Should You Build Your Own 3D Printer? Worth It or Not?


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3D printing has the nature of doing things yourself, but how far can that really stretch? Some people wonder whether they should buy a 3D printer kit, or just build one from scratch themselves.

If you don’t have prior experience, you should avoid building a 3D printer from scratch because it could get tricky, so I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners. For the people who are experienced,  and like projects and exciting challenges, however, it can be a great idea to build a 3D printer.

This article will take a close look at the pros and cons of each possible pathway, so continue reading for a highly detailed explanation on this subject.

Can You Make/Build a 3D Printer at Home?

It is definitely possible to make or build a 3D printer from home, as long as you have all the relevant parts, tools and the guidance on how to do it properly. The process isn’t so easy, especially for beginners, so you need to closely follow a tutorial or try to gain more experience with a DIY 3D printer kit.

Putting together the frame itself isn’t too difficult to do because they are just metal aluminum extrusions that need a few screws in them. The difficult part is getting the perfect alignment, fixing together the hotend, extruder, fans, and other smaller parts properly.

There are great tutorials out there that can guide you on getting each step correct, so you’ll need to take your time and really understand the process. I’d definitely watch the full video a few times before starting the project so you know what to expect.

Many people have completed the task of building their own 3D printer at home, even beginners, so it’s more than possible, though you are likely to run into some kind of troubles along the way.

Having a good idea on how 3D printers work is essential in being successful in this project. It’s a great project for many out there, though it can get a little complicated when learning about the inner details of the process.

There are many things to learn so it’s quite a steep learning curve, which I experienced my self, but once you get there it’s very worth it.

In addition to that, as you’re building a 3D printer, you’re also becoming continuously aware of possible modifications and how you could make your printer even better with custom parts.

There are essentially two ways to build a 3D printer at home:

  • Build one from scratch
  • Build a DIY 3D printer kit that can be bought online

The latter is highly recommended for people who have never owned a 3D printer before. This will give you a great start, and a bit of experience so you’re nicely prepared whenever you want to build your own printer from zero.

In addition, the task at hand could turn out to be very fun as well if you’re that type of person that likes a DIY challenge. People have found encouragement in difficult challenges and have worked hard to build their own 3D printers without buying any kits.

It makes the final product all the more rewarding.

There are many different kinds of 3D printers out there, so to begin in the right direction, you’ll have to do some thinking and map your plan out first.

Why should you do this? Because there are several variations in the four following factors that make up a 3D printer:

  • Size of the printer
  • Printer type (Cartesian or Delta if we’re talking about FDM 3D printers)
  • Extrusion type
  • Either a Single or Dual extruder

Please note that properly deciding on this will shape the experience of your 3D printer. Think critically about what you’re going to print with this self-made 3D printer and then act accordingly.

Size of the 3D Printer

The size of the 3D printer matters according to the use case, the budget, and the spare room of your workspace. Small-sized 3D printers cost less, keep the footprint to a minimal level, and are optimal for rapid prototyping.

On the same side, a big 3D printer with a large print bed may be the one for you if you intend on making sizeable and huge prints with it, especially projects like helmets, body suits, or big ornaments.

Type of 3D Printer

After that, then there’s the question of building either a Cartesian or a Delta-style 3D printer. Both of these options have their own pros and cons.

Delta 3D printers may not be the most precise type of printers out there, but they’re definitely the fastest. Go for building one of these if rapid prototyping with a room for less detail works for you. They do tend to have more complications I hear.

On the other hand, Cartesian-style 3D printers boast a far wider community, have greater part availability, and are also much more precise than their Delta counterparts.

If you want more information about these two types of 3D printers, you check out my article Delta Vs Cartesian 3D Printer – Which Should I Buy? Pros & Cons.

Type of Extrusion

Next, you’ll have to decide between a Direct Drive or Bowden-style extrusion system. This is also another important factor that you’ll have to look out for.

Bowden setups offer more speed, but aren’t quite up to the task when it comes to flexible filaments like TPU and TPE, though in recent times, we have definitely seen some improvements in their ability to print them.

A Direct Drive extrusion system might be heavy and may print slowly, but there’s flexibility in printing materials and lesser print-related issues like stringing and oozing.

An article I wrote going over this exact topic is the Bowden Feed Vs Direct Drive Extruder – A Quick Comparison article which goes into more detail.

Single or Dual Extruder

Lastly, you have either a dual extruder 3D printer or simply a single extruder machine to choose between. With two extruders, you can change filaments conveniently and print using two colors.

It really expands and opens up your limitations, though you can imagine it can be a little more challenging to put together. If you are a starter, it’s probably best to go that single extruder route.

On the other hand, the single extruder 3D printer is a lot easier to maintain and is going to have less issues in the long-run to deal with. Check out my article talking about both types of extruders – Single Vs Dual Extruder 3D Printer – Which One to Choose?

