How To Buy Your First 3D Printer
My first exposure to 3D printing was over a decade ago, and I've been following the industry every since. I've been an active printer myself for the past two years, and based on all that I think I can boil down 3D printer buying advice to this:
Step one: Find a printer in your price range*.
Step two: Buy that one.
It's really that simple. These days you can find a printer for just about every price point and skill level, and my honest advice to just get started in whatever way you can - I think the best way to do that is to jump in with both feet. If you're still skeptical, let me address a few common concerns I hear:
3D printers seem pretty expensive...
You can snag a printer for $300-$400, and for most purposes they can perform just as well as the $3-4K machines. Don't get me wrong, $300 is a lot of money, but if cost is the only thing keeping you from plunking a machine onto your kitchen table, don't let it be. Save up for a bit and take the time to pick one out. With any luck a cheaper machine will come on the market with comparable specs to the one you had your sights set on anyhow.
Shouldn't I wait for the technology to improve?
The wait is over, the tech is here and ready for you. Sure there will be advancements and improvements, and sure you will probably hit some snags with your own machine. Honestly though, it's not much worse than troubleshooting your regular printer when something jams up or the ink is doing funny things, and that technology has been around for-e-ver. Today's hottest 3D printer will be yesterday's news before you know it, (just like how your latest-and-greatest cell phone is obsolete in a few months) so don't even sweat it. While you're waiting, everyone else is having fun printing models they've downloaded from NASA!
Isn't the tech complicated and the software hard to learn?
Hells naw. There are tons of print-ready models available for free download, and some software can get your print started with one or two clicks. There's also free design software, and after a few YouTube tutorial vids you'll be good to go. Also consider that the 3D printing community is one of the most supportive, welcoming, and helpful group of folks you'll find on the internet. It's not uncommon for me to get a response to some problem I'm having within a few hours, it's incredible.
The point is to just get started. Price point and software knowledge used to be large barriers to entry, but both are quickly falling. If you're still not convinced and are dead set on some intermediate step, check your area - libraries, office supply centers (like Staples), and maker spaces are offering 3D printing labs with greater frequency. Places like the Microsoft store and Home Depot are starting to carry machines and will usually have one set up printing something so you can see it in action.
I hope I've convinced a few folks to come over to the other side, and if you have taken the leap then I hope you tell me about it!
*I haven't found a one-stop-shop resource that "has everything", but these links are a good start. They'll at least get you familiar with the terminology and you can decide for yourself which specs are important to you.