Small Business 3D Printers: A Beginner's Guide - Page 2

By Ted Needleman
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3 Small Business 3D Printer Reviews

We tested three popular 3D printers ranging in price from $349 to $1,450, and we list the following reviews in order of price. At this price point, 3D printers are good for learning an emerging technology, or for designing initial prototypes that can fit on the print platforms (or be built in pieces). None of them are suitable for volume production on any scale, and the available filament materials won't stand up to heavy daily use.

1. Da Vinci Jr. 3D Printer

Price: $349

The moderately sized Da Vinci Jr.—one of the least expensive 3D printers—measures 16.54- x 16.93- x 14.96-inches and weighs 26.46 pounds. Encased in plastic, the printer features a front-mounted, swing-up door through which you remove printed objects, and it includes a transparent window so you can watch the print process.

The build platform measures 5.9- x 5.9- x 5.9-inches—larger than some much more expensive printers. Da Vinci 3D printers (except for the Pro model) use a coded PLA filament spool that fits inside the unit, and which you must buy from the vendor.

Refill filament spools cost $28 for 600 grams (about 270 meters), enough for several dozen small prints or six or seven larger ones, depending on their size and whether they're solid or have hollow voids. That's pricier than filament from other vendors, which costs $30-$40 for a 1kg spool. Currently, Da Vinci Jr. PLA comes in only translucent white.

3D printer review: Da Vinci Jr

The Da Vinci Jr. provides an affordable entry for beginners interested in 3D printing.

Inside the 3D Printer Box

Additional materials include:

  • A brass brush to clean any melted plastic off the extruder
  • A small metal spatula to help pry the printed object from the print bed
  • Plastic film to help prints stick to the build platform
  • SD Card with printer driver and 3D printing software
  • Minimal documentation
  • A starter spool of filament

Less-expensive 3D printers are generally considered difficult to set up and maintain. That's because the print bed must remain perfectly level in relation to the extruder while multiple parts move in different directions. However, the Da Vinci Jr. comes ready to use right out of the box.

Unlike many 3D printers, the Da Vinci Jr. doesn't require that you level the print bed. Simply remove the various shipping restraints, pop in the filament spool, and thread the filament through a feed tube into the top of the extruder head.

The printer's LCD control panel sports a four-button keypad with an "OK" button in the middle. The "Load Filament" option—listed under Utilities—heats up the extruder head; you must manually push the filament into the part of the extruder where it gets melted, or it won't feed when printing. The "Unload Filament" selection heats the extruder so that you can pull the filament out of the extruder to change spools.

Remarkably Easy 3D Printer Setup

Plug in the power cord, install the XYZware 3D printing software, and connect a USB cable between the printer and your computer. You can print directly from the computer, or store the G-code on an SD Card and print untethered from the PC or Mac. You can print sample objects stored on the Da Vinci's supplied SD Card, which is a good way to make sure your printer works.

The software is easy to use; import a .stl file (the 3D object), resize if desired, and hit the print button. Advanced options let you set the object's layer height or solidity (beginners: use the default settings). The software slices the 3D model into layers and sends the data to the printer.

Larger objects take a long time to print. Our largest object, a desktop pen-and-pencil holder—about 3.5 inches inches in diameter—took almost 22 hours and used about a quarter of the filament spool.

While XYZprinting's proprietary software doesn't offer as many options as open source software like ReplicatorG or Cura, the Da Vinci Jr. is meant for beginners. Most people who choose this 3D printer for it's easy out-of-box experience won't be limited by its slightly less-sophisticated software.

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This article was originally published on February 04, 2016
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