the next generation of 3D Printers.

One of the challenges I am facing at the moment is the replacement of the current Makerbot Cupcake printer: the printer is a year old, but the requirement of me and my kids are pushing the limit on the machine… Upgrading the hardware would work, but the cost of that would come close to half that of a new printer and the new printers offer so much more…

Currently there are four contenders:

– The Makerbot Replicator: a nice printer with a proven community behind it and fully assembled with dual extrusion that is supported by software and hardware. The replicator has the features you need: dual extrusion, large print volume, heated build platform and standalone operations. It lacks in compactness (versus build volume) and price ($2000)

– The BitsfromBytes Rapman: an interesting printer with the basics covered: dual extrusion, standalone operations and a large build volume, but it lacks in a heated build platform and also does not have great Mac software… Community support will of course become more of an issue with 3DSystems now backing the Cube printer.

– the Ultimaker also covers some basics: large build volume, compactness, standalone operations, but again lacks a heated build platform and dual extrusion. Software support is less of an issue with ReplicatorG and Cura support. As a community I would rate the Ultimaker community as #2 after Makerbot with a lot of inspired tinkerers to push the platform further. Their vision of only implementing features that are robust is a sound way to build a good platform of machines, but still allowing the operators to tweak their machines to the cutting edge, if they want to.

Leapfrog’s Creatr is a newcomer on the scene: it has the best of features: large build volume, heated build platform and rudimentary dual extrusion support (Slic3r only supports the second extruder for support material). It is not compact and has no standalone mode, but the machine is built using quality parts and that shows in the prints generated. And considering the huge build volume, it is relatively compact… But it would occupy the better part of my current desk, if I were to put it on the desk. The service looks to be quite good (they respond to emails promptly and have solutions worked out for most issues). I can imagine that over time leapfrog may become a player to contend with, if you are looking for a robust platform with commercial support. But they will need to work out some kind of community as well and I wonder whether the community will gain enough critical mass: this will be a challenge for leapfrog after they roll out the first 50-100 machines.

Printer Heated Build Platform Dual Extrusion Compactness Software Community
Makerbot Replicator Yes Yes (full) Yes ReplicatorG Mac/Win/Linux #1
BitsfromBytes Rapman No Yes (full) Yes Axon Win #3
Ultimaker No No Yes ReplicatorG & Cura #2
Leapfrog Creatr Yes Yes (support) No Pronterface/Slic3r or Cura<?> ???

Faced with these options, the question of community comes up: During my workshops at the TEDxYouth@Flanders 2012, I told kids who were interested in getting a printer, that you  were not just buying a printer, but joining a community. The community was a great value for helping you tweak your printer to the best possible results and also helped you evolve your machine to your requirements.

But now we are evolving towards assembled machines: these machines will need less tweaking and will print most objects equally well on all printers. The cutting edge will still need a community to develop different extruder heads, higher print speeds, better print qualities, but the most people will be able to use the assembled printers out of the box without much tinkering.

I will keep my Cupcake for the tinkering part, but I want a robust printer for my kids to experiment on the development part rather than the printer part… The idea is to buy a printer that works and works well, rather than a printer than you need to make work and tinker well.

Please note that I have experienced none of these machines in real life and that all the information here is from the company websites and/or communications. Please do correct me, if you find any errors.

Related articles