As 3D printing is an enormous field, and building a 3D printer yourself is very challenging, in-depth research is a must.

So once you’ve got all that penned down somewhere, your next step is equally crucial – getting all parts and sorting them out together.

For reference, the following is a comprehensive video that shows you how it’s done from A to Z, including what parts to choose, and what type of a 3D printer to build.

Building a DIY 3D Printer Kit Vs Building From Scratch – Pros & Cons

As there are two different options for building a 3D printer, let’s get into the pros and cons of both to see what can be our takeaway here.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Building a DIY 3D Printer Kit

Pros

  • If you’re thinking of scratch-building a 3D printer, a DIY kit can be a great way to start first.
  • Considering the ample learning curve, DIY kits can make you experienced and detail you with more information in the vast world of 3D printing.
  • 3D printer DIY kits are less expensive than fully-assembled printers.
  • It’s much less time-consuming than building a 3D printer from scratch.
  • With famous 3D printing manufacturers, you’ve got vast communities to help you on your DIY journey.
  • 3D printer kits usually come with an instruction manual to help you nail assembly.

Cons

  • If compared to a fully-assembled 3D printer, you need to have some basic knowledge of putting parts together so there’s definitely effort and knowledge required here.
  •  You also have to put in more hours significantly versus a pre-assembled 3D printer.
  • The complications involved might lead you to frustration and giving up half-way if you’re not up for it.
  • Without buying more parts, you cannot customize your 3D printer as per your choice if you opt for a DIY kit.
  • In terms of software upgrades and configuration, some 3D printer kits may have limitations.
  • When put toe-to-toe against a printer built from scratch, you’re not going to get flexibility in terms of design and other modifications.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Building A 3D Printer From Scratch

Pros

  • When scratch-building, you get to learn your machine inside out.
  • The additional teachings of this method will allow you to make customizations of your own.
  • This method might be cheaper if compared to assembled 3D printers or even 3D printer kits.
  • If done and understood right, building from scratch can get quite fun and entertaining.
  • You get more flexibility in choosing designs and can also implement much better safety protocols if building from scratch
  • The end result, after all that hard work and endeavor, is genuinely satisfying.
  • As you put your whole 3D printer together, you can also easily disassemble it. This will help you troubleshoot your machine with more efficiency.

Cons

  • Building from scratch is not recommended if it’s your first time with a 3D printer.
  • There are a lot of complications involved and without prior experience, mentally prepare yourself for an immense learning curve and lots of difficulties.
  • Contrarily, you might end up paying a lot more than an assembled printer or a 3D printer kit if and only if you don’t have a basic understanding of how these machines work.
  • When building from scratch, you’ll need all the help you can get online. Acknowledge the fact that some questions will have answers and many will not.

However, I’d like to address here about successful scratch-building is that not only will it heighten your sense for 3D printing and printers, but it will also develop your making abilities.

This will happen as you begin to understand the operation of your 3D printer. Subsequently, you will start to become constantly aware of factors that attribute to good quality prints.

You will then be able to better optimize your models to increase your print quality. Building from scratch may have its downsides, but it also has a multitude of benefits undeniably.

How Much Does it Cost to Build a 3D Printer?

From what I’ve read and researched, it turns out that you can build your very own 3D printer for somewhere in the $100-200 range.

Of course, better quality products will cost more and if you want better modifications, you’ll have to pay extra as well.

But as far as a decent, working 3D printer is concerned, you can cut the costs of the traditional approaches and get yourself your own custom-built printer very cheap.

Then again, time and effort weighs in, and this is something that might not appeal to many people at all and come off as a significant downside.

You need to get the following basic parts in order to build, well, a basic 3D printer that functions okay. Next to their names are their approximate prices as well so you could have an idea.

  • Stepper Motors ($9)
  • Bowden or Direct Drive Extrusion System ($24)
  • Printer Frame (varies purely)
  • Power Supply ($20)
  • LCD Display Screen ($10-$20)
  • A Control Board ($22)
  • A Build Platform ($20)
  • Wiring Components i.e. Conductors and Insulators ($10)
  • Limit Switches ($5-$10)
  • Stepper Drivers ($10)
  • Linear Rails ($10)
  • Linear Rods ($5)
  • Linear Carriages ($5)
  • Belts ($5)
  • Threaded Rods ($2-$3)
  • End Stops ($2-$3)

If you add all of that minus the cost of the printer frame, you get a total sum of something under $160. The next step relates to software – a fundamental component of a 3D printer.

It’s the software that controls your machine, and nothing else. Without it, your 3D printer is good as collecting dust.

Next up is a slicer that slices your design file and makes it understandable for the 3D printer – typically in the form of G-code.

Moreover, the implementation of a slicer is followed by firmware – both of which can be commonly found at no additional expense.

