The era of printing your own plastic action figures, human veins, and even food is finally upon us. After years of prototyping, the cost to build an affordable 3D printer has come down enough so that even regular guys like you and I can bring one home — with a little saving, of course.
We scoured Maker Faire NY 2011 this past weekend and were surprised to see that so many small startups were pushing their 3D printers — wowing kids and adults left and right. Here's our pick of the top six 3D printers available to take your cash that are worthy of it to boot.
Fab — short for fabricator — is the pet project of a bunch of Cornell University students who just wanted to build a printer that can print miniature models of objects. The Fab@Home's killer feature? It prints food, like turtle-shaped sweets made from chocolate frosting and Cheese Whiz Space Shuttles. Warning: the turtles look delicious, but the cheesy shuttle hardens and looks quite grotesque.
2. MakerBot's Thing-O-Matic
The Thing-O-Matic is the most popular 3D printer because it's priced to be affordable. It starts at $1,300, and the Web is chock-full of the kind of playful and colorful toys it can print. Simply put, the Thing-O-Matic is the modern day Creepy Crawlers Bug creation maker — only not as gross. It's only flaw? Extremely low resolution printheads mean coarse and jagged results. That, and it only does two colors at once.
Arguably the best looking 3D printer in the hood, the Buildatron prides itself on high quality printouts, meaning smooth objects that are perfect excellent for rapid prototyping. Whereas most of the competition is using wood and acrylic, the Buildatron comes in metal and its front face is attached via clever magnets.
Release/Price: Available now starting from $1,300 (currently on sale for $1,200) up to $2,400 depending on the make.
At first glance, the Ultimaker looks nearly identical to Makerbot's Thing-O-Matic. How's it different then? The Ultimaker's resolution is slightly finer than the Thing-O-Matic, and it's also faster. Ultimaker reps didn't have official numbers on hand, but did say it's noticeably faster to print out a figurine on the Ultimaker than on the Thing-O-Matic. It can also print much larger 3D objects too.
Release/Price: It's available for pre-order for 1,194, which comes out to about $1,629.
Botmill was the oddest 3D printer at Maker Faire. It appeared much slower than the rest of the pack, and it's design is almost entirely exposed (no enclosures or cases here), but it put out decent results. It's relatively cheap, but it's no looker.
Release/Price: Available now starting from $1,200 (on sale for $1,065) put to $1,500.
6. UP! 3D Printer
Out of all the 3D printers at Maker Faire NY 2011, the UP! 3D Printer seemed to be able to churn out the most detailed 3D objects. Those super smooth figurines it prints? Well, that would explain why it costs more than double what the Thing-O-Matic sells for. The UP! 3D Printer's distributors, X-Object, have been around since 1990. For the very best 3D printed objects, it doesn't get better than the UP! 3D printer.
Release/Price: Available now starting from $2,950 up to $4,950.
Via Maker Faire