Is Getting A 3D Printer Worth It? Pros and Cons
With the holiday season starting, there are probably lots of people who are considering getting a 3D printer as a treat for themselves or for the special people in their lives. 3D printing has become pretty popular nowadays as a hobby for people who are stuck at home – which most of us still are.
While we’re generally biased towards getting more people into 3D printing, we won’t lie and say that it’s a good idea across the board. There are a few caveats to consider. Just as with any other hobby, 3D printing is fun but it’s not for everybody. Before buying that 3D printer, here are a few pros and cons to mull over.
PRO: Exercises your creativity
In terms of creative freedom, there probably isn’t a commercial technology that can rival 3D printing. While there are a few limitations, a 3D printer generally does a good job of recreating any digital 3D model in real life.
If you’re the type of person who likes to explore creative ideas, then the possibilities with 3D printing are virtually endless. You will probably start off 3D printing simple objects like cellphone cases and flower vases but can eventually move on to more complex figurines and miniatures. If you’re willing to put in the time, you can even learn to create your own 3D models using a CAD software platform.
The therapeutic value of doing something that engages your creativity and imagination cannot be understated, especially at a time when many of us find it difficult to do any sort of traveling or face-to-face social meetings. A 3D printer is an excellent holiday treat for you or for anyone you know who is really into creating things.
CON: Takes up a lot of space
Before you decide to buy a 3D printer, consider if the person you’re buying it for has enough space for it. Yes, there are now desktop-scale 3D printers that take up just as much as space a tower CPU case, or any standard kitchen appliance. However, a 3D printer does not exist in a vacuum – it’s going to need a bunch of supplies and accessories.
Between keeping a stock of filament spools and making sure that the 3D printer has enough ventilation, you’re almost certainly going to need a large room for this simple hobby. Despite what many 3D printing articles will tell you, 3D printing out of your living room or bedroom is not a great idea. Aside from the clutter of all the accessories and supplies, 3D printing emits a lot of unpleasant fumes that you do NOT want to come in contact with your beddings, furniture, or food.
The perfect place for a 3D printer would be an open garage or an isolated workshop with large windows. If you live in a one-bedroom apartment, we suggest thinking a bit more carefully about where you’re going to put a 3D printer before splurging out on one.
PRO: You can learn new things
If you’re giving a 3D printer to someone who has had no experience with the technology at all, then it will provide the perfect opportunity for that person to learn something new. The best thing about 3D printers as a learning tool is that they are quite fun and engaging. In fact, they are so effective that 3D printers are starting to become staple parts of classrooms and learning institutions worldwide.
There are a lot of knowledge areas to branch out on once you have a 3D printer. Working with the 3D printer and different filaments will involve a lot of troubleshooting and tweaking with printer settings, which will inevitably teach you lessons on electronics, thermodynamics, and engineering.
On the software side, more advanced users can start to learn how to create their own 3D models. This is an entirely new avenue for creativity, as you will no longer need to make do with models that can be downloaded online.
CON: Requires significant time and effort to learn
As with any new skill, learning about 3D printing is going to take significant time and effort. For some people, having to overcome this learning curve can be a frustrating experience.
If this is your first time to delve into 3D printing, you will inevitably run into several failed prints before you create one you’re satisfied with. Branching out into different filaments will also present different challenges and re-runs of previous frustrating moments.
As with other hobbies that eventually get forgotten, there are probably millions of desktop 3D printers worldwide that have barely been used. This is just a risk that is inherent with any new hobby that you or some other person could potentially get into. It may click, or it may not.
If you’re giving a 3D printer as a gift, you might want to throw in a good guidebook to basic 3D printing to get them started on the right foot.
PRO: Complements your other hobbies
One of the biggest advantages of the versatility of 3D printing is that it can fit perfectly well with several other hobbies. If you’re into the collection of miniatures and action figures, a 3D printer will allow you to create your very own figures and customize them as you please. People who are into board games and RPGs have been very active in designing and printing their own pieces at a fraction of the cost of commercially available pieces.
3D printers have been used to create everything from broken furniture pieces to guitar parts, props and costumes, and home furnishings. While there are still limitations to the technology, your imagination provides a pretty wide berth for what you can do with 3D printing.
Even if you cannot fully get into 3D printing or modeling as a hobby, you might still make good use of your 3D printer to support your other hobbies. In this regard, it will be an enabler of your current hobbies and not the end-product.
CON: Might not be as engaging as your other hobbies
3D printing is a hobby that requires patience. If you’re a beginner, you will have to read up on the basics, choose between the different filaments, and figure out how to fix things when problems come up. There’s also the fact that a single 3D printing project can take up to 12 hours to finish.
What we’re trying to say is that you need to know what you’re getting into when you buy a 3D printer. It will involve a lot of reading, watching tutorial videos, tinkering with hardware, playing around with slicer settings, and a LOT of waiting for a project to get printed. For some people, this may not be their idea of a good time.
Again, this is probably one of the reasons why a lot of desktop 3D printers ger abandoned eventually. This is a hobby that requires a lot of work, and not all of it can be described as exciting or engaging.
PRO: Can be used for a business
Not everyone who buys a 3D printer intends to use it just for fun. For more enterprising users, 3D printing can either be offered as a service or be used to create customized commercial products. Considering how many 3D printing startups have popped up in the last couple of years, there is certainly a market for this type of business.
A fair warning, though – it’s best to go into 3D printing as a business once you already have solid experience. There are a LOT of people nowadays going into the 3D printing business, and the market has become increasingly competitive. It’s no longer enough to download models off Thingiverse and 3D print them. It would be advantageous if you can create your own models from scratch.
CON: Might not produce a return on investment at all
If you’re buying a 3D printer with the expectation that it will pay for itself eventually, then we’re telling you right now that this may not pan out as you are hoping. It will take a lot of work before you can even earn your first dollar in 3D printing.
Aside from an initial investment in the 3D printer, you will also need to spend on several filament spools and other tools essential for troubleshooting and finishing of finished prints. You will inevitably end up with failed prints, which adds up the operating costs of a 3D printing business.
Our advice? If you want to get into 3D printing as a hobby, then don’t go into it expecting that you’ll earn from it eventually. Much like other hobbies, 3D printing can prove to be a black hole for your time and expenses. Even so, it’s worth it if 3D printing gives you the satisfaction of exercising your creative muscles and learning something new.
Is it a good idea to buy a 3D printer this holiday season? Under the right circumstances and with the appropriate mindset, yes, a 3D printer would be a great treat. However, we recommend managing your expectations a little. A 3D printer is not a toy but it’s not an automatic money-making machine, either.
In as much as 3D printers seem fun, they also require a lot of work. If you’re the type who can commit several hours per day tinkering with your 3D printer, then it’s a great product for you. However, this is a hobby that is more likely going to get set aside if you’re already too busy for it.