3D Printer Recomendations

We’re looking at getting a low end 3D printer for use by the FRC team but also to be used by middle school students in an introduction to design class. It will need to cost less than $3,000. Right now I’m thinking of holding out for a MakerBot 2X but, since it hasn’t shipped yet and it is labeled “experimental” I’m a little worried. A MakerBot Replicator would probably do the job for us right now but I hate to invest in something towards the end of its life cycle. The MakerBot Replicator 2 would be great but it doesn’t print in ABS which isn’t a big deal for the middle school but is certainly a concern for the FRC team.

We’d like to be able to print in ABS at a minimum. Being able to do PLA would be nice. Minimum print size is 6x6x6.

Any other vendors with a good track record we should consider in our price range? There are a bunch of new start-ups entering this space but I’m not interested in being customer #1 for a untested company. Don’t suggest any of the the new Kickstarter products coming out for that reason.

You should check out the ultimaker, https://shop.ultimaker.com/en/ultimaker-kits/ultimaker-kit-new.html the complete kit costs about $1500, and it has a much better resolution then the replicator, the ultimaker can do 20 micron layers to the replicators 100 micron layers. The ultimaker also has a bigger overall build space at 8.2X8.2x8.2 Inches to the replicators 5.7X8.9X5.9. It also prints in ABS and PLA.

Do you have any local community colleges that have 3D printers? It’s less convenient, but usually the colleges that have them have very nice, much larger and much more expensive models that are also far more capable. Our local CC is letting us use theirs next season and it’s quite possible yours might do the same.

In any case, it’s not a bad idea as a supplement to your own (experiment with your own 3D printer, then print the final parts at high resolution on the professional one).

One of our mentors has an Ultimaker that (I think) they like very much.

I know that you are looking for a “trusted company”, but I would suggest that you look into the reprap project. Basically what all of the Makerbots, ultimakers and all other “maker” printers are based off of (including a lot of the kickstarter projects).

Being that it will be used by an FRC team, I would assume that you have the skills necessary to build one: http://reprap.org/wiki/Main_Page.

For $3,000 you could potentially build 3-4 printers of the quality of a makerbot. As a benefit, if it breaks, you built it, so you will know how to fix it.

It may not be somthing that you could get up and running before this build season (you could actually, but it would be a crunch). It would certainly be a great offseason project for the team.

If you want a pre-built Mendle type printer it would be hard to beat The Future is 3D. They build steel machines that are a little more rigid. When they were still selling kits I helped build 5 of their machines. The support is really good and EVERY component is guaranteed for a year. We have had to excercise this option several times. Mostly because we did something we shouldn’t (like wire opto switches backwards). Runs either ABS or PLA. Actually we have yet to try ABS we have been too busy building with PLA

Stock price for a Mendle-based Glacier Steel (12 x 12 x 9) is $2300 + $220 shipping.

We have been pretty happy with the machines and the service.

Building on ChrisH’s post (I worked on the project with him), some of the PLA parts built on one of those machines went on 330’s robot last year. I have yet to see any damage to those parts (admittedly in low-load applications). I’ve heard that ABS smells funny while printing with it (though as noted we haven’t experienced that firsthand). Nothing harmful though–outside people have tested.

The real fun is if you get a prebuilt one, build the parts for a RepRap machine early on. If you aren’t an expert by the time you’ve built the RepRap, you’re probably doing something wrong. (Or you’ve been letting the students have all the fun, even better!)

Question: why is ABS a necessity? My team has a Thing-o-matic, and we use ABS, but I don’t see why PLA can’t be used instead. What specific material properties are an issue?

ABS is stronger and has a higher melting temperature than PLA. The later would be important if you wanted to make a motor mount or anything that would built up heat through friction.

Oddly enough, we have a RepMan 3.2 printer and the dang belts keep slipping. The output pullies from the stepper motors are so small and the teeth are so fine that I haven’t been able to just let the thing sit and print yet. Is this a common problem across all 3D printers, or do the belts just need replacing? The thing is 3 years old and has been sitting in a closet for the last 2 years.

We had that problem early on but have managed to get the belts tight enough that they no longer slip. I am not sure what tooth profile we are using, but that might make a big difference. Are you using metal or plastic pulleys on the motor?


If you are looking for a lost cost solution, we just bought a Solidoodle at work. It is amazing from how inexpensive it is. It was only $600 and we had it out of the box and printing within a couple of hours. We have been talking about getting one for the FRC team that I mentor.

Aluminum pullies. There seemed to be a fine line between just tight enough to print and so tight that the plastic around the idler pulley warps during printing. If there were a way to set the max speed of movement we’d be fine – the belts only slip when there’s an immediate high-speed reversal of the ‘Y’ motor (coincidentally, also the hardest motor to tension).

What G-code generator are you using? We use ReplicatorG and can set speeds there. It is pretty easy if you know where. Other programs will be different.

It’s called Axon 2. It came from the Bits From Bytes website (makers of the RepMan 3.2). I’m not sure (though I quite honestly haven’t done any research yet) if others will work.

Form Labs Form 1 printer recently reached its Kickstarter goals and will be shipping printers soon. Though I believe it’s $3200. Much higher resolution than any of the FDM printers like Makerbot. But it’s all about application and, polyjet, uv cured etc… often have warping issues at higher temps. Some of our vendors have even had their parts warp in shipping if a product sat on the tarmac too long.

FDM materials typically have a bit better thermal and strength performance but don’t have the resolution.

Hello, I feel like I could shed some of my experiences on the subject and help you out.

For the robotics club here at Iowa state I built a Prusa based reprap. Many of the structural parts of the machine were ordered from Ultimachine, great service by the way. All of the printed parts were done on the uPrint plus machine that the campus owns, we got a nice discount on materials so it only made sense. The electronics were a RAMPS 1.4 setup using Marlin firmware. I absolutely loved this setup as it was to get started and had a large array of variables to play with. I played with skeinforge for the g-code generation but I ended up settling on Slic3r, it was much quicker and did everything I wanted, and from what I have been reading the recent updates have made it much more user friendly. I primarily used ABS as my build material but I dabbled into PLA some time ago for a bit with varying levels of success.

All that said, I believe that a prusa build would be a fantastic project for students in the off-season. It allows them to know exactly what went into every bit of the project so they can diagnose problems when they arise. The cost of the printer is also much lower than a full kit, you could potentially build 3-4 good printers with the funding you are looking at, as ChrisH said.

If you are looking for a plug and play solution I would suggest waiting for the replicator 2x as it fits into your price range and it comes fully assembled. A friend of mine recently ordered a replicator and he had his working was churning out fantastic prints in a week, you definitely pay for the simplicity though.

Let me know if you have any questions, that was just a quick rundown. In the future when funds allow I plan on making my own design of printer to fit exactly what I would want from one so I am still up to date with what is going on in the open source 3d printer world.

thanks for the info guys!
Looks like I’m going to try and get both a PLA and ABS plastic printer now.
We just got the Z450 Printer and are happy with it…but would like to get machines that can do other materials as well.



Would any team that has a PLA or ABS 3D printer mind running us a couple of our parts as a samples for our evaluation? I pinged MakerBot Customer Service and they have yet to reply.

Ping me offline and I can send you the files.


I would definitely look into the Form 1. The retail price was not set as of now but they ran ~2700 on Kickstarter at the time.
I wouldn’t be too worried that the replicator 2 is experimental. Makerbot is no longer a small company working out of their garage. They’ve got a huge team and a huge user base.