So that’s that. Scratch-building isn’t going to cost you a lot, given that you’re taking your steps in the right direction. What it’s really going to cost you is time, and this decision, therefore, ultimately boils down on you.

Is It Cheaper to Build Your Own 3D Printer?

Technically speaking, yes. It’s definitely much cheaper to build your own 3D printer from scratch when compared to purchasing an assembled 3D printer or a DIY 3D printer kit.

Purchasing 3D printer parts as briefly described above aren’t very expensive. As a matter of fact, the sum of the cost is going to cost you lesser than a full-fledged 3D printer.

Now, if we look at the other option for building a 3D printer, we have the DIY kit.

DIY kits of 3D printers are relatively inexpensive because there’s a degree of mechanical effort allotted to them.

Some aren’t just cut out for doing anything related to building, let alone making a 3D printer from scratch or assembling a DIY kit.

This is why they’d pay good money to get a fully-assembled 3D printer that requires no assembly. Manufactureres, therefore, sell DIY 3D printer kits and assembled ones alike.

If, for instance, we look at the DIY kit of the Prusa i3 MK3S and the assembled edition side by side, there’s a $150 difference between the two. See for yourself here.

Fully-assembled 3D printers or partially assembled ones are priced higher because they’re ready to print as soon as you take them out of the box.

When you factor in the fact that you can always replace your 3D printer parts on your custom built 3D printer, you’re actually saving a lot of money while getting much higher quality as a result.

However, you can also go very wrong with scratch-building, which in turn, will cause you to spend more money than buying a decent 3D printer.

This is why it’s imperative that you stay on the right track when building from scratch. Otherwise, don’t expect to cut down the total cost, rather watch out for dishing out even more.

In conclusion, building your own 3D printer can get cheaper, but beware of quality and time-related risks.

How Cheap Can You Build a 3D Printer?

I was searching around and to my surprise, an article on Instructables claims that one user built a fully functional 3D printer for just $87, which is almost hard to believe.

Well, we suggest you give it a good read because the article also explains how you can build one for yourself in the same manner.

A point to note – prices of 3D printer parts may vary from country to country. The writer said that it had cost him the equivalent to $87 in his region.

So I think the bar of how cheap can you build a 3D printer has been set pretty high.

Do embrace that the user mentioned it took him more than 1 year to fine-tune, design, and build this 3D printer, though he has made it a lot shorter for everyone that is willing to follow the plan.

Anyways, coming back to the topic, given a serious amount of effort, experience, and energy, you can create a good 3D printer for around $100.

Go ahead and probe Amazon for good quality parts that also aren’t costly. To give you a headstart, I’ve gathered the following for you.

Is It Hard to Build a DIY 3D Printer?

For first-timers, building a 3D printer can get very frustrating, but if you’ve been in this business for some time and already have a decent amount of experience, you might not face as many problems as beginners.

That said, 3D printer kits from reputable manufacturers such as Creality, QIDI Tech, and Prusa come with truly precise and well-explained instruction manuals so even the most newbies of them all can proceed with the assembly easily.

However, when we talk about scratch-building, there are no manuals, no nothing. It’s just you, your heap of 3D printer parts, and the internet that might or might not have all the answers for your queries.

Considering all that, it again depends on your previous experiences in the 3D printing environment. If this magical realm has seasoned you enough, building a DIY 3D printer might not seem that hard at all.

But if it’s your first time, buying a quality machine upfront is probably your best bet. Some DIY 3D printer kits demand minimal work in assembly, while some may require more effort but have carefully detailed instructions.

You see, it’s not just about sorting parts together when building from scratch. You have to spend a decent amount of time planning beforehand on how you want your printer to turn out.

From what I’ve read, many people fail at this initial phase of building a 3D printer and often ending up mismatching components. This is why thorough and concise research is your best friend for this cause.

How Long Does it Take to Build a 3D Printer?

If we talk about DIY 3D printer kits, typical assembly time takes about 3-6 hours, but it’s possible that it could be done in less. For scratch-building, the whole process can take days, and even months.

The fact of the matter is the average assembly time varies from one DIY kit to the other. Additionally, it also depends on the standard of the instruction manual that has been given along with the kit.

If it’s good quality, you’ll be quickly able to get through your DIY kit. Quite fortunately, before you make the purchase, instruction manuals can be checked out. Keep your eyes open for them.

On the other hand, building from scratch won’t ask much for money, but it’s going to consume your time, all of it.

Deciding on everything, searching for parts, assembling the 3D printer, and calibrating it to near-perfection – one can easily see the amount of struggle here.

But then again, if you know your stuff, have spent your hours tweaking and adjusting, and have immersed yourself in the practicality of 3D printing, scratch-building might be a lot easier than you think.

Now that you’ve read the facts and figures, we leave it up to you to decide what’s it going to be. The DIY kit or building from scratch? Whichever decision you choose whether to build a 3D printer from scratch or get a a DIY kit, I wish you best of luck either way

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