the price you're quoted doesn't please you don't give up. Ask them why they charge that much, ask them to break it down, haggle. Knowing the volume of your thing helps a lot and to that end getting a copy of Netfabb Basic (free) will help. For instance that cube is 4.87 cm^3. I would expect to pay $1.70 - $2.50 for it, or $0.35-$0.50 per cubic cm. If they're asking for $10, ask them to break it down. Maybe they have a per-print fee but their per volume fee is very reasonable. Maybe you can get them to drop that per-print fee a little bit. Either way you'll know what to expect next time.
  5. Give it some time. Especially if you're working with a library or school you may need to give it a day or a week for them to get back to you, so don't expect this to happen same-day, unless you already have a relationship with the person running the printer. But this is about education, finding out what's in your area, and building a relationship with a 3D printer in your area.
  6. Pull the trigger. If the price is reasonable go ahead and get your test object printed. Pickup and delivery is part of the experience. And you want something in your hand that reminds you that you can do this, so you'll be inclined to do it again.
And I would also add to this list #7, put a comment here sharing your experience.

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