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How to Choose a 3D Printer

Ready to explore 3D printing in your classroom, but not sure where to start?
Use these simple guidelines to help you evaluate your needs and determine the best 3D printer for your classroom and projects.

1. Determine Your Project Needs
A 3D Printer is a powerful tool, just as computers are a valuable tool in the classroom, so is a 3D printer as long as you have a project in mind. Having a specific project in mind is also crucial for choosing the right printer. The internet is full of communities  that share how they have used 3D printers in their classroom.

2.  Choose Your Design Software & Create Your Design

A great 3D printed object starts with a great design. To develop a design, you'll need a computer aided design (CAD) program.

Students can start from scratch to create their own unique design files, or download pre-made designs available online on 3D printing blogs or websites, or through many 3D printer manufacturers' websites.

Most 3D printers process design files in .stl or .obj format. While each CAD program has its own unique file type, all have the ability to create an .stl or .obj file type.

Shop CAD Design Software from Boreal Science:

3. Choose a 3D Printer

The right 3D printer for your classroom will depend on the projects you have in mind and the outcomes you want to achieve. Take into consideration your immediate design needs, as well as any future design needs as your students' skill grow or as lessons progress.

The most important factors to consider are price, build size, resolution, number of extruders and types of filaments.

Boreal Science offers a variety of 3D printer options to meet your classroom budget.

Build Size:
The build size for each printer is limited by the cubic dimensions of the print platform. Designs can be accommodated up to the total size of the vertical and horizontal axis of the print plate.

Resolution is the level of detail between each layer of the object that the printer is capable of printing, measured in microns. The greater the micron setting, the faster your object can print, but the less detail it will have between layers. For example, 300 microns is equivalent to 0.3 mm and 100 microns is 0.1 mm. If you were to print a ball, the 300 micron setting would take less time, but the details between each layer would not be as smooth.

Many printers offer a range of resolution settings so you can adjust to meet the print speed and level of detail that your design requires.

Number of extruders:
Do you want to design an object with more than one color or type of filament? If so, choose a printer with more than one extruder. Printers can accommodate as many filament types/colors as they have extruders.

If, for example, your project requires a support structure that will be removed afterwards, a different color makes the structure easier to see and remove. Some filaments even dissolve in water or other chemicals, making the final object easier to clean. If you want to make a movable part, but you need a gap between parts, the second extruder could be the dissolvable filament.

Types of Filaments:
There are many types of filaments available but not every 3D printer accepts all types. ABS and PLA are the most common types of filaments.

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) filament requires a heated build platform, otherwise it may deform as it cools. ABS objects do shrink in size after they have cooled. ABS is ideal if the object will be handled in a rough manner or will exist in a hot environment. Printing with ABS filaments requires good ventilation.

PLA (Polylactic Acid) filament does not require a heated build platform. Finished builds have very little shrinkage compared to ABS. PLA can be recycled or composted. PLA is more sensitive to heat and may distort, or become brittle, if the object is particularly small or thin.

Dissolvable filament does as the name suggests, it dissolves away. It is intended to be used as a supporting element in conjunction with either PLA or ABS. If you need internal supporting structures that you cannot physically cut away afterwards, a dissolvable filament is a good choice. Every dissolvable filament has different characteristics; some dissolve away in hot water while others need a strong acid.