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Tech Forum

January 2018

Low-Cost 3D Printers

I’ve been eyeing 3D printers for a while, and there are now basic units in the $100 range.

However, it appears that software can cost between free and several hundred dollars depending on features and capabilities. I like free. Is anyone using free software to create and print using one of these low-cost printers? If so, which software and printer are you using that you would recommend? Any caveats?

Brenda Spellman
Green Bay, WI


I am using Matter Control. By far this has been the easiest right out of the box. In most cases you do not need to go into settings, except to change resolution. When first installed you will need to enter type and print area of your printer. The only complaint I have ever had is there is no Emergency Stop. You can stop/pause the print, but in some cases you just have to kill the job. Good luck!

Todd Dragovich
Dothan, AL

I purchased my first 3d printer — the Tevo Tarantula — last February, and I have enjoyed every minute of it. The Tevo has a large support group on facebook (if you’re into that — I’m not) as well as on Thingiverse. I would also point you to Thingiverse to find dang near any model you could ever want — including a whole multitude of upgrades for the Tarantula. I myself have uploaded a few of my own modifications (my username there is ‘rebeltaz’).

The only drawback to low cost printers is that a lot of the controller boards are not able to properly handle the current required for a heated bed. You will want to get a MOSFET interface board — the cbd-3d being a popular model — to offload the current drain to a more suitable controller.

As for software, you are going to find diehard recruiters for all the available packages. Me personally, I prefer Sketchup for functional models, since I already had experience with that program. You will need to add a plugin called SolidInspector to ensure watertight (i.e. solid) models suitable for 3d printing. Another good free alternative I use is Blender. This program seems better suited for more organic models, although you can use it for functional designs.

If you lean towards “cloud based” software (I do not) there are various alternatives in that category as well — TinkerCAD being a popular one.

You will also need a slicer program whose job it is to generate the g-code understood by the printer from your 3d model. Simplify3D is a relative expensive example, but both Slic3r and Cura are excellent freely available alternatives. I personally prefer Cura due to it’s more user friendly interface.

Finally, (well, in closing anyway) I would also recommend that you think about getting a Raspberry Pi later on and load it with OctoPi. This will allow you to access and control your printer wirelessly from anywhere on your local network, or even around the world if you so desire.

If you ever have any questions or need any help/advice, I am always willing to help newcomers to this wonderful hobby. You can find me on Thingiverse. Hope to see you there!

Derek Tombrello
Shelby, AL